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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Genre Studies: The African American Situation Comedy, part 3

The 90s 

.... continued from last entry 

The vast majority of sitcoms of the 1990s on the 4 major networks, took place in urban, as opposed to suburban environments that featured young professionals or dysfunctional nuclear families (Morreale, 249). 1990s and 2000s Sitcoms reflected attempts to appeal towards a younger demographic, whilst the introduction of digital cable, satellite TV and the internet offered more options to watch programmes, thus eroding the traditional TV (Morreale, 247). 

Genres can provide positive role models for their target audience. As audiences tend to select a limited number of genres, the characters behaviors could be construed as primary sources of modeling. Author Mark Bennett says that we ought to find our inner TV character by looking at the way TV characters handle their problems (Silverblatt,13). 

Television comedy, particularly sitcoms, require continuous anticipation, as well as participation gaze. They ask us to constantly look & to look forward to enjoy the latest episode and to be prepared for next week's episode. All whilst we sit through 2 or 3 mins worth of TV adverts. Sitcoms engage the viewers in seeing life and situations unfold in the present day, all within the the narrative/plot (Kolker, 186). Additionally, over time, sitcoms also engage the viewer in seeing characters develop and change for the greater good; not to mention to see them find love with other characters. & more specifically, with characters that have been close friends, throughout much of the duration of the series. 

Race and Sitcoms 

Race is often linked to the underclass, more specifically, the working poor. Correlations between the concept of race or ethnicity in television are related to class failures and lack of upward social mobility (Means Coleman, 79 et al Dimes, Humez). Alas, being Caucasian/White implies success and happiness, whilst being Black/Latino infers to being poor & of lesser significance and importance to Asians, Whites. 

The issue of class in African-American and Black sitcoms tied to ethnicity raises the question as to how the African-American population actually see themselves, in relation to the characters in Black sitcoms. Do they agree with those representations and accept them as 'definitive' and fixed..... or do they completely shun them, yet enjoy the programme as nothing more than a form of mass entertainment?

For Lonette, J.C and Freddie, class is a cultural yardstick that has been overlooked as a signifier for blackness, rather than by material wealth. They cited The Jeffersons and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, acknowledging that having assimilated into wealth and prosperity, -concepts that are usually associated with Whites -, it does not mean leaving behind or neglecting your cultural 'connectedness' stemmed in music, food, dance, religion, history (81, Means Coleman). These are cultural indicators of ethnicity, but also of self - identity. George and Louise Jefferson and Philip and Vivian Banks may live in a state-of-the art New York apartment and large mansion in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California..... yet at the same time, as African-Americans and Black people, they always remind themselves of their roots & how racism and discrimination, for example, impacts them during their personal and daily lives. 

Part of Black situation comedy's existence is as a genre, it makes a point at attending to Black moral, political, cultural, social & economic issues & needs (86, Means Coleman). Black sitcoms are a statement of African -Americans own ideologies and intentions, their outlook on society, of their dreams and aspirations, whilst eliciting positive imagery of people of color on screen. 

In the next chapter of this essay, I will be analyzing 3 African- American shows from the 1970s to early 2000 & applying genre analysis concepts and discussing the range of themes and issues, as well as meanings and ideas that are being evoked in these sitcoms. 


  • Genre Studies in Mass Media: A Handbook, Art Silverblatt, M.E Sharpe, 2007
  • Critiquing the sitcom: A Reader, ed by Joanne Morreale, Syracuse University Press, 2002 
  • Media Studies: An Introduction, Robert Kolker, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009 
  • Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text- reader ed by Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez et al Robin Means Coleman, SAGE Publications Inc, 2002 

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