What Sitcoms Reveal
Starting from the premise that cultural institutions reflect
and generate markers of identity and subjectivity, the development
of the modern sitcom toward postmodernity similarly parallels
larger sociocultural trends in the realm of the simulacra. In the
advent of the sitcom, Kellner characterizes modern identity as
centered around “one’s function in the public sphere (or
family)…fundamental choices that defined who one was
(profession, family, political identification, and so on)” (Kellner
242). Take the earliest forms of sitcom in Leave it to Beaver: the
characters are one-dimensional. June Cleaver is defined exclusively
by her representation of the perfect mother/wife figure. Sitcoms
from this era lack layers and complexity; the characters function as
empty vessels to fill in the role of the idealized subject.
“Objectively, we know that the Cleavers represent an ideal rather
than a norm, and that confines and constricts individuality.
Emotionally, though, we cannot escape the sense that life would
be much better if our lives were just like the Cleavers’ lives”
(Kutulas 17). In a Lacanian sense, this era of television evokes the
mirror-phase; one-note characters operate as a symbolic
representation of identity perfection.
The rise and proliferation of sitcom programming
coincides with the evolution of global Post-Fordist capitalism and
the loss of spatial and familial stability. A cultural shift took place
in the late sixties, a form of global awareness made possible
through the creation of an international theaters for example, the
way the Vietnam War could be broadcast to televisions across the
world in American living rooms. Individuals were no longer
anchored to their locality or reliant upon their immediate family or
community for cultural stimulation. Ott describes this process on
both a global and local level: when “the economic mode shifts
from a goods-based model to a service-based one, from centralized
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