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Situation Comedy, Character, and Psychoanalysis: On the Couch with Lucy, Basil, and Kimmie
 1501327410, 9781501327414

Table of contents :
Dedication
Contents
List of Figures
Preface
Acknowledgments
Notes on Text and Program Referencing
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: (Re)Reading the Sitcom
1 It Begins with the (Key) Character
2 The Perpetual (Power) Struggle of Sitcom Relationships
3 Echoing the Key Character
4 The Tension of the (Closed) Narrative
5 Premise, Performance, and the Discursive Frame
Conclusion: Sitcom: A (Comic) Site of Struggle
Appendix—Theory in Practice
Glossary
Bibliography
Programography
Index

Citation preview

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Situation Comedy, Character, and Psychoanalysis

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Situation Comedy, Character, and Psychoanalysis On the Couch with Lucy, Basil, and Kimmie D. T. Klika

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published in 2018 Paperback edition first published 2019 Copyright © D. T. Klika, 2018 Figures 5.1 , 5.2 , 5.3 , and 5.4 . are the copyright of and published with the permission of the artist, Andrew Pomphrey For legal purposes the Acknowledgments on p. xii constitute an extension of this copyright page. Cover design by Louise Dugdale Cover image © CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Inc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. ISBN: HB: 978-1-5013-2741-4 PB: 978-1-5013-5490-8 ePDF: 978-1-5013-2738-4 eBook: 978-1-5013-2739-1 Typeset by Newgen KnowledgeWorks Pvt. Ltd., Chennai, India To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com and sign up for our newsletters.

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For my sons Oscar and Patrick, in their words: “When no one else was there to hear about Lacanian theory of the Other in late ’90s single camera sitcoms.” Thanks for everything.

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Contents List of Figures Preface Acknowledgments Notes on Text and Program Referencing List of Abbreviations Introduction: (Re)Reading the Sitcom What is the sitcom? The psychology of the character

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1 6 9

Using psychoanalysis

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An overview: Finding sitcom’s subversive side

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It Begins with the (Key) Character

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Narcissism and the comic character

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The comic character’s struggle

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Post-Freud and the comic

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The character trapped in the gaze

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Narcissus and Echo as comic characters

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The key character as master of their world?

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The Perpetual (Power) Struggle of Sitcom Relationships

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Fear and behavior

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Fear and desire

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Fear and power

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The key character’s struggle for a cohesive “self ”

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Echoing the Key Character

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The key character and their echo

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Echo comic characters

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Group shows: The echo that lies within A return to the myth of Narcissus and Echo and its psychoanalytic roots Echo and Narcissus: Two sides of the psyche?

103 110 121

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Contents

The Tension of the (Closed) Narrative

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The key character and the narrative

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Tension through the “diegetic reality” of the narrative

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Premise, Performance, and the Discursive Frame

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Tension in the premise

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The key character’s “frame”

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Conclusion: Sitcom: A (Comic) Site of Struggle

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Appendix—Theory in Practice

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Putting it on the page A.1 To (re)cap: Questions from the chapters A.2 (Re)reading the sitcom A.3 (Re)developing the sitcom

Glossary Bibliography Programography Index

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Figures 2.1 2.2 4.1 4.2 4.3 5.1 5.2

Fear triggers id impulses in the unconscious, affecting behavior The key character’s psychical bind triggering degradation The narrative structure of “Writer’s Block” Harmon’s circular narrative The closed narrative structure of the sitcom. Copyright D. T. Klika Laughing at the key/main character. Copyright Andrew Pomphrey Characters in relation to the frame, enabling comic performance underscored by the direction of the spectator’s gaze. Copyright Andrew Pomphrey 5.3 Lucy attempts to escape the unknown frame. Copyright Andrew Pomphrey 5.4 Basil’s dual “frames.” Copyright Andrew Pomphrey

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Preface This book is driven by the question on many commissioning editors’ minds: How to create comedy that comes from the characters? Less theoretical approaches suggest “Nobody learns,” “Nobody leaves,” “They are trapped in a situation,” and “Everybody loses.” Yes they are trapped, but what, beyond the physicality of the location (such as an island, home, war zone, workplace), or financial need, keeps them there? Understanding what makes this form of comedy “tick” has been a lifelong quest of mine; to “read” the sitcom characters, their behavior, goals, motivation, and, more pertinently, what keeps them in situations and relationships that are arresting in terms of their emotional development. Growing up watching I Love Lucy, I felt some connection to Lucy’s repeated attempts to “escape” the home.1 Maybe I sought to understand something about myself, for, as Joanne Morreale notes, to understand the sitcom is to understand ourselves.2 Friends may offer, with some reticence, that it was to understand my propensity to stick it out, or more pertinently become “stuck,” regardless of how dire the situation. Our relationship with characters is deeply personal as is our engagement with the therapeutic process that seeks to help us understand who we are and where we have come from; it is through personal experiences that we come to better understand what drives fictional characters and vice versa. In conjunction with therapy, in order to separate the personal from the theoretical undertaking, I went down many paths and discovered from minds far greater than mine that comedy is indeed born of a struggle rooted in conflict, lack, desire, and loss. Finding the methodology to read this form of comedy was the challenge and produced many false starts, and it was psychoanalytic theory’s focus on the fragmented “self,” born of lack and desire, that finally opened the door. I put the sitcom character on the couch to understand their conscious as well as unconscious motivations.

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I Love Lucy, created and written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf, produced by Desilu Productions (USA: CBS, 1951–61). Joanne Morreale, ed., “Introduction,” in Critiquing the Sitcom:  A Reader (New  York:  Syracuse University Press, 2003).

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Preface

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Figuring which is conscious and which is unconscious is the tricky bit. And that is what I have attempted to do in the pages that follow. Please join with me in the “archaeological dig” of what lies beneath in the sitcom. It may, like it did for me, tell you something about yourself (I am a recovering “echoist”), it may enlighten you as to why you like certain programs (I grew up living between two worlds where laughing at life was a way of surviving it), it may assist with developing that sitcom you know is inside you, or it may simply enhance your enjoyment of this form of comedy. There is much to unpack and debate. I hope you share my passion for the humble sitcom and that this book deepens your pleasure of a perennially popular yet deceptively difficult form of comedy to write. D. T. Klika Radlett, Hertfordshire, UK, August 2017

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Acknowledgments This work could come to fruition only with the assistance and support of many colleagues and friends. The following I  thank for their assistance and feedback:  Lisa Trahair for guiding me through psychoanalysis and for her inspirational work on the comic, Brett Mills and his contribution to the study of the sitcom, John McCallum and his work on comedy alongside Sue Turnbull and Jessica Milner Davis. To all my colleagues in the Media Department at Middlesex University, specifically Paul Kerr, Basil Glynn, Tom McGorrian, and Roddy Gibson, I thank you. To those who have inspired my approach and commitment to the task: John Merchant for introducing me to Echo, Andrew Horton for showing there is a bridge from theory to craft, David Henderson for giving me voice, Patricia Mellencamp for the platform from which to spring, and my script mentor Ellen Sandler for her insightful approach to the TV series. Thanks to the staff at Varuna Writers Centre in Australia and the Paley Media Centers in New York and Los Angeles, institutions where research, new writing, and ideas find nourishment to bloom. I would like to thank friends who patiently listened and encouraged me to complete the task—specifically, Janine Burrus, Lou Geldens, Fiona Cotterell, Kate Fisher, Sarah Price, Sue Evans, Kerry Sanders, Jonathan Eyers, Sara Hansen, and the cooking of Grant Wardell-Johnson that keeps one satiated. To those reviewers who generously gave of their time and expertise, including Iain MacRury, Kristyn Gorton, and Aidan Delaney, I am indebted to you. Thanks to Miguel Rodrigues Fonseca, Nayomi Roshini, and Mariam Kauser for their assistance and feedback along with the assistant editors and copy editors at Bloomsbury. Finally, and with deep gratitude, I would like to thank my editor, Katie Gallof at Bloomsbury, for her patience and faith in this project.

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Notes on Text and Program Referencing Full references for programs and texts are given when first mentioned in each chapter to assist with stand-alone readings. The Programography lists programs viewed with the name of creator/writer/producer and broadcaster. I view the writer/creator as central to the creation of a series as these roles are significantly more important in this visual form than the director, as is common usage when referencing film and television programs. Individual episodes are referenced by writer in the footnotes and in the bibliography.

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Abbreviations ABC ABC aMC ATN BBC CBS Cs ITV NBC PCs SBS UCs

American Broadcasting Company (Australia) Australian Broadcasting Corporation (formerly Commission) now aMC, previously American Movie Classics, AMC Australian Television Network British Broadcasting Corporation Columbia Broadcasting System (USA) Conscious Independent Television (UK) National Broadcasting Company (USA) preconscious Special Broadcasting Service (Australia) Unconscious

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Introduction

(Re)Reading the Sitcom

First comedy is used by the powerful to demonstrate their power and thus to maintain social relationships: second, that comedy is used by the powerless to mock the powerful and thus to undermine social relationships.1 On May 14, 1998, the final episode of Seinfeld attracted an estimated 77 million viewers in America.2 It was the culmination of nine years and 180 episodes. Many commentators cite Seinfeld as the best sitcom of all time, while others have a passionate dislike for the characters and/or their performances. Regardless, in terms of longevity, repeated showings, and a cultural product that has delivered numerous quotes such as “yadda yadda, yadda,” “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” “sponge-worthy” and “master of your domain,” as well as significant financial returns and accolades, its success cannot be ignored. What separates Seinfeld ’s success from other long-running programs such as Frasier, Friends, and My Family,3 is how the famous final episode manifested a defining characteristic of the sitcom: the entrapment of the main character/s in a situation resulting from their own behavior. The four protagonists (Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine) are jailed for failing to observe the “Good Samaritan Law” that operates in the state of Massachusetts when their chartered jet is forced to land in the town of Latham. Joanne Morreale writes: “The characters were stripped of their place; they were de-contextualized and taken out

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Brett Mills, Television Sitcom (London: British Film Institute, 2005), 109 Joanne Morreale, “Sitcoms Say Good-bye:  The Cultural Spectacle of Seinfeld,” in Critiquing the Sitcom: A Reader, ed. Joanne Morreale (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2003), 275. Seinfeld, created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, produced by West-Shapiro Productions et al. (USA: NBC 1989–98). Frasier, created by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, produced by Grubstreet Productions et al. (USA: NBC, 1993–2004). Friends, created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, produced by Bright/Kaufman/Crane Productions et al. (USA: NBC, 1994–2004). My Family, created by Fred Barron, produced by Rude Boy Productions et al. (UK: BBC, 2000–11).

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of the Manhattan setting that made them familiar.”4 This “de-contextualization” enabled a shift for the spectator—now viewing these characters within a new “frame” governed by different codes and expectations. The series cocreator and writer of this infamous last two-part episode, Larry David, not only exposes the characters’ self-absorbed narcissism but he also punishes them for their behavior. Through the testimonies of the victims, Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine are shown to be mean, selfish, shallow, callous members of a culture that does not call them, or their behavior, to account. In doing so, David surreptitiously shifted the site of tendentious attack, previously aimed at their hapless victims, to now focus squarely on the four protagonists; the character of George in particular, and to some degree Elaine, refused to be bound by discursive frames that limited their self-image and expectations of entitlement. David demonstrates a clear understanding of the characters’ relation to a frame defined by social codes and expectations that they sought to defy or reject. The “character” is put on trial and these four are found guilty by the court and required to serve one year in jail. All four not only show no remorse for their actions, they also disavow any responsibility for their behavior, bringing into focus the sitcom’s main point of departure from other television forms: the character is not psychologically altered by events delivered through the narrative. David also pays tribute to another of the sitcom’s conventions—where the narrative returns to what Barry Curtis labels the “re-situation,”5 when, in the final episode, a conversation is repeated from the first episode, then titled The Seinfeld Chronicles, about the positioning of a button on George’s shirt and to which he quips: “Haven’t we had this conversation before?”6 This book challenges Morreale’s7 view that Seinfeld was a postmodern expression of sitcom conventions by exploring the nature of the character’s entrapment and asking: Is

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Morreale, “Sitcoms Say Good-bye,” 279. Barry Curtis, “Aspects of Sitcom,” in Television Sitcom:  BFI Dossier No. 17, ed. Jim Cook (London: British Film Institute, 1982), 8. Morreale, “Sitcoms Say Good-bye,” 280. Morreale contends that Seinfeld was a postmodern expression of the sitcom by challenging or inverting many of its conventions, seeing the physical imprisonment as a parody rather than an expression of entrapment. She also notes that Seinfeld utilized some conventions as means of “reaffirming cultural identities by demarcating an ‘inside’ that consisted of those with similar interests and values, as opposed to those marginalized on the ‘outside’ . . . In effect, Seinfeld inverted the conventional inside/outside dichotomy with regard to the characters. Rather than the ‘inside’ consisting of a cohesive, normative group, the four main characters were themselves marginalized.” “Sitcoms Say Good-bye,” 280–2. I contend that, rather than inverting its conventions, David paid homage to those conventions.

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something more at play in the comic operation of this genre beyond recognizable conventions? Due to its ability to attract large audiences (and therefore advertising revenue), situation comedy is the holy grail of the television industry; the potential for repeated viewings in numerous markets increases the desirability of this form of comedy. Trisha Dunleavy separates production from tropes that define this form of comedy, writing that “although production modes can produce vastly different aesthetic experiences and textual potentials, the conventions that continue to unite them center on their preferences for: narrative stasis over development; flawed, incorrigible, and ‘forgetting’ core characters; familial representations and confined domestic or workplace milieu; related tensions between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’; and a sense of situational and/or psychological entrapment.”8 My focus is the characters’ forgetfulness, their relationships, the situations that ensure their “psychological entrapment” and maintained by way of the narrative. The sitcom tends to be seen by the industry as a format rather than a genre or form, thus relying on elements of previous successes, such as the use of wellknown comedians or archetypal characters. In academia, the sitcom is often limited to being viewed as a genre that has the potential to explore ideological tensions within culture, reflecting the times and cultural attitudes; it is rarely studied in terms of its comicality. So while one can laugh at the character full of hubris slipping on a banana skin or being jailed for failing the compassionate test, this book examines what begets their hubris by closely examining two commonly cited aspects of the sitcom: the character’s entrapment regardless of the physical limitations and the narrative structure whereby the plot returns to the emotional stasis. It examines why, as well as how, the characters remain in situations that some could argue prevent any change, reinforcing common sociological readings that it is conservative. While many texts focus on sociological readings of the sitcom, including Mills and the BFI text along with Dalton and Linder’s collection of essays, others such as Jerry Palmer9 unpack narrative structures using theories of

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Trisha Dunleavy, Television Drama: Form, Agency, Innovation (Basingstoke, UK and New York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishers, 2009), 196. Mary Dalton and Laura R. Linder, eds, The Sitcom Reader:  America Viewed and Skewed (Albany : State University of New York Press, 2005). Jerry Palmer, The Logic of the Absurd: On Film and Television Comedy (London: British Film Institute, 1987).

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comedy while Patricia Mellencamp10 utilizes Freud’s theories of the comic and humor to understand the nature of comic degradation in 50s sitcoms. Using Freud’s conception of the joke, both Mick Eaton and Steve Neale sought to understand the tension in, and pleasure gained from, film and TV screen comedy by connecting the character to the narrative.11 They explore the character by means of Freud’s notion of the character and a shared narcissism with the spectator, rather than examine the narcissism of the character as this book does. Apart from Mellencamp, Eaton and Neale are the only theorists to undertake a psychoanalytic reading of the sitcom. Like Mellencamp, they restrict themselves to Freud’s theorization of the joke, the comic, and humor. Caroline Bainbridge offers that “psychoanalysis can be used to read media texts as symptoms of a broader cultural malaise,”12 and I concur; however this book examines the text and what is going on within it rather than the affect the text has on us or the world. David Marc13 reinforces the need to see why it is essential to understand the character’s relationship to social frames in order to locate the “site” of struggle for the key character. This book sets out to understand the nature and genesis of the tension generated by discursive frames. To that end, I read the television sitcom through psychoanalytic theory in order to examine how the characters engage in the diegetic world and elicit how their relationships entrap them in situations that are disempowering or render them powerless. While this approach is original, cutting across multiple areas of research, it does, I believe, give insight into the comic operation in this form of comedy. Furthermore, and recognizing that some sitcoms reinforce social hegemonies, this book explores “the relationship between the individual and society”14 in the search for a sense of self that may be at odds with hegemonic discourses, to ascertain if it can be subversive. Indeed, on a recent BBC program celebrating sixty years of the British sitcom, sitcom writer Graham Linehan finds One

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Patricia Mellencamp, “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy,” in Critiquing the Sitcom:  A Reader, ed. Joanne Morreale (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2003) 41–55. Mick Eaton, “Laughter in the Dark” and Steve Neale, “Psychoanalysis and Comedy,” both in Screen (22.2, 1981): 21–43. Caroline Bainbridge, “Psychotherapy on the Couch: Exploring the Fantasies of In Treatment,” in Television and Psychoanalysis. Psycho- Cultural Perspectives, ed. Caroline Bainbridge, Ivan Ward, and Candida Yates (London: Karnac Books, 2014), 60. David Marc, Comic Visions (Massachusetts and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997). Mills, Television Sitcom, 45.

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Foot in the Grave deeply subversive in its depiction of death and ageing, while Richard Curtis saw The Vicar of Dibley as an opportunity to have the argument that women can be vicars, a progressive—even revolutionary—idea at the time.15 In the same vein, comedian Josh Widdicombe comments on The Office as “examinations of people’s attitude to things like race and sexism and how that laddishness of the 90s against the politically correct movement of the nineties clashed together.”16 Hence it is essential to understand the nature of the character at odds with the world around them. To that end, I utilize and extend the work of Mellencamp on “containment” as a social discursive frame to explore the relationship between character/s and their frame. I have attended various comedy panel discussions and workshops and listened to many writers talk of the magic of three;17 in the same vein this book elucidates the psychical characteristics of the triumvirate that sits at the heart of the sitcom. I argue that it is necessary to understand how these three (what I define as the key character, their master, and their echo) are bound to each other in what are, at times, disempowering relational dynamics. I offer that understanding the nature of the bind ensures comic repeatability. What becomes evident is that comic tension arises through a power imbalance—both within the character’s sense of self and in relation to the world in which they exist—a point made by Mills that opens this chapter and echoed by Ricki Tannen in her exploration of the female trickster in the twentieth century.18 The quest becomes understanding the nature and genesis of the power imbalance. I begin with a question: If comedy is about power imbalance, then how does that imbalance arise (in the social); further, how is it maintained (through the personal)? This

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British Sitcom: 60 Years of Laughing at Ourselves, produced by Breid McLoone for BBC Scotland (UK: BBC), transmitted September 12, 2016. One Foot in the Grave, created and written by David Renwick, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1990–2000). The Vicar of Dibley, created by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, produced by Tiger Aspect Productions et al. (UK: BBC, 1994–2007). British Sitcom, 60 Years of Laughing at Ourselves, transmitted September 12, 2016. The Office, created and written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, produced by BBC Comedy-North et al. (UK: BBC, 2001, 2002). Judy Carter Stand Up Workshop, Sydney, 2005; Steve Kaplan workshop, Sydney, 2007; Ellen Sandler Developing TV Series, Sydney, 2013; Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks, Arvon Foundation, Shropshire, 2014; Big Comedy Conference, London, 2014; Dave Cohen and James Carey, Comedy Writing Workshop, London, 2015; Robert McKee, TV Series Seminar, London, 2016; Writers Guild Great Britain, panel event, Situation Critical: Who Will Save the Sitcom? with Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, Julia McKenzie (Head of Radio Comedy for BBC Studios) and writer James Cary, Museum of Comedy, London, 2017. Mills, Television Sitcom. Ricki S. Tannen, The Female Trickster: The Mask that Reveals (London and New York: Routledge, 2007).

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book makes a contribution to the development process and craft of writing the sitcom by dissecting the root of comic tension, specifically how the key character’s struggle ensures both comic performance and repeated comicality. I establish a framework through which to read this popular form of comedy, building a bridge from theory to craft while respecting the independence and value of each domain. Indeed, the narrative through-line of this book emulates my objective that theory informs craft (and I would argue vice versa). The Appendix includes pedagogical approaches to (re)reading and developing the sitcom as well as suggested steps for developing a series and pilot script.

What is the sitcom? The sitcom is a play in three acts, with a story that has a beginning (the situation coupled with an inciting incident), middle (tension builds to the comedic climax), and end (the emotional stasis is reestablished). While its narrative construction is essentially two acts, the sitcom conforms to the principles of dramatic writing posited by Aristotle:  namely a thematically unified mode of drama centered on character/s whose actions and interactions produce a plot that is comic in nature. Understanding the sitcom as a mode (of writing) involves illuminating its dynamics as a form of storytelling: dramatic conflict is driven by a character with clear goals and motivation encountering obstacles that result in some degree of transformation or at the least the revelation of some information or resolution between characters. In the sitcom, a catalyst threatens the disruption of the status quo that, after twenty-three minutes or so, is expelled; so while the situation remains unchanged, and, more importantly, the relationships between characters, including their conflicts are unaltered, as a form it demands some interaction between character and story to ensure the re-situation. Rather than label the sitcom as a genre employing certain tropes, I argue it can subsume generic tropes within the narrative. While many studies of the sitcom focus on genre or sociological readings centered on class, race, gender, or sexuality with such texts as the seminal BFI dossier, Television Sitcom19 and Mills’s text already mentioned, my interest is focused on reading the sitcom as a comic form in order to understand its 19

Jim Cook, ed., Television Sitcom: BFI Dossier No. 17 (London: British Film Institute, 1982).

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structure. Hence I define the sitcom as a half-hour comic story involving a small group of characters premised on a struggle—be it understanding how to engage with social discourses or the search for love and/or actualization—wherein at least one character is repeatedly thwarted in achieving their goal by forces unseen and unknown to them. T. G. A. Nelson’s text, Comedy: The Theory of Comedy in Literature, Drama, and Cinema20 is a major contribution to the academic study of comedy. Similarly this book sets out to theorize the sitcom; at the very least its original approach offers a framework through which to read this form of comedy. Theories of comedy propose that comedy is driven by the need to feel superior, the incongruity of events and ideas, or the relief that comes from the need for aggression motivated by desire and/or loss.21 Theories of relief and superiority examine affects, while the theory of incongruity is based in structural analysis. What is common to a textual analysis of the sitcom is the character’s inability to change coupled with an incongruity of how they see themselves and how the world sees them. And while it can be argued that the sitcom is rooted in incongruity, such a theory does not give us the complete answer to the nature of the comic operation in this form of comedy. Moreover, incongruity explains to some extent the tension between the characters and characters and the “situation,” yet does not account for the disempowering entrapment or the prevalence of superiority that often plays in the sitcom. By understanding the central tension/struggle inherent in a series, this book extends the contemporary academic debates around the sitcom: that there is a narrative enigma and discursive framework within which episodes sit and through which one can view tensions at a social or political level. Even though I refer exclusively to the sitcom, the analysis is relevant to the broader form of television narrative comedy, which incorporates the term dramedy where characters seek transformation yet are unable to transform, as opposed to comedy dramas defined as long-form closed narratives, such as Sex and the City where the characters are empowered—they know what they want and, importantly, how to get it.22 If they fail, they don’t suffer comic 20

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T. G. A. Nelson, Comedy: The Theory of Comedy in Literature, Drama, and Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990). John Morreall, “Philosophy of Humor,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 edition), ed. Edward N.  Zalta, first published November 20, 2012, http://plato.stanford.edu/ archives/spr2013/entries/humor/ accessed September 14, 2016. Sex and the City, created by Darren Star, produced by Darren Star Productions et al. (USA: HBO, 1998–2004).

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degradation as do characters in the sitcom, rather they wallow in their narcissistic self-absorption. While the sitcom may also be defined as a long-form closed narrative, it has its own subcategory that I offer is determined by a struggle and, more importantly, results in some form of entanglement that they repeatedly attempt to master—and fail week after week. As I am interested in the psychical dynamics of the character that is disempowered in some way, I use the term sitcom as it epitomizes those parameters. I begin with the definition of the comic character as an unconscious victim wherein a narcissistic personality disorder on their part means that they engage with the dramatic structure of events in such a way as to be repetitively, and hence permanently, unable to produce change in themselves, their relationships, or the situation in which they exist. What arises is that the comic character is determined by the relationship to a hegemonic discourse, yet the main or central character, along with the key character, is primarily shaped by their relationships, further underscored by the social discourse that is at odds with how they see the world and themselves. A common approach in developing screen characters is to define their want/ goal, need, fears, and wound; as the central character pursues their “want,” they must face their “need” and, in doing so, are transformed or “set free” as is evident in romantic comedy (romcom) films or Shakespearean (new) comedy. Common approaches to screenwriting favor exponents such as Vogler, McKee, Campbell, or Field;23 texts that elucidate the three–five act structure and which involves some transformation of the protagonist. The sitcom episode is essentially act two with a twist into act three. The first act is either played out in the titles and/or the situation, further underscored by way of music and a montage (often in animation) that give context. (See Mills for further elaboration of signifiers of the sitcom.) Evan Smith takes a premise approach and Tim Ferguson sees the joke as central to the sitcom;24 while both advocate that tension is essential, neither explain how tension is enabled or maintained. As such, the organizing factor for the sitcom in recent years has been the joke as demonstrated in Ferguson’s

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Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (London: Pan Books, 1999). Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting (New York: HarperCollins, 1997). Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (London: Fontana Press, 1993). Syd Field, The Screenwriter’s Workbook (New York: Dell Publishing, 1984). Evan S. Smith, Writing Television Sitcoms (New York: Perigee Books, 1999). Tim Ferguson, The Cheeky Monkey: Writing Narrative Comedy (Sydney : Currency Press, 2010).

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book: begin with the joke then the performance will follow, then develop character and episode story. I contend that studying the sitcom begins with the (key) character, then analyzing the nature of their relationships and the inherent tension played out or reinforced by the narrative and its effect on the character’s behavior. Ellen Sandler’s25 delineation between the film as having a problem and the TV series driven by dilemma triggered my interest that the sitcom is centered on a struggle. Hence I posit that the character and their “desire” is the organizing principle, raising the question: What is the difference between desire and want? To determine the nature of desire, I embarked on a psychoanalytic examination of the character in the sitcom. What emerged was insight into the little-discussed Echo in the myth of Narcissus, and Freud’s 1914 paper—the cornerstone of psychoanalysis.

The psychology of the character Inspired by Andrew Horton who classifies different types of comic characters that exist at various stages of the oedipal phase in order to bridge theory and craft,26 this book brings together psychoanalysis, comic theory, narrative theory, and frames of “containment” to open the door to a better understanding of what might be driving and entrapping the character/s in this form of comedy. However, Horton’s work focuses primarily on film comedy, which must have a resolution to a problem, the sitcom, on the other hand, never solves its problem; rather I contend what lies at the heart of the sitcom is a struggle to maintain or gain an identity by one or more characters. In order to understand the behavior of a comic character trapped by their actions, I unpack psychoanalytic theory and its genesis in the myth of Narcissus, touching on the psychology of introverts and extroverts to determine that in the sitcom there is at least one character motivated by a struggle for a “sense of self.” As Iain MacRury does with the stand-up in exploring the bridge from the “it” to the “I,”27 this book attempts to elucidate the nature of the struggle for those sitcom characters who attempt to move from “object” to “subject” and their repeated

25

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27

Ellen Sandler, The TV Writer’s Workbook: A Creative Approach to Television Scripts (New York: Bantam Dell, 2007). Andrew Horton, Writing the Character- Centered Screenplay (Berkeley :  University of California Press, 1999) and Laughing Out Loud (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). Iain MacRury, “Humour as ‘Social Dreaming’:  Stand-Up Comedy as Therapeutic Performance,” Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (17.2, 2012), 185–203.

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failure in attaining that goal. I set out to understand how comic characters see themselves and the world in relation to the self. Having determined the narcissistic nature of the comic character as an unconscious victim full of hubris, it emerged that there existed another “type” of character, more commonly portrayed as the sidekick, fall guy, victim, or simply “ditzy.” Returning to the originating myth shines light on a psychical construct that has received little attention in the psychoanalytic domain (compared to Narcissus), the mythical character of Echo. What becomes evident is that this “character,” emanating from Echo’s psychical construct can not only be as funny, if not funnier than the “narcissistic” character, they are also paramount in ensuring comicality in this form of comedy. It is the exploration of Echo, in the same vein as has been done with Narcissus, and Freud’s exegesis that progresses the understanding of the psychology of comic characters in the sitcom. What then transpires is that some characters in the sitcom harbor elements of both Narcissus and Echo—what I label as the key character—the central concern of this book and Chapter 1. Furthermore, in unpacking what might be the personality determinants of Echo, much like Narcissus, and applying the deductions in reverse, it became apparent that there may exist another, possible flip side or “partner” of narcissism—“echoism”—which has its own psychological motivations and causation. Once aware that such a condition or syndrome may exist, I began to see its prevalence in those around me. As in the myth, each cannot exist without the other: Narcissus needs the echoing of his/her self-love and Echo needs an “other” through whom she/he can have a voice, setting up the dyadic relationship required for the “entrapment.” Patricia Berry’s28 discussion on Echo along with Gorton’s work on desire enables a reading of echoistic characters as trapped in the gaze bound by desire—or vice versa. It became evident that the interrelationship between desire and the Lacanian notion of the gaze elucidates the nature of the entrapment. Echo and Narcissus are thus bound together by unresolved and unconscious issues centered on fear, desire, and lack. Furthermore, Gorton’s work on the hysteric and their drive “to sustain the desire of the father,”29 while simultaneously rejecting patriarchal control, connects gaze with desire and, in particular, I argue, Echo’s desire. I posit that 28

29

Patricia Berry, Echo’s Subtle Body. Contributions to an Archetypal Psychology (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, 2008). Kristyn Gorton, Theorising Desire:  From Freud to Feminism to Film (Basingstoke, UK and New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008), 50.

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Echo is the genesis of the hysteric and should not be limited to a feminist reading of the hysteric; rather, this psychological construct should be read as a response to an experience of disempowerment, regardless of gender, and more pertinently where voice has been muted. Moreover, I deduce that the “echo” character reflects back to the key character their unprocessed desires and fears. I hope that by Chapter 3 it will become apparent that these characters are essential to the comicality of the sitcom (more so than the “narcissist” full of hubris, which dominates much of contemporary comedy and sitcoms). In Chapter 3, I explore the possibility of echoism to offer that there is some validity defining conditions that present as mirroring the object or other, and the enabling nature in the dyadic relationship with the narcissistic “puppet master.” Picking up Bainbridge’s thesis, I begin to read the sitcom as a form of mirroring or “echoing” of our own psychological construct.30 However, as noted, this book is not about how one relates to the sitcom as a (significant) cultural product, rather it uncovers the importance of the echo character and its role in the comicality of the main and/or key character; indeed it is my observation that without an “echo” there is little chance of comedy. Understanding the psychology of the character enables an opportunity to both master this difficult form of comedy and use it to make comment on society. Although this is the first time psychoanalytic theory has been applied to the sitcom in such a comprehensive manner, this book is not about the psychoanalytic process and its usefulness, it is about how the sitcom operates. The method is theoretical while the objective is to progress the study of the sitcom, cutting across different areas of research and interest, and in the process elucidate rarely discussed aspects. To that end, it is hoped that the psychoanalytic domain as well as those who teach and study comedy, particularly those with an interest in how comedy informs, reflects our inner thoughts and releases psychical tension, will find something of use in this strange marriage I felt compelled to arrange. This book offers a textual analysis of the sitcom using psychoanalytic theory to understand motivation and behavior; as such it attempts to lay a theoretical framework through which to both read and develop this form of comedy.

30

Bainbridge, “Psychotherapy on the Couch: Exploring the Fantasies of In Treatment,” in Television and Psychoanalysis. Psycho- Cultural Perspectives, ed. Caroline Bainbridge, Ivan Ward, and Candida Yates (London: Karnac Books, 2014).

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Using psychoanalysis Psychoanalytic theory’s focus is on behavior and identity formation, rather than (symbolic) transformation, as with analytical psychology. Alessandra Lemma writes, “Like psychoanalysis, comedy deals with incongruity,”31 and while the theory of incongruity is what, one could argue, defines the sitcom, it does not account for, nor give insight into, how relational dynamics become perpetual and entrapping; psychoanalysis does. By putting the character on the couch, so to speak, this book examines character motivation to analyze the nature of their “want” and “need” to find that their “need” is never brought to consciousness and moreover must be at odds with their “want.” Gorton unpacks desire and the contrasting use between psychoanalysis that defines it as emanating from some lack and Deleuze’s conception of desire as “movement” to find that “desire creates recognition (through identification and the gaze) . . . radically [altering] the character’s being-in-the-world.”32 Gorton argues convincingly, using a wide range of screen characters, to determine that (in the screen narrative) desire induces movement—the character is propelled to act. Furthermore, for her the movement is toward a recognition of the “self ” that is instantiated by the gaze, melancholia, hysteria, or shame, referencing screen texts where those affects are explored and personified. For me and in this context, understanding the relationship between desire and the gaze becomes paramount. I deduce that not only are desire and gaze intertwined, the comic character is driven by some combination of fear and desire, each either conscious or unconscious yet perpetually at odds with the diegetic frame delivered by the narrative. Thus, while desire induces action, it is the unconscious want, formed out of the gaze and its desire (which is unknowable) that, I offer, instantiates blindness in action. Furthermore, Gorton reminds us that the “central narrative that runs through psychoanalytic theory, from Freud to Lacan, is the Oedipal drama” and, quoting Eagleton, “It is not just another complex: it is the structure of relations by which we come to be the men and women that we are.”33 It is this “structure of relations” that is at the heart of my concern, specifically around intentionality. To understand relationships in the sitcom, one must understand relational dynamics; using psychoanalysis enables a reading of the behavior of 31

32 33

Alessandra Lemma, Humour on the Couch (London and Philadelphia:  Whurr Publishers, 2000), 73. Gorton, Theorising Desire, 29. Gorton, Theorising Desire , 12.

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the character/s and relational dynamics, particularly those which keep characters “trapped.” I contend that the dynamics within relationships is what prevents the actualization of the character/s. Beginning with Freud’s work on ego maturation and his 1914 paper on Narcissism, I pick up post-Freudian theory and Lacan to examine the genesis of the ideal ego, ego-ideal and Ego-Ideal to unpack the character’s desire alongside the intentionality of the other/Other. Susan Purdie’s work sets up a psychoanalytic reading of the comic through both Freud and Lacan;34 her argument, that the comic exists in the preoedipal and oedipal phase of maturation, enables an understanding of phases of ego maturation and connection to behavior. I use Purdie’s thinking in reading the sitcom character but depart from it in Chapter 2, where I take up Heinz Kohut’s theory of the “structure of the self ”35 and elucidate the fundamental impulses and dynamics that might be at play within the character and, more pertinently, in their relationships by way of “poles” that support ego development. I take the Lacanian approach that desire constitutes what the other desires and add to Gorton’s thesis that desire precipitates movement—the character is forced to act—out of the Lacanian need “to be seen by the other”36 (fulfilling its “lack”). Julia Segal’s exploration of phantasy as a psychoanalytical tool underpins the view that humans see the world through a “lens” that shapes behavior, both conscious and unconscious, when she writes that “phantasies make up the background to everything we do, think or feel: they determine our perceptions and in a sense are our perceptions.”37 Segal’s approach reminds us that unresolved conflicts are harbingers of motivation. By clarifying the commonality as well as difference between phantasy, personality disorder, and indeed complex or disturbance, this book unpacks what might be driving characters to repeatedly undermine themselves and their goals. As such, I seek to understand the possible psychical construct of the character (not why they are like that) in order to understand their motivation and behavior when their sense of self is threatened. It is their response where one finds pleasure, and ultimately their comic degradation is what makes one squirm. As mentioned, Mellencamp attempts a feminist reading of 1950s sitcoms in order to understand how comic degradation is 34 35 36 37

Susan Purdie, Comedy: The Mastery of Discourse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993). Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2009). Purdie, Comedy: The Mastery of Discourse. Julia Segal, Phantasy in Everyday Life: A Psychoanalytical Approach to Understanding Ourselves (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1985), 22.

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enabled along with the spectator’s response at that moment; she differentiates between comic performance and degradation using Freud’s theory of the comic and humor. And, while she does not come to a feminist conclusion, she does enable a reading of the (female) sitcom character as being “contained” by the unknowable. Furthermore, psychoanalysis and its theoretical framework, stemming from Purdie’s work, have proved to be surprisingly flexible in determining that the comic is indeed genderless. Alenka Zupancic uses psychoanalysis to understand the comic character as a basis of enjoyment and, like Lisa Trahair, connects the character’s behavior to the narrative.38 However Zupancic does not read screen characters, as Trahair does, who demonstrates that linking the character to narrative in screen texts is essential. Trahair’s text is a significant contribution to the theory of the screen comic. I use her work in Chapters 1 and 4 to demonstrate the nature of the key character’s psychical tension and further how the narrative delivers a diegetic reality, in turn shaping the plot. I conclude that behavior in the character is a response to the tension brought to bear through the narrative, which for Trahair is a manifestation of the reality principle at odds with the pleasure principle inherent in the character’s desire. I offer that the gaze and the feelings it triggers, specifically fear, desire, and lack, entraps the key character, rather than desire triggering the gaze as Gorton does. I argue that the gaze triggers desire in the other, which is then repeated by the subject to ensnare the other. In doing so, the subject is objectified, blinding them to the intentionality of the other. I ask: Is the gaze a source of blindness to the reality? And what is its nature? While some of my conclusions or observations of subjectivity have exceptions, it is by way of noticing patterns of behavior of characters that prompts me to ask how that “blindness” affects their actions. I return to the story of Oedipus to shine a spotlight on the tragic character of Jocasta, mother/wife of Oedipus (who has been labored with much of modernity’s psychological ills), to query her motivation and “knowing” in order to understand intentionality. Psychoanalysis is merely a gate into the world of the character, their motivation, and behavior at odds with the world around them. Understanding that incongruity, gives insight into how the sitcom can be released from its charge of being conservative.

38

Alenka Zupancic, The Odd One in: On Comedy (Cambridge and London:  MIT Press, 2008). Lisa Trahair, The Comedy of Philosophy: Sense and Nonsense in Early Cinematic Slapstick (Albany : State University of New York Press, 2007).

