Friday, April 26, 2013

MetaCommentary on Television

The Author Wrote Words Here
                Meta-Commentary is when a step back is taken to observe the act that is taking place, such as when a photographer takes a photo of another photographer who is taking a picture. It is a reflection that illustrates or clarifies the act of taking a picture. This is the plight of the modern sit-com. Sometimes these sit-coms are obvious set ups that are set in a television studio setting or other times they put their characters through things that seem to be a reference point for sit-coms. “30 Rock” and “The Office” give an idea of how creating a television show looks like in a satirical way, although “The Office” is a paper company, it has been making a documentary in the classic style of a reality television set up with common reality television techniques.  This is important to modern television because in order for the genre to develop it needs to show that it can laugh at itself, and sit-coms are a commentary on society itself. When meta-commentary is involved it points out some facts that television itself has to deal with whether it is in the economy, issues of race, capitalism, social classes, and various aspects of living. In fact it can even make a statement by not really acknowledging these things, and acting like the meta-commentary is not there, while making it clear that is aware that these usual conventions are being broken, such as the case with “Seinfeld”.
This article is not really to point out what modern television show is “THE Best”, but more on what modern shows have influenced television through meta-commentary as well as remaining true to reflecting the times, and affecting the times. Personally if I were to include my favorite sit-coms the, list of shows I would discuss more in depth would include, “The Nanny”, “Friends”, “How I Met Your Mother”, “Everybody Loves Raymond”, and “Scrubs”.  I personally believe that “Friends” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” deserves honorable mentions in changing television history because of the unique sit-com styles in the writing. As much as it pains me to not really include them in my analysis, the focus is more acutely on how important meta-commentary is important to the modern sit-com.  “How I Met Your Mother”, “The Nanny”, and “Scrubs” are some of my personal favorites, and “Scrubs” has an originality that deserves praise although there is not necessarily anywhere to put that in the textbooks. Although the creator of “Scrubs” has interesting commentary on why “30 Rock” has changed television with its meta-commentary. However even these sit-coms would not necessarily seem relevant without the presence of meta-commentary in the sit-com spectrum.
 A show that first brought up the meta-commentary in a way that has a lasted impact is “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, it was a show within a show, Rob Petrie is the main character who is the head writer for the fictitious “The Alan Brady Show”, which quite humorously, Alan Brady was played by Carl Reiner, the real writer of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (Reiner, The Bottom of Mel Cooley’s Heart). It was one of the first shows that made the public aware of the writing process, the people behind the show, and more on the problems of dealing with movie stars with flaming egos (Reiner, The Bottom of Mel Cooley’s Heart). This show paved the way for the meta-commentary that is found in many modern sit-coms, not only sit-coms that contain meta-commentary. So in this paper I want to focus mostly on the function that this meta-commentary in the modern sit com has on society and what it brings to the table for discussion on mostly social issues, but is not necessarily limited to social issues. So if you think you have what it takes to read “The Author Wrote Words Here”, read on to know how to better serve mankind.
                Situation comedy often has guest stars that are mainstream or have stood the test of time. This still continues even in live shows such as “Live from Studio 6H”, where some of the cast from Saturday Night Live is there as well as Sir Paul McCartney.  With this episode, it teaches the importance that television has had on important issues of the past but also the hypocrisy of television as if to point out the fault of the human condition. The debate “30 Rock” brings to the table for live comedy is one of a montage, spoofing old television shows that are easily recognized as a uniting factor for generations (Fey, Live from Studio 6H). “30 Rock” touches many subjects such as product placement, reality television, the writing of a show, a star’s drama, and the capitalizing nature that takes advantage of every situation, and national disaster is no exception.  With all of this, it is pathetic to watch “30 Rock” try to seem relevant by putting on that fake “Queen of Jordan” television show. Catchphrases, now that is relevant, phrases that can be employed in conversations. Such catchphrases include “I’ll take that with cheese”, and “rude”, who could be that stupid (Fey,Queen of Jordan 2)? Do people actually remember that kind of thing; do people think that it forms some kind of uniting factor when they can connect that in real life?  Although “30 Rock” is not necessarily attacking reality television with this ploy, no this is a ploy that many writers use, and despite its absurdity, it works. This needs to be stopped, these catchphrases are evil, what harm do these catchphrases do? It is so obvious that I will not even mention them. “30 Rock” even mocks itself, not a smart move, but could it possibly by mocking itself, be lending some validity to itself as well as television itself? Nah, why would anyone want to laugh at themselves? Everyone knows that if you laugh at yourself in a compromising situation then the situation only get worse because you admitted that you have cause to be uncomfortable.
