This paper will explore in detail, the concept of gender and it’s relation to the situation comedy (sitcom), analysing both masculine and feminine gender roles within this popular genre of television. To gain a basic understanding of the theory included in the representation of gender in the sitcom, this paper will mainly draw on the research of television theorist Bret Mills. The well-known sitcom ‘Friends’ is the main television show I will extract examples from to demonstrate gender roles (stereotyped or not) throughout this paper. In order to distinguish what is meant by the term ‘gender’, it is important to initially define at a basic level what gender embodies in its meaning. So, when referring to gender, we refer to masculinity and femininity which is culturally determined. People do however confuse gender with ‘sex’ as sex is biologically determined (male/female) which can also be considered ‘fixed’ as opposed to the flexibility of gender. Biology need not be assumed to determine gender. This is to suggest that, while what makes a person male or female is universal and grounded in laws of nature, the precise ways in which women express their femininity and men express their masculinity will vary from culture to culture.
Edgar, A. Sedgwick, P. (2000:158)
Now that we’ve distinguished what is meant by ‘gender’, we need to analyse the term ‘genre’ in relation to the situation comedy. Audiences are able to identify with the type of television programme, better known as’ iconography’, arguably one of the most important codes used by genre (Lacey, 1998). When referring to genre in these terms, media text may be deemed predictable, however, when creating a genre piece, popular conventions must be incorporated so the viewer is able to relate to the events that occur. There has been some dispute about the portrayal of sitcoms. Stereotypically, they are based around people’s lives, some with high levels of realism included and others with lower levels. In addition, comedy value plays a part in this genre. Contrary to this, William argues that comedy isn’t a running factor in sitcoms. ‘I think there is a common misconception that sitcoms are made up of jokes: they’re not’ William, S (2005) in Mills, B (2009:24). Spangler sums up the sitcom emphasising the comedy factor: For more than fifty years now, prime-time network television’s most consistently popular genre, the situation comedy, has been inspiring laughter and tears.
Spangler, L. (2003:1)
Although William rebels against the stereotype of sitcoms, Wachman and Picard have demonstrated the straightforward and apparent characteristics of the sitcom genre and the codes and conventions which define it as ‘sitcom’ will be tangible with a ‘notable lack of confusion about how to make sense of it’ (Mills, B (2009:44)):
Joshua S. Wachman and Rosalind W. Picard select sitcom to test technology which can analyse television images because it’s ‘characteristics have distinctive movements’ whose ‘mannerisms are exaggerated’ (2001:257).
Mills, B (2009:43)
It’s important to consider cultural differences in relation to genre as audiences may have read the series quite differently. For example, American students... were surprised to hear British students referring to Ugly Betty as a comedy, just as, in return, the British students were surprised to hear the American ones insisting it was a drama.
Mills, B. (2009:33)
This is a clear example of the fact that producers need to make sure they are aware of the fact that audiences perceive genres differently in different countries. Although, Ugly Betty was seen to be a drama, the television show still proved to be popular with American audiences.
There are many aspects of everyday life that we as a society generalise in terms of gender stereotypes. For example, when we think of the sports...