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An overview: Finding sitcom’s subversive side Having grown up in Australia, born of migrant parents, and recognizing that many of our programs are influenced by both American and British programs, I use three Australian texts through which to closely “read” the character, their relationships, and their struggle: Acropolis Now, Kath & Kim, and Pizza.39 While these three achieved considerable popularity in their time (since surpassed by Please Like Me and Upper Middle Bogan), they offer a breadth and diversity of production that permit the identification of recurrent elements while maintaining many of the defining features of this form of comedy.40 In the inter- and intra-textual analysis undertaken, these three programs sit alongside the British 1970s comedy Fawlty Towers and the 1950s American I Love Lucy.41 You don’t need to be familiar with the programs as I give summaries that will hopefully give a sense of what the program/episode is about. It does help though to have some familiarity with I Love Lucy, which is easily accessible on YouTube. In terms of differing production processes, Acropolis Now is a more traditional sitcom, using three cameras (multicamera) with a set and recorded in front of an audience; Kath & Kim is a satirical parody shot single camera on location, primarily in one house, with no audience or laugh track, much like the innovatively shot Peep Show ;42 Pizza is a satire/carnivalesque program filmed in various locations, again with no laugh track as is common in single camera comedies. Pizza is centered on the antics of a single character, Pauly, while Kath & Kim, explores the relationship between mother and daughter and “second best friend” Sharon. Both these programs rely heavily on comic

39

40

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42

Acropolis Now, created and written by Simon Palomeres, Nick Giannopoulos, and George Kapiniaris, produced by Crawford Productions et al. (Australia: ATN 7, 1989–92). Kath & Kim, created and written by Gina Riley and Jane Turner, produced by ABCTV, later Riley Turner Productions (Australia: ABC, 2002–4, ATN7, 2007). Pizza, created by Paul Fenech, produced by SBSTV (Australia: SBS, 2000–6). Please Like Me, created and written by Josh Thomas, produced by ABC et  al. (Australia:  ABC, 2013–present). Upper Middle Bogan, created by Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope, produced by Gristmill (Australia: ABC, 2014–present). I Love Lucy, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf, produced by Desilu Productions (USA: CBS, 1951–61). Fawlty Towers, created and written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1975, 1979). Peep Show, created by Andrew O’Connor, Jesse Armstrong, and Sam Bain, written by Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, and Simon Blackwell, produced by Objective Productions (UK: Channel 4, 2003–15).

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performance and gags. Acropolis Now has the highest level of integration between character and events strongly based in story, giving it a much stronger narrative line than the other two. Each of these programs are produced by different methods (and networks) and, by setting those aspects aside, enables the opportunity to focus on the articulation of character, relationships, and narrative. Furthermore, and interestingly, these three Australian programs span a sixteen-year time frame, reflecting the shifting discourse of multiculturalism during that period. When read together, these texts allow one to observe how social discourses construct “frames” that define and shape identity through culture, underscoring Marc’s proposition that sitcoms reflect and explore the times from which they are spawned.43 This book extends Marc’s proposition by offering that it is the dichotomy of the time and, picking up Eaton’s and Dunleavy’s subsequent analysis of inside/outside tension, this is where one finds the comic site of struggle.44 While the protagonists in the meta-narrative are Lucy, Basil, and Kimmie, I have used the three Australian sitcoms mentioned as an organizing factor to determine how frames relate to comic performance. Chapter 5 examines the nature of the character’s struggle in relation to a hegemonic discourse and the structure of the narrative, as being “closed” (in that it returns to the re-situation), can also be viewed as a kind of frame that contains the character (and of which they may be unaware). Using Umberto Eco’s notion that social frames determine comic effect,45 I analyze the key character in terms of their relationship to a “discursive frame” to offer that in the attempt to transgress discursive frames, the character becomes comic. I then apply the findings to I Love Lucy and Fawlty Towers in detail as well as comment on other long-running sitcoms such as Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Big Bang Theory, and My Family.46 I find that it is the key, or in some cases the main, character’s struggle with a frame, variously determined by her/his relationship with its limits (outside it, within it, and attempting to shift its boundaries, or denial 43 44

45

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Marc, Comic Visions. Mick Eaton, “Television Situation Comedy,” in Popular Television and Film (London: British Film Institute Open University Press, 1981), 26–52. Dunleavy, Television Drama: Form, Agency, Innovation. Umberto Eco, “The Frames of Comic ‘Freedom,’” Carnival! ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (Berlin: Mouton Publishers, 1984), 1–9. Everybody Loves Raymond, created by Philip Rosenthal, produced by Where’s Lunch et  al. (USA: CBS, 1996–2005). The Big Bang Theory, created by Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre, produced by Chuck Lorre Productions et al. (USA: CBS, 2007–present). My Family, created by Fred Barron, produced by Rude Boy Productions et al. (UK: BBC, 2000–11).

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or knowledge of its existence altogether) that facilitates the style of performance. Determining the limits of previously unseen frames that artificially contain or define the character enables an interpretation of the sitcom as being progressive, even subversive. The framework to read the sitcom is sketched out in Chapter 1: there exists a character trapped in the gaze of the other and from which they unconsciously attempt to escape and fail. By examining the myth of Narcissus and the disorder that takes its name, I deduce that there exists in every sitcom a character that has aspects of both Echo and Narcissus— this is the key character. Chapter 2 then looks at the dynamics in the key character’s relationships, to find there are relational characters that mirror back to the key character’s unconscious conflicts which they repress/deny, explaining both the comedic tension and the propensity by the key character for “repeating, forgetting and never working through.” Chapter 1 is necessary to read before Chapter 2, which is not necessary for the proceeding chapters. I revise the framework at the beginning of each chapter to enable stand-alone readings of each chapter. While Chapter 1 is required for the rest of the book, Chapters 4 and 5 can be read separately from the other chapters in order that the reader may focus on the diegetic reality of the narrative and beyond to social hegemonies that attempt to frame the character/s. These chapters apply craft approaches to elucidate aspects of narrative structure and comic performance. To that end, my objective is to make a contribution to the very difficult craft of writing the sitcom by offering a new way of reading this form of comedy, and also enable a more confident approach to developing and reading new programs. I have written three pilots, two of which have garnered some attention, and I share my approach in developing a series and pilot in the Appendix. While I am a strong advocate of the assertion that each of us must find our own writing style, the framework offered here in (re)reading and developing the sitcom may assist simply in the diagnostic analysis of a series proposal. I have listed essay topics for further theoretical and analytical thinking about the sitcom. This book explores “the relationship between the individual and society”47 in the search for a “self ” at odds with hegemonic discourses, and by doing so, lays the ground for this form of comedy to be subversive.

47

Mills, Television Sitcom,45.

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There is thus Narcissism, misrecognition and alienation in the moment of the mirror.1 Characters constitute much of the pleasure of sitcoms through gags, jokes, and comic performance. Often categorized as “types” such as The Hedonist, The Idiot Savant, The Operator, or depicted as recognizable stereotypes such as the effeminate male or harridan housewife, many are descendants of archetypal ancestors, in particular the fool, trickster, truth-teller, rogue, and comic hero. Such descriptors explain to some degree a character’s comicality, but not the character’s perpetual entrapment, a marked characteristic of the sitcom. Bergson defines the comic character as an unconscious victim—the disjunction between how the character sees him/her self and the reality within which they exist generates comicality. In order to better understand the comic characters’ unconscious, I dissect the psychical nature of the sitcom character to elucidate why they remain “trapped” in the situation from which they attempt to escape yet repeatedly fail. To that end, I observe the characters from two Australian comedies, Pizza and Kath & Kim, the British classic Fawlty Towers alongside Patricia Mellencamp’s analysis of the American classic I Love Lucy, to view them as suffering some degree of narcissistic disorder that precipitates an identity at odds with the world within which they exist.2 In seeking to understand the dynamics of the character’s behavior rather than

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2

Robert Stam et  al., New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics:  Structuralism, Post-structuralism and Beyond (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 129. Patricia Mellencamp, “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy,” in Critiquing the Sitcom: A Reader, ed. Joanne Morreale (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2003), 41–55. Pizza, created by Paul Fenech, produced by SBSTV and Paul Fenech (Australia: SBS, 2000– 6). Kath & Kim, created and written by Gina Riley and Jane Turner, produced by ABCTV, later Riley Turner Productions (Australia: ABC, 2002–4, ATN7 2007). Fawlty Towers, created and written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1975–6). I Love Lucy, written by Jess

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determine why the character has those characteristics, I begin with the proposition that the comic character is an unconscious victim, and harbors some degree of narcissism. Freudian psychoanalytic theory assists in understanding the traits of narcissistic behavior. By examining such traits—or extremes of the continuum of what is normal, this chapter locates the psychological disorder the comic characters appear to manifest, and thus nuances what instantiates the sitcom characters’ view of themselves and the world around them. Post-Freudian psychoanalytic theory further assists by articulating how identity is constructed and how such construction contributes to certain behavior. Narcissism is central to psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic thinking; seen as part of ego maturation, it structures identity and the way the subject engages with the external world. It is a difficult and complex psychological notion that cannot be simply defined as bad or delusional behavior. The term derives from the Greek myth of Narcissus, translated by the Roman writer Ovid in 8 AD: Narcissus is the hunter youth in love with his mirror image, his self-love enabled by an adoring mother, reinforced by the disembodied nymph, Echo. The myth enables a reading of the characters in the sitcom as being a derivative of either Narcissus or the little-mentioned Echo. For Jacques Lacan, three registers of the psyche operate in the development of identity: the Imaginary, the site of primary identification (the mirror stage) and ego formation, the Symbolic as the register of the social, and the Real, located beyond the Symbolic, the site of anxiety and trauma. In order to be accepted in the society and its culture, an individual can either surrender their desire or seek to have their desire satisfied by compensating it in return for recognition in the society. It is the desire to be recognized in the Symbolic that can generate anxiety in the Real; the “law of desire” is betrayed through the adoption of the socioSymbolic. Characters such as Lucy, Basil, and Kim strive to attain an identity in the social and thus the Symbolic but fail, leading to the supposition that they are simultaneously caught in an entrapment of which they are unaware. As such, this chapter is concerned with the comic character’s psychical construct developed in the Imaginary and their ego in the “mirror stage,” the conflict, tension, or anxiety shaped by desire, and imposed by the Real that they then experience in the Symbolic. While desire is determined in psychoanalysis as compensating Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf, produced by Desilu Productions (USA: CBS, 1951–61).

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for some lack, I offer that, through Kristyn Gorton’s theorizing, it also enables motivation.3 John Reddick’s translation of Freud’s 1914 paper “On the Introduction of Narcissism,” along with Lacan’s schema of psychical and ego maturation provide a theoretical framework for this undertaking.4 Patricia Mellencamp’s reading of the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy enables further exploration of the character’s unconscious entrapment within what she describes as a “discursive containment.”5 Furthermore and by mobilizing the concept of “echoing,” my aim is to understand the nature of dependency between (comic) characters and how such relationships both affect a sense of self and behavior in the social. In doing so, I deduce that some characters have psychical constructs that embody both Narcissus and Echo.

Narcissism and the comic character What constitutes the ego and its development is the central concern for theories of narcissism both within psychoanalysis and in analytical psychology. As a term in every day usage, narcissism is often used to describe the shallowness and self-absorption of modern individuals whose characteristics tend toward pathological or extreme modes of behavior. Narcissistic traits and their extremities are further defined by social expectations and codes. And while a common view of a narcissist is someone who is grandiose with a sense of self-importance, “specialness,” entitlement, preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love, those afflicted with this personality disorder are 3

4

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Kristyn Gorton, Theorising Desire:  From Freud to Feminism to Film (Basingstoke, UK and New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008). Freud, “On the Introduction of Narcissism,” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings, trans. John Reddick (London:  Penguin Classics, 2003), 1–30. Although slightly different from the title by Strachey, “On Narcissism: An Introduction,” Reddick argues that his title is closer to Freud’s focus of the paper. Mellencamp, “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy.” Mellencamp uses the term in relation to being “constrained” (both physically and psychologically) rather than the psychoanalytical and therapeutic process as postulated by Bion: “containing” and “contained” as a means to manage conflicting feelings and strengthen resilience. And while this concept is centered on the mother-child dyad and duality of projective identification, it can be extended here to view how society “contains” the individual and, in doing so, may disrupt the ability of the mother to offer “containment” for the child. Wilfred R. Bion, Attention and Interpretation (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing, 2004). However Mellencamp’s discursive containment offers a reading that gives insight into the projective identification of the Other.

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often arrogant, selfish, and verbose, along with having an incapacity to love others or show, even experience, empathy.6 However, narcissism is essential to both ego maturation and identity formation—it’s what gets us out of bed each day to achieve our goals. Freud initially defines narcissism as a state of “oneness” with the world, where boundaries between the subject and the external world and its “objects,” including the mother as the primary love-object, are blurred. Using the term “his majesty the baby,” Freud suggests that the indulgence of the individual and its infantile view of the world arrests ego development, feeding feelings of omnipotence and grandiosity that the individual not only seeks to maintain, he/she refuses to surrender; humans are “incapable of forgoing gratification once they have enjoyed it,”7 and the narcissistic perfection of their childhood, which they are unable to retain, is retrieved through idealization and ego-ideals. As such, ego defenses are created as a way of retaining those early experiences. Most theories of narcissism focus on the construction of the self and/or the ego, the relationship between the ego and the libido, and how the ego attaches itself to objects in order to exist and develop in the external world. It is on this point that debate is commonly centered: What determines a pathological state? Object-relations theory focuses on how the subject develops through its “attachment” (or not) to objects rather than libidinal drives that Freud sees as something to be controlled because the dammed up libidinal energy, in the failure of satisfaction, needs to be cathected elsewhere. As such it creates a lack that needs to be fulfilled. Theorist and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott offers that it is from experiencing some degree of omnipotence that the subject develops a sense of self and a lack of omnipotence, in the early years, compels the ego to perpetually seek out experiences to fulfill that lack, often enabled through power and its need that has not been normatively experienced.8 In listing birds of prey, even criminals and comic heroes as examples of the unassailable ego, Freud asserts we envy the narcissistic posturing of such types as reflections of our own surrendered narcissism. Moreover, the narcissistic ego enables both the achievement of the ego’s wants as well as protection of the ego suffering from some lack or trauma. The defense created by the ego is in response to a lack or traumata commonly rather 6

7 8

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) DSM-5 (Washington, DC and London: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013). Freud, “On the Introduction of Narcissism,” 20–22. D. W. Winnicott, Home Is Where We Start from:  Essays by a Psychoanalyst (New  York and London: W. W. Norton, 1986), see in particular pages 30, 92, and 229.

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than fulfillment. Despite the differing views of how pathologies take hold, there is general agreement among many theorists, including Freud, that an unresolved Oedipus complex lies at the heart of narcissistic disorders. As the ego forms in response to identification with the primary caregiver, the subjects develop an idealization (or “ideal ego”) of themselves while simultaneously “mirroring” those around them in order to have their needs gratified. The central issue becomes the nature of early relationships, which determine the degree of pathology and attachment (or not) to objects, including significant others; this is the basis of object-relations theory. Freud assists in seeing how a character’s ideal ego drives them to achieve their goals, observing that the narcissist aims to “keep at bay anything tending to diminish their ego.”9 If the comic character is rooted in a preoedipal or oedipal phase of maturation, as demonstrated by Susan Purdie,10 understanding how narcissistic traits affect behavior, particularly when an unstable ego is under threat, helps understand motivation as well as the nature of the character’s relationships. It is not the cause of the pathology that is of interest, rather how narcissistic traits affect behavior and the comic character’s engagement with reality and those around them. Primary or early stage narcissism is determined by the drives of the pleasure principle and its primary processes such as “wish-fulfilling fantasies and the need for immediate instinctual discharge irrespective of its appropriateness”;11 as the individual matures, their ego develops in response to the external world and its reality, utilizing secondary processes such as determination, focus, cohesion, and intelligibility to achieve their goals, engaging the mental function of the reality principle. Having erected an ego defense, the subject then pours their libido into secondary processes to maintain the ego-ideal in order to maintain ego stability. However, and if the maturation process along with the desiring ego is thwarted, the ego becomes captured by its primary processes. Lisa Trahair observes that “the comic is nothing other than the operations of primary process that have managed to force their way through to consciousness . . . the pleasure principle is still operative in the secondary process, but it has been modified to the extent that it takes into account the 9 10 11

Freud, “On the Introduction of Narcissism,” 18. Susan Purdie, Comedy: The Mastery of Discourse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993). Freud, “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning,” in The Freud Reader, ed. Peter Gay (London:  Vintage, 1995), 301–8. Eda Goldstein, Ego Psychology and Social Work Practice (New York: Free Press, 1995), 62–3.

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development of the psyche and the existence of the external world.”12 When under stress, the individual engages with the world and its reality through those primary processes; they can function but the ego is in a regressed state. What Trahair offers is that not only does the pleasure principle operate in the secondary process, in doing so the full range of secondary processes are not engaged. In other words, secondary process thinking is harnessed in order to achieve primary process goals. If the ego-ideal has been created as a narcissistic defense, then the subject views the external world from an infantile perspective and engages with it on that level. Differentiating between primary and secondary process assists in understanding the response of characters such as Pauly from Pizza when their magnification is under threat. Before looking at Pizza , I want to better understand how narcissism takes hold in the psyche and, more importantly, how it arrests ego maturation. As the ego emerges from the state of primary or infantile narcissism, it experiences a number of stages. The key one is the oedipal phase, which occurs around three to five years of age when it is generally considered to be “resolved.” Some theorists suggest its resolution may occur as late as ten years of age. The preoedipal period has phases or stages such as oral, anal, and phallic. During this period, the relationship with the mother or primary caregiver is dyadic. The oedipal moment occurs when the two-way relationship expands into a three-sided relationship to include the father. Robert Stam writes that “the Oedipal complex signals the transition from the pleasure principle to the reality principle, from the familial order to society at large . . . Freud uses this schema to describe the processes by which the child develops a unified sense of self (an EGO) and takes up a particular place in the cultural networks of social, sexual and familial relations.”13 Dylan Evans clarifies the resolution of this complex as “the passage from the imaginary order to the symbolic order”14 by way of language, enabling the integration into culture. As Lacan’s work hinges on an alliance between language, the unconscious, parents, the symbolic order, and cultural relations, if we have language, we have an unconscious; if we master language, we master the unconscious, as Purdie argues. The mastery of language can also be a means by which

12

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Lisa Trahair, The Comedy of Philosophy:  Sense and Nonsense in Early Cinematic Slapstick (Albany : State University of New York Press, 2007), 176–7. Stam et  al., New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics:  Structuralism, Post-structuralism and Beyond, 131. Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (London and New  York: Routledge, 1996), 127.

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to deny the unconscious and, in doing so, can be both a means of defense and the door that reveals. More pertinently, an unresolved oedipal complex traps the subject in repressed feelings of anger or love toward an object, initially the parent/ s and siblings, later substituted by representatives of those objects. As Ivan Ward notes and quoting Lacan, “Our view is that the essential function of the ego is very nearly that systematic refusal to acknowledge reality.”15 For Andrew Horton characters that populate New Comedy articulate an oedipal resolution, having transgressed from the dual, nature-based, preoedipal phase to the symbolic and cultural phase of the post-oedipal stage; characters in Old Comedy by contrast are anarchistic and reflect the (repressed) aggression of the preoedipal phase of duality.16 However, in the complex not being resolved, and depending on the degree of the repression and during which phase it occurs, the individual generates an idealized view of themselves as a form of defense from those conflicts, stemming from fears and desires that have not been worked through. The individual becomes attached to a “narcissistic” view, at the extreme end retreating into fantasy as a form of defense; this, coupled with experiences of power, lays the ground for the unassailable ego. It is important at this point to explain the behavioral ramifications of the unassailable and narcissistic ego in order to fully grasp how the characters in the comedies under examination play out as narcissistic personality disorders in identifiably symptomatic ways. For Otto Kernberg, narcissistic behavior results from a disordered ego structure derived from disturbed object-relations, most commonly with primary caregivers as a defense in response to a lack of love, acceptance, and nurturing.17 Similarly, for Robert D. Stolorow, narcissism is a function that enables the subject to maintain a sense of self through object-relations: “The object performs basic functions in the realm of self-esteem regulation that the individual’s own psyche is unable to provide.”18 Like a thermostat that regulates room temperature, narcissism is, for Stolorow, a function to regulate self-esteem. Stolorow

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Ivan Ward, “TV Times at the Freud Museum,” in Television and Psychoanalysis: Psycho- Cultural Perspectives, ed. Caroline Bainbridge, Ivan Ward, and Candida Yates (London:  Karnac Books, 2014), 179. Andrew Horton, Writing the Character- Centered Screenplay (Berkeley :  University of California Press, 1999), 42–3. Otto Kernberg, “Factors in the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personalities,” in Essential Papers on Narcissism, ed. Andrew P. Morrison (New  York:  New  York University Press, 1986), 213–44. Robert Stolorow, “Towards a Functional Definition of Narcissism,” in Essential Papers on Narcissism, ed. Andrew P. Morrison (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 201.

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also proposes that “a narcissistic object relationship . . . is to maintain the cohesiveness, stability and positive affective coloring of the self representation.”19 It is not only the relationship with the love-object; a physical object such as a prop can have the same regulating (and comic) effect. A good example is Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and his attachment to (actual) objects and his compulsive behavior that enable him to function, providing the root of much comedy when that “stability” is disrupted.20 Similarly, Robert Blumenfeld marries unresolved oedipal issues at various stages of maturation with types of characters, particularly comic characters such as Harpagon.21 Pauly from the Australian comedy Pizza is a good example of such a character. Pizza is centered on the lives of a group of ethnic pizza delivery drivers who work for the abusive and management-challenged Bobo, himself the target of abuse by his heavy-jeweled and made-up “Mama.” In the episode titled “Small and Large Pizza,” Pauly has his beloved Valiant car confiscated and sent to the scrap heap as a result of a number of driving offences.22 The magistrate booms down from the bench: “Furthermore due to a technicality in the law that prevents me from cancelling your license, I am restricting your engine capacity to 50cc” (the capacity of a lawnmower). By a stroke of luck (and narrative coincidence), Pauly wins a radio competition and so is able to pay the fine. He celebrates his victory accordingly, standing at the judicial bench he cheekily declares: “Sucked in to you judge, sucked in.” Such characters are not only narcissistic and aggressive, they also seek to attack or at least manipulate the Symbolic and those who represent it, especially when thwarted in their goals. The significance of Freud’s 1914 paper on Narcissism is how it theorizes the identity of the individual driven by instinctual demands that are then shaped by, and reflected back, through the environment in which they develop. When the idealized ego or ego-ideal is born of a narcissistic defense of the ego, then, as noted, the subject matures utilizing secondary processes to serve the ego-ideal rather than the emergent ego. In such cases, then, narcissism as a process of ego maturation becomes the basis for identity formation and development.

19 20

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Stolorow, “Towards a Functional Definition of Narcissism,” in Essential Papers on Narcissism, 201. The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, produced by Chuck Lorre Productions et al. (USA: CBS, 2007–present). Robert Blumenfeld, Tools and Techniques for Character Interpretation: A Handbook of Psychology for Actors, Writers and Directors (New Jersey: Limelight Editions, 2006). Paul Fenech, “Small and Large Pizza,” series 4, episode 2, Pizza, first transmitted June 13, 2005.

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Pauly tells his mates in the next scene: “That judge, he tried to stooge me, so I stooged him back”; he proceeds to demonstrate how he has modified the car in order to maintain his status as a “hoon.” Among his many modifications, Pauly has camouflaged a can of “sik nitrus” to boost engine capacity moving the now enlarged engine to the boot in order to accommodate the subwoofers under the bonnet. This character is skilled at altering the small car to meet his needs. When threatened with its loss, Pauly laughs tendentiously at the law; his need to maintain his identity (through that object in particular) determines his actions. This character exhibits a focused, self-centered view of the world, coupled with a sense of entitlement, denying certain realities in order to maintain his (primary) ego desires; he sees life as a game to be mastered and rejects anything that thwarts him and in particular his image and status. The comic character is narcissistic to the extent that he/she has an “unassailable ego” structured by the ego’s desire, which has not been satisfied at an earlier stage. Heinz Kohut defines a person with a narcissistic personality disorder as “an individual in whom the cohesion of the self or of the idealized self-object is fragile.”23 The self is threatened with “disintegration” when their narcissistic ego defense is weakened. I discuss Kohut’s work in greater detail in the next chapter. Both Kohut and Stolorow assist in recognizing the role and importance of an “object” in gaining a sense of self, which can also be a form of ego defense, as with Pauly: the car becomes an object through which he is able to express both his self-image and how he wishes the world to see him. Narcissism can then be viewed as a combination of ego maturation, a mode of object-relations, as well as, to varying degrees, a crutch for self-esteem. Thus the object, be it person, prop, or a strictly adhered timetable, will become significant for the comic character if it is essential to their idealization and, more pertinently, ego stability. In defining the ego-ideal, Freud argues that libidinal instinctual impulses undergo repression if they are in conflict with cultural and ethical ideas, originating in the family and reinforced by the wider society. Ego-ideals result “from the coming together of narcissism . . . and identification with the parents, with their substitutes or with collective ideals.”24 The ego-ideal is something to which 23

24

Heinz Kohut, The Chicago Institute Lectures, ed. Paul Tolpin and Marian Tolpin (Hillsdale, NJ and London: Analytic Press, 1996), 37. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis (London:  Karnac Books, 2006), 144.

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the subject conforms, while the ideal ego is a collective ideal (of parents, family, teachers, class, and nation) to which the subject aspires formed out of their self idealization. This combination explains Freud’s original oscillation between the ego-ideal as something to aspire to as well as someone who is critical and judgmental. Indeed, for Freud, idealization and prohibition are bound together in one. Lacan further defines the Ego-Ideal as being formed by the introjection of values and demands from the Symbolic through an Other, whereas for him the ideal ego is the source of an idealized projection from the subject onto the Symbolic formed out of relationships but may not be how the Other sees the subject. The ideal ego engenders an image while the Ego-Ideal supplies the point from which one is viewed; in Freud’s second topography of the psyche, this agency becomes the critical superego. The Australian sitcom and satirical parody Kath & Kim (mentioned in the introduction) is a good example of a mother–daughter relationship that is a double-edged sword. In the episode “The Moon,”25 Kath and daughter Kim are wandering through the local shopping mall, when Kim, a large-framed woman who defines herself as a “hornbag” (Australian slang for a very sexy lady), spies a peasant style blouse: “Oh mum mum, look at this, that peasant blouse. That’s nice.” Kath: “Is that peasant or pirate Kim?” “Oh Pirate! You’re so five-minutes ago, its peasant.” They continue: Kath: Kim: Kath: Kim: Kath: Kim: Kath: Kim: Kath:

Peasant. Mmm, that’s you isn’t it? (Nodding) Yeees. Yes, there’s nothing more flattering I feel than a puffy-sleeve on a big lass. Yeah, I might get it. Good idea, cover your fedubedas and your tum. (Vehemently) Oh, anything else I need to cover up? Well there’s your welcome mat, your love handles and your dowagers hump, Kim. Mum! ’umour, I’m using ’umour. Now go and get it. Come on.

Kim’s belief that she is a hornbag and fashionista is constantly under attack by Kath, whose stream of criticism about Kim’s weight, hair, and clothes is not only

25

Gina Riley and Jane Turner, “The Moon,” series 2, episode 3, Kath & Kim, first transmitted October 2, 2003.

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unrelenting but may also be a form of defense in the face of the continued verbal onslaught. When her idealization is threatened, Kim responds with anger or denial (compared with Pauly who uses trickery and deception). Here the character’s ego-ideal of being a fashionista, formed by both a projection of an idealized self and that of a significant “other,” is used as a means to deny the onslaught of critical comments, fired shrapnel-like at her self-esteem. As the subject aspires to a model based on the need to be accepted by parents, teachers, and society, the ego-ideal is then projected onto the future as a surrogate for that which was lost (or not received) in childhood. Ego-ideals, as a means of securing love and acceptance by significant others, can be determined by both desire (to be seen/loved) and fear (of not being loved/seen). If so, then ideal egos are the projection of the subject based on idealizations, while ego-ideals are developed out of the desire to be accepted by the loveobject. This could be the basis of psychical tension and form an ego defense that instantiates denial. Thus the comic characters may be caught in a bind between who they think they are (or want to be) and how the Other “sees” them; if the latter view is at odds with their ego-ideal in the attempt to move into the Symbolic, they become trapped in a struggle.

The comic character’s struggle Week after week, the show keeps Lucy happily in her confined domestic, sitcom place after a twenty-three-minute tour-de-force struggle to escape.26

Patricia Mellencamp initially interprets the comic performances of Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy and Gracie Allen in The Burns and Allen Show, both popular sitcoms of the late 1950s, through feminist theory, only to find that the comic refuses to be comprehended within modern critical models.27 The bind for Mellencamp is that in an attempt to link Lucy’s entrapment with comic performance and by reading the program through an ideological framework, she is, in the end, unable to explain how her comicality was precipitated. However, Mellencamp

26

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Patricia Mellencamp, “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy,” in Critiquing the Sitcom: A Reader, 51. I Love Lucy, Oppenheimer et al. The Burns and Allen Show, created by George Burns and Gracie Allen, produced by Columbia Broadcasting System, later McCadden Productions (USA:  CBS, 1950–8).

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does elucidate the tension between comic performance and humorous pleasure that Lucy in particular engenders. Reading Lucy and Gracie through Freud’s theory of the comic to explore Lucy’s mastery of comic movement and Gracie’s mastery of linguistic abuse, Mellencamp studies the relationship between these characters and their respective husbands to demonstrate that both women disavow their husband’s assumed and real power. Gracie is a direct victim of patriarchal power in her relationship with George, and Lucy, through the permissibility of racism, laughs at Ricky (a Cuban), making him the clown to her “straight-man” despite the reverse often occurring. On the other hand, Gracie’s husband, George Burns, is a patriarchal smooth-talking, wisecracking, white American husband, affording Gracie no opportunity to laugh at him; she simply ignores the patriarchal attitudes and positioning of her husband, to triumph over him through the use of absurd logic and nonsensical language. Gorton notes that Freud saw the hysteric “as an effort to receive attention, to break from the confines of a patriarchal society, as a rebellion against the expectations placed on women, or as a revolt against the limitations imposed,”28 giving weight to Mellencamp’s readings of Lucy and Gracie as victims of the contemporary hegemonic discourse. The thrust of Mellencamp’s paper is that these characters attempt to achieve in a world that seeks to contain them. Mellencamp offers that the policies of postwar America sent women back home, resulting in them being treated like, and subsequently behaving like, dependent children; without overtly stating it, this is how she reads both female characters. While Mellencamp sees both women as victims of the narrative, she notes that both are also responding to feelings of powerlessness in response to the hegemonic discourse of the “happy housewife” and accepted wisdom of “husband/father knows best.” The force of Mellencamp’s argument is that she articulates how Government policies not only restricted women’s role in the social, but such policies also made them feel powerless or, more pertinently, disempowered them. In the clash between the goal or want of these characters (to be liberated) and the “reality” in which they exist, Mellencamp’s reading gives further insight into how comic performance can be enabled; it is the character’s ability to deny the reality of their victimization that makes them comic. As such, Mellencamp offers a more complex way of viewing the audience’s relation to the comic than is available in Freud’s study of the joke or comic. Feelings of powerlessness trigger motivation to alter the dynamic, yet disempowerment results in anxiety, a 28

Gorton, Theorising Desire, 51.

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point I unpack in the next chapter. Further, one could read Mellencamp’s analysis through the question: Does comic performance serve an ideological purpose of hiding the real (social) agenda or does it serve to obfuscate the real meaning of the program (in this case that women outside the domestic setting appear as buffoons)? If I have a quibble with Mellencamp, it is that while she insists that it is the characters’ response to their containment that enables the comicality, she does not ask why the character becomes comic within that containment. As Lucy is blind to her deficit of ability, one can only assume that this character’s want (to be successful in her chosen goal) is bound to her absence of awareness of the political realities impacting on her and on women in general. I also wonder if her ego-ideal may be a narcissistic defense in response to a hegemonic discourse that seeks to control her, imposing an Ego-Ideal of which she is unaware. In Chapter 5 I analyze the character’s relationship with discursive frames that enable comic performance, but for now note that Mellencamp enables a reading of the characters as being contained by a hegemonic discourse in a physical or metaphorical sense. To better understand the tension that Mellencamp sees arising between comic performance and humorous pleasure, she turns to Freud’s work on humor. Freud surmised that when the ego and its pleasure principle comes into contact with a reality with which it does not want (or is unable) to engage, the ego is intimidated and feels powerless. At this point, the superego steps in to “reframe” reality and, in so doing, helps the ego disconnect from, and even laugh at, the situation; the superego offers some defense for the ego, facilitating the experience of mastery and control over the external environment. Rather than enabling engagement with reality, the superego creates an illusion of reality for the ego, just as the parent does for the child when she/he is affected by some trauma. It is the superego that assists the ego in dealing with the traumata, by telling it from its own (higher) perspective that the world can be viewed as nothing but a game; reality can thus be repudiated. A “sense of humor” enables “the rejection of the claims of reality . . . [and] signifies not only the triumph of the ego but also of the pleasure principle, which is able here to assert itself against the unkindness of the real circumstances.”29 For Freud, the goal to evade suffering places humor in a dignified position as opposed to jokes, which “serve simply to obtain a yield 29

Freud, “Humour,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud No. XXI, ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1964), 163.

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of pleasure or place the yield of pleasure that has been obtained in the service of aggression.”30 While the superego “protects” the ego in such situations, it can also be surmised that engagement with reality, and the requirement to process and adjust to that reality, has been denied. Lucy is a victim who denies the pain as well as the reality of the situation. For Mellencamp, at the point of Lucy’s degradation, the spectator in particular, is released from the pain of humility of the character, resulting in humorous pleasure. If the character had appropriately engaged the agency of the superego, they would avoid degradation and laugh at the situation, yet in most cases they do not, and if they do, their laughter is short-lived. The comic, governed by the pleasure principle, puts secondary processes to the service of their goals and, as such, their superego has not developed through an engagement with the reality principle; they have no, or at the least, a restricted functioning superego that must affect their engagement with “reality.” Thus secondary narcissism—here defined as the regression to the primary narcissistic state that involves an attachment to the pleasure principle—kicks in as a defense mechanism for the (unstable) ego that comes under stress, such as the loss of, or rejection by the love-object. This explains to some extent the character’s inability and even refusal to change. It is useful now to look at post-Freudian analysis to better understand the comic character’s ego formation and their relationship to the social.

Post-Freud and the comic Lacan saw the first rough cast of the ego emerge in what he terms the mirror phase. This cast is the “small other,” an idealized mirror image of the ego, and is “that point at which he desires to gratify himself in himself.”31 The mirror stage is a further allegorization of the myth of Narcissus and, as mentioned, is the first of the three orders that structure the psyche. The Imaginary shapes the idealized ego, and the Symbolic operates in the social, laying the ground for the Ego-Ideal.

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Freud, “Humour.” Freud’s theory explains why and how we manage to separate ourselves from such humility but, as Mick Eaton notes, it is difficult to compare the operation of the comic and humor as posited by Freud because each is based on different topographies of the psyche: the comic (born of the preconscious), the joke (born of the unconscious), and humor (being the result of the superego), “Laughter in the Dark,” Screen (22.2, 1981), 21–5. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (London and New York: Karnac Books, 1973), 257.

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The ego ideal (until now it has been notated as ego-ideal) is formed through an identification with the small other during the mirror stage and is projected by the subject into the future, becoming the ego-ideal; “The point of the ego ideal is that from which the subject will see himself, as one says . . . as others see him.”32 Evans clarifies the Lacanian view of Other: “The little other is the other who is not really other, but a reflection and projection of ego . . . [and] is thus entirely inscribed in the imaginary order.” Evans continues to write that “the big Other designates radical alterity . . . because it cannot be assimilated through identification . . . and hence the big Other is inscribed in the Symbolic.”33 Thus the Ego-Ideal, formed in response to the “Big Other,” is the agency whose gaze the subject tries to impress with their ego image, impelling the subject to achieve goals in the social as Symbolic. Lacanian theory demonstrates that identity is achieved through the recognition by an other, that has formed initially in the mirror stage and later in the Symbolic, as Other. The Lacanian notion that initially the mother is the Other, and in the recognition of her lack (of a phallus for the male child), she becomes the other. Any disruption of this relationship to the Other therefore, is then replicated in the Symbolic. Thus, if the first identification for the ego occurs in the mirror stage, and this relationship is distorted, identity becomes shaped by, and dependent on, the discourse of the Other in the Symbolic; it is then determined by relationships in the social; it is a defensive response to the (unconscious and repressed) wounding, becoming a false self that maintains the repression. The wound and the Ego-Ideal then become entwined. What Lacan gives us is a clearer differentiation between the ideal ego (self) and the ego-ideal (other), the Ego-Ideal (Other in the Symbolic) and their determinants in the development of the subject. In light of Lucy, the ideal ego/ ego-ideal is a combination of projection and introjection sitting alongside the Ego-Ideal and its introjection from the Symbolic; further, the ego-ideal as well as the Ego-Ideal could be formed on a misinterpretation or misrecognition of the Other. While the ideal ego and ego ideal are being used interchangeably, separating them according to projection of the subject’s idealization (ideal ego) and a combination of projection and introjection (ego-ideal) assists in determining the nature of the psychical tension that may be operating in the comic character. If repression instantiates behavior and is the response to a degree of 32 33

Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, 268. Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, 132–3.

