The Sitcom in Society

As a society, we constantly define and redefine ourselves through storytelling. In the past, Americans have told stories about their perception of themselves by diverse means-- from books and songs, to architectural structures and cityscapes. Yet, within the last forty years, nothing has so revolutionized American society, and its ability to communicate ideas about itself, as the television.

All television programming is an expression of American culture. Generally defined, culture is a learned collective understanding or worldview that shapes daily life in a society. Within that context, ratings show that the situation comedy, or sitcom, has emerged as the dominant voice. While in 1952, one of the top ten shows was a sitcom, by 1972 there were three, and in 1992, seven of the top ten were sitcoms (Friend, 114).

Their very popularity make sitcoms valuable texts. Reaching millions of people, television is at the height of mass culture and provides a forum for society's concerns and imagination. "What is occuring today is a war of American myths, a struggle of contending stories. And pop culture, often television, is the arena in which it is being fought (Morrow, 50)."

While television programs are not a direct reflection of American life, it is fair to say that they display society's values and priorities. And therefore most sitcoms center around the family, the most basic unit of society, specifically the nuclear family.

Susan Borowitz, who helped create another recent sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air placed a significant amount of import on the didactic nature of sitcoms. She said, "The sitcom has taken the place of church, of religious training. If an episode is just a romp or a farce, the audience isn't as satisfied. Sitcoms work better if they're little sermons or parables," (quoted in Friend, 122).

Most sitcoms are themes and variations on certain guidelines or rules of the road of the genre, and The Simpsons is no exception. The show rode a tidal wave of extreme popularity, and it was lauded as something completely new, and this is true to some extent. But it's vision of the American family is simply a more palatable version of a new trend towards grittier working class shows.

Sitcoms as Folklore | The Rules of the Road | Recent Trends | How the Simpsons Fit In | Conclusions |