                A further model of why television shows in general should have cause for shame is the fact that many business schools are using “The Office” to teach students. Television has caused these professors to become lazy and obviously on their way to inadequacy because their students are learning from “The Office”, the capital letters are indeed correct, a television show is teaching these students. Attendance is up, because honestly if I got to watch television for a class, I would love it (Kilburn 23). Do I feel like I would learn anything besides the plotline of “The Office”? In a word, no, I do not feel like I would learn very much from “The Office”. “The Office” helps students develop an idea of “what not to do in business”, which seems to be a thread throughout “The Office”. These kids will hopefully learn what to do in business by learning all the incorrect ways to handle a business (Kilburn 29). All I got to say is practice it wrong, and then you will do it wrong. What were these college chumps thinking? These students are just babies who are unable to determine the differences in acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
 Similarly, “Seinfeld”, with the characters who did not really ever develop, according to Kilburn may teach a little something on how to socially interact. What can undeveloped characters teach society to develop? Morreale points out the terrible hopelessness of sit coms in its ability to stay relevant, as “Seinfeld” pointed out so clearly in how the characters could not successfully interact with others.  “Seinfeld” is literally about nothing at all, in fact it is even defined by Jerry Seinfeld as “the spaces in between life”( Morreale 108). What the hell is that supposed to mean? In “Seinfeld”, plot conflict is often minimal. Characters pastimes include avoiding work and destroying their relationships. “Seinfeld” is a bit of a commentary on the whole genre of sit-com itself, how can that be relevant (Morreale 111)? They argue over their trivial issues in their love life too! This is not relevant anymore, people are not petty about love anymore, and people do not try to get out of work like they used to, as well as spend more than their means allow, our society knows better. At the end of “Seinfeld” we see the show wasted nine years of television space. Even “Seinfeld” put its characters on trial, and through this, its viewers, after all they had watched this abominable behavior of the “Seinfeld” clan. The final episode as stated by Larry David involved, “no hugging, no learning”, casting off former television show comedy endings (Morreale 111). This cast off the previous sit-com feeling of “warmedies” that just simply gave the audience a moral to everything while having a happy ending with a nod to their viewers (Morreale 112).“Seinfeld” also did not have any true romance that bloomed, the characters never grew in the sense that a human being would, instead they followed the model of a sitcom character that is hardly seen at work, and simply seems to consume products that seem well past their means, not even contributing to society as a whole. (Morreale 113) People will never learn how to help others if they watch people who never learn how to develop.  If you want to blame the modern plight of television comedy, “Seinfeld” ruined it by mocking the entire genre and displacing characters as well as viewers. In fact it paved the way for such atrocities such as “30 Rock” which also mocks the hand that feeds them. Rude. People did not necessarily want television characters that are just a product of their small little world after “Seinfeld”, so warm comedies were left in the past to make room for shows that were willing to mock their own existence. In fact “Seinfeld” tore the genre apart; it mocked the sit com almost to oblivion because it overturned the rules in pointing out that characters in a sit-com do not have the ability to truly develop.  This surely ruined all creativity for the genre since it destroyed it and sit coms had to be built up again to find a relevant model to serve public interest.
“Seinfeld” was such a revolutionary program because it was brought to the attention of the public, that sit-coms do not develop and have limited ability to getting any meaningful development.  “Seinfeld” got people to talk about many little things in life that did amount to something. It was a show people could talk about the next day at work. The function of “Seinfeld” in retrospect was to flip the sit-com genre on its head and give a voice to the conventions in television that needed to be addressed with conflicting reality. Sit-coms over generations have offered insights in to social, economic, and governmental issues that needed to change. Jokes help people be able to come face to face with some of the bigger issues with confidence. Making light of a dire situation makes the situation more approachable. Seinfeld opened the way for old conventions to be broken so that the whole genre could get a makeover if it chose to, and it did. In a way “Seinfeld” led the way for reality television, because after realizes just how fake scripted television can be trying to deceive its audience, it can make anyone want to watch someone put themselves through hell for a bucket full of money.