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frustration in the primary narcissistic striving for satisfaction from the primary caregiver, then such tension can contribute to comic performance. As long as the dynamics remain repressed (or “unknown”), those characters who seek to escape a situation are not only unable to, they become caught in a dynamic that is “unknowable” (to them at least). Having located the ideal ego along with the ego-ideal in the Imaginary and the Ego-Ideal in the Symbolic, Lacan places the superego in the psychical register of the Real. This separation enables greater clarity in determining identity formation as driven by desire and may assist in understanding that psychoanalytic desire is not centered just on lack, it can be viewed as a simultaneous response to, and engagement with, the environment through both the Symbolic and the Real. For the purposes of this discussion, I will use ego-ideal to incorporate the ideal ego formed in the Imaginary and Ego-Ideal as developing from an engagement with the Other and the Symbolic. Moreover, for Lacan, as Slavoj Zizek writes: “The superego, with its excessive guilt feelings, is merely the necessary obverse of the Ego-Ideal.”34 The subject is either further caught between innate “desires” that are surrendered for the collective Ego-Ideal or she/he is in conflict with the punitive demands of the superego as the Real: “For Lacan, the seemingly benevolent agency of the Ego-Ideal that leads us to moral growth and maturity forces us to betray the ‘law of desire’ by adopting the ‘reasonable’ demands of the existing socio-symbolic order.”35 And while I may not agree with Zizek that one is forced to betray the law of desire as this opens up the question as to what defines desire and from whose point, I agree that desire and the demands of the socio-symbolic order are two sides of the same coin—that which enables or inspires the ego-ideal/Ego-Ideal and is seen as “good” and that which prevents wishes and desires from coming to fruition (the superego) and is seen as “bad”—“the Law-of-the-Father,” in whose eyes I am guilty. It is through the oedipal identification with the father or his representatives simultaneously with the separation from the (m)other and fear of castration that the superego is formed: foreclosure in “the-Name-of-theFather.” Here the complex is a symbolic imposition of the ego’s engagement with society and its rules—for Lacan, through language—rather than the source of a

34 35

Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2006), 81. Zizek, How to Read Lacan, 81.

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personality disorder. However, this is the view of the subject of the Other and does not take into account the view or, more importantly, the intention of the Other. Pauly may be aware of how the Other sees him and, in response, laughs tendentiously at its “laws,” while Lucy is completely unaware of how the Other sees her and, in particular Ricky, as the other. This is what I see as the root of Lucy’s anxiety—she does not “see” the intentionality of the other that echo the Symbolic with its demands to make women “happy housewives.” Lucy is blind to the intentionality of both the other and the Other that enabled women’s participation in the workforce during World War II—laying the ground of an EgoIdeal—only to be sent back home once the men returned. This character’s ideal ego is at odds with both her ego-ideal (maintained in her relationship with Ricky as other) and the Ego-Ideal of the Symbolic (the hegemonic discourse) as well as the superego of the Real (articulated by Ricky). In the attempt to enter the Symbolic (or reenter the social), comic characters remain attached to an ideal ego or magnification of themselves that is at odds with either an other or an Other and its Ego-Ideal. The view of the subject is a feeling of subjugation rather than seeing the intentionality of the other and how that impacts on their own feelings and restrictions. However, it is the disavowal and denial of certain realities that generates psychical tension; the character is forced to act in order to alleviate such tension. If characters are aware of the Real beyond the Symbolic and its intention, they simply deny it or, in Pauly’s case, defy it. Pauly manages to score a date with a long-legged blonde who finds his car “cute”; he takes her to the drive-in and seeks sexual gratification from her.36 The object as prop is a source of power—in this case a “chick-magnet.” When the date asks to have the roof of the car closed, Pauly is unable to reach the switch due to the size of the car; when she asks to be taken home, the voice of the judge booms down in voice-over: “Sucked in to you Mr. Falzoni.” Pauly is not only undone by the object, he is laughed at by the law that he sought to defy. This character may be aware that the Law of the Symbolic attempts to thwart his goals, it is the tension between his conscious want (to have sex) and preconscious need for power (through the car) that begets his comicality. If he knows or accepts the authority of the law, Paul would become, like Antigone in

36

Fenech, “Small and Large Pizza,” Pizza.

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her determination to bury her brother in defiance of the “law,” a tragic figure; I discuss her possible complex in the next chapter. Without being reductionist, I prefer to use the notation of “ideal ego” for the idealization by the subject in the Imaginary, with the “ego-ideal” being formed out of some combination of desire and want to achieve in the social, through the relationship with the “other”; “Ego-Ideals” are formed in the engagement with the Symbolic and its hegemonic discourse and may incur a denial of the desire (but not the want). Either the ideal ego or the ego-ideal may be at odds with the EgoIdeal of the Symbolic and, when introjected either consciously or unconsciously, as in Lucy’s case, results in a struggle to satisfy both demands that result in erratic and extreme behavior. Such incongruity enables the comicality of how the characters view themselves in relation to the Symbolic rather than, as in drama, the conflict between characters who battle for power and control, where the source of power is more evident. The more blind or unconscious the character is to the incongruity between how they see themselves and how the world sees them, the greater the potential for repeating the same action (and never working through) in the drive to “master” the situation; the attachment to the object rather than the attempt to change the other (as much as some characters attempt to do so, especially in drama) is the root of the comic tension. In drama the character or the diegesis must change in some way; in comedy the character may or may not change (if so then they subvert the narrative), in their transformation they discover some truth about themselves or the world, and in doing so change or master that with which they are at odds. If, as I surmise, that comic tension is enabled by the conflict between the character’s ego ideal and that of the collective Ego-Ideal and the Lacanian Real, then the alienated or “divided” subject could be viewed as having an Imaginary at odds with either the Symbolic or Real. The comic then would emerge in the Imaginary and in opposition to the Symbolic or Real. However, while the comic may be trapped in the Imaginary, it is the split between the Symbolic and Real that maintains their sense of powerlessness in relation to the discourse that they seek to master. Looking at the flip side and tragedy, Lacan’s reading of Antigone demonstrates how a character persists in fulfilling her goal to bury her brother Polynices despite the consequences of the law of King Creon. The tragedy comes from knowing her actions will have devastating consequences for her—and they do. The comic character is not only “unconscious” or at the least in denial of the consequences of their actions, they are unaware of how the other sees them. If they do, as Pauly does, they

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37

“take it up” to them. Attached to their goal, the comic character is unaware of the intentions of the other; their struggle can be seen as the clash between their ideal ego, alongside the ego-ideal that has been formed out of desire for the love-object and the Ego-Ideal of the Symbolic (and which may seek to impose its own agenda). Representing this as an equation:

I/me = ideal ego (p) + ego-ideal (p+i) + Ego-Ideal (S+i) “I” is identity of the individual and p is projection of self and also to secure love, “i” is introjection from the “other” and “S” is the Symbolic and introjection of the Other. When S and i are at odds with p, the subject’s ideal self and “true self ” begets tension. Thus for tension to be inscribed, p, I, and S are incongruous in at least two registers. I unpack the nuance between each of these states in the next chapter. Here I am focused on a more simplistic notion of the comic, trapped in the Imaginary and at odds with an Other, as either Symbolic or in the Lacanian Real the site of anxiety and in whose eyes I (believe) I am guilty; trapped in the Lacanian Imaginary and unable to engage with either the Symbolic or the Real, the comic character is at odds with one or both registers. Their comicality results from the psychical tension generated when their ego-ideal is thwarted or under threat by either the collective Ego-Ideal or the Real or both; they are trapped in the gaze of the other and/or Other.

The character trapped in the gaze Lacan’s theory of the gaze is derived from the desire of the subject: only through desire does the subject see the object; it is the objectification of the subject in the gaze that is the cause of the alienation. Lacan’s fourth law, the “law of desire” further assists in depicting the subject’s struggle as a result of tension between their ego-ideal/Ego-Ideal that may not even be conscious. Thus, in their desire to be loved by the love-object, the character, now seen as an object, becomes trapped in the gaze of an other/Other. Hence desire is both the object and the cause. However, Lacan does not deal with the desire of the other/Other. Basil Fawlty, the snobbish hotel manager in Fawlty Towers, strives to be accepted by the British establishment with all of his pretension, class conscious behavior, and sense of superiority. This character derives much of his identity from the delusion that he is a competent and successful manager of

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an upper-class establishment. In the episode titled “The Germans,” Sybil, Basil’s self-absorbed and controlling wife, is in hospital for an operation on an ingrown toenail.37 This gives Basil great delight, not only at the pain Sybil will endure, but that he is at last given free reign of the hotel; in doing so he will fulfill his EgoIdeal, and Sybil, the source of his ego-ideal, will have to recognize his efforts. Despite the competitive and vindictive nature of their relationship and seeming disinterest in each other, Basil is like a child desperate for the love and approval of his manipulative and narcissistic mother; she never delivers to him the recognition he craves. In this episode, each time Basil attempts to complete a task he is interrupted, often by Sybil calling to remind him of what he needs to do. While it is difficult to know if Sybil seeks to deliberately prevent Basil from achieving his goals or why, she maintains control of him by keeping him in a state of confusion through constant and changing demands. Although Basil is further undone by his own limitations, it can be said that Sybil instantiates chaos as a means of securing power over Basil, causing him to be flung between the ego poles of grandiosity and worthlessness. When his fragile sense of self comes under pressure, Basil attempts to control the environment around him and, in the ensuing farcical mayhem, takes out his frustration on his hapless, non-English speaking servant, Manuel. Basil exists at a level of conscious/unconscious tension that is precariously maintained and easily thrown off balance by Sybil or disruptive elements. I liken the character of Sybil to the Lacanian Real or voice of the superego assuming the “Supreme Being-in-Evil” imposing “ ‘a senseless, destructive, purely oppressive, almost always anti-legal morality’ on the neurotic subject.”38 Here Evans hints at the intentionality of the Other. In the episode of Kath & Kim mentioned earlier, Kim is flicking through the school annual decrying her fellow school mates and life choices (“mole,” “virgin,” “loser”) as a means of justifying her decision not to go to a school reunion. Later, when Kim discovers that she will be home alone on the night in question, she attempts to nullify the horrific possibility that she is a loser and decides to attend the school reunion, declaring: “This time I am going to wipe the floor with what I’m wearing.” Dressed and ready to go, Kim appears in the doorway of Kath’s bedroom, obviously seeking approval. Kim has twisties in her hair and is wearing knickerbockers (cut off pants) and the puffy-sleeved blouse mentioned earlier: 37

38

John Cleese and Connie Booth, “The Germans,” series 1, episode 6, Fawlty Towers, first transmitted October 24, 1975. Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, 201.

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It Begins with the (Key) Character Kim: Kath: Kim: Kath: Kim: Kath:

39

Ta da! I look like one classy peasant. Oh well. (Pause) Yes. That looks nice, love. I think I look like Rachel Hunter. You look like some sort of hunter. (Trying hard not to grimace) Where did you get those pants? They’re Collette Dinnigan knickerbockers. (Feigning) They’re kweel [cool].

Kath’s comments are not only less than generous, it is apparent she competes with Kim in trying to be hip. As Kim turns away, she walks into a fishing rod that Kel (Kath’s husband) is lowering down from the attic, setting up the pratfall that is to come. However, as Kim seeks the approval of the other, Kath, this character while narcissistic in her goal also seeks to be seen by the Other, now other. Basil and Kim enable a reading of the sitcom comic character caught in the double bind of desire—the need to attain an ego-ideal and the need to have the love (or at least recognition) of the love-object alongside the wish to be successful (or at least “masters of their world”). What they are unaware of is that these goals are unattainable because the love-object either cannot, or will not, grant their primary goal. Furthermore, these characters are unaware of the psychical tension that is engendered through the nature of their relationship with the love-object. The need to maintain a balance in the psyche is what Freud sees as central to the pleasure principle—the absence of tension. In the sitcom, then, the “situation” both maintains a precarious psychical equilibrium as well as forces the character to attack or dispel any disruption that threatens their sense of self or the stability of their ego structure and its familiarity, raising the question: What is the nature of the tension that the comic character experiences as “normal” and which they seek to maintain at all costs? However, while seemingly narcissistic, Basil and Kim are not only unaware of their limitations and capacities, they are, and more pertinently, blind to the nature of their relationships. Now I ask what differentiates these comic characters from each other, and, in particular, from characters such as Sybil and Kath, who are comic in nature yet appear to have no issue with an other/Other? It is useful to return to the myth of Narcissus to understand narcissistic behavior as it relates to Echo and the interpersonal relationships between characters shaped by such psychical experiences.

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Narcissus and Echo as comic characters Narcissus’s mother, the nymph Liriope, has been trapped by the river god Cephissus to whom she bears a child, the beautiful Narcissus. Some readings of the myth offer that Liriope has been raped by Cephissus, as she is abandoned after the encounter. Victoria Coulson argues that it is the rape that affects Narcissus’s subjectivity as “Liriope [in her trauma] has never been able to meet her son with a receptive and creative look.” Trapped in the reflection as a form of escape from the devouring or non-mirroring gaze, Narcissus is unable to love another who is not his mirror image (for Coulson, he seeks the mirroring he never received). Coulson continues that, in his failure to “see” himself as others “see” him, “Liriope’s beautiful child enacts her revenge on the visual appetite that motivated her own rape.”39 Echo, the disembodied nymph comes across the now adolescent Narcissus, projects her idealization onto him, in turn reinforcing his self-love by way of “echoing.” Echo has suffered a verbal lashing by her mother, Hera, when she discovers her daughter has been protecting her adulterous father, Zeus, forcing her to flee to the grotto that neighbors Narcissus’s mirrored pond with nothing other than an echoing voice. Both Narcissus and Echo have suffered from an ego disturbance, resulting in arrested emotional states: he trapped in his mirror image, she as a disembodied voice. The psychical construct of both Narcissus and Echo is determined by their relationships with primary caregivers. Recognizing that narcissism is central to ego maturation and identity formation, it is logical to deduce that Echo’s psychical development would also be a harbinger of identity formation. Echo’s treatment by her mother and the loyalty she has for her father may precipitate conflicting wants and fears. Just as has been theorized with the narcissist who suffers from a complex array of conflicts, Echo would similarly suffer from a combination of the need for protection, fear of loss of love or in her case a fear of attack, and desire to be seen by the other/Other. Returning to Kath & Kim, Sharon, defined as Kim’s “second best friend,” is a good example of an “echo” comic character. In the episode under discussion, the main storyline centers on Kim and Sharon’s school reunion. Sharon is desperate to go and wants Kim to go with her. The episode begins with

39

Victoria Coulson, “The Baby and the Mirror:  The Sexual Politics of the Narcissus Myth in Poststructuralist Theory, Winnicottian Psychoanalysis, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses III,” Textual Practice (27.5, 2013), 818.

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Kim’s husband, Brett, on the phone to her while he attempts to serve customers for the “computer city super sell-out sale.” He has to work all weekend: “It’s crazy here Kim.” Cut to a mid-shot of Kim, prostrate on the couch, Cleopatra-like: “Well I’m flat chat here too; I’m pregnant you know, I can’t do much anymore.” The shot moves into a close-up as Kim hangs up the phone and hollers for Sharon. The camera pans to the kitchen where Sharon turns from the sink and comes rushing to the doorway, concern in her voice, “Yes Kim?” The camera pans back to Kim, “Can you pass the tiny teddies” (small chocolate biscuits); cut to Sharon still in the doorway, “They are right there Kim,” as she points to the table next to Kim on which sit the jar of biscuits. Cut back to Kim, “I’m not supposed to do any heavy lifting.” Sharon shuffles toward Kim, “Is that what the doctor said?” Kim holds up her hand with fingers spread, “No the nail tech.” This opening scene establishes that Kim is bored and suffering from Brett’s absence of attention and so needs someone to be at her beck and call, with Sharon being the only one available. After handing the bucket of tiny teddies to Kim, Sharon straightens up, heading back to the kitchen in an act of self-protection, as the camera follows her. Sharon continues, “I don’t want to go to the school reunion on my own.” Once back in the safety of the kitchen, she continues like a child pleading to go to the circus, “It will be fuuuuun,” to which Kim replies, “Oh yeah like last time when I was completely “umiliated [humiliated] turning up in fancy dress.” Dramaturgically, one character’s want is the other’s source of power. The scene ends with Kim managing to get Sharon to rearrange her work hours so that she can pick up Kim’s dry-cleaning and take her to Kath’s, all the while holding up a carrot about the reunion, “I said I’d think about it.” As an omnipotent narcissist, Kim wields power over Sharon who, in turn, seeks to be defined through her association with Kim; while each may have different motivations, both have the same goal: not seen or defined as having no friends and to be seen as belonging to the tribe. Sharon gets to go to the reunion after a long-lost sports buddy, Lisa Marie, seeking to repay Sharon’s kindness at school, asks Sharon to accompany her. This leaves Kim “home alone” on a Saturday night. Motivated by the fear of looking like a loser herself, Kim’s goal becomes a decision: “to wipe the floor.” Arriving at the reunion in the outfit she paraded in front of Kath and now wearing an eye patch to cover her bruised eye resulting from the poke by Kel’s fishing rod, along with her heels causing her to hobble across the grassy verge, Kim looks very much like a drunken pirate. Hence this character’s fear is manifested in the outfit,

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rather than her goal being thwarted as evidenced with Pauly. Later in the episode, Kim discovers that Sharon’s friend has offered the apple-shaped and overweight Sharon the opportunity to fulfill her dream of being an elite athlete. In true narcissistic fashion, and knowing or feeling that she is losing power over the other, Kim retaliates with abuse and vitriol, forcing Sharon to choose her dream over her friendship with Kim. Sharon does leave, but, as expected, and as the form demands, she returns. Suddenly the sliding door to the patio opens and Sharon stands there. The air is tense, wafting with the smell of recently cooked food, and pregnant with the hope that Sharon has returned. Kath bustles herself and Brett off to leave Kim and Sharon alone like long-lost lovers. Kim offers Sharon a footy frank. Sharon pauses to digest the generous and unusual gesture by Kim; she rushes toward the bowl, grabbing one like a dog being given a bone. The camera holds them in a two-shot. It’s a delicate situation for Kim: Kim: Sharon: Kim:

What are you doing here? (Eating hungrily) I’ve left Lisa. What happened?

The mid-shot sways gently like a boat on the harbor. Sharon: Kim: Sharon: Kim: Sharon:

I just couldn’t handle it. Why? Quite frankly I didn’t care for the way she spoke to me. Like what, what did she say? Oh you know, she was always on and on at me about how talented I am, and how my friends don’t appreciate me.

Close-up on Kim who is beginning to feel the weather change: Kim: Sharon:

That does sound weird. So I hightailed it out of there and came straight back here.

There is a pause as Sharon looks up at Kim with doleful eyes: Sharon:

I missed you Kim.

Cut to a close-up of Kim as she digests the confession and, more significantly, her win. Kim pauses as Sharon begins to take another footy frank. Suddenly

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Sharon stops, looking like a naughty child caught with her hand in the sweets jar. The storm breaks: Kim: Sharon: Kim:

Put that back, I said one. I’ve got morning sickness. Well I didn’t know. You never bloody do.

Kim launches into the familiar tirade of name-calling as both revert to hurling nonsensical sibling abuse at each other. Kath finally steps in: Kath:

Time out. Time out please. Now Kimmie look at moiye please. Look at moiye. Now Sharon look at moiye. Now Kim look at Sharon. Sharon look at Kim. Now both look at moiye please. Now I’ve got one word to say to both of you: reconciliation.40

This episode is thematically guided by the question what happens when the echo character decides to leave. Sharon does not seek to change the dynamic and, feeling weird at the treatment accorded to her by Lisa Marie, rejects the opportunity to achieve her dream. The question for some might be why someone would return to such an abusive situation. Sadly, Sharon not only denies the abuse of Kim, she identifies with it; like a battered wife, she mistakes it for attention. Sharon is offered an opportunity to fulfill her dream, achieve her egoideal that will be her Ego-Ideal, yet is unable to because of her comfort in being treated like a slave-servant. If narcissism is the process of identity construction set up as a defense to an ego suffering from distorted object-relations, the question then becomes: Why doesn’t Sharon develop a similar form of defense? Is the denial a defense of a narcissistic ego or, as with Sharon, a means of survival and “status” as second best friend. This character’s denial of the reality is a form of ego defense. Sharon’s comicality comes from the gap between how she sees herself and how others see and use her; she is a sad character, resulting from a conscious fear of having no friends and an unconscious longing to be accepted for who she is (or wants to be), and too afraid to expect it. While narcissistic comic characters derive their power through objects (as subjects or props) and relationships, “echoistic” comic characters may seek 40

Riley and Turner, “The Moon,” Kath & Kim. At the time the Australian Government was deliberating whether to give an apology to the Aboriginal people for the hurt suffered by the “stolen generation” as part of reconciliation with the predominantly white Anglo population. “Moiye” is a phonetic transcription of the Australian dialectic pronunciation of “me.”

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simply to be recognized by an other and as such become trapped in their gaze. As Echo does to Narcissus, Sharon has surrendered her narcissism to Kim. So, while Narcissus suffers from narcissism, Echo may suffer from “echoism,” itself an arrestment (or abdication) of one’s own narcissism (or “healthy” sense of self) in response to experiences that have disempowered the emergent ego. With reference to the myth and Echo’s subjectivity, I surmise that traits of echoism could include a fear of abandonment and rejection, a lack of voice from a fear of attack and wavering self-esteem bolstered by loyalty and empathy toward those that need “rescuing.” The Greek myth of Narcissus—its Roman translation and psychoanalytic interpretation—enable a reading of the comic character that defines them as either narcissistic or echoistic. And while Sharon is a good example of such characters, they need not be “victims.” I explore these characters in Chapter 3, and now look more closely at those characters who repeatedly attempt to leave a disempowering situation but fail.

The key character as master of their world? Psychoanalytic theory helps locate and define at least one character as the Lacanian divided subject; they are not just the character full of hubris, nor a caricature, stereotype, or an archetype; they are alienated selves striving for an identity in the social. As such, their ideal ego comes into conflict with an egoideal formed in the reflection of the Other and in its lack, which they attempt to restore, trapping them in the gaze of the Other. While the comic character may be unconscious, arrested in some degree of preoedipal maturation, it is the projection, at odds with either the Symbolic or the Real, that is the harbinger of these characters’ downfall. Their comicality turns on their unconsciousness. However, for some characters it is not only about being “stuck” in a preoedipal or oedipal phase, it is about the impulse to “escape” or change, in which they never succeed. These characters believe or want to believe they are “masters of their domain.” I label these characters the key characters, their dual psychical construct and ego arrestment precipitates a perpetual struggle from object to subject, in much the same way Iain MacRury observes with the stand-up comic.41 It is this struggle 41

Iain MacRury, “Humour as ‘Social Dreaming’:  Stand-Up Comedy as Therapeutic Performance,” Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (17.2, 2012), 185–203.

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that is central to understanding the key character’s entrapment: a type of comic (non) hero who never changes, yet repeatedly struggles to escape the (unknown) entrapment in order to achieve or maintain an ego-ideal/Ego-Ideal that is at odds with either the Symbolic (and its demands) or their capacity or both. Lucy, Basil, and Kimmie, while attempting to be masters of their world, are ultimately “exposed.” These characters, primarily narcissistic in nature and displaying telltale traits such as delusion, greed, competitiveness, tendentiousness, denial, devaluation, vanity, and entitlement are repeatedly thwarted in their attempts to succeed in the Symbolic. All three are comic victims whose denial of reality trap them in a gaze that they either attempt to live up to, deny, attack, or shrink from, and from which they never escape. This chapter has examined the comic character’s degree of narcissistic hubris to find that some are motivated by unconscious conflicts that enable their degradation. As these characters have psychical determinants emanating from either the gaze or a lack, in their enmeshment and urge to escape (the unknown) they become trapped in a struggle. As such, in their attempts to be both masters of their world and be seen by the other or Other, I deduce these characters harbor psychological determinants of both Narcissus and Echo. The key character is often the victim of the degradation, such as George in Seinfeld, whereas a central character, such as Jerry, can be at odds with the world around them yet may not be the victim of their hubris.42 Just as the comic character suffers from a temporary (objective) setback which they overcome in a humorous manner, the key character suffers humiliation (they are exposed). It is the nature of the humiliation that is necessary to understand as well as the entrapment, into which the echo character gives us some insight. However, unlike the key character, the echo comic character does not seek escape—rather they work at surviving in the dynamic, which disempowers them. Furthermore, some comic characters are echoistic in that they seek to be seen by an other, through which they may have an identity. The arrested oedipal comic character is driven by either a need for power over an other/Other (the narcissist), or by a need for power through an identification with the other (the echoist). Some characters such as Raymond from Everybody Loves Raymond43 may be considered

42

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Seinfeld, created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, produced by West-Shapiro Productions et al. (USA: NBC, 1989–98). Everybody Loves Raymond, created by Philip Rosenthal, produced by Where’s Lunch et  al. (USA: CBS, 1996–2005).

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a key character yet in analyzing this program, as I do in Chapter 4, I show that Debra, his wife, is the key character as she struggles to be seen, which ensures her entrapment in the gaze of Marie, Raymond’s mother; a central character such as Raymond often drives the narrative. Knowing who is a central character and who is a key character is essential in understanding both the nature and source of tension and repeatability. While a central character may drive the narrative it is the key character who struggles to escape a dynamic that is unknowable (to them at least). It is not necessary to know why they are like that, rather how they repeatedly seek to escape or nullify its disempowering effects. It is the combination of powerlessness and disempowerment that I contend lies at the psychical heart of the key character; they seek to achieve while simultaneously be seen by a significant other/Other in the Symbolic that does not see them. It is the psychical dualism that not only enables the comicality of such characters but also their entrapment—they repeatedly attempt to escape the gaze yet fail. As such I contend that the key character harbors the psychical aspects of Narcissus and Echo. Psychoanalytically the key character is trapped in the Lacanian gaze, which they attempt to escape alongside an ego-ideal at odds with some other, the disjunction of which they are unaware. In their refusal to engage with the reality of the situation, the key character ensures both the re-situation and repeatability; as such they are the comic engine of a series. Hence, in locating and defining the key character, we need to know who struggles to maintain/gain an Ego-Ideal and is unable to. Chapter 2 explores why that might be.

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The Perpetual (Power) Struggle of Sitcom Relationships

Characters rarely exist alone—they exist in relationships.1 Comedy flourishes where economic power is ideologically confused with natural status, as in negotiations of familial relationships.2 As in most television series, sitcoms are about relationships. There are essentially three types of relationships that bind characters together: family (with the subsets of parent, sibling, partners; bound by blood and home), friends (bound by experience in the external world), and workplace (bound by economic circumstances and/or status). Having determined that the key character attempts to maintain an idealization and, in doing so, refuses to engage with the reality of the situation, this chapter sets out to better understand the nature of their propensity to repeat behavior that underscores their entrapment. In the first part, I explore the supposition that entrapment is based in some combination of fear, desire, loss, and longing and, in the second part, I examine how the “self ” is structured to determine ways in which the key character might respond when their sense of self is threatened. Freud’s paper on symptom-formation examines the nature of anxiety/fear to find that, when affected, it renders the subject powerless.3 This paper, titled “Hemmung, Symptom und Angst,” translated in the James Strachey standard edition as “Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety,” is the most detailed attempt to understand the nature and origin of anxiety.4 John Reddick translates the title of the 1926 paper as “Inhibition, Symptom and Fear,” saying that Freud seeks to understand how fear determines symptomatic behavior, distinguishing 1 2 3

4

Linda Seger, Creating Unforgettable Characters (New York: Owl Books, 1990), 91. Susan Purdie, Comedy: The Mastery of Discourse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), 99. Sigmund Freud, “Inhibition, Symptom and Fear,” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings, trans. John Reddick (London: Penguin Classics, 2003), 205. James Strachey, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Vintage, 1999).

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objective fear as the response to danger occurring in the external world (there is an object) and neurotic fear as the response to a fear posed by the drives (there is no definite object). Thus it could be construed that there is a difference between anxiety and fear and as such there may be a difference in response. Examining the behavior of characters in the sitcom assists in ascertaining if differing ego states precipitate different responses when (real or imagined) fear is triggered. As there has been little theoretical work on the nature of fear and its relation to behavior that could be applied in this context, the work of clinical psychologist Dorothy Rowe and her book Beyond Fear assists with clear examples that enable such a connection.5 While Freud’s work isolates behavior from personality, Rowe sees the “self ” as being structured initially by personality “types,” which determines the way subjects not only seek to achieve in the social but also how they respond when fear-determinants are triggered. Rowe extends her observations in the context of familial relationships in My Dearest Enemy, My Dangerous Friend: Making and Breaking Sibling Bonds.6 Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut’s work7 further assists in examining the threat of disintegration to the self that enables a reading of the key character as an alienated self trapped in the gaze of the other/Other, now seen as a disparate construct they attempt to restore or maintain. The broad range of theories and examples are marshaled to determine how the key character sees the world (and its genesis of that view), how their sense of self (ego) has been erected, and how they respond when that self is threatened. In doing so, I ascertain that the key character, in particular, exists in a state of perpetual threat of fragmentation, the locus of their entrapment.

Fear and behavior Fear is the reaction to danger.8

For Freud, the trauma of birth is the first and original experience of fear to which all others relate, because it is an action over which the subject has no control.

5 6

7 8

Dorothy Rowe, Beyond Fear (London: Harper Perennial, 2007). Dorothy Rowe, My Dearest Enemy, My Dangerous Friend:  Making and Breaking Sibling Bonds (New York and London: Routledge, 2007). Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2009). Freud, “Inhibition, Symptom and Fear,” 218.

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Prior to this moment, there has been no “object” and therefore no experience of attachment; after birth, separation is experienced for the first time, when reignited, it will generate for the ego feelings of “being abandoned by its guardian, the super-ego—that is, by the forces that rule our destiny and the rule of Law— hence deprived forever of the shield safeguarding it from dangers all and sundry.”9 Freud writes, “One thing that is clear is that the first attacks of fear—which are extremely intense—occur before the super-ego differentiates”; thus giving it enormous power. Furthermore, “the barrier gives protection only against external stimuli, not against internal pressures exerted by drives.” Thus, fear is “reproduced as a state of affect on the basis of a preexisting memory-image” to control the impulses of the id.10 Extending his discussion on behavior determined by instincts in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” Freud analyzes the actions of a young child who repeatedly throws a cotton reel tied to a string, in response to, and during, the absence of his mother, known as the “fort/da” game. Attempting to answer the connection between the drives of the pleasure principle and a compulsion to repeat, Freud surmises that such action aims to reduce “inner stimulative tension”11 built up by the absence of the love-object. Commentary on this “game” ranges from it being about the need of the child to nullify feelings of powerlessness through play, to a response to feelings of anger at the absence of the love-object. What is not contested is that, for the child, this game is the reproduction of an event in his external world and can be seen as an act of aggression against the love-object, or as a means to deal with the loss of the love-object. Extrapolating, Freud sees the joke as an attempt by the ego to restore the loss of power by devaluing the object (in particular, sexist jokes), especially that which the subject is dependent on. It could also be said that the cotton reel, as a signifier, represents the alienated subject seeking identity through repetition of the action.12 Delineating between the two types of fear, in “Inhibition, Symptom and Fear” six years later, Freud deduces that in desiring the love-object, and being met with anger, anxiety takes hold of the child in the relationship with that love-object, usually the mother; the loss becomes the loss of the love (and protection) of the 9 10 11 12

Freud, “Inhibition, Symptom and Fear,” 198–203. Freud, “Inhibition, Symptom and Fear,” 160–1. Freud, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings, 95. This is the basis of Lacan’s alienated subject, and applied to the comic by Alenka Zupancic, The Odd One in: On Comedy (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2008).

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love-object. Thus, the fear of losing the love-object may result in feelings of helplessness and a direct “unpleasure,” while the fear of the loss of love of the loveobject, having no discernible object, may trigger feelings of anxiety (especially, as Freud surmises, for the male child). In further determining tension arising in the psyche, Freud departs from his earlier view of the ego and its topographical origin, saying now that the ego is not completely at the mercy of the superego and the id, rather it attempts to broker some truce between their demands and the subject’s engagement with the external world.13 Mick Eaton observes that both topographies give insight into the operation of the psyche in relation to comedic operation: the comic (born of the preconscious), the joke (born of the unconscious), and humor (being the result of the superego). However this makes it difficult to compare the operation of the comic and humor as posited by Freud because each is based on different topographies of the psyche.14 Furthermore, it is difficult to analyze the relationship between the processes of the joke and the comic as well as determine the relationship between conscious and unconscious impulses, their ego drives, and ensuing behavior. However, with reference to Freud’s depiction of the relationship between the id, the preconscious (PCs), and the ego, I visualize how the key character with their ego-ideal/Ego-Ideal sitting atop the ego needs to “keep a lid on it.” Figure 2.1 gives a diagrammatic representation of how the id, and its forces, in particular those born of fear, can build up in the unconscious, affecting behavior.

Behavior/Projection to nullify unpleasure Source of Fear

EGO Repressed Fears

ID

Figure 2.1 Fear triggers id impulses in the unconscious, affecting behavior15

Rather than fear sitting on the ego as Freud suggests, it might be clearer to state that in response to a fear, especially that which is “old,” the id enlists the ego to reduce the unpleasure that has taken hold in the unconscious. 13 14 15

Freud, The Ego and the Id, ed. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1960). Mick Eaton, “Laughter in the Dark,” in Screen (22.2, 1981), 21–5. With reference to Freud, The Ego and the Id, 18, redrawn by Andrew Pomphrey.

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While “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” examines how the ego enlists the aid of the pleasure principle (and the impulses of the id) to keep the level of excitation and tension to a bearable minimum, in The Ego and the Id Freud seeks to understand the root causes of the tension. Despite rethinking his previous view, Freud nevertheless holds to the idea that the maturing ego’s repression of early trauma does not form the punitive superego. What is of interest is that behavior is a response to some loss, lack, or desire. I extend that to comic behavior as a means to restore the disequilibrium that has occurred. Freud’s central concern is how an event, once repressed in the unconscious (and forgotten), then generates symptoms resulting in behavior that controls the ego; as an organizing principle the ego decides what it can and cannot handle, sending what it cannot deal with to the unconscious and “once the process has been turned into a symptom by the repression, it henceforth carries on its existence outside the ego-organisation and independently of it.”16 Restating, Freud observes that objective fear is in response to real actions to which the subject can respond, or act upon, and neurotic fear is more akin to a response to actions that have no object yet produce an unease that affects the subject (anxiety)—one precipitates an action, while the other results in a form of helplessness, even paralysis. The subject develops symptoms to reduce the level of excitation and unpleasure that have not only been precipitated by the event, but also when re-triggered at a later stage, if the ego cannot defend against the new drive-impulse, the subject is compelled to repeat the action. Freud’s observations extend to those experiences when the object is present but angry “and the loss of the object’s love then becomes the new fear and more constant danger and fear-determinant.”17 In time, the ego becomes beset by neurosis, and unable to neutralize the repression through defenses, becomes a victim of the action, now controlled by the id; the ego constantly attempts to mediate the tension between the id’s drives and the superego’s demands, at an unconscious or preconscious level. As long as the source and nature of the unpleasure remains repressed or denied, the greater the tension experienced by the ego, the more difficult it becomes to keep id impulses under control when re-triggered. Fear can thus be seen as the response to the anticipation of losing some “thing” or someone on which/whom the subject depends for protection, and extended to include

16 17

Freud, “Inhibition, Symptom and Fear,” 165. Freud, “Inhibition, Symptom and Fear,” 238.

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the response to a danger situation and potential loss, as well as the sense of danger of the loss of the love (or approval or acceptance) from the loveobject, resulting in anxiety. For Freud, all three neuroses: phobias, conversion hysteria, and obsessional neurosis, are rooted in the fear of castration and an unresolved Oedipus complex, being reactions to fight off the libidinal demands. Despite being strongly resistant to labeling human behavior as dictated by phobias or labeled obsessional neurotic or hysterical as is conventional in psychoanalysis, psychologist Dorothy Rowe draws on both Freud and Jung to argue that extreme behavior, such as mania and withdrawal, are forms of defense set up by the ego in response to the threat of an “annihilation of the self.”18 The sensation of annihilation is at the heart of Rowe’s work. Rather than just defining the pathological symptoms resulting from fear and centered on the phallus and/or the mother as Freud does, Rowe connects fear with behavior that exists in normal everyday situations. Putting gender aside, Rowe finds a direct correlation between the experience of fear in the early years, which, when reignited later in life (and triggering the original pain, neglect, or powerlessness), become the determinant of anxious as well as aggressive behavior. To understand such responses, Rowe observes that we fundamentally experience the world in one of two ways: as introverts processing through an internal reality or as extroverts processing through an external reality (with some being shy extroverts)—and we (often) partner with the opposite of our fundamental type (each fills a “deficit” in the other). As Rowe is interested in the effects of the clash between how people see themselves and engage with the world, her arguments are focused on understanding how each type is driven by the need to achieve in the social. Introverts get satisfaction by way of their own efforts, while extroverts achieve satisfaction by working with others and, in extreme cases, need to have people around to work. In order to solve problems and progress issues (i.e. master a situation), introverts need to think things through, whereas extroverts work best as part of a group such as brainstorming and collectively discussing ideas. While we can respond in either way depending on the situation, Rowe insists that at our core we are essentially introvert or extrovert. (Why that is so is not clear, other than we are born with type already determined). Departing from Freud, whose neurotics and hysterics were defined primarily along gender lines and “determined” 18

Rowe, Beyond Fear.

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by “sexual experiences,” Rowe’s introverts and extroverts, non-gendered and innate, are defined as how they see and engage with the external world. However, Rowe’s observations concur with Freud in terms of the ego’s ability to repress traumata resulting in two main symptom-forming activities: one being obliteration of past events (rather than dealing with the consequences of an event, the subject seeks to make the event vanish, using magic and rigorous ritual and absolution of sin) and the other being the isolation of the event. Finding a correlation, Rowe offers that the neurotic (introvert) isolates the traumatic experience whereas the hysteric (extrovert) swallows it up with amnesia. While a majority of men (in Freud’s time) may be classed as the former and women as the latter, it can be observed, and confirmed by Rowe, that either trait can be dominant in both genders. However, as I demonstrated in Chapter 1, where Patricia Mellencamp sought to understand the “containment” of Lucy, gender does play a role in one’s identity and experience of the world.19 While Lucy’s struggle was cast along gender lines, at its heart was a struggle for identity in the social, which at the time was overtly defined, relegating women to the role of homemakers. Mellencamp seeks to expose how Lucy fails, while this book is interested in why the character suffers degradation in that diegesis. Returning to “The Moon,”20 Sharon’s desperate and lonely “Cinderella” is rescued by an old school friend, Lisa Marie Birkenshtock [sic] who arrives in town to attend the school reunion. Lisa Marie is intent on repaying her gratitude to Sharon for her friendship when, as a lonely migrant child, she first arrived at Fountaingate High. Kim’s need to feel superior prompts the following comment: “Was she that fat kid who couldn’t speak English?” Lisa Marie’s arrival not only gives Sharon respectable status at the reunion—she now has a friend—more significantly, she no longer is dependent on Kim. The center of power has shifted and Kim is now conflicted as to whether she should go to the reunion. When Kim discovers that Kath and Kel (Kath’s partner) will also be away on the same Saturday night, she exclaims: “I can’t spend Saturday night on my own, what would that look like?”

