An Exploration of Postmodernism Through Textual Analysis of Arrested Development.

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  • Topic: Arrested Development, Fox Broadcasting Company, Television network
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  • Published : January 4, 2013
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An exploration of postmodernism through textual analysis of Arrested Development.

This essay will consider the postmodernism within the television programme Arrested Development through postmodern theories, postmodernist techiniques and textual analysis. Through historical context, genre conventions, intertextuality and continuity; the essay will investigate the use of pastiche in modern satire. As popular situation comedies fulfil the generic conventions of using multiple cameras, linear narratives, stand alone catchphrases and aspirational ideologies, the essay will deliberate whether post modernism is legitimate in television comedy. "As Hollywood agents worry about the demise of the town's lowing cash cow, the multi-camera, staged sitcom, here to save the day is Arrested Development, a farce of such blazing wit and originality, that it must surely usher in a new era in comedy." —Alison Powell, The Guardian (UK), March 12, 2005

Television situation comedy has always appealed to mass market audiences. From ‘The Brady Bunch’(1969 – 1974), which centred on a blended family, perhaps the best-known domestic comedy in US television history to ‘Cheers’(1982 – 1993), the show set in a bar in Boston. Sitcoms usually consist of recurring characters in a common environment such as a home or workplace. Sitcoms provide the audience with iconic moments in television history. The longitivity of this genre of programming allows the audiences to build up relationships with the characters, therefore becoming an active audience by engaging with Blumer and Katz (1974) uses and gratifications theory, as the familiarity allows the audience diversion, social interaction and provides personal identity. The characters also evoke, in the audience, a sense of empathy unlike any other type of television comedy as the viewer experiences the highs and lows of the characters allowing an emotional attachment to the text. Arrested Development is an Emmy awarding American television programme aired between 2003 and 2006. The show is centred on the Bluths, a formerly wealthy, dysfunctional family. The show is presented in a pseudo-documentary, verite format, incorporating hand-held camera work, extra-diegtic narration, archival still photos, and historical footage. The show focuses on the tension that arises from their financial limitations. Each show contains a wide variety of themes that subvert the conventions of the generic, multi camera, staged sitcom. Sibling rivalries, oedipal conflicts, personal identity crises, adolescent ordeals, lying, guilt, manipulation, mutilation, social status anxiety and incest are all reoccurring themes, this therefore through the macro narrative can assume a niche audience as the show also asks questions about contextual American politics such as domestic and foreign policies. Much like other dysfunctional-family comedies aired on FOX television network, such as ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ and ‘The Simpsons’, Arrested Development, although subversive in camera techniques and scripts, promotes the ideological message of a family unit. The plot of Arrested Development revolves around the members of the Bluth family. The central character is Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), who strives to do the right thing and keep his family together. The audience is therefore allowed a point of entry through this character as the materialistic, manipulative nature of his relatives draws sympathy and even empathy. Structuralism and Discourse Theory would argue that a central character is a ‘textual device, constructed’ and therefore a ‘character cannot be understood as an individual existing in his or her own right’, but rather in reference to textual and intertextual relations. Fiske suggests that Realism proposes ‘a character represents a real person’ and that ‘we, the viewers, then call upon our life experience of understanding real people...to fill out these characteristics in our imagination so that we make the character into a...
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