Nervous Laughter: Television Situation Comedy and Liberal Democratic Ideology

Nervous Laughter: Television Situation Comedy and Liberal Democratic Ideology

Nervous Laughter: Television Situation Comedy and Liberal Democratic Ideology

Nervous Laughter: Television Situation Comedy and Liberal Democratic Ideology

Synopsis

Nervous Laughter examines 40 years of situation comedy, decade by decade, providing the first truly panoramic view of TV's most popular dramatic form. Within this context, Hamamoto traces what he describes as the dominant liberal democratic ideology implicit within situation comedy and explains its enduring popularity. "Critically analyzing four decades of television situation comedies from The Honeymooners to The Bill Cosby Show, Hamamoto shows how the sitcom reflects, explains, legitimates, and challenges the society in which it is grounded, illuminating the power of laughter both to reaffirm and to question existing social structures. . . . Hamamoto offers a well-researched and refreshingly lucid study, immensely readable for its astute scholarship. Indispensable for students and scholars of television, popular culture, and comedy." Choice

Excerpt

Like most of my cohorts who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, life without television is impossible to imagine. As I remember it, the luminescent presence of our Zenith set dominated almost every aspect of our family life. Its hours of operation, who got to see what, when, and for how long was endlessly negotiated among two parents and four children. Back then, having more than one television set in order to satisfy conflicting tastes was inconceivable. Compromise in program selection was born of necessity rather than choice. As a result, each family member spent a good deal of time watching programs not of his or her own choosing.

The immediate, unrehearsed world of talk shows, for instance, would have been lost on me had not my mother insisted on watching them. Long before Morton Downey, Jr., or Wally George, the late Joe Pyne took sport in baiting audience members who might dare stand in the "Beef Box" to disagree with Pyne's social philosophy, which was somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. Pyne had a wooden leg to replace the one he had lost in World War II. Sometimes he would invoke the leg to justify his patriotism and rabid defense of all things American. Pyne's hurt somehow took the edge off his meanspirited aggressiveness, but it was in watching the local Joe Pyne Show that I learned of TV's power to evoke visceral reaction and foster intolerance.

Quite at the other end of the emotional spectrum was a local talk show hosted by one of television's few eccentrics and certified geniuses, Oscar Levant. Both the hunger for a life of the mind and the nicotine habit I later developed (and kicked) probably began with watching Levant, forever enveloped in sensuous volumes of cigarette smoke, ramble on about any topic at all that flitted through his tormented mind. Oscar Levant demonstrated TV's capacity for intimacy, intelligence, and kindness.

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