19

20

Patricia Mellencamp, “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy,” in Critiquing the Sitcom:  A Reader, ed. Joanne Morreale (New York:  Syracuse University Press, 2003), 41–55. Gina Riley and Jane Turner, “The Moon,” series 2, episode 3, Kath & Kim, created by Gina Riley and Jane Turner, produced by ABCTV et al. (Australia: ABC, 2002–4; ATN7, 2007), first transmitted October 2, 2003.

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As a narcissistic extrovert, Kim expects those around her to maintain her status as well as satisfy her need to be seen as popular; like Sharon, Kim doesn’t want to be seen as a “loser”—for both these characters, social humiliation is akin to “death.” Moreover, while Kim is driven by a need for environments that feed her narcissism—to be queen of the tribe—Sharon simply wants to be accepted by the tribe. Kim’s status and therefore control over Sharon is enabled by Sharon’s acceptance of the dynamic and her need to be regarded as having friends. Is Sharon’s conscious wish to be accepted by Kim a reflection of Kim’s own desire to be seen by Kath? Difficult to say, but more interestingly just as Basil from Fawlty Towers is unaware that Sybil plays him like a cotton reel, Kim is blind to the reality that Kath’s narcissistic behavior undermines her self-confidence, triggering a need to reaffirm it by maintaining her superiority over Sharon.21 Kath’s actions are more covert, precipitating responses by Kim such as an emphatic and pleading “muuum,” rather than the caustic barbs that Basil slings at Sybil in response to feelings of manipulation. Believing she is already successful in the Symbolic, or on the way to becoming so, Kim does not seek to be “free” of Kath and, as such, Kim’s responses to her mother reflect an anxious wish to be seen by the love-object. Rowe’s observations demonstrate that ego wounding such as criticism (for the introvert), or abandonment (for the extrovert) trigger feelings of unpleasure that may feel as extreme as feelings of annihilation. Applying these observations to the character in the sitcom, when an introvert key character feels “attacked,” their form of retaliation or defense will be to threaten abandonment if their target is an extrovert (demonstrated with Kim’s treatment of Sharon) or chaos if the target is an introvert (which is how I read Sybil’s treatment of Basil). So while fear can be a precursor to an ego-ideal and/or the process by which the comic/key character clings to an Ego-Ideal, I surmise that there is some pattern of behavior that the key character, in particular, may use to get their narcissistic needs met and, more importantly, maintain their status—often mirroring the behavior the narcissistic puppet master has doled out to them. The Skipper in Gilligan’s Island repeatedly attempts to find ways or execute procedures that will enable the crew and passengers of the SS Minnow to get off the island where they have been shipwrecked for an extended period of time.22

21 22

Fawlty Towers, created by John Cleese and Connie Booth, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1975, 1979). Gilligan’s Island, created by Sherwood Schwartz, produced by Gladasya Productions et  al. (USA: CBS, 1964–7).

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Each week one of the characters discovers or uncovers another possible way of escaping “paradise.” The gormless and confused shipmate Gilligan undermines all attempts, especially those carried out by The Skipper, who responds with physical and verbal abuse, much like Basil does with Manuel in Fawlty Towers. Gilligan’s wish to be seen as a loyal and dutiful mate blinds him to the dynamics of the situation including the fact that The Skipper not only abuses him, he also often creates situations through confusing instructions, preventing Gilligan from completing or even mastering the task. While The Skipper seeks to be seen as competent and in charge of the situation, it is Gilligan who repeatedly exposes him. The Skipper’s (unconscious) fear of being incompetent is projected onto Gilligan, now reflected back to him, and in turn becoming the victim of Gilligan’s bumbling attempts to fix the problem (again much like Basil with Manuel). Gilligan echoes The Skipper’s fear of failing in his stated goal. Or can it be that The Skipper unconsciously needs to stay in the situation in order to maintain his status and the dependency of the passengers on him, yet declaring the goal to escape the island? His need to be “in charge” is at odds with his want or declared goal, resulting in the (unconscious) conflicting bind. Like Gilligan, Sharon is also blind to the fact that the “master” creates a situation in which they behave in such a way as to precipitate actions that enable the key character’s degradation. For characters such as Sharon and Gilligan it is not an ego-ideal (and even less so an Ego-Ideal), rather a simple need to be of service. While they echo some fear or nightmare that the key character harbors, either consciously or unconsciously, they still seek to be of service to the key character.

Fear and desire The first object of desire is to be recognized by the other.23

Further seeking to distinguish between the types of fear, Freud turns to the castration theory as analogous to death, arguing that humans do not know what death is yet they can imagine castration from a highly prized object. Freud’s view equates fear with the (possible) loss of (male) power. The originating myth that is the basis for Freud’s 1914 paper is Narcissus fleeing from Echo who seeks his love, which is reflective of his relationship with his mother, the Other. Continuing from Chapter 1, initially the mother, Liriope, as Other, sought love 23

Purdie quoting Lacan, Comedy: The Mastery of Discourse, 169.

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in the baby Narcissus in response to her own wounding and abandonment by his father (the rape by Cephissus). Victoria Coulson unpacks this myth through a Winnicottian maternal dyad to offer that castration is the effect “in the subject who has been cut off from the maternal substance of the self.”24 Could it not also be that the fear of castration (for the male subject) is rather a more experiential (and real) fear of being “devoured” by the mother (in order to repair her traumata), and picking up Lacan, compels the child to move from the Imaginary to the Symbolic? Rather than “the-Name-of-the-Father” and a need to “give up the phallus,” the child “turns” out of a fear of being devoured by the mother (the fight or flight response). This reflects Neville Symington’s view that (secondary) narcissism takes hold when the child chooses to turn from the “lifegiver” (for reasons that are not always clear and, of course, there are exceptions).25 It could be argued that the fear or even experience of “castration” by the mother (she is not present or unable to mirror back to the child), rather than the father, compels the child to enter the Symbolic and, not fully succeeding (out of fear of the loss of the love of the love-object or the father forecloses), the subject becomes stuck between both or in one of the registers (the Imaginary and Symbolic). Conversely, a neurotic fear may take hold in the male child, in response to the father’s jealous (and angry) gaze—a father who feels threatened by the attentions of the mother to another male (an admission by Freud in response to the birth of his first son). This analysis mirrors the tragedy of Oedipus, left to “die,” metaphorically and physically tied to the stake, resulting in the swollen foot (the meaning of Oedipus) and markings on his ankle. As mentioned, for many theorists (not just Freud) an unresolved Oedipus complex lies at the heart of pathological narcissism, being centered on the repressed and unresolved conflicts or traumas experienced in early relationships. Robert Stam writes that “the oedipal moment involves symbolic structures, representations which are significant to the subject, rather than actual individuals.”26 However, for Lacan there is conflict between desire and the Law at the moment of the surrender of the phallus. Such a conflict is evident in Pizza (discussed in Chapter 1), where the comic character refuses to surrender his

24

25 26

Victoria Coulson, “The Baby and the Mirror:  The Sexual Politics of the Narcissus Myth in Poststructuralist Theory, Winnicottian Psychoanalysis, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses III,” Textual Practice (27.5, 2013), 822. Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London: Karnac Books, 1993). Robert Stam et  al., New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics:  Structuralism, Post-structuralism and Beyond (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 132.

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attachment to the object (the car) that defines and maintains his status and identity. Initially the law threatens Pauly’s “identity” by taking away the prized object; it is his ego mastery of the object in reconfiguring the small car that enables him to “stooge” the judge, maintaining his position among his peers as superior with such trickery.27 For comic characters such as Pauly, their ego-ideal serves to fulfill an identity based in hubris rather than to escape a situation; the comic character acts in response to any threat to their magnification, the attachment to the object brings about the degradation. (The car is too small for Pauly to make a move on the girl who has asked to be taken home when he cannot close the top.) In terms of Lacan, the car (as phallus) binds his registers in the absence of his inability or willingness to enter the Symbolic, in turn giving the Symbolic now seen as the Real power over his fears. In short, the comic character, suffering from some degree of arrested ego maturation, will use any means at their disposal in order to maintain their (narcissistically perceived) reality. (A character such as Pauly, being aware of his containment by the Other, falls into the category of the main character; the owner of the pizza shop, Bobo is the key character, constantly battered by a dominant mother.) Moreover, while the comic character sets out to change that which thwarts their goal, the key character is unconscious of the dynamics that entrap them. Hence the comic character seeks to master a situation, the key character remains trapped in dynamics which perpetually and repeatedly trigger an unpleasure. For this to be perpetual, the originating unpleasure must remain unconscious. In the Fawlty Towers episode “The Hotel Inspectors,” Basil and Sybil compete with each other in trying to determine which of the guests are the hotel inspectors that they have been tipped off about and are visiting the region.28 Sybil, much to Basil’s delight, struggles to satisfy the increasingly petulant demands of a spoon salesman in case he is one of the inspectors. Basil is determined to find the true inspector among his guests to prove to Sybil, yet again, his skill and superiority. When he uncovers the true identity of the spoon salesman Basil bids him goodbye with a pie in the face and another in the crotch, while Manuel pours a jug of milk into his briefcase. Initially Basil’s goal is to demonstrate to Sybil that he will “flush” out the inspector (the character wants something); not achieving that goal, frustration and rage build, he physically attacks the anally retentive spoon

27 28

Pizza, created by Paul Fenech, produced by SBSTV (Australia: SBS, 2000–6). John Cleese and Connie Booth, “The Hotel Inspectors,” series 1, episode 4, Fawlty Towers, first transmitted October 10, 1975.

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salesman, now seen as the thwarting other. Basil is driven to extreme action because the spoon salesman has been exposed as a “fraudulent imposter.” The spoon salesman never posed as anything other than what he is, whereas having decided that he was an inspector, Basil is angry at the salesman for him being who he (Basil) thought he was or wanted him to be in order to win in the race with Sybil. The worst is yet to come. Having demolished the spoon salesman, Basil returns to the reception desk to address the gentlemen standing there who have witnessed the preceding events: “Now what can I do for you three gentlemen?” At that moment he realizes they are the inspectors; exposed to the very people from whom he seeks acclamation, an anxiety-inducing paralysis takes hold. In this example Basil’s actions precipitate both comic performance and degradation. A common approach when developing screen characters is to define their “want, need, fear and wound” (the unresolved wound precipitates both action and behavior). As the main character/protagonist pursues their want, they soon discover that what prevents them from achieving the goal is the wound, itself enforced by an unprocessed fear or trauma.29 Their “need” becomes the need to face their fear, or by altering their want, the character (and their world) is transformed (no longer attached to the “unhealthy” want). In romantic comedies as well as Shakespearean comedy, the character’s need might be to learn that the love-object does not see them as they wish to be seen; when this need is brought to consciousness, the character is transformed or “freed” from the shackles of an unrequited love. However, in the sitcom, the key character’s larger want or super objective (their Ego-Ideal) is at odds with their capacity, their ego-ideal and/ or the world around them. (The episode-specific objective is a reflection of the super-objective, now challenged by an event that threatens both goals.) In the above example, Basil’s want is to impress the hotel inspector/s; instead of trying to expose the real inspector/s, this character’s need is to focus on being a good hotelier simultaneously hampered by his desire to be seen by the love-object. The want may be an objective goal, yet the need is never brought to consciousness; the need must remain unconscious.30 Picking up Freud’s theory of the joke where that which is unconscious (and not necessarily sexual, it may be simply something forgotten) is brought to consciousness, along with Neale’s analysis of the joke using the fort/da game31 as a

29 30 31

Vicki Madden, Writing for Television Workshop, AFTRS, Sydney, 2013. Conversation with Simon van der Borgh, Lecturer in Screenwriting, York University, July 12, 2016. Stephen Neale, “Psychoanalysis and Comedy,” Screen (22.2, 1981), 29–43.

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response to feelings of anger at the absence of the love-object, it is evident that a game is the reproduction of an unconscious/unprocessed event in the child’s external world. While it can be argued whether such an action is an act of aggression against the love-object, or as a means to deal with the loss of the love-object, it is a response to feelings of anxiety that have been triggered. Despite reservations about the castration theory and the female resignation of having no phallus, could it not also be that in seeing the mother as a source of power and feeling trepidation, the male child then equates power with that which the mother does not have, the phallus? Utilizing the Lacanian notion that initially the mother is the Other, in the recognition of her lack (of a phallus for the male child), she becomes the other, it is the intersection between the Subject and Other and the emanating lack that triggers desire. Colette Soler puts it deftly: “The subject, to be seen, attempts to fill the lack in the Other.”32 Unpacking the Antigone Complex as arising in the moment between the Imaginary and the Symbolic, Vlasta Paulic differentiates it from the Oedipus complex being the result of an enmeshment with the mother followed by some lack resulting in foreclosure (Name-of-the-Father).33 Just as Oedipus is driven by a lack that drives him to succeed in the Symbolic, Antigone’s lack (with [m]other, Jocasta) triggers a need to “right the wrong” by means of the burial of her brother (now representative of the father, the blind Oedipus). Antigone shifts from desire (of the mother) to guilt (with the father) and back; she takes the law into her own hands, righting what she sees as a wrong, and in the process exhibiting a degree of moral courage that some would see as foolhardy and even self-destructive. When the Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed, it leaves a hole in the Symbolic that can never be filled. If the female suffers foreclosure by way of “the-Name-ofthe-Father,” does she suffer the same experience of the Real (psychosis) or does she suffer some form of Freudian hysteria? In defining the Antigone complex in terms of the male experience and foreclosure by the father without understanding the nature of the enmeshment with the mother, Paulic falls into the same trap of rendering the female experience in relation to the male experience, like some colonial outpost to be “managed” through the lens of the (masculine) “normal.”

32

33

Colette Soler, “The Subject and the Other (II),” Reading Seminar XI: Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink, and Maire Jaanus (Albany :  State University of New York, 1995), 50. Vlasta Paulic, “The Antigone Complex: From Desire to Guilt and Back,” in Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society, ed. David Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne:  Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012), 267–86.

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If lack is the precursor to desire then in (m)other’s lack (of the phallus) the male child wants her. Or could it be that the male child wants that which the mother gives: food and comfort through the breast (the good and bad), in turn confusing need with want. The child does not discover either the real phallus or its symbolic representation until later, so in the attachment to the breast does the (male) child form a desire for something from the mother that they (in time) lack? For Kristyn Gorton it is how the movement functions, generated by the gaze, producing melancholia, hysteria, or shame, which, for her, in films that explore those affects, result in a need for recognition of the self; desire awakens an acceptance of the self. Thus the gaze in the approach or withdrawal can instantiate both lack and desire, triggering hysteria, melancholia or shame. While Gorton offers through Jan Campbell that hysteria is the daughter of the oedipal complex: “Oedipus and hysteria are simply two sides of the same coin,”34 she picks up Lacan to demonstrate that “ the hysterics’ desire . . . is to sustain the desire of the father . . . by procuring it.”35 Yet in resisting the patriarchal authority, hysteria can also be seen as a revolt to break from “the confines of a patriarchal society, as a rebellion against the expectations placed on women, or as a revolt against the limitations imposed.”36 I pick up this point in the next chapter to explore the nature of “echoism” as the psychical construct of the hysteric but here the stance echoes the actions of Antigone. Restating Dylan Evans, the little other is the reflection and projection of ego and is entirely inscribed in the Imaginary order, whereas the “big Other designates radical alterity . . . because it cannot be assimilated through identification.” The big Other is inscribed in the Symbolic and through which the Ego-Ideal is formed. Evans continues, “The Other is thus both another subject . . . and also the symbolic order which mediates the relationship with that other subject.”37 Any disruption or indeed replaying of this relationship with the Other is then replicated in the Symbolic, raising the question of how the hysteric has learnt to function. Thus the Ego-Ideal, formed through the discourse of the Other is also determined by relationships within the social. The instinctual impulse is to move into the Symbolic, so what prevents its fulfillment? Separation has not been completed. What is of interest is the behavior and attempts to “escape,” resulting 34

35 36 37

Kristyn Gorton, Theorising Desire:  From Freud to Feminism to Film (Basingstoke, UK and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), quoting Jan Campbell, 39. See also page 29. Gorton, Theorising Desire, quoting Lacan, 50. Gorton, Theorising Desire, 51. Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 133.

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in being stuck between “pleasure” and “reality,” the Imaginary and Symbolic (or indeed vice versa) out of some blindness to the reality. I surmise that the echo character knows at some level they are an object yet still seeks to be seen as a subject (but is never), whereas the key character is blind to their objectification, and like their echo, also seeks to be seen. I offer that the echo character is unconsciously stuck whereas the key character struggles to move from object to subject (from the “it” to the “I”). This situates the echo comic character as objet petit a in relation to the key character, exposing a new lack that they attempt to fulfill, all the while unaware they are objectified in the gaze of the other. Pauly in Pizza is motivated to restore his source of power (the car) by whatever means and skills he has at his disposal, including deception and trickery. This character’s ego-ideal is shaped solely by both a need to be accepted and to remain a leader of his peer group by way of his car and expertise in all things mechanical. It could also be argued, in this example at least, that the want to be defined within his ethnic group (and the power that comes from being its leader) is compelled by experiences of marginalization; this character’s need is to accept that he is marginalized yet underscored by the fear that he is. However, the main point of difference between Pauly and the key characters I have been examining is that he is not trapped in a gaze that defines (and limits) his sense of self. The law attempts to limit and judge Pauly; he is not only aware of its existence and intentions, he challenges its rules and expectations (even though they break expected social codes and, for some, are part of the enjoyment). Like the comic character, the key character is stuck in the Imaginary and, suffering some lack, is either prevented entry into the Symbolic or is unable to engage with a reality in their attempt to enter the Symbolic. Furthermore, if lack enables a propensity to be blind to the dynamics at play or consequences of actions that result in a “downfall,” the subject, now objectified, could be at the mercy of an unconscious fear-determinant rather than an inability of “desire” to cross into the Symbolic. In other words fear as well as desire may trigger paralysis as much as fight or flight into the Symbolic. Hence it is essential to know what keeps the key character stuck and what triggers them to act or react in the face of feelings of annihilation. What do they want and/or desire and what do they fear? In the last chapter I offered that Kim’s narcissistic belief that she is a “good sort” and fashionista may arise as a form of ego defense against the ongoing psychological battle with Kath whose running commentary about her daughter’s appearance or lack of initiative undermines Kim’s own wavering self-esteem. Kim, as any daughter does, seeks the approval of her mother, yet is conflicted

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between how she sees herself, and the not-too-subtle criticisms delivered by her mother. In “The Moon,” discussed in Chapter 1, Kim is encouraged by Kath to buy the puffy-sleeved blouse that clearly makes her look bigger.38 Kim does not realize that Kath may not have Kim’s best interests at heart. It is also possible that Kath, self-described as a “high maintenance foxy lady,” may have feelings, albeit unconscious, of being dethroned by the younger Kim. Kath projects her anxiety onto Kim, potentially triggering in Kim the fear that she is not the hornbag to which she aspires, undermining her ego-ideal. Conversely, Kath may have sensed Kim’s fear and stokes it in order to feed her own need for narcissistic supplies, setting up a reciprocal loop of longing and fear between mother and daughter. Kath, as the mother (Other), has the upper hand with Kim, snared in her gaze, figuratively and literally: “Look at moiye, look at moiye”; the maternal voice entangling the subject.39 As Kim is unaware of the dynamic, in order to relieve the unease of anxiety-induced feeling and restabilize her unpleasure, she must exercise dominance over an other, the hapless Sharon. The drive of the key character then could be attributed to the Lacanian state of lack and the impossibility of either entry into the Symbolic or a heightened view and expectation of the Symbolic and its representatives. The question now is: Does the key character project their own “un-integrated self ” onto their echoes? That is a complex question, and while I have offered that some projection or at least mirroring does occur, I deduce that fear and/ or anxiety are responses by the character to some loss or lack in the environment; such behavior is brought on by either objective or neurotic fears that have been (re)triggered. Hence I surmise that objective fear makes the subject act (in response to “he/she will take my object of desire”) and neurotic fear (“she/ he will reject me”) paralyses the subject. Fears that are object dependent would include fear of spiders, dogs, heights, while fears that have no object would be fear of the dark, humiliation, failure, commitment or loss (of love), giving some insight into the nature of the degradation for the key character. I posit that both the key character and comic character are driven by conflicts emanating from a combination of fear and desire; however, the key character is unaware of the intentionality of the gaze that entraps them. Thus, rather than desire instantiating the gaze as Gorton offers, I argue that the gaze triggers desire. The

38 39

Riley and Turner, “The Moon,” Kath & Kim. Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror:  The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988).

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subject instantiates desire through the gaze on the object, while desire by the object may instantiate the gaze of the subject—they are thus intertwined and determined only by intentionality. It is the unknowing of the intentionality of the gaze that the key character grapples with, as per Lacan’s “Law of Desire,” and in the denial they erect an idealization of themselves, a fantasy emanating from their phantasy, while simultaneously attempting to escape the inveiglement. In the episode of Seinfeld—“The Marine Biologist”—Jerry tells an old college alumni, the “It girl,” Diane Deccan, that George is working as a marine biologist; Jerry tells George he has given George’s phone number to Diane. On the phone to Diane, George attempts to demonstrate his knowledge of marine biology: “What can I say? Algae. Plankton. I just got back from a trip to the Galapagos Islands. I was swimming with the turtles.” Later at Jerry’s apartment he continues: What did you have to tell her that for? A marine biologist! I’m very uncomfortable with this whole thing. . . . It’s one thing if I make it up. I know what I’m doing . . . You’ve got me in the Galapagos Islands living with the turtles. I don’t know where the hell I am . . . Why couldn’t you make me an architect? You know I always wanted to pretend I was an architect.40

This character maintains an magnification that is not only unattainable but to which he clings, despite reality. Later, walking along the beach, George and Diane encounter a group of people huddled around a beached whale. When someone asks if anyone is a marine biologist, George knows the gig is up. The key character’s repeated failure is a result of some denial or delusion about themselves or the world. If, and Gorton argues convincingly in Theorising Desire that it does, the gaze induces movement (the character is propelled to act), then the nature and intent of the gaze, if at odds with the desire of the subject, blinds them to the “truth.” Understanding the nature and intention of the gaze becomes paramount. The key character is unaware that they are objectified. I surmise that their blindness is a result of the desire for power (to reduce an unpleasure that has been triggered) coupled with an unconscious fear. In the attempt to move from object to subject, and failing, the keycharacter suffers comic degradation.

40

Ron Hague and Charlie Ruben, “The Marine Biologist,” series 5, episode 13, Seinfeld, created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, produced by West-Shapiro Productions et al. (USA: NBC 1989– 98), first transmitted February 10, 1994.

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Fear and power Detailing a number of clinical cases, Rowe demonstrates, in the same vein as Donald Winnicott,41 that the primary defense of fear is anger stemming from an absence of power experienced during the infantile stage; those who feel powerless use either aggression or denial in response to such feelings, resulting in compulsive or extreme behavior. Alfred Adler also observes that the need for power drives goals, in particular those emanating from experiences of powerlessness in the early years.42 Rowe confirms that adult relationships are replicas of the power games learnt and experienced in familial relationships.43 Alexander Lowen concurs: Consider the case of a person who struggles with an inordinate need for power and control. Invariably, analysis will show that as a child he suffered from a sense of helplessness and impotence that he felt threatened his survival. His drive for power can be seen, therefore, as a means to ensure his survival. . . . As the child experienced his family situation, it was either submit and survive or rebel and be destroyed.44

Connecting power and fear, Rowe writes: “We each, naturally, define reality in our own individual way and we give up our definitions only under the threat of rejection, loss, contempt, humiliation or pain. So in the struggle for power, whether in the family or in the state, many of us suffer great fear.”45 Though it is not clear whether fear or the need for power comes first, Rowe enables one to see that the former can be used to garner the latter. To quote Rowe again: “Powerful people may be effective in controlling their own fear, but they establish and maintain their power by creating fear in others.”46 Relationships are one way to maintain and gain power over others. When an unconscious fear is (re)ignited, it may trigger a need for power over the other or in the environment. Furthermore, repressed fear may trigger behavior that is about securing

41

42

43 44 45 46

Donald Winnicott, Home is Where We Start from:  Essays by a Psychoanalyst (New  York and London: W. W. Norton, 1986). Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature: The Psychology of Personality (Oxford:  Oneworld Publications, 1992). Rowe, My Dearest Enemy, My Dangerous Friend: Making and Breaking Sibling Bonds. Alexander Lowen, Fear of Life (Florida: Bioenergetics Press, 1980), 235. Rowe, Beyond Fear, 73. Rowe, Beyond Fear, 73.

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or gaining power as a means to nullify those feelings. Further, if fear exists on the ego, then as fear increases (by external or internal means), power is used to nullify unpleasure. Thus innate fears, born of type alongside those emanating from relational experiences, precipitate different degrees of responses and outcomes. I have observed that the comic character’s ego-ideal is not only a means by which they maintain a sense of self, it is also the means by which they define themselves and must fend off any opposition/challenge to that narcissistic idealization. While not a key character, Pauly from Pizza is a good example of a character that challenges or attacks that which threatens any loss to his source of power, and thus identity. Maintaining and reinforcing the key character’s egoideal is a means by which to neutralize any unpleasure that has been triggered; they act to nullify an objective fear (often brought about by a disturbance) and may also act to nullify any feelings of despair or foreboding, rooted in the threat of the loss of the love of the original love-object. I now return to “The Moon” to explore Kim’s response when confronted with obstacles that feed her narcissism. To recap, the episode begins with Brett needing to work forty-eight hours straight at the computer city super sell-out sale; the shot cuts to Kim, pregnant and prostrate on the couch, feeling abandoned and resentful (because Brett has abandoned her in her state of need), hollers for Sharon to pass the jar of tiny teddies. Picking up from the last chapter Sharon pleads with Kim to go to the forthcoming school reunion; Kim rejects her for fear of “being ’umiliated like last time.” Sharon, now in the kitchen, as she turns to camera and returns to the lounge room: “Oh Kim that was just a few of the girls having a little bit of a joke. They were laughing at you not with you.” Sharon turns back to the kitchen to get more food to sustain her for the battle she knows is to come: Sharon: Kim:

Oh come on. I said I’d think about it. I have to check out if it’s okay for the baby to hang around with a bunch of loser girls.

Sharon turns from the fridge with a cheese stick. Sharon: Kim: Sharon:

Well what about me, I’m no loser. Red hair, no friends. (Eating) Nicole Kidman’s got friends.

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Has she, Sharon? Hey that was my last cheesy stringer. Well I didn’t know. You bloody never know. Now pass me my drink and then you can go and get my dry cleaning. Oh no I can’t Kim, I’ve actually got a shift at the Repat [repatriation hospital].

Kim is unamused with this piece of information, shifting to a state of feigned helplessness as she attempts to get off the couch in her (only just) pregnant state. In a desperate attempt to please her master with the promise of partnering her to the reunion, Sharon agrees to change her work commitment and pick up Kim’s dry-cleaning. Kim further capitalizes on her confirmed status: “Good, you can drop me at mum’s on the way.” As Sharon turns to leave, Kim yells from behind: “Sharon my bag!” Sharon responds: “Oh, sorry Kim.” Sharon goes to pick up the bag, falling in behind Kim, like a puppy following its master in the hope of getting a treat. Here Sharon uses both food and primary processes—displacing the suggestion that she is not popular by referring to her own ego-ideal of Nicole Kidman through the shared feature of red hair—defenses in the vitriol and sustained abuse delivered by Kim. As Kim defines herself through her relationships, Sharon also needs Kim to nullify her own anxiety of looking like a loser. Each character is attempting to get something from the other. It is a struggle triggered by Sharon’s want, underscored by the anxiety that Kim will reject her request; in this first round, Kim wins and her need to have control over an other has been satiated. Sharon’s anxiety to please Kim enables Kim to control her. Rowe further observes that some individuals not only make choices to achieve their goals by means of their fundamental type, they are also shaped by the need to avoid their primary fears. For Rowe, regardless of type, when an individual’s goals are threatened, or they are thwarted in achieving those goals, they are beset by panic, translating into action, however minor. Consciously avoiding fears that have been triggered or imagined, an introvert might take up excessive tidying and cleaning or even attempt to take control of the “situation,” while the extrovert’s aversion to abandonment might be negated by way of an active social life, focused on keeping and growing their network of friends or developing behavior to keep the other from leaving. The introvert’s fear is rooted in chaos and when they find themselves in such situations they withdraw or begin to order their environment, while the extrovert harbors an attendant fear of abandonment, precipitating a need to dominate, own, or control

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those around them. Know the trait of your character and you will know how they behave when under threat.47 After rescheduling her work commitments, Sharon is at the shopping mall, running errands for Kim who constantly rings her on her mobile with additional tasks. Wearing an eye patch (due to yet another sporting accident) and desperately trying to satisfy her petulant master’s demands, Sharon becomes both confused and worn down, causing her to accidentally pick up the wrong dry-cleaning, a pair of Collette Dinnigan (designer) knickerbockers. Dazzled by the status of the label, Kim swiftly takes ownership of the trousers, which become a major factor in her downfall. The key character may be the victim of the hapless echo character’s bumbling attempts to be “useful”; the degradation has often come about because of the key character’s narcissistic need to be seen as superior, in control and calling the shots, however irrational. They put their drives to the task of maintaining an Ego-Ideal (and to nullify any unpleasure) rather than to master the skill that will enable them to achieve their goal. So while the echo character personifies some aspect of the key character’s unconscious and/or repressed conflicts, the question remains whether the conflict is conscious or unconscious or simply actively repressed and therefore rejected,’ and dismissed as irrelevant when pointed out to them. If the comic character attempts to restore a power imbalance in extreme and comic ways for the key character, it is the tension within and between the unconscious and conscious that is central to their degradation—they harbor both neurotic and objective fears that are unconscious and conscious in varying degrees. While the comic character is driven by an objective goal coupled with a conscious motivation, the key character’s motivation is unconscious; their objective goal is either at odds or at the least incompatible with the unconscious conflicts and must precipitate a struggle to maintain the phantasy now at odds with the diegesis. The key character, having a fragile sense of self, constructs an ego-ideal that delivers to them an identity, a source of narcissistic power erected to nullify the effects of an unpleasure; a phantasy formed out of a need for power in the face of powerlessness/disempowerment, blinding them to the truth of the other and their intentionality.

47

Linda Seger examines David Williamson’s approach to making characters more interesting when put under pressure, Creating Unforgettable Characters, 82.

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I now offer that if phantasy is born of an experience of power, then to give up the phantasy is to give up a need for power, represented by money, status, or sex, more so if that is what the social values. One could ask if surrendering the phallus to move into the Symbolic is to give up the need for power. This requires the acknowledgement and source of such a need. If so, then the need of the narcissistic puppet master to have power could be a reflection of the key character’s own unconscious desire, even need, for power—their phantasy—just as their echo counterpart reflects back to them their fears while also fulfilling the role as an object over which to feed their (unconcious) and narcissistic need for power. If phantasies are developed out of a response to, or need for, power and if the key character is attempting to restore a fractured self by way of some form of power, then the key character is governed by a phantasy dependent on power (that may include the need to “win” or own the love-object), and moreover must remain, unconscious, unarticulated, or at the least unattainable in their mind (good examples are Leonard in the early series of The Big Bang Theory or George in Seinfeld). Kim attempts to nullify her feelings of abandonment, triggered by Brett’s inability to be available to her, and uses her status over Sharon, which extends to withholding any commitment to Sharon’s request to go to the reunion. However, while Kim’s anxiety of wanting to be accepted by Kath may be unconscious, her manipulation of Sharon is deliberate and conscious. Sharon, on the other hand, is driven by the simple and conscious anxiety to avoid social humiliation; that is why she is so active in ensuring she has someone to go with to the reunion. To make a character active, know their conscious fear, present it to them and they will respond. Sharon works hard to maintain her status as “second best friend,” blinding her to the ensnarement as well as the demands of the world around her, especially coming from Kim. Kim also exists (and survives) in the ebb and flow of relationships, prisoner to the anxiety that is ever present; however, she differs from Sharon in that she has the power and position to take out any frustration on the other as object, whereas Sharon is powerless. The key character’s “want” begets an ego-ideal that delivers to them a sense of self, that is also perpetually under threat of annihilation or disintegration. Any threat to the key character’s ego-ideal is not only a threat to their identity, it is a threat to their source of power that defines them (in the gaze) while also protecting them from the intensity of the gaze. They are unconscious victims who do not see themselves as victims, trapped in a perpetual struggle with some other/Other that victimizes them, or by whom they feel victimized and to whom they remain tethered out of the hope of being seen. I liken the key character’s

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ego-ideal to a leaking bucket that acts and their self-esteem—they fill it up and when exposed to certain situations it begins to drain away, prompting a need to restore any lowering levels. Unaware that there is a hole, they are at the mercy of the forces that deplete the contents of the “bucket” and their sense of self. Thus while the goal may be tied to a conscious fear or even want, I surmise that an unconscious fear maintains the relational dynamics. Hence, the key character has a combination of unconscious desires, fears, and anxieties that ensure both an attachment to the love-object and the resulting degradation in their attempt to master the social or even actualize as single Leonard does. Furthermore, while the key character may set out to achieve a conscious goal whereby an unconscious fear overrides the need to master the situation, the conscious goal must be at odds with their unconscious fear, or such fears at least undermine any attempt to achieve the goal; at the least, they refuse to acknowledge their need. The more opposing the combination of conflicts, conscious and unconscious, the greater the potential for comic degradation; the more repressed the fear-determinant based on relational experiences the more extreme the behavior when those fears are triggered and reflected back to them. For all three characters on the couch, they set in train a series of events or dynamics manifesting their worst nightmares—Lucy will be stuck at home, Basil will fail at being a hotel manager, and Kimmie will be humiliated in the social. These fears and anxieties are personified or enabled by the characters around them. Do objective fears enable the comicality while neurotic fears entrap the key character? Nothing is ever that simple; however, I argue that the key character’s entrapment is by way of some fear that is relational and must be reinforced by the situation (they are shipwrecked on an island as Gilligan is shipwrecked by a father figure) and/or discursive frame (women belong in the home); such a tension engenders a perpetual struggle to maintain a stable sense of self and identity.

The key character’s struggle for a cohesive “self ” Taking a more complex approach to the psychodynamics of behavior and personality disorders, Heinz Kohut theorizes that early relational experiences lay the foundation for a psychological “structure of the self ” that has developed in response to the environment.48 Kohut posits that if the subject has not laid down 48

Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

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a firm structure prior to the oedipal phase, then on entering that phase the self struggles to maintain its cohesiveness; in response, ego defenses are erected that are at best narcissistic in nature and at worst constitute disorders. Kohut establishes that there are in essence three different types of narcissistic defenses:  first the everyday nonspecific reactions as a way of protection, second the specific way of reacting to possible narcissistic injury, and third by way of those defenses that are related to underlying narcissistic disturbances in the organization of the self. For Kohut, it “is not the fear of the loss of love or the loss of the love-object but the fear of the permanent disintegration of the self (psychosis) as a consequence of the loss of an intense archaic enmeshment with the self-object” that subsequently maintains the disorders.49 The enmeshment with the self-object extends Lacan’s focus on the lack of a Symbolic Father to now include the effects of enmeshment. The panic of the loss of the love of the loveobject brings with it a fear of disintegration of the self because of enmeshment with the self-object. Kohut elucidates that despair, resulting from the abandoned true self, maintains the enmeshment and thus the disorder; fear lies at the heart of the wounding (by way of rejection, attack, or abandonment), desire, longing, and lack at the heart of attachment, arresting development. While Kohut concurs with many theorists that an unresolved Oedipus complex lies at the root of narcissistic personality behavior, he notes that for some individuals, even after oedipal issues have been resolved, there remains an empty depression stemming from a failure to achieve ambitions and ideals reflective of the subject’s own nuclear self; there is more at play than the guilt of the oedipal situation. In seeking to understand the nature of both experiences, Kohut posits that there exists a tension between two poles: “Guilty Man” and “Tragic Man,” the former defined by the “pleasure-seeking animal,” manifesting as ambitions, and the latter “self-expression man,” laying the ground for ideals. Kohut writes: “We are generally not able to pursue the pleasures of our senses without disturbing conflicts—Guilty Man; and we are generally not able to live out the central program in ourselves without failing or going to pieces in the process—Tragic Man.”50 In light of this framework, Kohut offers a therapeutic approach that enables a (re)structuring of a fragmented self that was not supported or was thwarted

49 50

Kohut, The Restoration of the Self, 208, footnote. Heinz Kohut, The Chicago Institute Lectures, ed. Paul Tolpin and Marian Tolpin (Hillsdale, NJ and London: Analytic Press, 1996), 192–3.

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“when the child has been deprived of both chances in the developmental sequences of events.”51 In order to fully actualize, the subject’s “arc” must be addressed through both poles. Moreover, while the dramas of the child during the oedipal phase are normal, should I also consider that they are “the child’s reactions to empathy failures from the side of the self-object environment of the oedipal phase?”52 It is the threat of annihilation of the false self that begets the disorder, not the actual self, now hidden behind a wall of fear and anger. Thus, narcissism, as a personality disorder, within Kohut’s psychology of the self, is seen as a need to maintain the structure on which the false self has been constructed. In comparison with Rowe, Kohut’s schema is based on a structure erected in the psyche that is relationally determined whereas Rowe’s “annihilation of the self ” is closely tied to a need to succeed, coupled with a fear of failure. Kohut’s defense of the self is about survival and the drive to have unmet needs satisfied, whereas Rowe’s self is about how individuals attempt to achieve in the social, centered on a seesaw between fear and power; for both practitioners, ego-ideals are erected in order to protect the ego from the reemergence of repressed or unconscious fears that trigger some form of annihilation or disintegration. To clarify, Kohut is dealing with paralyzing personality disorders while Rowe is examining behavior that may not be as undermining of the true of self, rather it may be reactions to unresolved conflicts and fears. While type may be predetermined, disorders are the consequences of thwarted ego maturation or distorted object-relations. George K. Simon53 makes the distinction between personality and character, proposing that personality is defined by the traits subjects are born with, while character is developed through the effort to capitalize on those traits for the benefit of the self and others. For Simon, character defines moral behavior and “character disordered” personalities require cognitive behavior therapy rather than the traditional psychodynamic framework that is better suited for the neurotic. Yet Simon never explains fully the root of such (deficit) behavior other than to suggest that narcissistic personalities develop when the subject has received too much unconditional positive regard for innate attributes rather than effort. I have a query with Simon’s predetermination of personalities as

51 52 53

Kohut, The Restoration of the Self, 190. Kohut, The Restoration of the Self, 246–7. George K. Simon, Character Disturbances (Little Rock, AR: Parkhurst Brothers Publishers, 2011).