                The only reason that any show stays on television is the money that flows into the network through advertisement. It may take some by surprise the idea of product placement but it is common in today’s culture, shows like “30 Rock” will shamefully exploit their products to disrupt the flow of the story to make a product placement—such as when Liz Lemon announces Tom Cruise’s new movie Rock of Ages, or has a Kraft single that walks on screen as a voice announces that “it’s the cheese that won world war two” (Live from Studio 6H). It is a cheesy tactic that is demeaning to both the show and the product. Businesses may use a triangle of products, characters, and consumers in order to determine how to advertise on television (Russell 8). We are the consumer and the show’s product placement can give us possibly an unfair opinion of a character based on how the consumer relates to the product, similarly if the audience loves the character, then positive feelings may be issued toward the product. How are we standing for such type of manipulation? I must thank “30 Rock” for making me aware of the situation, but I wonder where there sense of pride is, after all making fun of such a medium as television is not to be taken lightly. Product placement is an important part of the economy as these over-paid companies spend money through various platforms but nonetheless it is a large part of the economy. So this meta-commentary has made the public aware that indeed our entertainment has definite influences that can affect the integrity of the program and manipulate people to spend money in a despicable fashion.  It has made us aware that these executives are simply using us as guinea pigs without thought of what good programming actually is, but simply tossing company slop our way, wasting money frivolously. Is the television industry taking lessons from the United States government? No, television does a better job because although television does make questionable decisions, this meta-commentary also shows that there is room for all kinds of good programming, taking risks allows for large success to come their way. Satire is a key influence in meta-commentary, because it uses satire to in a way tell the truth about society and the genre, while overdoing it so that it can effectively say “hey, we do this, and it’s not ideal, but since we are being honest with you about it, please forgive the system, enjoy the show, and learn something new.” In my opinion, that statement is what meta-commentary does for television, it allows television to offer an apology for its shortcomings but insistence that it still has something to offer to the public.
In fact, this article very truthfully, no joke, points out that “The Office” is past its prime, and only exists because of the reason why any television show lasts, the audience does not want to give up the familiarity of having “The Office” available (Martin para 4,5). As an audience we consider television show “ours” because it brings us closer to who we want to be, as the article claims which makes the human condition sad (Martin para 6). Now that will be a sight to behold, a world filled with nerdy creeps, like a bad GoDaddy commercial. This genre is not to be held in any sort of model because the whole premise is finding an identity with a character that by nature is a screw up in some form. We should not hold a friendship with any character because none of them are perfect, and us real humans are so much better, we should not exercise sympathy towards a fictional character, it benefits us in no way to have television teach us compassion through love of a fictional character.
                A Buffalo news station WIVB-TV, explains that it is the news that these station argue is the real money makers (“Loyal Viewers Means…”para 4, 5). This report also claims that a television show does not necessarily survive because of its size; after all it has to have advertisers willing to pay for advertising. Quite often advertisers choose programs that they perceive as quality programs that means that college educated people watch them, making them with more money to spend (“Loyal Viewers Means…”para 21).  However there are not many quality programs that appeal to minorities because networks have decided that these kinds of programs do not pay. Gray claims that people got tired of black comedies like “The Cosby Show” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” (106). Although it is a noble goal to try to include minorities, it is a hard thing to keep up because “white” sit-coms sell advertising better, and is the majority of viewership (Gray 104). Throughout television history black comedies have brought minority issues to the front of the nation’s attention. That is the power of sit-coms. However modern sit-coms have hit a wall, despite television’s best efforts to include minorities, we can now safely call sit-coms racists.
                This narrative hopefully pointed out how stupid sit coms are and advise you dear reader, to never watch them. There is no need for anyone to watch a sit com because it is only carefully planned out thoughts and jokes, a huge time waster. There is no way that such profoundness is relevant in a flippant world. In fact it is backwards in its thinking, but that is partly America’s fault, people are comfortable with their shows and are not fighting for the change that they want to see in the networks.
                Bill Lawrence was a writer and creator of the television show “Scrubs” (Lawrence). This man came up with an unoriginal sitcom. Why the writers guild would want to interview a man who wrote for “Friends”, “The Nanny”, “Cougar Town”, and “Scrubs”, is beyond me (Lawrence). He talked about coming up with an original idea. More importantly he called sit coms predictable, so his advice is to come up with something unpredictable to give it a new and fresh spin (Lawrence). That seems a bit contradictory. Television has lost the ability to surprise people and it is funny that he finds “30 Rock” funny (Lawrence). Although “30 Rock” may help the modern sit com, it does not mean that it is funny. According to Bill Lawrence though, “30 Rock” gave writers like Bill Lawrence a voice about their experiences in the television world (Lawrence). This has no ability to teach and only matters to the few in the population that are creative. Creativity should have no bounds but Bill Lawrence stresses the importance of bounds in scripts in the practical world (Lawrence). How droll.
