Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Anthropological View of the Sitcom

A work of art is an anthropological opportunity. It reflects in distilled form the laws, the traditions, the taboos, the aspirations, the fears, the history in general of a culture or sub-culture, if only we can decode it. A contemporary American TV sitcom is just such an artifact. If we wish to interpret such a cultural artifact, it is to our advantage we are at - or reasonably - near the center of the culture that produced it. It is popular culture. We are the people at which it is aimed. 

Sometimes that proximity to the assumptions that drive popular culture illuminates, and sometimes it blinds in the sense that we are so close to the culture that is being "windowed" we have never stopped to evaluate the forces that drive the creation of its art. We think: It just is. We don't stop to consider that it didn't have to have this shape, this emphasis. This the reason I like an anthropological POV when it comes to reviewing a television sitcom.

That said, we should look at the artifact as AN artifact. We need to take it on its own terms as a work of art. Aesthetically, does it work? Obviously, our aesthetic judgments are relative to our culture, but I think the aesthetic approach is useful  in our analysis in that it prompts us to ask: Why do I think this one thing is somehow superior to this other thing that would seem to be identical in terms of its take on life and its use of conventions and stereotypes. Is there - to borrow a term from our discussion of food - a "secret sauce" that makes it better?

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