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either neurotic or disturbed, with the latter divided into being either aggressive or narcissistic personalities. Other than in extreme cases, and observing aggressive/narcissistic personalities, their behavior is shaped by a core belief that they are entitled to the goal they seek and others exist to serve them and their wants. In such cases, entitlement drives behavior and triggers angry, aggressive responses when thwarted. (As we have seen, Basil’s response is very different to Lucy’s when thwarted). If attitude begets the behavior, it follows that experience must beget the attitude. Hence “disturbed characters” must have unresolved conflicts that have been supported or lay dormant, when coupled with a source of power emerge as disturbed character behavior. (A good example is the main character of Walter White in Breaking Bad, and the empowering affects that mastering drug manufacturing has on his impotence.)54 Experiences of power create the phantasy that lays dormant until fed by a source of power or challenged by reality, possibly forcing a change in behavior or, in more extreme attachments, “death.” While phantasies form our view of the world, disorders arise out of a need to survive it. In order to change, as Simon notes, behavior must be challenged and the subject willing to surrender the need for domination and control. (This is where confusion arises with Freud’s original ego structure and is sometimes used in a simplistic way in film theory where the ego, id, and superego are independent forces. If the ego is connected with the conscious [Cs] and the id with the unconscious [UCs], the site of amoral behavior, such an alignment does not account for the fact that the id can influence both Cs and UCs behavior including that which is deemed moral and amoral while the superego can be Cs rather than preconscious [PCs] in its harsh judgment and accusatory manner.) Disturbed characters lose their moral compass or dispose of any fiction that they had one; for Simon, they must bring their amorality or nonmorality to Cs. Furthermore, and interestingly for my purposes, Simon’s distinction between disturbed characters and neurotics supports the difference between extreme narcissistic and echoistic comic characters, laying the ground for conjecture about the relationship each psychical structure has to power. I prefer to use the delineation between Narcissus and Echo rather than disturbed/disordered or neurotic as some echo characters (as we will see) are not necessarily neurotic, they simply see the world in a different way and are dependent on the 54

Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan, produced by High Bridge Entertainment et al. (USA: aMC, 2008–13).

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environment and self-objects for their ability to function, often in response to a dynamic of which they are unaware. Similarly the key character, always at odds with the “world” and its “rules,” seeks to change the other rather than face their reality. The key character has an UCs need for power yet does not know how to get it; they think they have power and are unaware that they do not. Whereas the echo character has no power and does not know it—they are happy in their “blissful ignorance.” While Simon alludes that neurotics are overwhelmed by power and disturbed characters have learnt to use power in environments that support them, Richard Restak connects the need for power with increasingly disturbed personality disorders.55 Beginning with a narcissistic wound (to the ego) and moving along a continuum to borderline, imposter, and psychopath, Restak presents a study using examples of film characters. While Kohut posits that the failure of both poles engenders disorders, for Restak it is to seek power by any means. What is apparent is that character disturbances are morally (and therefore socially) based, rooted in a need for, or engagement with, power whereas disorders may have the same root yet play out in the personal realm of (distorted) object-relations. The common theme between these approaches is that character disturbances/personality disorders have at their root a thwarted/ wounded narcissistic impulse leading to behavior that is not only manipulative, it can also be used as a means to exercise power rather than just keep the self safe as Kohut surmises. This raises the question, as Simon argues, of intentionality and morality. By revisiting the oedipal complex as arising from experiences centered on power, stemming from familial relationships, including siblings, rather than solely the sexual competitiveness and desire for the parent/s by the subject, as classical theory posits, the fragmented self would then arise from an actual lack of power in early relationships or a threat to power that is secured (such as being the first born). If so, I read the key character as attempting to reactivate the structure building in order to enter the oedipal phase and firm up the structure of the self yet never succeeding to that end—they are unknowingly thwarted by some internal force or external obstacle that then plays out in their relationships; this gives some explanation as to why these characters may be stuck in the Imaginary yet also seek to enter the Symbolic. 55

Richard Restak, The Self Seekers: Understanding Manipulators, the Predominant Personalities of Our Age (New York: Doubleday, 1982).

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Looking more closely at Kohut’s framework, for him narcissistic disorders develop (for the male) from an archaic enmeshment with the mother, coupled with a (repressed) hatred of the father and his ideals and values. Guilty Man precedes Tragic Man as the (male) subject first attaches to the mother and, failing to separate, then rejects the father or, in some cases (as per the story of Oedipus) has been rejected by the father, possibly out of his own jealousy with the rival. Once resolved, the male subject now seeks escape from enmeshment with the mother and to become like the father or, at least, to be seen by him, and finds he is absent; in the resulting re-enmeshment, narcissism takes hold and its attendant unconscious anger at both parents (and their representatives). But what if the male child and/ or mother wish for the marriage? Further, there is a difference between the father rejecting the son and him simply not being present. What is still not clear is: Why does the oedipal complex originate from the point of view of the subject? However, the term “disturbance” assists in broadening out the scope of the behavior of the key character in the social with dilemmas arising from moral conundrums rather than just having a personality disorder, allowing for the possible ego structure of the key character as having some degree of personality disorder, a character disturbance, or both. My aim is to ascertain the difference between securing power as the goal and as a means of simply surviving. To achieve that objective, we need to ascertain that if survival were the goal, the actions would be benign rather that destructive, if destructive such behavior must be brought to account as Larry David forcibly did with the characters in the last episode of Seinfeld. I offer that key characters in American sitcoms tend to face moral dilemmas rather than be at odds with social discourses as is more common in British sitcoms (with exceptions to both). What is interesting is that in both cultural forms there exist key characters who exhibit elements of personality “disorders,” as they yearn for restoration of a fragmented self arising from a loss of power or feelings of disempowerment, examples being Grace in Will & Grace in America56 and Tracey from Birds of a Feather57 in Britain, whereas “disturbed characters,” as noted, refuse to accept they have a problem (like the characters in Seinfeld or Alf Garnet in Till Death Us Do Part)58 and carry on regardless of the consequences to their relationships or the world around them. 56

57

58

Will & Grace, created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnik, produced by KoMut Entertainment et al. (USA: NBC, 1998–2006). Birds of a Feather, created by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, produced by Retort Productions et al. (UK: BBC, 1989–98, ITV 2014–present). Till Death Us Do Part, created by Johnny Speight, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1966–8, 1972–5).

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Deciding if the key character is at odds with the world and/or those around them entails an understanding of the diegesis and its “frame” within which they exist. I take this point up in Chapter 5. The types of characters who challenge the key character tend to be main characters and narcissistic as in the case of Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory.59 While these are exceptions to the point just made, it assists in differentiating between disorders and character disturbances; the first acts to stay safe under threat of fragmentation and may or may not seek to actualize (such as Leonard in The Big Bang Theory), while the latter acts out of malevolence and refuses to change or accept they have a problem or indeed any responsibility for their actions and therefore, as long as they are sucking on narcissistic supplies, will avoid anything that enables actualization or forces them to confront reality. It is interesting to note that such characters appear “normal,” but only in relation to their surroundings; disordered personalities are more commonly destructive to themselves, unless of course they “turn” on the need for power and become Restak’s psychopaths. Australian sitcoms tend to be more satirical, as we have seen with Kath & Kim, attacking social constructs and genres such as the soap (of which Australian producers are highly skilled); they seek characters “at odds with the world” rather than at odds with those around them, which may account for the hitand-miss history of Australian sitcoms.60 Hence it is necessary to understand the values of the culture and the character’s relation to that culture—they may reflect those values or be at odds with them, but some conflict and/or tension is essential in order to enable the perpetual struggle that is the central argument of this book. Kohut’s psychology of the self enables a possible understanding of the psychical structure of the comic character and in particular the pervading sense of threat that appears to persecute the key character. While most comic characters may be at odds with the world around them, they may not necessarily feel trapped as the key character does. Hence, and not trying to be flippant or judgmental, comic characters are essentially disturbed characters (i.e. they refuse to engage with reality), while key characters are a combination of a personality undermined by conflicts alongside some degree of disturbance and/or disorder 59

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The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, produced by Chuck Lorre Productions et al. (USA: CBS, 2007–present). Deduced from my research paper, “Between Those of Us Who Laugh and Those of Us Who Don’t . . .” A Look at the Sitcom Genre from an Australian Perspective, unpublished MA research paper (Sydney: University of New South Wales, 1990).

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that is best brought to bear through the relationships around them, leading me to ask whose ambitions and values are being instilled that enable the constellation of Guilty Man and Tragic Man? In other words is the key character attempting to achieve an Ego-Ideal or aspirations of an other rather than fulfill their own arc? As Guilty Man is the response to an archaic enmeshment with the mother, Tragic Man is the consequence of the failure of the nuclear self to find expression in the social, shaped by the ideals and values of the father (or those who engage in the social). Picking up Freud, the pleasure-seeking animal and attachment to the pleasure principle instantiates guilt whereas self-expression man results in tragedy when expression of the “true self ” is thwarted or not supported. It is the confrontation with reality that instigates the tragedy. Hence, and for my purposes, Kohut enables a reading of the comic character captured by either pleasure-seeking drives (self-serving grandiosity as Guilty Man), or low self-esteem (worthlessness and lacking in ideals as Tragic Man). Moreover, Kohut’s framework enables us to see how Tragic Man might point to understanding “Comic Man.” As Tragic Man’s failure results in destruction to both the self and others, Comic Man would then be the attempt to restore the fractured self through relationships with others yet failing; similarly “Romantic Man” would be the successful “healing” of the fractured self by way of attachment to a love-object (and not through codependency). Returning to the tale of Oedipus, initially the male child was abandoned, then he kills the father, opening the way to win the hand of the mother/queen. Now I ask, what did Queen Jocasta “know” when Oedipus arrives in Thebes and solves the riddle for the Sphinx? Surely she would be aware at some level who this young man was or could be—his age would be close to that of the child she abandoned, moreover he would look like at least one of the parents, yet she takes him for her husband, bearing his children. Vlasta Paulic makes the point, using the Greek spelling of Jocasta, that “during all the years she was married to him, Iocaste never noticed the piercings on his ankles he received the day he was exposed to die.”61 Jocasta is either blind to what is in front of her or in denial. Unable to rule in her own right, is it so that Jocasta may once again be restored to her position as queen after the death of King Laius? As Oedipus is driven by an Adlerian lifelong goal for restitution with the mother, Jocasta’s goal is to marry the son who will give her Symbolic power (and an indication of her phantasy). Furthermore, Jocasta 61

Paulic, “The Antigone Complex: From Desire to Guilt and Back,” 280.

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has been disempowered by the death of the king, as opposed to being rendered powerless, as was the infant Oedipus; her disempowerment is nullified by the marriage to the son while he remains unconscious (and must remain so for this situation to play out). Oedipus is not aware of who Jocasta is, nor her intentions. The (m)other “seduces” the male subject, in turn moving him from the paralyzing state of powerlessness that has come about by abandonment and rejection, to the power-giving state of narcissism, instilling feelings of grandiosity and, more importantly, power, which may be his phantasy that may also feed his fantasy. Regardless, the relationship is centered on a need for power by both subject and object. What the subject does not realize is that he has been objectified to serve the desire of the other, in turn becoming an object. Jocasta’s suicide along with her attempts to stop Oedipus from finding out the truth exposes her guilt and suggests a degree of character disturbance (being based in a moral action). While Oedipus is unconscious of the relationship, like his daughter/sister Antigone’s determination to give Polynices a humane burial, her brother/father is intent on discovering the “truth” (something our key characters avoid at all costs). Finally, does Jocasta harbor an ego wounding resulting from an experience of disempowerment? Is she an echo and, in gaining power, does she become a “negative” echo? As per the oedipal complex, in attempting to ascertain the existence of a “Jocasta complex” I offer that in taking the other (for self), power is attained by way of the gaze (seduction). Kaja Silverman proposes that a negative oedipal complex (for the female derived from an attachment to the mother and for the male an attachment to the father) enables entanglement; while she surmises that being at the level of PCs/Cs, despite the entanglement, “identification with the mother during the negative Oedipus complex is at least in part an identification with activity. The equation of femininity and passivity is a consequence only of the positive Oedipus complex, and the cultural discourses and institutions which support it.”62 Silverman makes a convincing argument that in the attachment by way of desire, the subject becomes trapped; I extend that in light of the above analysis to say that both desire and fear are harbingers for entrapment and action, a point underscored by Gorton’s thesis. However and in light of Silverman and Kohut, I posit that regardless of gender, rather than existing at a PCs/Cs level, if there exists some degree of unconscious echoism and/or narcissism, then the subject is driven to escape the entanglement, as a result of either (real or imagined) fear 62

Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror, 153.

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and/or desire. Silverman’s negative oedipal complex can now be seen as a form of shadow or negative echoism in that it produces behavior that is “shadowy,” covert in its attempt to secure the same objective as the disordered personality—the negative but “active” oedipal complex she offers. If narcissism primarily derives from an archaic enmeshment with the parent of the opposite gender, then could the other pole, in response to an archaic enmeshment with the parent of the same gender or rejection by that parent, instantiate heightened values or ideals as suggested by Kohut? If I equate Guilty Man with narcissism, then, and using the dual psychical structure suggested by the myth, Tragic Man would be the site of echoism. If unconscious narcissism equates to the yearning to achieve ambitions through the marriage with the (m) other, then unconscious echoism would equate to the desire to be seen by the other pole, who either takes them to serve their agenda, refuses to “see” them, or is absent, laying the ground for a psychological constellation centered on the desire to be seen or “heard” by way of the disembodied voice. Lacan determines that foreclosure, the-Name-of-the-Father, institutes a lack that, when the subject is confronted with the Real, triggers psychosis. The ego defense has been erected out of desire in the face of lack; fragmentation of the psyche comes about from an inability to integrate a reality. In the lack of foreclosure, the male child is driven by the wish to “win” the affections of the mother, thus lack (as absence) ensures entrapment. The male child, disempowered (by the father), is unable to enter the Symbolic. Kohut’s framework explains why “crossing of the bridge” from the Imaginary to the Symbolic may not be solely the cause of a lack of the Symbolic Father. This explains Kohut’s observation that when oedipal issues have been resolved, there remains an empty depression (Tragic Man)—no one is there (home). The latter pole has not been fully activated; and in stepping out of the gaze, the (male) subject experiences a void. In light of Oedipus’s abandonment, can Tragic Man occur before Guilty Man or is the relationship with the mother primarily due to the natural act of birth and the first experiences of separation? This gives insight into not only the order of the poles and their failure, comparing it to Silverman’s positive and negative Oedipus complex for both genders, but also into how the order of experiences influence the nature of the phantasy, motivations and consequent behavior (and breakdown if it is to occur). As Silverman dissects the affects of the positive and negative oedipal complex on the male and female characters (in film), I contend that it is the tension between Cs and UCs narcissism and echoism on

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both female and male subjectivity that accounts for character behavior (in the sitcom). Looking at the possible genesis of disorders in disturbed characters and associated behavior, in the Kath & Kim episode “The Hideous Truth,”63 the episode flashes back to the ’70s to reveal how Kim wins the affections of her future husband, Brett, currently Sharon’s high-school sweetheart. Kim arrives at the bluelight disco for high-schoolers run by the local police command; she stands in the doorway, rays of light streaming behind her, legs apart, shimmering like an Amazonian siren. Brett is captured by this “vision” and promptly abandons Sharon on the dance floor, asking Kim to “go round with him.” Kim responds: “I’ll have to ask Shane. Oh ok then.” Kim not only experiences victory in her conquest of another’s man, she also disempowers Sharon. Alone on the dance floor, Sharon’s apple-shaped body draped in a pale-blue satin ’70s version of the puffy-sleeved blouse, she has lucked out—both then and now. More disturbingly, she accepts it. Thirty years on, Kim not only clings to that image, the culture of shoppingmall consumerism and her “friendship” with Sharon reinforces that phantasy. It is through Kim’s victory over Sharon that her ego-ideal was solidified and, in order to maintain her status, Kim must repeatedly exert dominance over Sharon. The times (then and now) feed Kim’s idealization. However, while Kim’s self-image is enabled by the culture and its dynamics, in her attachment to what it delivers, she is also threatened by its loss; Kim needs Sharon’s friendship as much as Sharon now needs Kim’s friendship to support her own negative oedipal complex, which I redefine as an unconscious negative echoism triggering shadow behavior. Back to the question at hand, I will now attempt to understand the genesis of female narcissism as a way of understanding female comic characters. If the parent of the opposite sex instills ambitions enabling goals, alongside an archaic enmeshment, which lays the foundation for Guilty Man/Woman, then the parent of the same sex, being the agent of ideals and values, when absent or wounded by them, traps the subject and failing to actualize, becomes Tragic Man/Woman. In doing so, and in light of Kohut, the subject suffers depression. So while Guilty Man/Woman enables narcissism, it would seem that Tragic Man/Woman enables not only a sense of emptiness in the failure to actualize at the secondary pole, but this failure is born of behavior that I argue is akin to echoism. For the female then, 63

Gina Riley and Jane Turner,“The Hideous Truth,” series 2, episode 8, Kath & Kim, first transmitted November 6, 2003.

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“disembodied” by the mother’s wrath (or abandoned out of jealousy or her own unmet maternal needs), could lay the ground for both an anxious (there is no objective fear) disposition and a longing for love and protection from the father (or his representative). A female echo would idealize male representatives for the protection they promise while simultaneously and unconsciously fearing that representatives of the mother will render them invisible, in turn becoming overly invested in the values of the father or what the female thinks are their values and representatives of the father including objects of declaration of love. Lacan’s foreclosure of the Symbolic Father accounts for only one direction for the subject whereas Kohut explains how the subject may become stuck at one pole in their attempt to “cross the bridge” to the other and, through this analysis, offer the possibility that the subject may master one pole and not the other, regardless of order. The question now: Is the order of Guilty Woman and Tragic Woman reversed as the female subject’s first relationship is with the mother? When the protection afforded by the attachment to the father and his representative no longer exists, the sense of self begins to fracture, flinging the female subject back to the pole of the primary relationship and an archaic enmeshment with the mother, manifesting as depression or more extreme states (including suicide). Just as the male subject flings back to, or remains stuck at, the primary pole of narcissistic desire, in the failure of the secondary pole, then, for the female subject, Tragic Woman would be followed by Guilty Woman, precipitating a narcissistic defense—when that collapses, the subject is left with an echo of her former self. Tragic Woman has been “echoed.” Hence the “disordered” female may have at her core Tragic Woman manifesting as a struggle to integrate the values and ideals of the mother who has rejected or abandoned her sense of self in some way (the disembodied Echo). When failure at both poles occurs, the female would experience Tragic Woman in the failure to emulate the values represented by that pole, followed by Guilty Woman in the attempt to procure the approval of her father and values that reflect the upholding of certain Symbolic acts, giving an explanation of a possible Antigone complex. Similarly, male echoism may take hold by means of the wrath of and rejection by the father stemming from jealousy. But if preceded by abandonment/rejection by the mother, followed by enmeshment with her, the “Abandoned Man,” coupled with Tragic Man, followed by Guilty Man, gives some insight into the complexity of the conflicts within a disordered psyche (especially for men). When both are active, the male narcissist may erect a defense over his narcissism that is echoistic,

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presenting as charming, sycophantic, or servile, as with Basil, but who flies into a rage when thwarted. The seemingly female “narcissist” may have a defense (of the self), presenting as successful in the social as with Kim, yet which hides a core echoism that becomes evident when she is exposed and “’umiliated like last time.” What Kohut enables us to think about is not only the consequences of the failure of relationships (and their poles), but the order in which those experiences occur. I leave aside the issue of same-sex relationships and parenting only to say that I think the poles of the arc of the self are better defined by the roles of the parents (ambitions and ideals/values) rather than gender; the question then becomes what is the nature of the relationship between the parent and child. Such a question is beyond the scope of this book but it does enable some pointers for sitcoms that have gay relationships and parenting as their themes, and to that end I discuss Modern Family briefly in the next chapter.64 Again it is not gender alone, rather the combination of the environment, roles, and values promoted in the social, coupled with attitude and expectations toward the subject that affects the developing self, which is of interest. This is useful in determining the nature of the comic character’s “drive” (motivation) as well as their relationships that scaffold any “disorder.” The challenge is in knowing the order in which fear-determinants have taken hold and the resulting phantasy that motivates the key character, alongside defenses erected in response to the conflicts. While it is not necessary to do a full psychoanalytic reading of the character, it assists to understand that they are trapped in some struggle for power that has at its roots a deficit or wounding to the ego at either one or both Kohutian poles. Basil is, at his core, Guilty Man with Tragic Man overlaid, while Kim is Tragic Woman cloaked with Guilty Woman. The source of Kim’s Guilty Woman is less evident as there is no obvious archaic enmeshment with a father figure other than her utter dependency on (and neediness of) Brett for attention, masked by manipulation. Lucy, on the other hand, is Guilty Woman—enmeshed with the father yet disempowered by the expectations of the value of home maker epitomized by Ethel (and rejected by Lucy), engendering Tragic Woman, that manifests as wailing (in having to return to the home) rather than humiliation. Lucy’s ego-ideal appears to be in response to a change in social circumstance that she refuses to accept. Utilizing echoistic/ 64

Modern Family, created by Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan, produced by Lloyd-Levitan Productions et al. (USA: ABC, 2009–present).

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narcissistic wounding to determine the nature of the behavior and response to unconcious fears I argue that Basil’s actions are determined by an unconscious narcissism and Kim’s by an unconscious echoism. Both are also labored with an inveiglement stemming from the gaze. Kim is a more passive character as her entanglement is the result of desire rather than fear as in the case of Basil, raising the point of how to make passive or reactionary characters more active; how to give them motivation beyond trying to stay safe, a point ripe for discussion. For Lucy it is more complicated; her narcissism is enabled by way of a wish to be loved and seen by the love-object, and in picking up Silverman’s concept of the negative oedipal complex65 it would also be true that her attachment to the mother (Ethel) is what binds her to the very existence she wishes to escape while simultaneously echoing that which she denies in the Other. While it is yet to be determined if echoism (positive or negative, Cs or UCs) is in fact a syndrome emanating from unresolved neurotic fear-determinants, theorists such as Kohut and Freud, along with the analyses of characters Sharon, Manuel, and Ethel, give rise to the suggestion that such a condition may exist. What is evident is that echoism, or at the least the mirroring it engenders, is central to both the enablement of the narcissism of the key character and the entrapment of both types of characters. It is the characters’ echoism/narcissism that binds them in relationships rather than their introversion/extroversion. Moreover, the key character’s sense of self is determined by some degree of disturbed echoism and narcissism, manifested as a combination of Tragic Man/ Woman and Guilty Man/Woman. Returning to Kath & Kim and “The Moon,” I observe what happens when an echo comic character decides to leave and pursue her own “voice.” At the reunion, Kim and Sharon’s new best friend, the grateful and now sycophantic Lisa Marie, argue over who looked like Frieda and who looked like Agnetha from ABBA during their school days. Kim is losing the battle for Sharon and she knows it. Kim is set to leave and expects Sharon to follow, but Sharon, encouraged by Lisa Marie, wants to stay at the party. Kim can feel the ground shifting. The final blow comes when Sharon, again encouraged by Lisa Marie, announces that Lisa Marie wants to take her back to the Gold Coast (North Australia) to

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Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror, 153.

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“realize her dream of becoming an elite athlete.” Kim storms off. Sharon follows her out into the night, where they face each other. Kim:

Some second best friend you turned out to be. I can’t believe you are leaving me in my condition, the one time I ask you to do something for me.

Cut to mid-close-up of Sharon with Kim extreme left of frame: Sharon:

But Kim this is my big chance. Lisa Marie feels like she owes me. She says I’ve been like a rock to her.

Two-shot, zooming in to a close-up of Kim: Kim:

But you are my rock.

Cut back to Sharon who is now struggling to maintain her friendship with Kim as well as hold on to the opportunity offered by Lisa Marie: Sharon:

Yeah well now I’m Lisa’s rock as well.

Cut to close-up of Kim, becoming increasingly agitated. Kim:

Well how many people’s rocks are you?

Back to a medium two-shot, as Sharon, still attempting to placate Kim, goes on: Sharon:

Well I’m your rock. I’m Lisa’s rock. I’m your mum’s rock sometimes.

The shot zooms in. Sharon continues: Kel says I’m a good stick, which is kind of like a rock.

Cut to a medium two-shot, zooming into a close-up on Kim as her anger finally erupts: Kim:

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Well I  don’t think that makes you a rock Sharon, I  reckon that makes you gravel.66

Riley and Turner, “The Moon,” Kath & Kim.

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Sharon is stunned and deeply hurt by the ferocity of this remark. They continue on in a volley of name-calling: Kim yelling “gravel,” Sharon retaliating with “Frieda, Frieda.” While Kim knows at some level she needs Sharon, Sharon is conflicted as to what to fight for—her dream or her friendship with Kim that delivers to her an identity; she is blind to the reality that Kim only sees her in terms of how the relationship benefits Kim. After a number of rounds of verbal slanging, Lisa Marie calls from deep background and, in a nod to soap-opera, Sharon turns and says with great emotion: “Goodbye Kim.” This echo-slave character has had her sense of self “stirred.” The shot cuts to Kim in close-up, she flicks her hair and storms off into the night. Now Kim’s identity, mediated through her relationship with Sharon, has been altered and, more importantly, her source of power is under threat. Kim needs this relationship not only to feed her selfimage and dominance over Sharon, it is also the fuel that this relationship gives her in her own psychological battle with Kath. The conflict has arisen because Sharon now seeks her own identity yet she is also afraid of being rejected by Kim. Linda Cowgill writes, “It’s what characters do, especially in the face of conflict, that really shows us who they are.”67 Identify what the character is attached to as well as what they fear and one finds how to make them fight. To maintain tension, it is necessary to know how the character sees the world (both their phantasy, which is largely unconscious, as well as in their conscious Ego-Ideal). I take a moment here to reiterate that phantasy is determined by conflicts that are largely unconscious and influence choices and behavior that seek to nullify unresolved conflicts. For some fictional characters, it is the manifestation of that phantasy that drives them, as with Walter White in Breaking Bad, mentioned earlier. While in drama the main character may seek power no matter what the consequence, I posit that in the sitcom the key character seeks to actualize (blindly, through some attainment of what they think is or will give them power) and does not understand or aware of why they repeatedly fail. For repeatability to be maintained, their phantasy and thus (true) motivation must remain unconscious or unacknowledged. In drama and romantic comedy (be it long-form or one-off narrative), there is a climax, a conclusion that not only resolves all the questions but often also results in a tragic or happy end to their phantasy. If a problem triggers a need for power in the key character and 67

Linda J. Cowgill, The Art of Plotting:  Add Emotion, Suspense, and Depth to Your Screenplay (New York: Lone Eagle Publishing, 2008), 119.

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the resulting struggle is resolved, then the series must end. Yet, unlike drama, I would argue that the sitcom does not need to have a resolution; the pleasure emanates from the struggle of the key character, not in the climax. Hence I offer that romantic comedy is about the resolution of the oedipal complex and tragedy the consequences of not. Or taking on board Kohut, comedy is the attempt to restore the structure of the self and tragedy the denial of the poles and their effects that have structured the self. Back to Kath & Kim, Kim’s narcissism is both a defense of her ego and a means by which to prevent her engaging with any reality that does not accord with her worldview. However, and arguing against myself on the point of the key character’s drive, I am not convinced that this character seeks to actualize; rather, she seeks to simply maintain her phantasy, be it an Amazonian vision or simply the center of all attention explaining this program’s definition as a satirical parody. While Kim is adroit at maintaining her Ego-Ideal, she needs Sharon to stave off the conflicts swirling in her phantasy and the maternal voice entangling her subjectivity.68 Kim’s anger is rooted in the fear of not being seen by the echoing acolyte that feeds her narcissistic supplies; she returns to the default behavior that ensures the balance is tipped in her favor, abuse. Sometimes Kim is forced to face certain realities. The next day Kim reflects on her behavior: Kim:

Yep, I now realise I didn’t treat Sharon the way I should have. I mean calling her a great bloody oaf, maybe she didn’t like that.

Yet she still blames the other for her behavior. Kim:

I didn’t know, she didn’t say anything.69

In order to maintain her schema, Kim is unable to see that others have wants and needs of their own. In the final scene, Kim begins to heat a plate of footy franks (small continental sausages made from processed meat) causing Kath to shriek in horror at the thought of what such food will do to Kim’s weight. This only makes Kim more anxious, reinforcing her scramble to eat junk food. In the last chapter I detailed the emotional reunion between these two characters, leaving them hurling abuse at each other. At this moment Kim is grappling with a sense of mourning 68 69

Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror, 44 as well as Chapter 3. Riley and Turner, “The Moon,” Kath & Kim.

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or rather melancholia. For the extrovert, depression is the most common form of defense to ward off possible feelings of guilt, shame, failure, rejection, or abandonment as well as hurling abuse; or creating chaos as a way of maintaining control over the introvert target to ward off their own sense of abandonment. The introvert narcissist similarly disavows the needs of others. Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory is a good example—in his awareness of the inability to understand feelings, irony or sarcasm is used as a comic device.70 For Katerina Daniel, it is in response to the oppression of the male that the female becomes hysteric: “[She] manifests in her body what she cannot represent in words.”71 In line with the feminist view of the female hysteric being an unconscious revolt against patriarchy, with Lucy there is a conscious want to respond to the now changed situation, the resulting dichotomy then plays out through the body. Lucy’s longing to be seen by Ricky drives her to attempt to succeed in the Symbolic, her unconscious fear of being rejected by the Other enables the degradation and consequent re-situation. While Lucy has a conscious goal, it is her unconscious want to (re)gain power in the social that triggers the conscious fear of being trapped in domesticity; simultaneously she seeks entry into the Symbolic that now has a new overt agenda delivered through glossy commercials and encouraging home-style consumerism. Moreover, Lucy’s attempts to escape the confines of the home, as a moth drawn to the flame, lead her into the very environment that exposes her as stupid and clumsy—like a clown wobbling on a unicycle, the harder she peddles the more likely she is to crash. The gaze of the Other not only attracts Lucy, it infantilizes her, resulting in child-like and dependent behavior, made more comical with her facial expressions, exaggerated makeup and wailing. This is the cleverness of Lucy—it reflects the double bind of desire and entrapment that women may have felt at the time. While Mellencamp is unable to offer a solution to that tension, she does articulate it72—a tension that has long affected women and continues to do so and gives a pointer to the nature and intention of the gaze—to attract and trigger regressive behavior that enables control in an unconscious victim. In the last chapter, I offered that Lucy’s fear of containment, rather than her longing to be accepted by Ricky for who she is, was the precursor to her entrapment. Now it is apparent that it is a combination of both. Unaware that Ricky has 70 71

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The Big Bang Theory, Lorre and Prady. Katerina Daniel, “Feminists and Jacques Lacan on Female Hysteria and Feminine Desire,” in Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society, ed. Henderson, 292. Mellencamp, “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy.”

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no interest in her being successful, Lucy blindly and repeatedly seeks to enter the social; if he questions her ability, like a child intent on showing they can, she sets out to prove him wrong. Lucy is blind to Ricky’s view that women should remain in the home, which is not only in line with the social hegemony, it is also underscored by his patronizing retribution: “Lucy you got some ’splainin to do.”73 The comicality of Lucy derives from her attempts to regain her role in the social while her comic degradation results from the exposition of having lost the source of her identity. As this character’s noncompliance is conscious, by repeatedly attempting to prove to Ricky she is talented or even just capable and therefore worthy of his love, tension emerges in the unconscious demand of compliance of the “feminine role.” Her desire for the other blinds her to the reality in which she exists. This character’s want is undermined by her need to see that she is disempowered. Again, the need is never brought to consciousness. However, and in light of three waves of feminism, changing the framework that gives women power does not necessarily alter the unconscious thinking of the male who may seek power over the female, as representative of the (m)other (vestiges of the fort/da game), nor does it enable women to live out their central program; it simply gives power to a false self that may be erected in the face of powerlessness or disempowerment that could be a result of the mother’s own frustrations. If power simply feeds a phantasy, then the female becomes a victim of the same behavior of which she accuses men. As mentioned, Gorton gives us a clue to the nature of the hysteric being rooted in the desire by the female to be seen by the father.74 Is it that the unspoken intentionality of the male (father) triggers the hysteric response (in the female)? Or the fear of seduction, much like the narcissist’s fear of engulfment in the mother’s gaze, triggers in the hysteric flight to the Symbolic? As such, this would lead the hysteric into the very situation from which she/he attempts to escape, as in Oedipus’s flight from Corinth. The nature of the gaze and its covert intention (be it for sex or other actions that give the subject power over the object) triggers the response and thus the movement. Now I ask, does the gender (in a patriarchy) dictate the nature of the entrapment and the response? In other words, for the female key character does her echoism engender her entrapment in the gaze, while her narcissism drives her to act; for the male key character if narcissism is the root of his entrapment, is an

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I Love Lucy, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf, produced by Desilu Productions (USA: CBS, 1951–61). Gorton, Theorising Desire, 50.

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unconscious echoism the root of his failure to succeed? What I can say (again) is that it is unconscious relational dynamics, whatever the source, which engenders both the entrapment and the response. Looking at the relationships of our key characters, with both Basil and Lucy, there is an opposite gender thwarting their Ego-Ideal, however, for Kim the gaze is homogenous and triggers anxiety-inducing behavior, such as gorging on footy franks. Kim’s primary wish is to be accepted by the love-object rather than to be free of the gaze of the love-object by way of escape (as with Basil). Kim’s psychical tension (and therefore comicality), is closer to that of the comic character, often undone by her own actions (like the character of Pauly) rather than the deliberate thwarting actions of others (as Sybil does with Basil). What differentiates the key character from the comic character is that the key character has both neurotic and objective fear-determinants coupled with conscious and unconscious conflicts, even longings, whereas the comic character has a more evident combination of conscious wants and unconscious fears that are at odds with some reality. Basil’s conflicts are precipitated by a constant fear of the loss of the love of the love-object, resulting in a need to prove he is superior, or at least worthy, as well as escape Sybil’s unrelenting demands and its see sawing effect on Basil between hate and “don’t leave me”; her constant devaluation of his competence would further engender feelings of low self-esteem and a decrease in his ability to function resulting in extreme responses when thwarted. Basil’s wish is to be loved and accepted by Sybil (giving her control over him, and she knows it), while his goal to be a successful and competent hotelier (giving him control) is undone by the very conscious fear of failing in the Symbolic; his head banging is a reaction to and manifestation of the attack on the self that he experiences. For both Kim and Basil, their behavior is more determined by hubris (as protection to their wounding) rather than childish antics (as Lucy’s is), yet all three are arrested in how they experience and engage with the world. Further, if echoism is the psychological domain of the hysteric and if the hysteric (as female) procures the desire of the male/father, then can it be that male echoism procures the gaze of the female/mother and, in the failure or attempt to maintain the gaze, himself becomes “hysterical”? (Head banging, alcoholism, or other self-destructive actions being some examples). What is becoming evident in this analysis is that hysteria, as is narcissism, may not, indeed should not, be based on gender. As long as the wounding, lack, or desire (for whatever reason) remains unconscious, the key character is condemned to repeat, forget, and never work through their problems. Candida Yates notes, “Comedy addresses questions of morality, and

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drama may invite empathy . . . enabling the viewer to ‘work through’ the various emotional dilemmas of contemporary experience.”75 In addition she notes that “it may be that, in some contexts, returning to a programme on a repeated basis can imply a creative form of emotional work associated with psychoanalytic theories of transformational objects and transitional phenomena,”76 giving us pause to ponder that sitcom characters could then be read as a personification of the disparate/ discarded self that society has denied or walled off, the pleasure arising from the (unconscious) wish to integrate or reintegrate them into our own psyche. While this point is worthy of further debate and is discussed by Bainbridge et al. in relation to television as a transitional object, for my purposes it raises the point, that there is a danger in defining too narrowly the intentions of both the gaze and the key character’s relationship with the gaze, as it limits the ability, and indeed the need for characters to shift maturational states in response to the environment and relationships (as in The Big Bang Theory with Howard and his marriage to Bernadette, similarly with Penny and Leonard). What I now surmise is that as the “puppet master” seeks to use the key character for its own purpose, the gaze must be narcissistic in nature. Hence the key character has a narcissistic puppet master that may personify their idealization yet also undermines them. This is the “dance” of the key character—caught between the one that dictates the tune and the one that trips them up. Figuratively, and extending on Figure 2.1, it can be depicted thus:

Acts nullify unpleasure, leads to degradation

EGO Ideal Projects or Acts ‘Narcissistic’ Puppet Master

EGO Projects Fear of failing ID

Repressed Fears/ Anxieties

‘ECHO’ Triggers

Figure 2.2 The key character’s psychical bind triggering degradation77

75

76 77

Candida Yates, “Psychoanalysis and Television:  Notes towards a Psycho-Cultural Approach,” in Television and Psychoanalysis: Psycho- Cultural Perspectives, ed. Caroline Bainbridge, Ivan Ward, and Candida Yates (London: Karnac Books, 2014), 9. Yates, “Psychoanalysis and Television: Notes towards a Psycho-Cultural Approach,” 6. Freud, The Ego and the Id, redrawn by Andrew Pomphrey.

