Department of English

Debarati Roy


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Courses


RHE 309K • Rhetoric Of Sitcoms

43880 • Fall 2021
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM GAR 1.126
Wr

“Violet learned then what she had forgotten until this moment: that laughter is serious. More complicated, more serious than tears” – Toni Morrison

 

“I work in comedy because I’ve not really done anything else... it’s a survival technique for me” - Henry Normal

 

With the end of the Second World War, radio comedies shifted to a new medium. Comedy went audio-visual; the world now had sitcoms. Over the years, sitcoms have been branded as escapist, the guilty-pleasure medium we come to in states of exhaustion. They provide instant but temporary relief. The golden age of classic sitcoms quickly becomes defined by physical gags, character stereotypes, stock situations, and rote theatrical moves. Here, it seems, the audience does not need to engage intellectually with the rhetoric of funny, or questions of how, why, and where of the funny. What happens when we cast revisionary looks at the genre? From the ‘nothing’ comedy of Seinfeld to the absurdist heart of The Office,to the ever-shifting Fleabag, what every-day, social rhetoric do sitcoms employ and how do these evolve? Are there ways in which the genre reiterates or critiques set stereotypes of racial, gendered peoples, of socio-economic positions, religious groups, or able-bodied normativity? Can the genre undo these stereotypes towards political ends?

 

In this class, students will analyze various aspects of the rhetoric of production, programming and cultural politics of sitcoms. We will think through the rhetorical moves made by sitcoms – gags, irony, theatre, visual stereotypes, the absurd, the mundane, the representational, and the tragi-comic – in order to complicate the politics of this seemingly simple genre. We will also think of things like setting, location, dialect, dress, music, food etc. as aspects that go into creating the material worlds/languages of sitcoms. Students will think through questions about the genre and its rhetoric critically. We will ultimately ask – what arguments can we make for sitcoms generating the rhetoric of ‘serious’ laughter? We will look at some classic sitcoms and some that are more contemporary, evolving and morphing the genre into new iterations. We will also think about the rhetoric through which comedy become a ‘survival technique’. Why and how do we laugh at social situations? How and when is this laughter in contradiction with the set rules of the genre? What are the politics of this contradiction?

 

Assignments and Grading

Participation: 10%; Minor Assignments: 20%; Research on Sitcom Controversy: 15%; Rhetorical Analysis: 20%; Proposing Argument for Sitcom Episode: 20%; Final Creative Project: 15%

 

Texts

  1. Nicotra, Jodie. Becoming Rhetorical: Analyzing and Composing in a Multimedia World. Boston: Cengage, 2019. Print.
  2. UNC Chapel Hill Writing Center Resources, https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/
  3. The rest of the readings will be made available by the instructor through Canvas, or can be found at the UT Library or on various streaming services.

RHE S309K • Rhetoric Of Sitcoms-Wb

83185 • Summer 2021
Internet; Asynchronous
Wr

“Violet learned then what she had forgotten until this moment: that laughter is serious. More complicated, more serious than tears” – Toni Morrison

 

“I work in comedy because I’ve not really done anything else... it’s a survival technique for me” - Henry Normal

 

With the end of the Second World War, radio comedies shifted to a new medium. Comedy went audio-visual; the world now had sitcoms. Over the years, sitcoms have been branded as escapist, the guilty-pleasure medium we come to in states of exhaustion. They provide instant but temporary relief. The golden age of classic sitcoms quickly becomes defined by physical gags, character stereotypes, stock situations, and rote theatrical moves. Here, it seems, the audience does not need to engage intellectually with the rhetoric of funny, or questions of how, why, and where of the funny. What happens when we cast revisionary looks at the genre? From the ‘nothing’ comedy of Seinfeld to the absurdist heart of The Office,to the ever-shifting Fleabag, what every-day, social rhetoric do sitcoms employ and how do these evolve? Are there ways in which the genre reiterates or critiques set stereotypes of racial, gendered peoples, of socio-economic positions, religious groups, or able-bodied normativity? Can the genre undo these stereotypes towards political ends?

 

In this class, students will analyze various aspects of the rhetoric of production, programming and cultural politics of sitcoms. We will think through the rhetorical moves made by sitcoms – gags, irony, theatre, visual stereotypes, the absurd, the mundane, the representational, and the tragi-comic – in order to complicate the politics of this seemingly simple genre. We will also think of things like setting, location, dialect, dress, music, food etc. as aspects that go into creating the material worlds/languages of sitcoms. Students will think through questions about the genre and its rhetoric critically. We will ultimately ask – what arguments can we make for sitcoms generating the rhetoric of ‘serious’ laughter? We will look at some classic sitcoms and some that are more contemporary, evolving and morphing the genre into new iterations. We will also think about the rhetoric through which comedy become a ‘survival technique’. Why and how do we laugh at social situations? How and when is this laughter in contradiction with the set rules of the genre? What are the politics of this contradiction?

 

Assignments and Grading

Participation: 10%; Minor Assignments: 20%; Research on Sitcom Controversy: 15%; Rhetorical Analysis: 20%; Proposing Argument for Sitcom Episode: 20%; Final Creative Project: 15%

 

Texts

  1. Nicotra, Jodie. Becoming Rhetorical: Analyzing and Composing in a Multimedia World. Boston: Cengage, 2019. Print.
  2. UNC Chapel Hill Writing Center Resources, https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/
  3. The rest of the readings will be made available by the instructor through Canvas, or can be found at the UT Library or on various streaming services.

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