                Comedy has a way of evolving with the changes in people. It is stupendous that a business would make fun of itself; it is scarcely conceivable that it could survive this way. It is amazing that such creative people would not have any creative ideas. Television should always be a surprise but too often it is not, obviously showing that creativity is dead. Bill Lawrence’s writing in Scrubs will never amuse you or make you laugh with your friends because it is just too dang predictable. It is slightly amusing that Bill would find “30 Rock” fresh, since “30 Rock” is only fresh in that it mocks everything about television. How fresh is that? Television characters can never teach any valuable lessons to people. These are selfish actors/actresses playing selfish characters that live in their own little world, only taking selfishly from society.  
                Meta-commentary in sit coms serves as a sort of a spring board for all other television shows, especially sit coms. In order to keep relevant and to introduce social and economic issues to the public in a fun way, in order to get people talking about these topics, there needs to be a mechanism in place that mocks or lends insight to television itself in order to include it in these processes. It is also a way of coming to an acceptance that television is a constant in American culture that is worth preserving. So television offers creativity to the manner of thinking, especially with meta-commentary shows that act as a sort of twist to the rest of television who keeps a completely serious tone in how it is presenting a story. As television is a genre that has been around for about sixty years now, storylines seem redundant in the sit com world, as the genre has mostly stuck with conventions brought in with the 1950s scripted television. However with meta-commentary it brings in new insights to the genre itself to flip it over its head, just a bit to make people aware of the genre itself as well as the issues that it is presenting. It is my belief that meta-commentary helps television work as a sort of government where meta-commentary is a form of checks in order to keep the medium in balance. When one genre is exploiting a factor to an extreme such as reality television with its extremely vain and selfish stars or certain standards are broken that the public values such as fair press, then meta-commentary comes in to mock the genre. This hopefully will lead to more people to make better decisions on their viewing practices or to perhaps see that although television is not perfect it is able to point out valuable lessons, because it knows that it is not perfect. Meta-commentary helps television function so that television does not appear to snobbish, as if it were unaware of its faults, meta-commentary points out these faults so that viewers can get past this, and hear what the show is really trying to say to the viewer.  As in an essay, meta-commentary although absurd at times, offers a sort of a parody type critique so that a sit com has valid value, as it should. 


Works Cited
Fey, Tina, and Jack Burditt. "Live from Studio 6H." 30 Rock. NBC. 26 Apr. 2012. 2012. Web.   10 Mar. 2013.                                                                                                                                                                                     .
Fey, Tina, Tracey Wigfield, and Luke Del Tredici. "Queen of Jordan 2." 30 Rock. NBC. N.d.    NBC, 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2013.                         
Gray, Herman. "Equity and Diversity in Media Representation." Critical Studies in Media Communication               18.1 (2001): 103-08. 18 May 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.               .
Kilburn, Ashley J., and Brandon R. Kilburn. "Linking the Classroom to the Living Room: Learning through                 Laughter with the Office." Academy of Educational Leadership Journal 16.2 (2012): 21-31.                ABI/INFORM Global; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.
Lawrence, Bill. "Bill Lawrence." Interview by Christa Miller. Writers Guild Foundation. Writers Guild          Foundation, 19 May 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.          
"Loyal Viewers Mean Slow Changes in TV News Ratings." Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY) 2013. Print.
Martin, Jake. "Why Sitcoms Matter." America Magazine. America Magazine, 14 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 Feb.               2013. .
Morreale, Joanne. "Sitcoms Say Goobye: The Cultural Spectacle of Seinfeld's Last Episode." Journal of   Popular Film and Television (2000): 109-15. Print.
Reiner, Carl, and John Whedon. "The Bottom of Mel Cooley's Heart." The Dick Van Dyke Show. CBS. 9    Feb. 1966. Television.
Russell, Cristel Antonia, Barbara B. Stern, and Barbara B. Stern. "CONSUMERS, CHARACTERS, AND            PRODUCTS: A Balance Model of Sitcom Product Placement Effects." Journal of Advertising 35.1              (2006): 7-21. Print.

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