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The key character’s ego-ideal is not simply an idealization to which they aspire; it is a means by which to get their (unconscious and conscious) desires met. And that is why it is so important to them. Their sense of self is governed by both the conscious trepidation of failure (type) coupled with an ego wounding that has been repressed, now maintained by a fundamental wish to be seen/loved/ accepted by the other (regardless of gender) simultaneously scaffolded by the situation and its dynamics. Harboring a combination of echoism and narcissism, the key character has an ego defense perpetually under pressure of fragmenting, underscored by a nagging feeling that they are invisible, have been disempowered or rendered powerless, and moreover, objectified. As such the gaze may also be echoistic in its demand to secure power through the object. The key character’s craving, even need, for power is necessary to stabilize a fragile egoideal, however false and unrealistic; as long as they remain in the situation that threatens yet simultaneously supports their identity, the key character is perpetually on guard, attempting to stabilize a fragile sense of self. Picking up Gorton and Lacan’s view of desire as desire of the other’s desire/ want—what does s/he want from me?—I posit that such a view is an echo’s view of desire: “What do they want from me that will give me voice?” Whereas the narcissist’s view would be: “What can they give me to satisfy my desire”? In other words both can be summarized as: “What do I have to do to get what I want (desire)?” This raises the necessity, when developing characters, to define clearly the need to separate desire from wants and goals. Goals are objective and may be connected to desire, itself determined by the gaze of the Other, while the want may be an alternative version of the desire that is unconscious and unknowing or simply relational—as in, Sharon wants Kim to go with her to the reunion so that she can fulfill her need to be seen as having friends (her desire). Furthermore, understanding the root of the phantasy gives insight to the desire, want, and goal of the character as being based in yearning for some fulfillment of power. What I now offer is that desire (the unknowable of the other) is actually a desire for fulfillment of the subject’s phantasy, projected onto the unwitting object. However, for us to relate to these characters, and maybe even like them, it is imperative they do not drift into shadow behavior. “Forced” into a role at the pole of Guilty Man/Woman, the ego sets up a shadow narcissistic defense (the Jungian mask) as opposed to a narcissistic personality disorder resulting from an enmeshment that may be unconscious by both parties. To accommodate these characters, shadow comic characters are often offscreen and impact

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on the actions of the main characters, as with Maris and her persistent and petulant demands on Niles in Frasier.78 All three key characters on the couch have a number of unconscious and unresolved conflicts; each is caught in a dynamic where the other reflects back to them those aspects of themselves that they repress. Rather than slapping a hubristic and narcissistic “identity” onto a character coupled with fears that they perpetually face, run away from, or deny, it is the incongruity of the character’s conscious goal sitting alongside repressed conflicts that engender comic tension, a point I expand on in Chapter 4. If the key character’s psychical construct is shaped by their need for power, their struggle must be determined by a need for power by way of an object that nullifies feelings of disempowerment. It is how the key character responds in the face of a power struggle that gives insight into whether they are primarily echoistic or narcissistic; their introversion/extroversion is an indication of the nature of their response in the face of fear. This chapter has demonstrated that some characters see the world in terms of how they can get and maintain power, while others learn to survive the onslaught stemming from, and maintained by, the particularity of the situation. I now argue that in the sitcom there exists a core triumvirate of characters: a key character dominated by one with power and echoed by one who has no power. This triumvirate is maintained by a combination of unconscious and conscious conflicts underscored by a lack. If the Lacanian Symbolic is the marker of subjectivity around lack and splitting, then the Kohutian “restoration of the self ” is the integration of both. The lack that prevents entry into the Symbolic is not just based on language, the surrendering of the phallus, or the absence of the Symbolic Father; it is the combination of failure and/or enmeshment at either one, or both, Kohutian poles, maintaining the key character’s phantasmagorical entrapment. As such, it is necessary to know how characters respond to or act in an environment to secure power in order to restore a depleted self or some threat to the self. Thus relationships in the sitcom are essentially a struggle for power (by the key character) instantiated through an abuse of power (by a puppet master, and may extend to the situation and a discourse) that is then redirected toward a victim, commonly their echo who reflects those very fears back to them. I now offer that when a character that was an echo obtains a voice, a power struggle emerges. 78

Frasier, created by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, produced by Grubstreet Productions et al. (USA: NBC 1993–2004).

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Furthermore, a series “begins” when the echo aspect of the character begins to stir, such as when the character experiences a change in their situation—getting a new job, moving to a new city, or setting out to find a partner. It is the “situation” that maintains or now reinforces the power struggle. Exploring such dichotomies may assist in locating the key character. One last point—if a narcissistic personality disorder is the result of an unresolved oedipal complex, I now ask: What is the root of an echoistic personality disorder, an unresolved Jocasta complex, or an unresolved Antigone complex? Further, does the desire to be seen instantiate negative echoism and the desire to be the “master” engender negative narcissism? I pick up those questions in the next chapter; for now I state: the echo character manifests aspects of the key character’s self that has been repressed or disavowed, just as the key character simultaneously disavows the power of the narcissistic one, which they themselves unconsciously harbor—in the disavowal their psyche is split. Hence it is necessary to know what is the key character’s conscious desire (what they want), conscious fears (what incites them to behave in certain ways), unconscious desires (to be seen/loved), and attendant foreboding (of being abandoned, rejected, or thwarted). It is the nature (and order) of the wounding, along with the environment that determines behavior, be it an arrested narcissism, echoism, or negative/shadow components of each. It is the unconscious enmeshment that maintains their entrapment. To conclude, while the comic character sets out to change that which thwarts their goal, the key character is unconscious of the dynamics that entrap them, be it echoistic or narcissistic; their actions are precipitated by a combination of the threat of loss of power, of having no power, and the panic of abandonment/chaos as per type; the need of the key character must remain unconscious and be at odds with their conscious goals. As such, ask who or what (actively and, in some cases, accidentally) thwarts the key character’s attempts to achieve their ego-ideal/EgoIdeal. Furthermore, in light of Lucy, ask what social forces may have shaped the key character’s view of themselves and that are manifested in the situation. The definition of the key character can now be extended from a divided self snared in the gaze of the other/Other to an unconscious victim seeking to achieve a goal, in turn triggering a psychical that translates into a struggle for power. I now look at the comic character completely oblivious to the relational dynamics at play to understand both the nature of the key character’s psychical construction and the possible psychology of echoism, those characters who personify such a syndrome, and what I contend enables the comedy.

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Lucy: I have a plan. Ethel: I’m still recuperating from your last plan.1

Now I examine those characters who are commonly victims to the key character’s antics; “echo” characters, defined by their relationship with the key character and personifying the incongruity between how they and the key character view the world. To recap, the key character exists within a triumvirate where one has power over them alongside a sidekick who, while not necessarily always a victim of the key character, can be defined by a lack of power. These characters are the source of much comicality in the sitcom and deliver some of our favorite lines and memories: the career antipathetic Georgette in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, creatively challenged Phoebe and Joey in Friends, idealistic Rose in The Golden Girls, farm boy Woody in Cheers, trusting Stanley from Porridge, the “little bit psychic” Daphne in Frasier, gangly Robert in Everybody Loves Raymond, naive Alice in The Vicar of Dibley, the subversive Bernard in Yes Minister, girl next door cheerleading Corky in Murphy Brown, sycophantic Gareth in The Office, nerds Howard and Raj along with small-town girl and aspiring actress Penny in The Big Bang Theory, lazy Jez from Peep Show, clumsy Roger in My Family, sexcrazed Dorien in Birds of a Feather, and, of course, “second best friend” Sharon from Kath & Kim.2

1

2

I Love Lucy, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf, produced by Desilu Productions (USA: CBS, 1951–61). The Mary Tyler Moore Show, created by James L.  Brooks and Allan Burns, produced by MTM Enterprises (USA:  CBS, 1970–7). Friends, created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, produced by Bright/Kaufman/Crane Productions et  al. (USA:  NBC, 1994–2004). The Golden Girls, created by Susan Harris and Warren Littlefield, produced by Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions et  al. (USA:  NBC, 1985–92). Cheers, created by James Burrows, Glen Charles, and Les Charles, produced by Charles/Burrows/Charles Productions et al. (USA: NBC, 1982–93). Porridge, created and written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1974–7). Frasier, created by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, produced by Grubstreet Productions et al.

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As the key character is trapped in the gaze of an other that actively (even if unconsciously) disempowers them, in order to satisfy their own sense of self with narcissistic supplies they need someone who delivers such supplies or on whom they can take out their frustrated rage when they have failed in achieving their goal. However, their echo sidekicks exist without such a dissonance. The last chapter explored how such a dissonance might come about and, more importantly, how it is maintained. Echo characters may be victims of the key character’s rage; some are sidekicks such as Ethel, some engage with the world in a more childlike or innocent manner such as Woody in Cheers, Phoebe in Friends, and Alice in The Vicar of Dibley. While some echo characters may have an idealized view of themselves, they seem less active in pursuing their goals. This is what differentiates echo characters from the key character: they act in a way to survive. So what makes these characters funny?

The key character and their echo Sharon from Kath & Kim is a comic figure resulting from the incongruity between how she sees herself, her fantasy (as an athlete), the reality of her physique (large and apple shaped), and capacities to succeed (forever being injured). What makes her a sad figure is that her idealization is beyond her capacity or even her willingness to commit to pursuing them. Ethel makes us laugh because she not only has failed to stop Lucy (yet again), she has also suffered the consequences; she does not walk away from the situation, even though she knows it is fraught with danger for both of them. Manuel from

(USA:  NBC, 1993–2004). Everybody Loves Raymond, created by Philip Rosenthal, produced by Where’s Lunch et al. (USA: CBS, 1996–2005). The Vicar of Dibley, written by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, produced by Tiger Aspect Productions et  al. (UK:  BBC, 1994–2007). Yes Minister, created by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1980–4). Murphy Brown, created by Diane English, produced by Shukovsky English Entertainment et al. (USA: CBS 1988–98). The Office, created and written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, produced by BBC et al. (UK: BBC, 2001–2). The Big Bang Theory, created by Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre, produced by Chuck Lorre Productions et al. (USA: CBS, 2007–present). Peep Show, created by Andrew O’Connor, Jesse Armstrong, and Sam Bain, produced by Objective Productions (UK: Channel 4, 2003–15). My Family, created by Fred Barron, produced by Rude Boy Productions et al. (UK: BBC, 2000–11). Birds of a Feather, created by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, produced by Retort Productions et al. (UK: BBC, 1989–98, ITV 2014–present). Kath & Kim, created by Gina Riley and Jane Turner, produced by ABCTV et al. (Australia: ABC, 2002–4, ATN7, 2007).

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Fawlty Towers suffers constant linguistic abuse and oppression yet finds ways to survive. While these characters may be victims of the key character’s antics, they do not necessarily see themselves as victims. Sharon has an ego-ideal that she has forsaken in order to be friends with Kim. Ethel is a neighbor and friend who epitomizes the idealized housewife, a role she surrenders as Lucy takes her along for yet another harebrained plan. One can say that these two echo characters simply want to be friends with the key character and degradation is the price; the friendship overrides any realities or dangers. However, Manuel is very much a victim of the towering Basil Fawlty with his stooped gait and persistent threat of being hit—his need to stay employed overrides his need to recognize that he is being abused. This character is funny because of his misunderstandings and ham-fisted attempts to please his master. Despite the abuse, Manuel is active in pursuing his own wishes, often with the help of Polly, the hotel assistant. In “Basil the Rat,” Manuel has a pet rat—which he believes is a rare Siberian hamster—named Basil.3 When Basil discovers the creature, he berates Manuel for not realizing he has been duped, and that the animal is in fact a rat; he orders Manuel to get rid of it as the health inspector is due to pay a visit, having given notice to clean up the hotel and in particular the kitchen. Polly tells Basil that she will take the rat to a friend of hers, but she and Manuel hide Basil the rat in the shed. Manuel pretends that he is in mourning for the loss of his pet, which (ironically) Basil finds most irritating: “I can’t stand this self-indulgence.” Manuel is as scheming as Basil when he wants his own way. When Manuel discovers the vermin has escaped the shed, he becomes frantic. What ensues is a series of misunderstandings, mix ups with rat poison–covered veal, and farcical attempts to catch the rodent, including searching the bag under the table of a young couple. Manuel’s scheming and confused actions when under stress mirror the same actions of Basil. Moreover, the misunderstandings between Basil and Manuel reflect the linguistic misunderstandings between Basil and The Major, a retired army officer who lives in the hotel, who, having spotted the rat in the bar, goes and gets his gun. As The Major stalks the “vermin,” Basil tries to stop him: “We haven’t got any Germans staying this week Major.” Finally, Manuel catches the rat and hides it in the cheese biscuit tin, having been told earlier by Basil to “put

3

John Cleese and Connie Booth, “Basil the Rat,” series 2, episode 6, Fawlty Towers, created by John Cleese and Connie Booth, produced by BBC (UK: BBC2, 1975–6), first transmitted October 25, 1979.

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it in the bread box.” The comic climax occurs when Basil opens the cheese tin with great flourish for the health inspector at the end of his meal, only to find there on display, sitting upright, staring straight at the Inspector, is Basil the rat. As Polly and Sybil attempt to distract the Inspector and remove the rat, at the back of shot Basil drags Manuel’s lifeless body out of the room. This chapter explores the nature of echo characters, but before exploring the nature and determinates of echoism further, let’s take a look at some sitcoms and find the echo that lies within before diving back into theory to ascertain if such a syndrome does or could exist.

Echo comic characters Geraldine: Who did you vote for in the General Election? Alice: (Sigh) I couldn’t choose between them. In the end I didn’t tick anyone. I just put a big cross next to the Tory so he absolutely wouldn’t get in.4

Alice Tinker from The Vicar of Dibley is one of the most delightful characters in British comedy. This sitcom centers on the lustful and busty Geraldine Granger, the first female vicar of Dibley, an English village with a cast of characters who epitomize the eccentricity, misogyny, and snobbery of the not-so-landed gentry. Alice, the naive and even bewildering verger, responds to and engages with the world in a childlike manner that reminds us of our own lost innocence. The chairman of the parish council and local Tory councilor, David Horton, is the narcissistic puppet master, his hubris undermined by Geraldine’s bawdy jokes. While Geraldine knows that David is essentially her task master, she shows no restraint or propriety in front of anyone, often making self-deprecating jokes about her bosoms or sore bottom after having eaten too many chocolate sandwiches: “That Cropley woman is the queen of cordon bleuhh.” David’s son Hugo manifests his father’s fears of ineptitude. While Hugo is desperately in love with Alice, he is rendered mute in expressing his feelings by the disapproving attitude of his father. At the end of each program, Geraldine tells Alice a joke, often misunderstanding or undermining the intended play on words, as in this example:

4

Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, “Election,” series 1, episode 5, The Vicar of Dibley, first transmitted December 8, 1994.

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Geraldine: So two nuns driving down the road in Transylvania. And of all a sudden a great bit scary vampire jumps out right in front of the car. Alice: Oh no. Geraldine: Yeah. So, one nun says to the other: “show him your cross.” So she winds down her window, leans out and yells “get out of the way you toothy git.” Alice: Oh. You see I misunderstood that because I thought she meant show him your crucifix whereas in fact she meant show him you’re really really angry. Geraldine: Yeah. It’s quite a confusing story.5

The echo character need not be naive or even uneducated, they simply have a different experience of the world. The key character either is completely unaware they exist or has no experience of their view, evidenced by the four male characters’ view of Penny’s world in The Big Bang Theory. Alternatively, the key character sees the world of the echo character as beneath them, such as Murphy Brown’s view of Corky Sherwood in Murphy Brown. Set in a television newsroom, this sitcom centers on hard-core journalist Murphy Brown and her struggle to maintain her abstinence from alcohol and being rude to the guests she interviews. Her echoes are Corky—a beauty pageant queen who wants be just like Murphy, but is left to do stories about dogs and cooking—and Eldin, Murphy’s fastidious painter who never finishes painting her house, mirroring Murphy’s own phobia of completing tasks. Both these characters want to help Murphy, or offer her experiences of life that will help her become a better (and less grumpy and pushy) person; she not only refuses their attempts, she rejects them with sarcastic and demeaning comments that Corky dismisses as being “that time of the month again.” However much she may be disdainful toward both echoes, Murphy needs these characters: Corky to do the “soft” stories so she can do “hard” journalism and Elron to finish painting her house, while she climbs the career ladder, a prevalent focus for women in the ’70s and ’80s. In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary’s echo Rhoda yearns for a stable relationship, yet is unable to choose the right “mate,” underscored by a panic of commitment. Here, the characters of Georgette and Ted (the anchorman for the news) are good examples of what could be defined as “positive” echo and narcissistic comic characters. Georgette has committed herself fully to Ted 5

Richard Curtis and Kit Hesketh-Harvey, “Songs of Praise,” series 1, episode 2, The Vicar of Dibley, first transmitted November 17, 1994.

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and Ted is happy with his status and role at the network. In an early episode when Georgette is finding Ted rather hard to pin down to the relationship, she demands that Ted tell her that he loves her and that she is the only woman for him and he will always put her first. Ted dawdles with the notion of commitment, and comes around only after confessing that no one has ever told him that they loved him. This scene may be read as a power struggle between two characters in a relationship, yet once Ted “speaks” his wound, the struggle ceases to exist. While Mary personifies the feminist discourse of the time for women to achieve success and empowerment outside married life, Georgette personifies what Mary denies in herself, echoed by Rhoda’s despair that someone will not like her for who she is. As Georgette is a positive echo who gives herself fully to Ted, Ted can be defined as a positive narcissist with no agenda other than to be a well-known newsreader. These characters are comic because they contrast the seemingly incompatible nature of Mary’s and Rhoda’s lives and dreams. The British 1980s sitcom Yes Minister is about the relationship between the minister of administrative services, Jim Hacker and his head of department, Sir Humphrey. Its theme asks who wields power in the British political system, the elected officials or the civil service. Giles Oakley analyses this program6 through a historical framework, placing it in the context of debates concerning the public service at that time and the dissonance within, and between, the discourse of the public service and Government objectives. Oakley demonstrates that the struggle between such discourses is based on power, political as well as discursive. In this analysis, the key character of Jim Hacker is ruled by Sir Humphrey while Bernard the private secretary stands like a sentinel beside the Minister’s desk, often echoing Hacker’s real thoughts, or playing subterfuge to Sir Humphrey’s tactics to manipulate the minister. Bernard articulates the straight thinking that Minister Hacker should be applying to his task yet his ego, often bolstered or deflated by Sir Humphrey, gets in the way. Bernard—as a truth-teller echo—frustrates both the minister (for saying what should be done) and Sir Humphrey (for shifting the power center), while articulating the idealized view of the role and responsibilities of government. However, Sir Humphrey himself is not immune to his own battle to maintain his foothold on the ladder of promotion. The secretary to the cabinet, Sir Arnold, manipulates Humphrey’s striving for career advancement to further his own agendas and that of the civil service. In this 6

Giles Oakley, “Yes Minister,” Television Sitcom: BFI Dossier No. 17, ed. Jim Cook (London: British Film Institute, 1982), 66–79.

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relationship, Humphrey is trapped in the gaze of the civil service (as the Other), in turn becoming a key character himself. So, while Hacker is the central key character, main characters such as Sir Humphrey can also shift between “roles.” The same shifting occurs in Frasier between the crane brothers, Niles and Frasier, therapists on opposing sides of the fence (the former a private practitioner with a Freudian sensibility and the latter a radio host with a Jungian bent); both have a love of fine pursuits in life such as wine clubs, attending the opera, and being seen at the right events. Set in Seattle, this long-running series sets up contrasting worldviews to the snobbish brothers with Daphne, the northern English working-class housekeeper, the plain-speaking and personal therapist to Martin, the father of Frasier and Niles. Martin contrasts his sons by sprouting the value of good old-fashioned fun such as shooting, fishing, and the pub. Martin and Daphne repeatedly challenge Niles’s and Frasier’s view and experience of the world, and these clashes need to be negotiated.7 However, the central theme is love—between father and sons—and ultimately love transforms each of the men. From their first meeting, Niles develops a crush on Daphne, prompting Freudian slips and building a narrative arc across the series of URST (unresolved sexual tension) until the climatic episode. However, the central tension of the series belongs with Frasier who, after a series of failed relationships despite his claim to understand women, is forced to choose between his radio career and love for a woman who has moved to Chicago. This program plays very cleverly with the difference between classes and what is right and good, never letting one character hold the moral or kooky ground for too long. Daphne moves between truth-teller and echo that enables the incongruity of worldviews, as does Martin. Of course, Frasier is often victim to his own schemes and failure in love, just as Daphne echoes back to Niles what he denies in himself: the need to speak one’s truth, in turn mirroring Frasier. Daphne is blind to Niles’s attraction to her, either because he is married to the unseen, highly strung, and demanding Maris or that she is unable to see the truth about the other. However, while Daphne is oblivious to Niles’s intentions, she challenges his narcissistic ego to take a risk in life that unravels comically with a series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and twists as the series reaches its climax of union between these two characters. If the echo character is blind to certain realities, what then could be

7

See Jo Whitehouse-Hart, “Spending Too Much Time Watching TV?” in Television and Psychoanalysis: Psycho- Cultural Perspectives, ed. Caroline Bainbridge, Ivan Ward, and Candida Yates (London: Karnac Books, 2014), 128–9.

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the root of Daphne’s echoism? The only hint is her interfering, dominant, and selfish mother. In contrast, Eddy, the dog, fulfils the role of buddy and recipient of Martin’s comments about the snobbery and foolishness of his two sons. Animals often play a sort of sidekick role, enabling key/main characters to make comments or partner them in their antics. Murray, the dog in Mad about You is another example.8 Some animals even talk back. Mr. Ed, the talking horse, pulls no punches when he has something to say.9 Such characters are exclusively available to a main/key character, enabling them to have a private world between the two of them. Aliens and ghosts fill similar roles, with examples such as My Favorite Martian, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, I Dream of Jeannie, and Mork & Mindy.10 In The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, the need for Mrs. Muir is to see when someone truly loves her (despite being a ghost). Jeannie challenges her Master to not take life so seriously (and so that he may return her love for him), while Mork shows Mindy how to live life outside her comfort zone of “straightness.” The echo character, be it a ghost or dog, gives vent for the key character and may be a trigger for an unspoken need. They may be kooky, naive, have special powers, or be mute, their role is to enable the key (or main) character to express inner thoughts, explore ideas, or in some cases they (unwittingly) thwart the key character in pursuing idealized images of themselves and, in their falseness, expose them; above all, such characters mirror some “need” that remains unconscious or denied by the key character. As demonstrated the key character has both a consciousness to achieve and an unconsciousness to remain in a situation that is disempowering. What characterizes the echo character is that they do not struggle to leave the situation; what makes them comic is that they are at odds with the key character, with how the world sees them or with how they see the world, yet happy with whom they are. (Does Mr. Ed care that no one else knows he can talk, I doubt it). Steve Kaplan defines such characters as having a “straight line” view of the world—they do not see the “problem”—in contrast to those having a “wavy line” view of the world.11 8

9 10

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Mad about You, created by Paul Reiser and Danny Jacobson, produced by In Front Productions et al. (USA: NBC, 1992–9). Mr. Ed, created by Walter R. Brooks, produced by Mr. Ed Company et al. (USA: CBS, 1961–6). My Favorite Martian, created by John L. Greene, produced by Jack Chertok Television Productions et al. (USA: CBS, 1963–6). The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, developed by Jean Holloway, produced by 20th Century Fox Television (USA: NBC, 1968, ABC 1969–70). I Dream of Jeannie, created by Sidney Sheldon, produced by Sidney Sheldon Productions (USA: NBC, 1965–70). Mork & Mindy, created by Garry Marshall, Dale McRaven, and Joe Glauberg, produced by Henderson Productions et al. (USA: ABC, 1978–82). Steve Kaplan, The Hidden Tools of Comedy:  The Serious Business of Being Funny (Studio City, CA: Michael Weise Productions, 2013).

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When faced with a dissonance, the latter is confused about the world around them, while the former is clear in their view of how the world works (even blind). For Kaplan, it is not only the pairing that makes for the comedy; it is in the gap between the two views where comedy emerges. While the “gap” may enable the comedy of misunderstanding and confusion, even superiority, it does not explain why one character (particularly in the sitcom) struggles to maintain or gain their sense of self yet is at odds with the world around them. The worldview of the echo character never changes or they never seek to change it; the comedy emerges with the clash of another worldview. Howard from The Big Bang Theory, while primarily an echo to Sheldon and in particular the key character of Leonard, does find love with Bernadette. To begin with Howard manifests a dissonance of what is love (and confusing it with sex) and for such a union to occur his definition of love needs to alter. The character of Stuart Bloom, on the other hand, is a victim of life (comic book store burns down, he has only ever had two dates), contrasting the successful careers of the main cast, except Penny’s attempts at acting that give her some lovely echo lines and which lose impact once she and Leonard get together. However when Howard shifts to “normal” emotional stasis (or maturation in his wedding to Bernadette and separation from the unseen and dominating Jewish mother) Stuart comes to the fore, now caring for Howard’s mother and, more importantly, gives a contrasting voice to the now normal couple and his sad ways to find love. With the further actualization of Penny and her now stable relationship with Leonard, Stuart becomes (and needs to become) the dominant echo. The contrast of worldviews is an essential element when developing characters and situations, even those from “another world.” Bewitched is about an advertising executive, Darren, who falls in love with a witch, Samantha, who has vowed to give up her craft for the love of her husband.12 Samantha is constantly challenged by the demands of suburban drudgery and her mother, the very witchlike Endora, who also undermines Darren’s attempts to achieve career success. Each character has a goal, yet they are disempowered by these other worlds – for Samantha it is the (very funny at times) world of witchcraft (that is satirized) and for Darren it is his boss Larry whom he constantly tries to impress and fails, commonly as a result of Endora’s devilish schemes that also makes comment on the world of advertising. Both Samantha and Darren are caught in the tension to achieve their idealization (of 12

Bewitched, created by Sol Saks, produced by Screen Gems Television et al. (USA: ABC, 1964–72).

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a happy “normal” suburban life with a career achieving husband) yet are repeatedly undone by Endora and her undermining witchcraft. One could argue that Endora promotes the attitudes of the early waves of feminism that sought to free women from the drudgery of the home and housework; this view is at odds with the main characters’ ambitions and as such carries a criticism, often made about the sitcom, that this form of comedy reinforces a conservative hegemony. However the relational struggle (within the hegemony) resonates with audiences, underpinning the need for a dyadic relationship with differing worldviews, and which may include the hegemony or a world from another time. Laura Morowitz discusses Gilligan’s Island in terms of the contemporary lure to primitivism by the late eighteenth–century “call of the wild” and the subsequent colonizing urge to bring “Western civilization to the farthest corners of the globe.”13 In Gilligan’s Island¸ there is a slightly different dynamic between the key character (The Skipper) and his echo (Gilligan).14 While this program could be labeled as a “group” show, the key character, The Skipper, like Basil, is thwarted by the bumbling attempts of his first mate, Gilligan, who, like Manuel, is treated with verbal and physical slapstick abuse. As in Fawlty Towers, this character is simply carrying out his master’s orders, which are often delivered in confusing and convoluted ways. It is as if Gilligan reflects back to The Skipper his own anxieties of being incompetent, manifested in the shipwreck that has left them stranded on the island. Or it could be that Gilligan and Manuel have such weak ego boundaries that they are unable to discern the true nature of their master. What is common to all the characters mentioned so far, including Alice and Corky, is that they not only do not understand what their master is saying, they often suffer some form of abuse or put down (including sarcasm) when they get it wrong. Denial of the abuse is their form of protection. A good example is Safi, the long suffering daughter of Eddie in Absolutely Fabulous which I discuss later in this chapter. Yet, regardless of the treatment or attitude bestowed, they remain unstintingly loyal and even want to help their master achieve their goal. It is the echo’s doggedness in clinging to certain realities—the “straight line” in response to the “wavy line” of a character who themselves are not always clear about how they see the world. In their (unconscious) confusion, the key character projects confusion. 13

14

Laura Morowitz, “From Gauguin to Gilligan’s Island,” in Critiquing the Sitcom:  A Reader, ed. Joanne Morreale (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2003), 116–28. Gilligan’s Island, created by Sherwood Schwartz, produced by Gladasya Productions et  al. (USA: CBS, 1964–7).

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Not all programs have such obvious echoes that I label as lackeys, foils, hapless victims, or confused innocents. Having focused primarily on those programs that have a single key character, I will now take a look at group shows, where the group is defined as a single entity, and most commonly depicted in the title (the exception is Seinfeld). The “group,” as an entity is a “key character”; however, within each group there is a key character as well as an echo character.

Group shows: The echo that lies within Sergeant Schultz: I know nohtink.15

Hogan’s Heroes is about a group of allied prisoners of war held by the Germans during World War II. This program’s theme is war and the people who are fighting it are incompetent. Colonel Klink, commandant of Camp 13, is desperate to be in the good books of the German command but is caught between trying to outwit the wily Hogan and the bumbling actions of Sergeant Schultz who vocalizes what Klink really wants: “All I want is a quiet life (and not be sent to the Russian front).” Hogan knows this, making both characters putty in his hands and giving him carte blanche to run a covert operation to assist the Allied forces; this is the super objective that is reflected in the objective of each episode. Hogan plays on Klink’s vanity to not only make Klink believe he is running the show, he feeds Klink’s own narcissistic grandiosity by making him look good with the senior powers and therefore deflect any suspicion from his activities. Hogan needs Klink and Schultz as much as they need him. The incompetence of men at war is also the theme of the English sitcom Dad’s Army.16 In this case, rather than being depicted as cleverer than the Germans, the local defense guard is shown to be incompetent, underscored by the titles (and ironic music) of retreating “cowards” in the face of the aggressive German forces. Dad’s Army is a good example of a group that attempts to achieve a goal collectively (to defeat the Germans), and individually (to gain recognition), yet are undermined collectively, and individually, by headquarters. Captain Mainwaring

15

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Hogan’s Heroes, created by Bernard Fein and Albert S. Ruddy, produced by Alfran Productions et al. (USA: CBS, 1965–71). Dad’s Army, created by Jimmy Perry, written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1968–77).

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is the officer in charge of the “army” that comprises the competent Sergeant Wilson, the elderly Lance Corporal Jones, and four support characters that include a swindler, a Scottish fisherman, a young man, and an old dandy. Within the group are the key characters of Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson, and Lance Corporal Jones (who, at over seventy years, is determined to get his ninth stripe). These characters are surrounded by comic characters that play both puppet masters and echoes to the three main characters. While group shows define what holds a group together, as a “key character,” the group is simultaneously trapped in the gaze of an Other that either thwarts them or disempowers them— in this case, the demands of headquarters (HQ) to be a “fighting machine,” yet failing to supply them with appropriate or sufficient equipment, uniforms, education, or intelligence. This program could be read as the need by Britain to protect its borders while simultaneously anxious that they may not be able to defeat “Gerry” (Germans). The dismay at being exposed, or of failing, appears to define British sitcoms whereas American programs appear to be characterized by a despair of not succeeding even if they disagree with the “situation” and its hegemony, such as is evident in M*A*S*H,17 and giving an example of how the sitcom could be progressive in dealing with controversial topics. M*A*S*H, set during the 1950s Korean war, is a comedy-drama yet still adheres to the conventions of the sitcom in its use of the triumvirate’s struggle for power. Using a historical metaphor to comment on a contemporary event, the Vietnam War and the invasion of another country, this program is about a group of war medics dealing with front line issues, such as last moments and loved ones left behind, delivering many poignant scenes. While the group is the key character, within the group there are the pleasure-seeking doctors, Captains Hawkeye and McIntyre, the chief Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake with his echo Corporal Radar, and the comic characters of Major Frank Burns and his mistress, head nurse Major Margaret Houlihan. Outside the group sits Klinger, the soldier desperate to be discharged and sent home on grounds of mental instability; this character echoes what the main characters all feel and want. It is the gap between what Klinger wants (and how he goes about it) and the reality of the situation (within a discourse on the morality of war) where the comedy emerges. Hence the echo character needs to personify what the group, or at least one character within the group, denies or represses but is too afraid to voice it. 17

M*A*S*H, created by Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds, produced by 20th Century Fox Television (USA: CBS, 1972–83).

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The overriding theme of Modern Family18 is what constitutes a family in modern times. Each character and family has its own set of conflicts, often the cause of miscommunication. While Phil struggles to understand life and as such seems the most likely contender as the key character, it is the gay couple of Cam and Mitchell that attempt to define and respond to how they see the social hegemony and its portrayal of gay and lesbian relationships and parenting that I define as the key partners. It is their own paranoia of stereotyping, often voiced by Mitchell’s father, Jay, that come to play in their moments of degradation; this is clearly established in the pilot episode and sets up the tension that drives the series. This program explores the dissonance within the hegemony rather than just focus on the interpersonal struggles between the competing demands of the characters’ wants. Gloria, the young voluptuous Colombian wife of sixty-five year old Jay is a good example of a comic Jocasta (discussed in Chapter 2), displaying all the attributes of a harridan wife, devouring mother to Manny, and even queen-like attitudes in her spending and demands to be given priority over the dog, Stella. In contrast, the mute Soph in the Australian Acropolis Now,19 set in a AustralianGreek cafe in Melbourne, and which I discuss in more detail in the next chapter, is an echo of the over-talkative and stereotypical Greek princess Effie; Soph’s absence of voice may also be read as reflecting the key character’s own trembling (the sexist Greek Jim) in approaching the blonde Australian waitress, Liz, for whom he has feelings. The other echo comic character, Memo, displays stereotypical behavior of “Greekness” including his misunderstanding of English. Like many of the programs discussed, this group is caught between two worlds: the waning discourse that want to maintain the definitions and expectations (and therefore limitations) of how migrants should live and behave, especially Greeks in Melbourne (the largest population outside Athens), and the new discourse of inclusion and cultural diversity without surrendering one’s roots and voice. Living between two worlds or experiences is a common dichotomous situation in the sitcom. Goodnight Sweetheart is about a TV repairman who finds his life becoming more complicated when he accidentally travels back in time to 1940s and falls in love with someone the opposite to his wife.20 Here the key character lives in

18

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Modern Family, created by Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan, produced by Lloyd-Levitan Productions et al. (USA: ABC 2009–present). Acropolis Now, created and written by Simon Palomeres, Nick Giannopoulos, and George Kapiniaris, produced by Crawford Productions et al. (Australia: ATN 7, 1989–92). Goodnight Sweetheart, created by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, produced by Alomo Productions et al. (UK: BBC, 1993–9).

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two worlds where the characters in each world have very different views of how the world works (or should). What is interesting (and some might argue sexist) about this program is that the (female) echo character from the 1940s is the personification of how men wish women to be—naive, unworldly, and “sweet,” as opposed to the 1990s career-driven woman heckling her husband about what needs doing around the house as she pursues a career. Furthermore, it could be argued that the time travel element as a means of utilizing the comic theory of incongruity exposes the key character’s wish to escape a “modern marriage” and, in response, he has an “affair” (unconsummated) with a woman that suits his phantasy (to be the adored all-knowing and giving male). A recent revival of this program sees Gary witness his own birth, manifesting a possible yearning, even phantasy, for a new “birth.” Like the narcissistic comic characters, the echo comic character can be delusional (Sharon and Memo), stupid (Shultz), incompetent (Manuel, Gilligan), naive (Alice), or see the world in a different way (Phoebe). What is common to all these characters is that their view of “reality” is at odds with that of other characters and the hegemony that influence them, yet they do not seek escape; if they do, they do so with extremity rather than by way of exposition or humiliation. (Klinger is funny in the way and the degrees to which he goes in order to achieve his goal.) So while not necessarily a victim, it is the echo character’s deficiency of power in relationship to the key character as well as the situation along with their apparent nonconsciousness of the imbalance that enables the comicality. More pertinently, these characters are unconscious or, at the least, unaware of the agenda of the other/Other. One could say they “live in another world.” (And, one could respond, maybe it is better than this one). With “couple” sitcoms, the couple (as the key character) attempts to be different from those around them and the premise deals with the expectations placed on them both as a couple and as individuals within the relationship. These struggles include discourses about competing careers (Mad About You), distance and backgrounds (Gavin & Stacey), homosexuality, unrequited sex and platonic love (Will & Grace), differing political and social values (Dharma & Greg), social status (George & Mildred ), or challenging social expectations of a “good” life (The Good Life).21 21

Gavin & Stacey, written and created by James Corden and Ruth Jones, produced by Baby Cow Productions (UK: BBC, 2007–10). Will & Grace, created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnik, produced by KoMut Entertainment et al. (USA: NBC, 1998–2006). Dharma & Greg, created by Dottie Dartland and Chuck Lorre, produced by 20th Century Fox et al. (USA: ABC, 1997–2002). George

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The British sitcom Gavin & Stacey about a long-distance relationship based in the two worlds of Essex and Wales has the horny and luscious Vanessa echo back to Gavin and Stacey (in particular) their prudishness. Whereas Mad about You, set in trendy New York, the couple of Paul and Jamie are echoed by friends Fran and Mark who reflect back to them the type of ’90s relationships they do not want, as well as the unlucky-in-love singles of Jamie’s sister Lisa and Paul’s cousin Ira. In Will & Grace, the main characters are best friends and their “relationship” declares that such relationships are more than just about sex and money. It is the characters of Karen and Jack—narcissistic in nature and outlook, that mirror back to both Will and Grace the very types of people they do not wish to be or think they are not. Hence I read Will & Grace as a key couple surrounded by characters that reflect aspects they each deny in themselves. This series explores the challenges of having relationships that are based on sexless commitment; the comic narcissism/echoism emerges from within the homogenous relationships. These couples are not the same as George Burns and Gracie Allen, nor Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple where there is conflict and misunderstanding between the characters rather than their attempts to maintain the unit forged between them.22 These shows fall into a category more akin to buddy shows such as the British programs Laverne and Shirley and The Liver Birds.23 Looking now at Seinfeld, this group is at odds with social expectations and, as in Will & Grace, the commitment and friendship with each other overrides and even thwarts their ability to commit to (an) other.24 The echo character in Seinfeld is far less clear than the programs discussed so far; however the character of Newman, the bitter and darkly moody postman who lives a few floors below Seinfeld is a “negative” echo character with his desperate attempts to be accepted by Jerry and the gang. In his rejection he is driven to malevolence,

22

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& Mildred, created and written by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer, produced by Thames Television (UK: ITV, 1976–9). The Good Life, created by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1975–8). The Odd Couple, created by Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall, produced by Paramount Television (USA: ABC, 1970–5). The Burns and Allen Show, created by George Burns and Gracie Allen, produced by Columbia Broadcasting System, later McCadden Productions (USA: CBS, 1950–8). Laverne & Shirley, created by Garry Marshall, Lowell Ganz, and Mark Rothman, produced by Miller-Milkis Productions et al. (USA: ABC, 1976–83). The Liver Birds, created by Carla Lane and Myra Taylor, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1969–79, 1996). Seinfeld, created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, produced by West-Shapiro Productions et al. (USA: NBC 1989–98).

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often abusing the public trust placed in the postman who now steals post and the mail van to enable another of Kramer’s money-making schemes. Newman is the only character with whom Jerry (the normal one) has a problem—he exposes Jerry’s own malevolence, which is rarely seen (the stealing of the rye bread from the old lady being the most memorable).25 While echo comic characters can be defined by their lack of power, Newman is a character who raises the question that not all echo comic characters are benign, and in fact some may even be actively malicious in seeking power. The negative or shadow echo acts out their anger toward those who refuse to accept them. (Was Newman rejected by the cool gang at school; his wound driving his malevolence?) While Jerry is seen as normal, in his commitment to the group he must eschew certain social expectations and I posit that in doing so his shadow emerges in another character; thus, Newman’s shadowy behavior could be read as a projection of Jerry and his denial of his own “shadow” and rejection of social mores. Could it be that the shadow emerges in response to some denial of the discursive frame or simply by way of an unprocessed or arrested emotional state? Thus, and as was touched on in the previous chapter, echoism, like narcissism, has a shadow side, which I offer is related to experiences of power, whereas normal characters are less driven by the tension between their goals in achieving them. Jerry is happy with who he is and not subservient to anyone or any idealization. However, while the echo comes from Jerry, for Seinfeld to work it needed a key character (George) and both these characters are mirrored by Kramer and Elaine with grandiose plans, wild flings, and loose attitudes to sex. The normal character fulfils the role of the archetypal truth-teller; they tell it as it is, often that which the key or main character/s continues to deny.26 As the echo may manifest a repressed conflict or negative trait, the truth-teller fulfills the role of benevolent superego. One of the most successful group sitcoms is Friends, about six twenty-somethings living in New York attempting to define both themselves individually and as part of the group. The theme of Friends, like Seinfeld, is that friendship between the characters defines them and their shared (narcissistic) view of the world binds them. Within the group are the key characters (and couple) Ross and Rachel, with Joey (the bad actor) and Phoebe (the voice with no song) as characters who

25 26

Carol Leifer, “The Rye,” series 7, episode 11, Seinfeld, first transmitted January 4, 1996. Conversation with Simon van der Borgh, lecturer in screenwriting, York University, UK, July 12, 2016.

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reflect back to the others, especially Ross and Rachel, their naiveté or denial of a reality they are too afraid to face: they are bad at what they do or mute in their affections for each other. Chandler and Monica, each comic in their own way, are normal compared to the perpetual misunderstandings and confused attempts by Ross and Rachel to get together; Chandler and Monica fulfill the role of parental truth-tellers, particularly when they begin a committed relationship.27 While with Friends each of the characters seeks to find love and fulfillment in life, in Seinfeld it is the bind between the four main characters that has primacy over any other relationship (like the characters Will and Grace). The danger of normal characters is that they can become boring, yet they need not be. Such characters can be a vehicle to articulate the audience’s values, being the agent of dominant hegemonic values or its shadow that has been denied and now let loose in mail vans on the streets of New York. Other normal characters include Marilyn, the matriarch from The Munsters28 and Maryanne, the home-town girl in Gilligan’s Island. While these characters are at odds with those around them, they express the voice of reason, often ignored, and as such maintains the key character and the echo’s entrapment in a preoedipal or oedipal view of the world. The truth-teller attempts to help the key character escape the situation but, trapped in their narcissism, the key character refuses to face reality and, even eschews it. However, like the comic echo character, the normal character does not have power, nor do they seek to have (more) power, in the situation. In light of the psychoanalytic theory utilized so far, I offer that the normal character does not suffer from a personality disorder per se, but rather is limited in changing the world around them (much like Alice in Alice in Wonderland). The key character may be incompetent, kooky, selfish, egotistical, or normal—as a divided self it is their relationships with those around them that enables the dissonance between them and the situation. Moreover, the echo character’s sense of self must not be affected by the abuse that they endure (and which they deny) for them to remain in the situation they are either unconscious of, or deny the imbalance of power in which they exist. I now ponder: Does the echo character harbor a personality disorder? While the notion of a narcissistic comic character is easy

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As a romantic sceptic, I  am ambivalent about the recurring theme “that love conquers all,” and take Gorton’s view that recognition by way of self-love is the basis of actualization. Kristyn Gorton, Theorising Desire:  From Freud to Feminism to Film (Basingstoke, UK and New  York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). The Munsters, created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward, developed by Norm Liebman and Ed Haas, produced by Kayro-Vue Productions et al. (USA: CBS, 1964–6).

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to grasp, it is more difficult to define the psychical construct and/or determinants of Echo as there is no normative base from which to observe echoism and thus nonnormative or pathological manifestations. Further, it could be an extension (or subset) of narcissistic personality behavior or the flip side of narcissism, leading me to ask if Echo or echoism has a role in firming up the structure of the self.

A return to the myth of Narcissus and Echo and its psychoanalytic roots Narcissus’s mother, the nymph Liriope, has been trapped by the river god Cephissus to whom she bears a child, the beautiful Narcissus. Some readings of the myth suggest that Liriope has been raped by Cephissus, as she is abandoned after the encounter. Victoria Coulson writes: “Traumatised by her rape, the beautiful Liriope has lost her former capacity to mirror the other.”29 Coulson exposes the inconsistency in classical post-Freudian psychoanalysis of the need for the (male) subject to both flee from and run to the feminine in attaining (hetero) sexual maturation; she stages a debate between the idealist poststructuralist (Lacan) view of mirroring and object-relations (Winnicott) and the role of the maternal dyad, to offer that Narcissus’s self-love is prompted by the need to fill a lack. Liriope may see in Narcissus the opportunity to have her damaged self restored through a union with the child. Alternatively, she may not be able to form any union. In her analysis of the nature of the maternal gaze, Coulson notes how little attention is given to Liriope as the mother of an archetype that has dominated psychoanalysis. For me, the relationship between Narcissus and his mother gives us a pointer to Jocasta’s possible own wounding in the tale of Oedipus. Moreover, Narcissus could harbor unconscious feelings of hate toward his father for both the abandonment and now possible (dual) entrapment in his mother’s gaze, which repeats in his encounter with Echo. Narcissus’s entrapment in the mirror can now be read as an attempt to fill a lack or to escape the gaze of the (m)other, precipitating an impulse to be free (of commitment, responsibility, or expectation) coupled with the nightmare of being devoured by the “love” of the love-object, whoever that is. Coulson contends (and I agree) that

29

Victoria Coulson, “The Baby and the Mirror:  The Sexual Politics of the Narcissus Myth in Poststructuralist Theory, Winnicottian Psychoanalysis, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses III,” Textual Practice (27.5, 2013), 818.

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“for Winnicott, and for Ovid, the being of the subject depends upon the seeing of the mirror, the creative face of the world whose reflective capacity inaugurates the structure of the self.”30 Thus I offer that a failure in the mirror stage compels the subject to restore a fragmented sense of self and, in doing so, mirror their own experience. Thus mirroring is both a means of escape and wish for restitution, precipitating a cognitive dissonance of fear and need. Echo has been disembodied by the wrath of her mother Hera after she discovers that her daughter is covering up for the adulterous Zeus. Hera’s own foreboding of losing the love and “protection” of Zeus manifests as anger, now directed at Echo as a betrayer and/or competitor. Similarly, in choosing the self-absorbed Narcissus, Echo sets herself up to replay her primary experiences of being rendered invisible. The despair of the loss of the mother’s love establishes in Echo an anxious disposition and disembodiment; in the craving for fulfillment she now seeks to become “embodied” by an other. However, Echo is still relegated to the cave or kitchen with little attention given to how her subjectivity came to be and thus, for my purposes, how that is then manifested in the dyad with the key character. Echo surrenders her narcissism (and attendant ego) to the other; psychologically she is an enabler, but in picking up Freud’s 1914, she may envy the other’s narcissistic posturing because she has surrendered or lost part of her narcissism; it is possible that she did not gain the ability to develop a healthy narcissism. Echo is attracted to Narcissus for what she has lost: the ability to love herself. In light of Chapter 2, any relationship between Narcissus and his/her Echo would therefore be based on a dynamic centered on fear—hers of not being seen by way of abandonment and his of being rendered powerless within a relationship by way of rejection—and desire to be seen and to be loved in order to fill a lack or more pertinently repair a wound that now dictates motivation. As the narcissist actively seeks to escape feelings of engulfment, the echoist craves to be seen and heard, now by the one who does not see them or to whom they are invisible (other than for the narcissist’s desire). Both engulf the other through a combination of desire and fear. Now I ask: Is Narcissus’s mother an echo who seeks power through her son, having projected her ambitions onto him out of her own disempowerment in the rape by Cephissus? Coulson makes a compelling case of Liriope’s watery absence

30

Coulson, “The Baby and the Mirror,” 822.

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of boundaries depicted in the merging of sky and sea by way of a shared color, the azure blue. I asked in the last chapter, as Oedipus is the personification of narcissism, is Jocasta the personification of echoism or is it Antigone as the mirroring daughter/sister? Oedipus’s complex can only be instantiated by Jocasta; Antigone is in a similar situation in her attempts to bring some humanity and care to the burial of her brother Polynices and so plays out heightened values of justice (the Tragic Woman from Chapter 2). Antigone’s motivation may be born of some hate or competitiveness with the mother, resulting in an over-attachment to Polynices (as representative of the Father and/or exposing the hypocrisy of the values of the man-made laws now overseen by King Creon). Unpacking a possible Antigone complex in the sitcom is beyond the scope of this book but what is pertinent is that Jocasta, as Oedipus’s mother and now wife, has snared her son in her gaze. Is this shadow behavior because her need for power is conscious (and active)? And is it negative narcissism or negative echoism and its shadow behavior in the need to have power through an other? Kaja Silverman offers a feminist reading of the centrality of the male voice in the mirroring experience of cinema to find that the female voice has been chained to her body, and allowed no agency or, more specifically, authority. For her, the female (in film) can thus only ever be heard through the body, not her voice, now defined through “metaphors such as ‘envelope,’ ‘cobweb,’ or ‘bath’—and facilitates the alignment of femininity with an unpleasurable and disempowering interiority.”31 Silverman utilizes the concept of positive and negative Oedipus complex as a means of explaining the oedipal phase for both the male and the female subject, the former being the natural maturational phase, the latter leading to arrestment (negative); for her, maturation is the commitment to the feminine (for the male). In defining the negative oedipal complex (for both genders), Silverman charges that it is “active” as opposed to the “passive” experience of the positive oedipal complex, without asking what precepts enable such a response. What is problematic is that while Silverman exposes how the female is tethered to her body in a patriarchal construct (the film), she attempts to define female subjectivity through the malecentric oedipal complex; she only hears the female voice when tied to the body and does not ask why the female voice is separated from the body. Silverman is looking in the mirror and sees Echo, yet is unable to give her voice (or doesn’t 31

Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror:  The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988), 100.

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hear her) through traditional psychoanalytic theory because of its centrality of the (male-centric) oedipal complex and the notion of mirroring (for the narcissist). In psychoanalysis, it is the lack that is at the heart of disorders; for narcissistic personality disorder, NPD, a need to mirror and for the one with a possible “echoistic personality disorder,” EPD, a need to be heard, to do the mirroring. Rather than define female subjectivity in relation to the male gaze and by extension the (singular) experiential impact of the production of cinematic images and sound, I ask how is female subjectivity formed relationally (through both Kohutian poles from Chapter 2) to find that another complex (or at least syndrome) must be in operation that enables full subjectivity for both genders. In other words, like Silverman’s oedipal complex, I contend that an additional complex operates in both positive and negative forms. As noted in the last chapter, Kristyn Gorton surmises, through Jan Campbell, that hysteria is the daughter of the oedipal complex,32 enabling me to link narcissism and echoism through desire rather than only lack. Gorton’s reading of the hysteric as a revolt to the patriarchal oppression further enables a reading of the hysteric as an echo that is attached to a structure that, when it collapses, disappears, or oppresses her, she becomes hysterical. The hysteric is motivated by both desire (to procure and marry the father) and fear (of abandonment or abuse by the father). This gives insight into how to make such characters more active—they seek as much as the narcissist yet in more covert or unconscious ways; their desire is not so much driven by lack but by procurement, as much as the key character or maligned narcissist in the social does. As the key character’s want is a force toward a goal, their echo “can be theorised as a force against the acceptance of pre-existing expectations”33—they see the world in a different way, giving them (covert) motivation, thus enabling a view of them as more active rather than simply being reactive to the situation and led by the antics of the key character. Being malevolent brings forth shadow characteristics as is evident with Newman. Hence the echo character must exist in both positive and negative states. In order to understand their motiviation, I ask: What does the echo character desire or want? And how does that translate into an objective goal? Back to the genesis of the key character’s psychical struggle; the combination of abandonment followed by “marriage” after the death of the father is 32 33

Gorton, Theorising Desire, 39. Gorton, Theorising Desire, 63.

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the harbinger for narcissistic disorders, as opposed to simply a subject seeking to regain its favored status as “His Majesty the Baby.” It is the marriage to his mother, rather than Oedipus’s ascension to the throne that enables the disorder and, more pertinently, as noted, it is unconscious. The motivation for Jocasta’s need is not evident, other than the death of the king and her subsequent loss of status; her goal is to reign once again. This point was discussed in the last chapter and I return to it here for those who have not read Chapter 2 and ask: Having abandoned the baby Oedipus, did Jocasta also have a deep fear of abandonment herself? She acts out what was imprinted on her as Narcissus reenacts the lack in his experience. Little analysis is given to the intentionality of Jocasta, with Freudian analysis and therefore psychoanalysis laying blame at the (unconscious and unwitting) Oedipus and his wishes; there is little discussion that he has been objectified in the gaze (and blind to the mother who can do no wrong). In marrying Oedipus, Jocasta has her royal status reinstated, yet she must know at some level who he is (surely he looked like one of the parents). Yet Jocasta seeks to rule alongside the son in order to have her power in the kingdom restored. I posit that Jocasta wanted to be reinstated as queen in order to rule again. I surmise that such a motivation feeds a phantasy emanating from an unprocessed fear that she would be disempowered (or abandoned)—and achieved, through the marriage, a projection of longing for the original marriage. Alternatively, was it a replaying of the original enmeshment between Jocasta and her father or male sibling? If so then Jocasta’s condition would be more akin to a narcissistic personality disorder—Guilty Woman from chapter 2. When the truth is about to be revealed by Teiresias, Jocasta attempts to stop the seer; her suicide confirms her guilt. What differentiates this complex from the Elektra complex and even the oedipal complex is that those complexes are based on the unconscious desires of the subject for the object as represented by the father/mother, whereas from this analysis it appears that a “Jocasta complex” takes hold by way of a conscious desire or need for power and, to that end, “sexualizes” the object—trapping them in their gaze. In gaining power, what may have been an unconscious complex based on an unprocessed enmeshment moves into disturbance and shadow behavior. For me, the real issue is that in “knowing” her son, Jocasta was going against natural laws, suggesting that the complex is enabled by sexualizing the subject or the very least carried out actions that are “unnatural.” Oedipus, on the other hand, was an unknowing victim and did not develop a complex—as Hamlet

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does—until the truth is revealed. Oedipus manifests his own “blindness” by gouging out his eyes with the pin and the instrument that Jocasta has used to kill herself. Assuming that Jocasta’s own conflicts of abandonment and subsequent loss of status would precipitate a need for reinstatement by way of, or through, the other, meant that she held the responsibility for the “seduction” of Oedipus, rather than Oedipus’s desire for the love of the mother (a natural instinct that resolves itself in a normal relationship). If so, then Jocasta demonstrates traits of negative narcissism (as per Silverman) that progressed into a disturbance or disorder when she marries her son as it does for the unwitting Oedipus. Or possibly the disorder, unconscious and dormant, takes hold in the attainment of “power” (however defined), in turn becoming a disturbance. This leads me to ask: Is Jocasta a negative narcissist or a negative echoist who displays shadow behavior in achieving her goal? It is not confirmed that such a complex results in echoism, but what defines it is the need for power delivered through the other. I will not dwell on attempting to clarify the difference between a disturbance and disorder other than to say that a disorder may be unconscious and manifest in relationships that are about power whereas disturbed characters are determined by an absence of moral fortitude in the pursuit of power. It is a moot point. Determining the motivation of the characters in the sitcom who suffer from some degree of personality disorder rooted in unresolved oedipal and/or “antigonal” complexes (again blind to the true nature of the dynamic in which she is born and exists) requires an understanding of what might be the fears that feed those complexes. From this anlaysis it seems possible that there exists a disorder that presents as echoistic with a possible root in an Antigone complex, which needs to be considered as informing comic performance as much as the oedipal complex, and its phases, does. For the purpose of this discussion, keeping focus on behavior, and utilizing Silverman’s definition of negative complexes being the result of enmeshment, I view negative narcissism as the basis of shadow behavior that seeks power over the other, with negative echoism as the harbinger to behavior that seeks power through an other—both are conscious in their activity. Thus based on this analysis Jocasta is a negative echoist, too afraid to find her own voice she seeks it through the other, in its demands it looks very much like a form of narcissism. Mildred in George & Mildred, which I discuss shortly, is a good example of a character who presents as a self-absorbed narcissit but may in fact be a negative echoist displaying behavior that is shadowy.

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As discussed in the last chapter, female narcissism is enabled through an enmeshment with the father and hate/competitiveness with the mother engenders echoism; male narcissism arises with an enmeshment with the mother while male echoism is enabled by a destructive relationship with the father. The question now is, if NPD is rooted in an enmeshment with the parent of the opposite sex, is it possible that EPD arises when the parent of the same sex attacks, or fails to uphold the values they represent in the Symbolic? In the aptly titled narrative comedy Absolutely Fabulous, the central relationship is Eddie and her daughter Safi.34 Here, the child has become the parent as Eddie refuses to grow up, encouraged to pursue the pleasure principle with full gusto by friend and narcissist Patsy. Eddie moves between states of guilt and complete self-indulgence as each relationship makes its demands on her. Safi, the daughter and echo character sacrifices her life in order to take responsibility for Eddie, yet lives with the hope that the mother will in fact mother her—delivered by her perpetually disappointed look (possibly blinded by her desire and in denial of the truth of the dynamic). While presenting as a narcissist, Eddie may in fact be a negative echo in her desire to be seen by Patsy (as the mother), resulting in her abdication of her parental duties and disdain toward the real mother and all things to do with mothering, precipitating the indulgent narcissistic attitude and mode of behavior. In Eddie’s over-attachment to Patsy and the narcissistic female, it begs the question enmeshment with the parent of the same sex can be the harbinger of negative echoism and shadow behavior. Thus narcissistic goals or even behavior coupled with echoistic entrapment can look very like negative narcissism. The Australian program Mother and Son is centered on an impotent son, Arthur, snared in the web of his needy and senile mother Maggie, and manipulated by the self-absorbed brother, Maggie’s favorite, Robbie.35 Robbie can only “rule” this threesome, because Arthur remains tethered to the hope that his mother will appreciate him the way she does Robbie. Arthur’s funk is that he is as selfish as Robbie. In both Mother and Son and Absolutely Fabulous, the relationship tension has two prongs: the parent-child and the key character-sibling/ friend with the child stuck in the gaze of the other.

34

35

Absolutely Fabulous, created by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, produced by French and Saunders Productions et al. (UK: BBC 2, 1992–6, BBC 1, 2001–4). Mother and Son, created and written by Geoffrey Atherden, produced by ABC (Australia: ABC, 1983–93).

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Psychoanalytically, the object takes from the subject to feed their narcissistic desires while the subject unconsciously surrenders their narcissism to the object. It is the unconscious desire for the object that blinds the subject to the intention of the other and their actions. The object who desires the subject (for their own ego gratification) captures them in a gaze that precipitates the urge to flee, while the object that rejects the subject induces paralysis. The desiring gaze of the object begets the partnering with one who has a lack of self (or “no self ”) and in turn feeds the object’s narcissistic supplies. Trapped as an echoist or narcissist, the gaze instantiates blindness. Furthermore, in determining whether the behavior is narcissistic or echoistic, it is necessary to understand who holds and wields the power. Regardless of how power is secured, the benign yet unconscious echoist and narcissist do so for their sense of self and cohesion, while negative counterparts (harboring a disorder/disturbance) do so in order to gain, regain, or maintain power for themselves or through another. The echoist may carry dreams that are unfulfilled or which they are afraid of fulfilling out of a fear of failure, raising the issue that disturbed or unfulfilled echoes can become negative echoists in their procurement of others’ power to feed their own sense of self and which they are afraid to activate. As mentioned such behavior could be perceived as narcissistic. In short negative narcissism and echoism can be the harbinger of shadowy behavior that presents as the common accepted definition of narcissism. I argue that negative states produce behavior which has its genesis in traumata to the ego, and is related to the nature of the relationship with each parent/sibling. Again I suggest it is the mode of securing power to stablize the ego that gives insight to which ego construct is driving the motivation. Undeveloped/arrrested or negative aspects result in behavior, sometimes shadowy, other times benign, but it is behavior that is undermining of actualization that is of interest. The cultish British comedy Black Books poses a slightly more challenging analysis because the key character is less evident.36 Bernard is the owner of a book store and has no interest in selling anything or even having customers. Manny, originally a customer, takes over the shop and it becomes a success, which Bernard then undermines. This series centers on a main character that is essentially an echo of the discourse of the English shopkeeper mentality (similar to Fawlty Towers); Manny is the key character who struggles with Bernard to ensure the shop (and he) survives. 36

Black Books, created by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan, produced by Assembly Film and Television et al. (UK: Channel 4, 2000–4).

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This last example illustrates that not all programs have clearly defined key characters and their disempowered echoes. Moreover, characters such as Phoebe in Friends are comical in an echoistic way yet may not feel disempowered (though she does refer to her mother’s suicide giving a pointer to her echoism). This character uses language and song as a means of controlling the world around her, much like Gracie from Burns and Allen; an attempt to master or deny the discourse that attempts to contain or rather control these females. The echoistic comic character is funny precisely because they are not seen and attempt to be seen in any way they can. Patricia Berry ponders that “maybe the reason we have concentrated on Narcissus to the exclusion of Echo is that Echo’s passion is much more difficult.”37 Going on, she notes that “psychiatry speaks of the repetition compulsion of echolalia, of the tendency of neurosis to repeat the same patterns again and again”; repetition is the pattern of Echo’s speech. Yet Berry declares that “no one wants to be an Echo,” asking: Why do we not “take better care not to repeat? . . . Is there a beauty there? . . . as . . . repetition goes to the heart, comes from the heart—it is deep-seated”; for her, “repetition is also an attempt to make something take.”38 Repetition (of words, actions, responses) is a pattern evident in many echo characters. Let’s not dismiss them under the charge of simply being an “echo.” While Narcissus manifests the originator of the gaze, the visual, Echo’s sense of self is in her voice. It is no wonder she/he makes such a strong presence in this form of comedy. She/he is not simply the “sidekick” to the straight guy; she/he uses language to enable subjectivity. As in the myth, each cannot exist without the other; Narcissus needs the echoing of his self-love and Echo needs an other through whom she can have a voice, setting up the dyadic relationship that is essential for the entrapment and thus the situation. Berry connects Narcissus and Echo through longing; that we must look at the pain and passion of each as “Echo and Narcissus (subject and object, lover and beloved, pursuer and pursued) are of the same essential nature.”39 They mirror each other’s foreboding, complexes and desires; the psychical heat prevents them consummating their passion, and so ensures “distancing.” Coulson argues that Narcissus’s refusal to return Echo’s calls is because he has found the “mirroring mother” in himself.40 For Berry, “the 37

38 39 40

Patricia Berry, Echo’s Subtle Body: Contributions to an Archetypal Psychology (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, 2008), 114–15. Berry, Echo’s Subtle Body, 111. Berry, Echo’s Subtle Body, 114. Coulson, “The Baby and the Mirror.”

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focus of the myth is on unfulfilled passion (Echo for Narcissus and Narcissus for his reflection).”41 Herein lies the (comedic) tension that drives the sitcom—the key character’s passion remains unfulfilled like a Lacanian lack, triggering desire and the gaze of entanglement; once consummated, the series ends (the key character’s struggles “dies,” like both Echo and Narcissus). Coulson again: “The death of Narcissus mediates on the tragic consequences of maternal trauma and on the reparative potential of the mirror’s reflective capacity.”42 While I agree with this perceptive analysis, I contend that Coulson ignores the “de-mirroring” of Echo that she must confront in order to restore her sense of self. Hence, not only are Echo and Narcissus bound together by unresolved and unconscious issues, in their psychical constellation there is both death and “rebirth.” In programs where there are only two characters such as Peter Kay’s Car Share, One Foot in the Grave, and The Odd Couple, there is a shifting of the roles between those characters with mirroring at the core of their interaction.43 Having developed a framework through which to determine who is the key character and who or what echoes them, it is necessary to also understand the key character’s need to be seen. Disempowered by way of their echoism, the key character has a propensity to sabotage opportunities and assistance from those around them; such shadow behavior gives weight to the proposition that both states exist in the psyche and both states are essential for actualization. The echo character is tied consciously to a relationship, whereas an unconscious fear of rejection haunting the key character that ties them to their echo. As discussed in Chapter 2, the Lacanian lack erects a defense in response to failure in the environment to support a functioning self. What is necessary to articulate is how the key character in the sitcom then plays out those conflicts either out of the instinctual longing to actualize or despite it. It is the echoing that is of interest, for without an echo the key character is not mirrored. And it is the mirroring that enables the comedy by way of relationships with negative and positive echoes. For the purposes of this analysis, it is the play of power over the subject by the object that is of interest and the order in which the complex and resulting disorder takes hold for the key character. A key character who seeks to be free of the domination by the mother (Bobo from Pizza) or the gaze that forces them 41 42 43

Berry, Echo’s Subtle Body, 117. Coulson, “The Baby and the Mirror,” 821. Peter Kay’s Car Share, created by Paul Coleman and Tim Reid, produced by Goodnight Vienna Productions et al. (UK: BBC, 2015–present). One Foot in the Grave, created and written by David Renwick, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1990–2000). The Odd Couple, Belson and Marshall,

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into the role of housewife (Lucy) is a different character who attempts to be free of the devouring mother (that, I offer, is the root of Basil’s behavior).44 As such “echoistic” traits might include fears of abandonment or rejection alongside low self-esteem; in a negative form they may also include the need to (s)mother or covertly control or manipulate those around them, either as an ego defense or to relieve the anxiety of not being loved or recognized by a significant other. The echoist seeks or accepts love/protection (even status) through an ideal other; they become trapped by the anxiety of losing that protection, as false and flimsy as it might be. In becoming a complex or disordered personality, the echoist could then present as a malevolent queen, devouring mother, cougar, or harridan wife. George and Mildred from George & Mildred45 are comic examples of the harridan wife and cowering dominated husband. While Mildred appears to be the narcissistic puppet master, it is her disappointment in George’s paucity of ambitions (and sex drive) that gives us a clue to her negative echoism: wanting George to succeed in the Symbolic and her demands that he “rise up in bed” reflects her own aspirations and dreams for herself but through George. George, on the other hand, is happy in his victimhood and limited world. George echoes back to Mildred her own failure to actualize while she busies herself with blaming George for his failures. Unable to get her own needs met by her own efforts, Mildred demands they be met by an other; she is a negative echo presenting as narcissistic, coupled with George, a positive echo simply wanting to be accepted for who he is and have no demands made on him. As I have argued, negative echoes display shadow behavior and overtly seek power through an other, while negative narcissists overtly seek power for themselves at the cost of others. Further, as noted, shadow behavior can then begin to look like a form of narcissism or faux echoism. I surmise that Newman is a negative echo (not accepted by the tribe) whose shadow behavior erupts as narcissistic in his attempts to punish Jerry. The key character not only plays out their unconscious fears and conflicts, they also undermine their conscious want as their unconscious desire blinds them to the reality that, in turn, prevents them achieving their want/goal. To that end I make a very crude offering to ensure that the echoistic character in the sitcom has some agency of their own and is not just seen as an echo of the key 44 45

Pizza, created by Paul Fenech, produced by SBS (Australia: SBS, 2000–6). George & Mildred, Cooke and Mortimer.

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character’s unconscious or conscious fears, or some “shadowy” figure that causes havoc: the key character acts to change the power imbalance while the echo character acts in ways to simply survive by seeing a different reality; they are not victims of the situation, rather they develop traits that enable them to survive in a world that does not see them. Thus, for echo comic characters, language becomes their tool of survival or, like Manuel, misunderstanding of language, and its meaning, becomes their leaky boat. Echo simply seeks to be heard, and in her/his fear of being rendered invisible, she/he mangles language, repeats and echoes the other; their lack of self could be negated by way of creative activities or fantasies and even delusions (the hysteric). While it may not be appropriate to line up echoism with disempowerment and narcissism with powerlessness, and in relation to Freud, and chapter 2, I posit that neurotic fear has its roots in the fear of the loss of the love of the loveobject, whatever the gender, and objective fear in the fear of loss of or attack by the love-object, again regardless of gender. Heinz Kohut, also discussed in the last chapter, gives us a pointer that it is the role of the parent rather than the gender.46 Each experience determines the sense of self—how the subject sees themselves and how they act in order to be seen and gain entry into the Symbolic. For this analysis, it is in response to the effects of being disempowered by a neurotic fear and/or rendered powerless by an objective fear that the key character maintains their phantasy. I now ask, and picking up Coulson’s argument: Is narcissism object dependent while echoism is relationally dependent? Taking the view that both ego constructs can affect psychical development in different ways and with different outcomes may dilute both the obsession and insidiousness of narcissism that haunts contemporary society and indeed much of psychological debate as Berry notes, to find there is another side of the coin to the oedipal story resulting in the self that attempts to restore itself.

Echo and Narcissus: Two sides of the psyche? Extending on the DSM classification of personality disorders,47 if narcissism is what gives one self-direction and identity, then echoism would surely be the 46 47

Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2009). American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th edition, DSM-5 (Washington, DC and London:  American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013), 775 for level of personality functioning scale and an alternative for determining disorders.

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psychical harbinger of empathy and intimacy. This opens up a more positive and constructive reading of the psyche having two parts required for a healthy functioning self (in line with Kohut), rather than the psyche carrying the burden of secondary narcissism and its functioning impairment, which is forced to be shed like a second skin or which one fights to hang onto particularly if it maintains an identity, however disabling. As with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, an “Echoistic Personality Disorder” may have its own syndromes that could include victim mentality, or some version of doormat behavior and not simply be seen as a bystander or (bitter) victim of unrequited love as in the myth or as a hysteric fending off paternalistic or even maternalistic repression, rejection or abandonment. Rather than labeling the other side of the oedipal coin as the hysteric, it might be more useful and indeed less pejorative to use the term “positive” echoism and narcissism as aspects of ego maturation that enables healthy object-relations, to love the self and to love others without fear of engulfment or sacrifice of the self—“The creative mirroring of Winnicottian object relations.”48 The “unhealthy echoist” survives by way of a servile role toward the narcissist, enabling shadow or disturbed behavior in both, including the delivery of violence and the acceptance of it or denial of its effects. Their disturbed or negative counterparts manifest as a craving for power over or through the other, the response to disordered object-relations and, in some cases, developing into character disturbances, which are codependent in nature. While it is tempting to label the echoist as the enabler to narcissistic behavior (and therefore blame the battered wife), it is necessary to hold the narcissist to account for their actions (as George K. Simon49 proffers and as Larry David did in the final episode of Seinfeld ). As long as they are getting what they want, “His Majesty the Baby” is happy in their “kingdom.” However, in its more benign or positive state, and by example of the characters observed, narcissism is an essential aspect of ego maturation and is what gets us out of bed each day; echoism enables a different perspective of the world coupled with traits of empathy and intuition, underscoring the need for duality in maturation. The need for some other to feel complete or through which one discovers “happiness” is often the theme of romcom films, rooted in Shakespearean New Comedy. I argue that echoism,

48 49

Coulson, “The Baby and the Mirror.” See Chapter 2 for discussion on George K. Simon’s analysis of character disturbances emanating from a narcissistic wound.

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like narcissism, is a natural process of ego maturation and both states have to be enabled for a fully functioning, actualized self to emerge, and not “fall into the arms of the other who completes us.” As long as the key character’s echoism is unconscious or nonconscious, they remain tethered to their echo (and vice versa), if for no other reason than as a vessel for their projective identification. Some characters are malevolent or amoral, and will do anything to achieve their goals, including lying, stealing, cheating, deception, and manipulation. My interest has not been in judging characters in the sitcom, rather in determining what lies at the root of the characters’ sense of self and how that plays out in their engagement with other characters, the diegetic reality and indeed, as I examine in the next chapter, the narrative. However, the narcissistic puppet master still needs to have qualities the audience admires, beyond having power, itself a magnetic force. The key character is now defined as the combination of consciously needing to be seen, yet unconsciously seeking escape from the gaze that threatens to devour their (fragmented) sense of self. Thinking they have agency, the key character is blind to the fact they are echoes to an other; this incongruity causes confusion about the other and, more importantly, their intentionality. While the myth and my reading of it suggests that echoism is born of disempowerment by the parent of the same sex and narcissism is enabled by the parent of the opposite sex, rendering the subject powerless, I now ask: Can the subject be disempowered by the opposing gender and rendered powerless by the same gender? Lucy is disempowered by a male hegemony that seeks to have its interests met (her power was taken from her). Her response is to deny its affect and seek success in the Symbolic—to be seen by the Father. In being rendered powerless by his father, Oedipus sought power in the Symbolic, the Father’s role, and in doing so satisfied his wish for “restitution” with the mother. Yet Oedipus is unconscious of the true nature of the relationship; Jocasta denies or refuses to acknowledge its wrongfulness. In seeking the truth, Oedipus sought to rectify the power of his kingdom, now barren and disempowered—mirroring his own subjectivity. Oedipus entered the Symbolic by way of a mastery of language; in (unknowingly) marrying his mother he did not surrender his phallus. Thus to gain entry into the “true” Symbolic, the subject needs more than language and a surrendering of the phallus; in the absence of support structures, there is a need for a truth-teller to help us engage with reality. While it is beyond the scope of this book to determine fully the psychopathology of the key character and their narcissistic and echo partners, it is clear that some characters

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simply wish to be seen/loved/accepted by an other and, in doing so, raises the possibility of a secondary psychical construct that mirrors narcissism, prone to its own personality disorder or syndrome (and not something to avoid or scorn as Berry does). As fractured or fragmented selves, both states need “objects” to restore a sense of self. Their desire, instantiated by the gaze of the other, triggers movement, and the insatiability of desire arises because the lack can never be fulfilled—it arises from beyond the gaze and Lacan’s fourth law, the Law of Desire: that which the subject surrenders is unattainable because it is unknowable. For Lacan, desire is both the object and the cause that either prevents or enables entry into the Symbolic.50 Picking up Gorton, and the notion of desire as the movement toward self, the question arises, how is desire fulfilled? What I surmise is that desire is intertwined with the gaze; as narcissism triggers a need to fulfill a need through the self, echoism triggers a need to have voice or body through the other: one gives for desire (of the other) and the other takes for their desire (from the other). Romanticism would see this as the “perfect pairing,” feeding the needs and desires of the other. In the last chapter it was determined that for the key character to have the ego determinants of both Narcissus and Echo, they need to be an echo to a significant other manifested in a relationship (such as the child-parent), or projected onto other relationships that replicate that dynamic. Thus the key character must have an echo that either feeds them and their narcissism or on whom they can take out their frustration, yet who also is the cause of that frustration. With their cacophony of conflicts, the key character is always undermined or thwarted by those around them; it is the threat to their (unconscious) phantasy, rooted in a need for power to stabilize a wobbly sense of self, coupled with an idealization (conscious fantasy) that forces them to act. The exploration of psychical structures and their influence on ego maturation has enabled an understanding of the comic who seeks to maintain a sense of self and identity and repeatedly fails—making them the comic engine of a series. I now look at the narrative structure of the sitcom and how it threatens to expose or thwart the phantasies of the key character.

50

Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2006), 67.

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4

The Tension of the (Closed) Narrative

One of the main characteristics of the sitcom is its unique narrative structure. Beyond its television “half-hour” time-limit, the sitcom is commonly distinguished from drama or soap opera by having what is described as a closed or “circular” narrative structure.1 The traditional sitcom episode is a stand-alone entity and does not depend on a sequential order within a series. Many comedy screenwriting texts demonstrate the need for both the buildup of tension through “beats” to enable comicality and for the sitcom to return to the point at which the story began. However, there is little analysis of the relationship between character and narrative in this form. Narrative theory explores the relationship between character actions, traits, and story, and how together they enable the narrative structure. If the narrative is the sum of the character’s actions, then this chapter seeks to understand the relationship between character and story that generates the unique shape. For writer Evan Smith,2 comedic tension is built up in dramatic narrative by putting pressure on the threat of loss of some goal. Smith’s approach is different from other screenwriting texts in that he recognizes tension enables comicality, in particular through the premise of both series and story; as such, he takes a more formalist view: characters and plot are at the service of the story. My interest is in how the narrative influences character and thus the shape of the plot. By exploring the relationship between tension and comicality, Smith offers that “all theories of laughter, and all laughter stimuli, seem to depend on an underlying process of establishing, building and then releasing tension: incongruity creates comedic tension. A surprise twist releases tension. Truth and aggression increase tension. Brevity brings tension into high relief.”3 For Smith, conflict can be increased by

1

2 3

Barry Curtis, “Aspects of Sitcom” in Television Sitcom:  BFI Dossier No. 17, ed. Jim Cook (London: British Film Institute, 1982), 4–12. And the Appendix by Deborah Klika. Evan Smith, Writing Television Sitcoms (New York: Perigee Books, 1999). Smith, Writing Television Sitcoms, 18.

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the premise being based on an inherent predicament, listing: The Big Lie, The Big Secret, The Misunderstanding, and so on.4 However, they are formulaic stories that are not necessarily related to a particular series and its dynamics and, as such, he does not determine how they relate to the series premise. Smith also articulates that tension is enabled through the “situation,” the characters themselves and their relationship to each other including the classic comic conflicts (such as youth vs. age, authority vs. worker, male vs. female, rich vs. poor). It is the nature of the relationships that is of interest and how the pressure brought to bear through the story and narrative elicits the struggle between the characters, and as I have argued, the need for some characters to have or to hold onto power. Chapter  1 determined that the comic character’s unconscious harbors an arrested or wounded narcissism that in turn shapes identity. In particular, the key character, shaped by a combination of “echoistic” and “narcissistic” traits is trapped in the gaze of an Other, arresting their innate longing to actualize. Chapter  2 focused on how relationships maintain that arrestment and their response when the key character’s narcissistic identity is threatened; in the face of “annihilation,” they act in extreme ways and, in doing so, suffer comic degradation. Chapter 3 explored the nature and relationships between the key character and their echo, the character that reflects back to the key character something they either deny in themselves or project onto the “other.” Lisa Trahair demonstrates that comicality is enabled through the tension arising between the pleasure principle and primary processes that drive the character in opposition to the reality principle that comes to bear on the character through the narrative.5 Trahair’s work sets up further examination on the nature of the diegetic reality to show that choices made at certain points increase the tension that enables comicality. Extending Trahair’s work, I explore the key character’s engagement with the program’s diegetic reality to determine that the key character’s narcissism enables them to deny aspects of a reality or “truth” that do not accord with their wants or goals. In other words, how the plot is shaped by the key character’s schema and phantasy. With the exception of the work of Steve Neale, Frank Krutnik, Jim Cook, Terry Lovell, and Mick Eaton, there has been little narrative analysis of television and the sitcom in particular.6 Amy McWilliams writes 4 5

6

Smith, Writing Television Sitcoms, 27–32. Lisa Trahair, The Comedy of Philosophy:  Sense and Nonsense in Early Cinematic Slapstick (Albany : State University of New York Press, 2007). Steve Neale and Frank Krutnik, Popular Film and Television Comedy (London:  Routledge, 1990). Jim Cook, “Narrative, Comedy, Character and Performance,” 13–18 and Terry Lovell, “A

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that most sitcoms “follow a problem/resolution format, with a secret/revelation being the most common variation,”7 within the traditional plotting techniques of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion; such a framework enables further examination of the narrative structure of the sitcom. This chapter aims to understand the comic operation of the sitcom at the level of the narrative in order to extend an understanding of how the plot reinforces the key character’s psychical tension; further, how choices made by the characters, in particular the key character, at certain points ensure the re-situation, a defining feature of the sitcom. I begin with two screenwriting craft principles: 1. 2.

The story, a précis of the inciting incident, needs to be logical (and is not necessarily funny). The story beats generate buildup of (comic) tension.

Furthermore, characters make choices that must not only be logical (for them), they must also adhere to the dramatic principles of increasing tension by means of the narrative. As the character may respond to the narrative, it is the relationship between the character and story that determines the plot. Some sitcoms are driven by story—where the narrative is progressed by forcing actions on the character rather than as a result of their choices—over plot—where the character engages with story to shape the plot. Thus, for the purposes of this chapter, narrative + character = plot. Character-driven programs such as Pizza, discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, rely on extreme performance to maintain the energy of the program more than the story, while Kath & Kim, discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, relies on both comic performance and the interaction between the characters and narrative events to realize the moment of degradation.8 I regard the ’90s Australian sitcom Acropolis Now9 as having the most “narrative” text of the three Australian programs that

7

8

9

Genre of Social Disruption,” 19–31, both in Television Sitcom:  BFI Dossier No. 17, ed. Jim Cook (London:  British Film Institute, 1982). Mick Eaton, “Television Situation Comedy,” in Popular Television and Film (London: British Film Institute, 1981), 26–52. Sarah Kozloff, “Narrative Theory and Television,” in Channels of Discourse Reassembled, ed. Robert Allen (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 67–100. Amy McWilliams, “Genre Expectation and Narrative Innovation in Seinfeld,” in Seinfeld: Master of Its Domain. Revisiting Television’s Greatest Sitcom, ed. David Lavery with Sara Lewis Dunne (New York and London: Continuum, 2006), 80. Kath & Kim, created by Gina Riley and Jane Turner, produced by ABC et al. (Australia: ABC, 2002– 4, ATN7, 2007). Pizza created by Paul Fenech, produced by SBS (Australia: SBS, 2000–6). Acropolis Now, created and written by Simon Palomeres, Nick Giannopoulos, and George Kapiniaris, produced by Crawford Productions et al. (Australia: ATN 7, 1989–92).

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are closely examined in this book. I analyze the narrative structure of one of the episodes from this series to examine the plot points where the character’s actions advance the narrative and determine the effect of their choices at those points. You do not need to be familiar with the program as I will give an overview of the series and storylines.

The key character and the narrative Narrative theory encompasses a broad range of study with narratologists developing various approaches, endeavoring to “disclose the deep structural patterning beneath the surface.”10 There are essentially two schools of narrative theory: formalist and structuralist. Formalist analysis aims to understand the components of a story (the fabula) and its plot (suzjet), while a structuralist reading sets out to understand the signs and meaning within, or across the narrative as a whole, where signs and meanings are shaped by convention and imagination.11 Aspects such as story, character, setting, narrator, narrate, and discourse, are examined within and across various modes and genres of literature and film. Narrative theory is divided on the issue of story vs. plot. Some theorists view causality as inherent to the plot; others view narrative as enabled by the reader through engagement with the story. While the study of narrative is broad and multifaceted, most studies have focused on literary and film examples. Seymour Chatman identifies the common traits of narratives and their mythological function in society, and questions whether narrative can proceed on the basis of stylistic variation rather than by way of story actions, stating that “what is important to a general theory of narrative is not the precise linguistic manifestation but rather the story logic.”12 Chatman writes: It has been argued, since Aristotle, that events in narratives are radically correlative, enchaining, entailing. Their sequence, runs the traditional argument, is not simply linear but causative. The causation may be overt, that is explicit, or covert, implicit.13

10

11

12

13

Robert Stam et  al., New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics:  Structuralism, Post-structuralism and Beyond (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 75. Mieke Bal, Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative (Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 2004), 79. Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse:  Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1978), 45. Chatman, Story and Discourse.

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In formulating a modern theory of narrative, Chatman encompasses all forms of narrative from the causal nature of plot to the revelatory nature of story and discourse. Causal plots are driven by character action in response to events whereas revealed plots center on a problem posed by the story that enables information to be revealed; in such narratives events play a stronger role than character. Regardless of the type of plot, Chatman focuses on the character’s engagement with the story, arguing that our minds seek structure and will fill any gaps that exist between plot points. For him, plot involves causation, and as such character and plot inform story and vice versa; further, he defines plot points as kernels and satellites, both of which are similar to what screenwriting texts define as beats. Smith defines a beat as “a moment, a discovery, or an incident that alters the main character(s)’ goals, and/or cranks up a story’s dramatic tension.”14 For him each storyline in the sitcom has its own set of beats that build in tension. Tension can be increased through a series of twists and obstacles; the story reaches a climax (often the comic degradation) with the resolution or revelation (at the very least exposition) and the return to the emotional stasis. In the sitcom there are six to nine beats for a main story and three to five beats for a subsidiary story. In multiple (parallel) storylines, such as is used in later episodes of Seinfeld, there are three to six beats for each story. However, Chatman’s analysis of narrative is distinct from craft texts in that his plot points carry with them an expectation of change in either the situation or the character. His interest is in elucidating how each transforms the other; plots are constructed by the logic of narrative events within a hierarchy, which are then “read out” through a change of direction in the story or some change in the character. These points are the kernels, “ narrative moments that give rise to cruxes in direction taken by events . . . [being] . . . nodes or hinges in the structure, . . . [and] . . . which force a movement into one or two (or more) possible paths . . . and cannot be deleted without destroying the narrative logic.”15 As such, kernels are part of the hermeneutic code, raising and satisfying questions that offer multiple possible paths. By contrast, satellites are minor plot points that serve to reveal the consequences of the choices made at the kernels. The combination of kernels and satellites assists both logic and linearity, yet satellites can be deleted without disturbing the logic of the plot. In short, kernels

14 15

Smith, Writing Television Sitcoms, 91. Chatman, Story and Discourse, 53.

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are points in the narrative where there is a change of direction or change to the character, and raise satisfying questions, whereas satellites are the points where choices, having been made, are then worked through—they do not entail a choice. This is important as the sitcom depends on “back story” or comic diversions as a consequence of bad choices. A good example of satellites is when the characters in Modern Family16 comment directly to camera about events in the plot as they occur; they are adding to the plot rather than changing direction. Similarly, the voice-over in How I Met Your Mother,17 when the character of Ted is telling his kids in the future about how he met their mother (through a series of misadventures), and the events that thwarted him in achieving that goal—this information backgrounds the major kernels of that story arc. Fawlty Towers,18 with its economy of story and plot points has a higher percentage of kernels than satellites: the consequence of the response to the disturbance leads to the comic degradation (of Basil). The inciting incident or, what I prefer, the catalyst that starts the story, is a “kernel” that necessitates a choice or problem that affects the key character, whereas a subplot would be a “satellite” that may or may not intersect with the main story yet enables comic consequences linked to the main story by way of a theme that guides the episode. Although the plot sequence of Modern Family moves back and forward in time, the logic of the story is maintained through the character’s telling of the event/s to camera. The sequence of events is determined by emotional responses and the increasing intensity as the “lie” gets discovered, or the misunderstanding escalates; thus the character’s emotional response to the events brought about through the sotry ensures that the narrative remains logical. In other words, the kernels are distilled to a point that their economy of information progresses the story and, in some instances, also change the direction of the plot. It is these points that are of interest to us: the characters respond to the narrative in ways that are consistent with how they see the world. In the Modern Family episode titled “Unplugged,”19 Cam and Mitchell, the gay parents, are trying to get their adopted Vietnamese child, Lily, into preschool, fearing that they “will be the only gay couple in America to have an

16

17

18 19

Modern Family, created by Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan, produced by Lloyd-Levitan Productions et al. (USA: ABC, 2009–present). How I Met Your Mother, created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, produced by 20th Century Fox Television et al. (USA: CBS, 2005–14). Fawlty Towers, created by John Cleese and Connie Booth, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1975, 1979). Steve Levitan, “Unplugged,” series 2, episode 5, Modern Family, first transmitted October 20, 2010.

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underachieving Asian child” because all those “skinny bitches at the park have enrolled their children ahead of time despite everyone agreeing to hold back their child.” The economy of the information through the telling elicits a pleasure based on familiarity and bitchy responses by those who should know better. On discovering that they will be given priority because of the policy by the American education system for more diverse student cohorts, Cam and Mitchell head to the most exclusive preschool (“This is the Harvard of preschools”) only to be outdone by a disabled lesbian couple with a black African adopted child. Mitchell, deadpan to camera: “Didn’t see that coming.” However, while Modern Family promotes diversity, at its core is the family of Claire, Phil, and the three children affirming the traditional white middle-class family against which the other two families are compared—they exist in relation to the standard norm, thus enabling comparison and incongruity. This program attempts to expand the frame of “family,” rather than challenge or satirize the traditional family as in The Simpsons and Married . . . with Children.20 Moreover, Modern Family has a meta-narrative arc (Lily gets older as do all the children) that then demands sequential viewing, placing it on the edge of narrative comedy. This program is also a good example, along with How I Met Your Mother, where the audience is forced to fill in large gaps of story between flashbacks and present-day events in learning how Ted, the key character, hasn’t yet met his future wife and why that might be so. Modern Family is sometimes labeled as a “mockumentary”; however, it still adheres to fundamental sitcom features with key characters/couples centered on the dissonance of what is a modern family, while simultaneously echoing patriarchal sitcoms of the ’50s and challenging the definition of what is a family in modern times. The hegemonic shift here is that “mother knows best” in the character of Claire and, to some extent Gloria and Cam, as the ones who do the “nurturing,” and the ones who have to fix problems created by the incompetence or ignorance of those around them, mostly the men. I explore such shifts in the next chapter. Chatman’s work is focused on narratives that seek to understand the nature of the change in the diegesis of the program. He examines the engagement between narrative and “reader” as well as the transformation of the character

20

The Simpsons, created by Matt Groening, developed by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, and Sam Simon. Produced by Gracie Films et  al. (USA:  Fox, 1989–present). Married . . . with Children, created by Michael G.  Moye and Ron Levitt, produced by Embassy Television et  al. (USA:  Fox, 1987–97).

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or the diegesis by way of the story. It is about how transformation of character or situation occurs through the narrative. In light of the discussion so far, I now ask: What of those narratives that do not transform the character or the situation? Not only is the narrative structure of the sitcom “closed,” more importantly, there is no change to the character. It is a central tenet of dramatic screenwriting that a story begins when something happens: an action, inciting incident, or catalyst disrupts the equilibrium of a diegesis. In the sitcoms I discuss, such examples would be when Pauly in Pizza faces the law with his traffic infringements, in Fawlty Towers the hotel inspectors are in the area or Sybil has to go to hospital, while Sharon wants Kim to go with her to the reunion in Kath & Kim and, in Acropolis Now, a poet arrives at the café and charms Liz, the blonde Australian waitress for whom Jim and Rick, the young swarthy southern European café owners, have secret feelings. In order for a story to progress, the incident becomes a question: Will Kim go with Sharon to the reunion? Will Pauly still be able to drive? Will Basil manage on his own? Will Liz leave the café to go overseas with the poet, forcing Jim and Rick to expose their true feelings for Liz? In the sitcom, the answer to the question being posed is “no” and the audience knows that. The sitcom’s narrative is guided by questions such as “What will the character do now?” and “How will the character respond to this moment?” Our pleasure comes not from satisfying the initial question or problem as traditional film narratives demand, but rather from the character’s response to the events of the story and its plot that the question raises. Furthermore, the story may have a series of beats or plot points such as kernels that follow sequentially, but the plot does not flow in a straight “linear” manner with a rising trajectory of troughs and highpoints toward a climax that reveals some truth or which the “hero” needs to face in order to get back home. The film narrative raises problems to be solved and, once solved, the story ends; the character or the diegesis has been transformed in response to the inciting incident. In the sitcom the story makes no impact on how the character sees and engages with the external world, nor does the plot alter the diegetic reality of the program, yet the events that shape the plot must advance the story; the sitcom story still has an inherent logic in what the character does, how they respond, or the choices they make at moments that challenge them and their phantasy. So while the character is not “changed,” in order to maintain the story logic the plot must “bend” to the character’s actions at each turning point. As the character does not change the plot must return to, and thus reinforce, the emotional stasis — the narrative structure is “closed.” In order to achieve that,

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the plot, by way of the character’s responses to both the catalyst (or disturbance) and the story, must force the narrative to “turn” at certain points. Something is happening between character and story that forces the plot to the re-situation. The challenge is locating the plot points that signal the change in direction, while keeping focused on the logic of both, the story and the character’s actions. Chatman demonstrates that character “traits exist at the story level: indeed, the whole discourse is expressly designed to prompt their emergence in the reader’s consciousness.”21 Thus, Chatman asks what comes first—character or a trait—that seeks to be exposed through the discourse. (Discourse in this context is used to describe how the story is told.) Using Chatman’s theory, if kernels advance the plot and maintain the narrative’s logic, then it is necessary to locate those points in the story. Second, I need to separate out the satellites that are the result of consequences of choices made at the kernels and that impact the plot. It is the combination of both kernels and satellites that illustrate how the character influences the plot; these are not unlike Aristotle’s “complications,” moments when some truth is revealed or an obstacle is confronted, which changes the direction of the story. While the pleasure may primarily be the incongruity between the character’s view of the world and that of the diegesis or indeed the spectator, some pleasure must be elicited in the connection between kernels that change direction or thwart the key character. Hence a change in direction of the narrative does not result in a change in the character, yet it does enable a forward thrust in the narrative resulting in plot. I argue that it is this tension—between the narrative and the character’s view of the world—that enables the comicality as well as the plot to return to the re-situation. The challenge for the scriptwriter is distilling the beats that make up the spine of the story that are both economical and progress the story while ensuring the return to the emotional stasis of the characters, the key character in particular. Looking now at Acropolis Now and the episode “Writer’s Block,”22 Liz is charmed by a local poet Epsilon, his good looks, abilities, and “cultural sensitivity.” Jim went to school with Epsilon, and believes he is “the biggest fake that ever walked this earth.” Having managed to get Liz interested in going to the Vibrations Disco, where he is renowned for his dancing skills, and a VIG (very important Greek), Jim may also feel cuckolded by this imposter. The initial

21 22

Chatman, Story and Discourse, 122–6. Simon Palomeres, Nick Giannopoulos, and George Kapiniaris, “Writer’s Block,” series 1, episode 11, Acropolis Now, first transmitted October 18, 1989.

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question is: Will Liz go with Jim to the Disco? The story begins with the arrival of Epsilon and Liz’s immediate attraction to him, enhanced when Epsilon offers to take Liz with him on an arts grant to the Greek Islands, stoking her dream to be a writer. The question then becomes: Will Liz go with Epsilon? Jim is threatened. He decides to “fight” Epsilon by becoming knowledgeable about art and prove (to Liz at least) his superior capabilities in both art and exposing “fakes.” Each of the plot points is a beat that consists of two parts: an action that forces a reaction. The subplots are: Effie (Jim’s very Greek cousin) wants Jim to get her and sidekick Soph into the Disco (as Effie says: “Do you know how long you have to wait in line and hope to hell your hair don’t go flat”); Memo, the waiter (and echo character) has written his life story as a poem and proudly shows Epsilon his work like an overexcited child seeking attention from his teacher. The narrative kernels are labeled a little further on: A, B, C, D, E. Each of these moments act on the character’s objective or expose some information. Sequences B, D, and E are in bold; these represent a choice, revelation, or confrontation forcing a change in direction of the narrative. They are also the points where a character, notably Liz, is forced to make a decision. I examine these points more closely in the next section. At the end of sequence E, the story that drives the disturbance concludes with the expulsion of the disruptive element (Epsilon). The tag scene that occurs after the return to the stasis or resolution of the main story is a comic moment that further reiterates the degradation of one or more characters and confirms the return to the re-situation. Breaking down the narrative, the main plot points are: A: Set up and catalyst: Effie wants to go to the Disco; Epsilon arrives, charms Liz; Memo gives Epsilon his “life story” and recites a poem. B: Liz announces Epsilon’s offer and then questions if she should go. Jim arrives with a mangled bike that Rick says is reminiscent of “Picasso’s Bull.” C: Jim tells Liz Epsilon is a fake. Liz doesn’t believe him. D: Listening to the local ethnic radio station, Liz, Jim, Rick, and Memo hear Memo’s poem being read by Epsilon as his own. Jim decides to challenge Epsilon on his turf—knowledge of art: the mangled bike from his collision with a cyclist can now be his work of art like that artist “Pistachio.” E: Epsilon is queried by Liz, Jim, and Rick. He defends his actions. Liz accepts Epsilon’s defense. Rick and Jim “trap” Epsilon into admitting that Liz will be no more than a housekeeper and typist on the Greek island. Liz begins to see Epsilon for who he is. As Epsilon continues to defend his

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position and actions, Jim threatens Epsilon and he flees; Jim’s “fight” stance becomes a form of dance. Tag: Jim tries to impress Liz with his mastery of art by having a “mystery buyer” show interest in his sculpture. The buyer, in a staccato voice, says the work reminds her of Picasso’s Cow. Liz exposes the buyer as Effie. Jim says he will tell Effie’s mother of her stupidity; Effie exclaims: “How Embarrashment!” As mentioned, B, D, and E are points that force a change in direction. The main storyline is driven by Liz’s wish to go to Greece and fulfill her dreams (action). Jim tries to stop Liz (reaction). Failing to expose to Liz Epsilon’s true nature, Jim then decides to demonstrate knowledge in all things art and, in doing so, take it up to Epsilon. After plot point E, Rick and Jim goad Epsilon into exposing how he sees Liz’s role on the Greek Island. Liz explodes: “Jim’s right you’re a fake, a sleaze bag and a sexist pig. I mean you’re worse than Jim.” Jim does not believe that Liz sees him that way; the tag scene is his final attempt to demonstrate to her his artistic sensibility, only to be exposed by Effie and her robotic attempt at being a mystery art buyer, and, in the process, she takes him down. If I depict the plot points as turning points (as in a corner) that force a change in the direction, then diagrammatically the narrative would look like this:

Effie wants to go to disco

(A)

Epsilon charms Liz Memo gives him poem

Effie poses as an art buyer in return to get to disco Epsilon exposed and “expelled”

Liz announces offer. Will she leave? (B)

Jim tells Liz (C) Epsilon a fake

Rick and Jim “trap” Epsilon Liz is charmed Epsilon defends himself

Liz confronts Epsilon (E)

Figure 4.1 The narrative structure of “Writer’s Block”

The group hear Memo’s poem being read by Epsilon (D)

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The narrative changes direction at each of the plot points that were bolded and which trigger a reaction through a threat or revelation. The dotted lines connect the subplot of Memo’s poem. Once the main story is resolved, the situation returns to its stasis: Liz stays, Jim is once again out of her league and takes his anger out on Effie, who in turn abuses the mute and sycophantic Soph. Memo’s poem, on the other hand, is an “object” or prop through which Epsilon attempts to gain power and which exposes him. The nature of gags and props as narrative connectors in the sitcom is an area for future study. Returning to the episode of Kath & Kim, “The Moon”23; Sharon wants Kim to go with her to the school reunion. The narrative kernels in this story act as Jessica Milner Davis describes like “beads on a string”24 rather than determined by causality as in Acropolis Now. The following sequence plots Kim’s downfall. Set Up: Brett needs to work all weekend. Catalyst: Sharon wants Kim to go to the school reunion. Kim says she will think about it; she then gets Sharon to take her to Kath’s. Sharon returns to Kath’s with the wrong dry-cleaning (designer knickerbockers), along with the hair twisties that Kim asked her to get. Sharon is wearing an eyepatch, which Kath removes. Kath encourages Kim to buy a puffy-sleeved blouse. Kim decides to go to the reunion. Kel accidentally pokes Kim in the eye with a fishing rod. Kath offers Kim the eye-patch. Kim arrives at the reunion wearing the knickerbockers, the eye-patch, and with her hair in ringlets as she hobbles across the grassy verge, she looks very much like a drunken pirate.

Cut to a close-up of Sharon’s horrified face: “Oh my god Kim it’s not fancy dress, you look like a pirate.” Kim replies: “As if. I do not look like a pirate.” Kim is further unamused by the witticisms coming from fellow guests as they sashay past: “Ahoy there Pirate Pete,” or more pointedly, “Horatio Hornblower.” Kim not only denies the truth being revealed to her, she retaliates with aggressive self-defense: “Horatio Hornbag. Thank you very much.” Kim’s outfit is the result of her own attempts to maintain her idealization—similar to Pauly’s car in Chapter 1. The first 23

24

Gina Riley and Jane Turner, “The Moon,” series 2, episode 3, Kath & Kim, first transmitted October 2, 2003. Jessica Milner Davis, Farce (London and New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2003).

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turn in the Kath & Kim plot is when Kim decides to go to the reunion, the second when Sharon decides to leave Kim, and the third occurs near the end of the episode, when Sharon returns. All the “moments” (wrong dry-cleaning, puffy-sleeved blouse, twisted hair, poke in the eye, eye-patch) are contrivances set up through the narrative designed to expose Kim and, more significantly, manifests her fear (of being “ ’umiliated like last time”). Such moments are gags that occur on the narrative—being arbitrary in nature, they are more reliant on traditional comic structures such as chance, fate, or coincidence; dramaturgically, there is no flow in the transition between the moments or in the buildup of tension. The diagram for this program would be long and rectangular; the story returns to its emotional stasis not because of the expulsion of a disruption, or even after the denouement of Kim’s exposition, but because Sharon returns to the relationship. Hence the major plot points in Kath & Kim are intended to force the narrative along, rather than drive the narrative through a relationship between story and character. I surmise that the sitcom narrative is better served by a close relationship between character and story, than by a series of events that lead to the degradation. Dan Harmon, creator of Community uses a circle with eight equidistant points to plot storylines, saying in an interview with Wired that he has found this pattern in every sitcom he has watched since he was a child.25

1

1. A character is in a zone of comfort

2

8

2. But they want something 7

3

4

6 5

3. They enter an unfamiliar situation 4. Adapt to it 5. Get what they wanted 6. Pay a heavy price for it 7. Then return to their familiar situation 8. Having changed

Figure 4.2 Harmon’s circular narrative

25

Dan Harmon, “How Dan Harmon Drives Himself Crazy Making Community,” Wired, first published September 22, 2011, accessed August 17, 2016, .

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This diagram does assist with developing story; however, a square as used in the previous figure indicates the necessity for “turning points” that increase the tension, thus altering the direction of the narrative and shaping the plot. Furthermore, Harmon sees some “change” in the character, which may reflect his choice of viewing but, as this book demonstrates, the character’s emotional stasis remains unchanged (and, I would argue, even in Community).26 Something has happened, yet they do not “grow.” In fact, they remain determinedly stuck in their view of the world. Thus, I posit that the rectangular shape is both the result of the key character’s denial about either the situation or themselves and reflects their psychological construct. In her most recent book, Why We Lie,27 Dorothy Rowe returns to her thesis that individuals engage with reality according to type, again exploring how actions are determined by a fear of annihilation of a person’s sense of self. Rowe writes: “Every lie we tell, no matter how small and unimportant, is a defense of our sense of being a person.”28 Going on, “Lies are words or actions intended to deceive other people or ourselves. Often, when we lie to other people we also lie to ourselves.”29 In distinguishing between lying to ourselves and lying to others, Rowe observes that “facts make no difference to those who deny in order to protect their sense of being a person,”30 and people with a strong sense of self (or rather an inflated sense of self) will lie to get ahead, while those with a weak sense of self or weakened ego boundaries will lie in order to feel safe. Thus, people lie to get ahead to protect their image, to avoid conflict, and also to deny the truth about themselves. Denial of certain realities precipitates the key character’s actions to return to the re-situation and its emotional stasis signals they do not wish to change the situation; to do so would be to confront their shortcomings. I have demonstrated that the key character’s narcissistic idealization is a form of ego defense determined by some degree of conscious and unconscious desires and fears. In Acropolis Now it is Jim’s desire (to win Liz) that also enables him to deny the reality that Liz does not find him attractive. Further, in denying that truth, some degree of tension must develop, which Jim must alleviate. As the tension increases with the possible loss of the love-object, the key character (Jim) makes choices in response to feelings of annihilation (emotions) rather 26

27 28 29 30

Community, created by Dan Harmon, produced by Krasnoff Foster Productions et al. (USA: NBC, 2009–14, Yahoo Screen! 2015). Dorothy Rowe, Why We Lie (London: Fourth Estate, 2010). Rowe, Why We Lie, 50. Rowe, Why We Lie, 188. Rowe, Why We Lie, 231.

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than logic. If Jim either stopped lusting after Liz or saw the reality that she did not care for him, there would be no desire and thus no tension. As long as he wants Liz, Jim will be forced into more extreme behavior to not only prove his worth to her, but also expel any threat to his goal; here want ensures the attachment and thus the movement as discussed in Chapter 3. It is Jim’s fear of “losing” Liz that drives him to act. So, while comic characters act in a way to survive by achieving their goals, the key character, in particular, must deny any reality that does not serve their ego-ideals/Ego-Ideal. In light of Rowe, the sitcom explores how characters experience the world and engage with reality rather than simply seek to expose traits that are limiting or destructive, as in traditional narratives such as the hero’s journey and drama series where a dilemma must be resolved. Hence, in the sitcom, an incident must force the comic character(s) to act in accordance with their narcissistic desires and, for the key character, this incident must also threaten their sense of self, forcing them to take increasing drastic action that exposes them (and their fears). So while the story progresses in a logical manner, I now ascertain that the plot changes direction at those moments where the key character’s sense of self is threatened. Such tension must therefore be sustained by the narrative and the diegetic reality.

Tension through the “diegetic reality” of the narrative “How embarrashment!”31

Tension is enabled in many ways, including the incongruity between the perspectives of different characters on the world, and between the audience’s and characters’ perspective of the world in which they exist. For Trahair, comic narratives expose the incongruity between the individual and the diegetic world within which they exist; she writes that when psychoanalytic theories have been applied to analyze the narrative, it is traditionally using the Oedipus complex and the fort/da game; the narrative is seen as “an economy of repetition and variation, symmetry and asymmetry, installing a trajectory that moves from lack to mastery.”32 For Trahair, the comic character is a function of the pleasure principle and primary process thinking, acting according to 31

32

Effie’s catch phrase, Acropolis Now, delivered in the tag scene, Palomeres et al., “Writer’s Block,” Acropolis Now. Trahair, The Comedy of Philosophy, 37–40.

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the logic of those processes (as determined in the unconscious and governed by the intensity and emotions connected with those ideas). The reality principle governs the secondary processes, modifying the primary processes and their instincts through thinking and the connection of ideas. The comic character is often attached to an object (often as a prop), which satisfies the pleasure principle, enlisting secondary processes to have mastery over that object, through it, within the social, or as a means of engaging with the Symbolic. Attached to an idealization or phantasy born of primary process thinking, rather than engage secondary processes toward a realistic goal, the comic satisfies the pleasure principle by means of secondary processes rather than integrate the reality principle into a maturing psyche. While many characters are comic by the exposition of the gap between primary and secondary process thinking, Trahair elucidates that comicality is engendered by the marriage of secondary processes with the impulses of the pleasure principle. The impulses of the pleasure principle with secondary process thinking is what makes the character comic in relation to the diegetic reality. The character’s development of secondary processes to master their environment does not necessarily mean they have engaged with the reality of that world; they attempt to alter the world rather than alter themselves or their perspective of how the world works. Hence, the comic character is comic in relation to how they see the world and how it works, whereas I offer that the key character is comic in their determination to maintain a relationship with the world and, more pertinently, enable and maintain their idealization. Furthermore, Trahair views the narrative as having the capacity to subordinate comic excess: If narrative exists to make our lives meaningful, narrative comedy (or perhaps more appropriately comic narrative) diminishes the agency of the individual to show that the world continues to work according to a logic that is unknowable and ungraspable [to them].33

In other words, for Trahair the comic narrative exposes the comic’s lack of mastery or, as she demonstrates with her analysis of Buster Keaton, if mastery is achieved then the narrative must be subordinated. Thus the narrative is read as the process through which the comic seeks to master the world. In doing so, Trahair demonstrates that the comic character is realized through a psychical tension between the pleasure principle, which drives the character, and the

33

Trahair, The Comedy of Philosophy, 44.

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reality principle that is brought to bear through the narrative. Applying that to our framework, the key character must deny some reality that instantiates psychical tension, precipitating increasingly extreme behavior; the character makes choices that are both consistent and logical for them and how they see the world. It is the clash between how they see the world (and engage with it) and the reality of that world (and its logic) that comicality is enabled. Returning to Acropolis Now, it is at the points, B, D, and E that a character is either forced to make a decision, or some information is revealed, or there is a confrontation. At those points or complications, the narrative comes under pressure and changes direction. To recap: B: Liz announces that Epsilon has offered her a job as his assistant in Greece. It’s her dream, but she cannot decide whether to take up the offer. (At point C, Jim tells Liz Epsilon is a fake, but she has already been “seduced”). D: Listening to the local ethnic radio station, Liz, Jim, Rick, and Memo hear Memo’s poem being read by Epsilon. Jim decides to fight Epsilon (he takes definitive action). E: Liz challenges Epsilon about the ownership of Memo’s poem (Epsilon has been exposed). Epsilon manages to charm Liz (again). Jim and Rick take more extreme action to expose Epsilon in a way that Liz will reject him— as a sexist pig (in turn exposing how she sees Jim). The bold sections indicate the catalyst followed by the rising action that deals with the disturbance. At each of these points, rather than raising the stakes, as is the case in a traditional three–five act narrative drama, and forcing the character to change their perspective or outlook, here the characters develop more extreme strategies to deal with the disturbance rather than change themselves. In both forms of screenwriting there exist turning points, but in the sitcom and even comic narrative as demonstrated by Trahair, the turning points force the character on the narrative rather than be changed by the narrative. It is the actions and worldview of the key character that force the narrative to change direction, motivated by the goal of expelling the “disturbance” to that worldview; the narrative and story increase their need to respond in extreme ways, which they attempt to subvert rather than be subverted by it. Hence, in the sitcom, the turning points change the direction of the narrative rather than change the character. As such, and determined in the previous chapters, the characters must be blind to the truth of the situation, their reaction motivated by fear, desire or, as is often

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the case in The Big Bang Theory, declare “a greater principle is at stake.”34 While the comic character may attempt to alter a reality that threatens their goals, the key character actively refuses to engage with the reality principle, because to do so would threaten their sense of self. In Acropolis Now, Liz dreams of being a writer and is seduced by Epsilon and, moreover, his offer. Liz’s own actions are clearly influenced by her dreams; as she makes her choices, the tension between Jim’s desire (Liz) and fear (she will leave) drive his increasingly extreme behavior. I pause here to say that desire in this context is being used both for goals and as movement that was discussed in the previous chapters, reinforcing the need to delineate between desire, want, and goal. For this chapter, desire is applied as an “emotional” attachment by way of want and goal an objective aim. Furthermore, in the example used, every action has been driven by a goal (the character wants something) and every reaction by fear. With each action and reaction, the tension increases, and is momentarily released using comic devices such as jokes and gags, until the interloper’s exposition. Furthermore, despite Jim’s repeated attempts to reveal the truth about Epsilon, Liz refuses to believe him. Picking up from Chapter 3, it is Liz’s ego desire (her conscious want) and blinded by the gaze (from Epsilon) precipitating desire that she is unable to see the reality of Epsilon’s intentions; just as Jim’s desire blinds him to Liz’s feelings for him. While Rowe’s perspective lays the ground for the broader issue that lying is used to alter the reality and denial is a means by which we refuse to engage with reality, it can be surmised that lying is a means by which to seduce and manipulate people as Epsilon does with Liz. It is the exposure of Epsilon and his intention to use Liz as a housekeeper and typist that enables her to finally see the truth and she reacts with anger (for Rowe a response to fear). By triggering fears, lying can be a means by which to have power over another. What is Liz afraid of? Is it a fear of being exploited? Or not finding her voice? The latter explains how her desire (and want) to be a writer might be an antidote to her fear. Ironically, Jim does not use the one talent he has to secure the affections of Liz: dance (probably because he knows instinctively that she is not interested). Rather, he seeks to prove to Liz his mastery in her world of art, and if he succeeds she may find him attractive, despite his own deficit in skill or knowledge. Here the character seeks power to attract the other. As Jim ham-fistedly attempts to master the 34

The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, produced by Chuck Lorre Productions et al. (USA: CBS, 2007–present).

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knowledge (as a form of power) of art, he becomes the very thing he hates about Epsilon—a fraud. In light of Chapter 2, when confronted with the fear of the loss of the love-object, the key character will fight to maintain their ego-ideal; their struggle to escape their entrapment is governed by a repressed or unconscious fear. More pertinently, when triggered, the key character’s engagement with the Symbolic, and trapped in primary processes of the Imaginary, must be by way of secondary processes that have not been developed through the reality principle. While it is difficult to state categorically that fear/anxiety cause regression, the key character acts in ways that maintain their entrapment in the Imaginary and thus at the very least maintains an emotional arrestment. Fear can trigger a fight-orflight response and anxiety paralysis—regardless judgment and decision making processes are clouded. It is the nature of the response that gives a clue. While Pauly from Pizza and Memo from Acropolis Now are attached to actual objects (the car for the former and the poem for the latter) that binds their sense of self, when threatened with their loss their response is not as extreme as evidenced with Jim’s reaction to the threat of Epsilon. Pauly’s and Memo’s “attachments” have developed from want through an object (or prop), not fear of the loss of the love-object or its love. As such, I offer that comic characters such as Pauly are not paralyzed with fear when threatened with possible failure in achieving their goal or maintaining their identity, they are merely frustrated. Such characters use skill, trickery, or deception to achieve their goals; they are like cocky and wishful- thinking children attached to tangential ego wishes whose primary purpose is to deliver to them an Ego-Ideal. For Jim, having exposed the fraud, it is his innate skill (dance) that gives him, in the final scene, the courage to chase or dance Epsilon from the café, which frightens him: “Don’t ever let me do that again Rick.”35 Jim’s comicality is determined by internal tensions, emanating from desire and attendant fears, rather than simply a clash with the external world. For characters like Jim there is something more personal at stake: in exposing his true feelings for Liz, he may be rejected, triggering a neurotic fear and anxious feelings of loss. Thus desire for the other may trigger movement, it may also induce blindness and while the disturbance triggers the response (flight or fight), ultimately nothing changes. Fear keeps such characters stuck. In “The Moon,” Kim’s fear of abandonment and social humiliation guides her choices in putting together an outfit for the school reunion. Each decision is led

35

Palomeres et al., “Writer’s Block,” Acropolis Now.

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by ego desire: designer clothes, “Beyonce Knowles”-style hair, and the fashionable puffy-sleeved shirt. It is her fear of looking like a loser that prevents Kim from utilizing secondary processes in order to achieve her goal of “wiping the floor with what I am going to wear.”36 The goal, at odds with the reality, coupled with the inability to integrate secondary processes, brings about the degradation. The key character is attached to idealizations that they believe give them an identity and status; when threatened with the loss of that status they will not only deny the reality of the situation, they also attempt to use (regressed) secondary processes to restore the actual or possible loss of power delivered by such status. Kim and Basil from Fawlty Towers37 are good examples of characters that harbor unprocessed and unconscious fears and anxieties in their attachment to a love-object, then projected into the social and manifesting as vitriol when they are thwarted. Basil attempts to maintain numerous and conflicting impulses: the desire to be loved/ recognized by the love- object while simultaneously attempting to escape Sybil’s gaze; as such his anxiety keeps him in a permanent state of ego regression— evidenced by his botched attempts to hide dead bodies and his misunderstandings when overhearing guests’ conversations or indeed when directly dealing with them, particularly when he is under duress. Basil’s fear of failing to achieve goals, and the anger generated in the manifestation of that fear, is expressed in the form of nasty or sarcastic comments directed at Sybil. Yet, while Basil can be contemptuous of Sybil, he nevertheless seeks to be recognized by her. As such, Basil’s nastiness could be read as a response to that bind and ensuing tension. As the tension increases, so too must his behavior, becoming more extreme as a way of warding off the exposition of his greatest, yet still unconscious, fear that Sybil does not love or care about him. In fact, Basil avoids engaging with the reality principle because to do so would be to admit the truth about his feelings for Sybil and hers for him. Therefore, as the narrative is a function of the reality principle, Basil must not only be constantly challenged by the narrative, it must also enable some degree of cognitive dissonance. Rowe quotes Joel Cooper’s definition of cognitive dissonance as “the holding of two or more inconsistent cognitions . . . which is experienced as uncomfortable tension. The tension has drive- like properties and must be 36 37

Riley and Turner, “The Moon,” Kath & Kim. Cleese and Booth, Fawlty Towers.

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reduced.” 38 The more Basil attempts to secure Sybil’s recognition and love (to nullify the pain of longing), the more he must deny the reality of her actions and responses (and thus his). Further, it is not only the welding of the impulses and drives of the pleasure principle with secondary processes thinking, it is the gap between the primary process thinking of the character and the diegetic reality delivered by the narrative that ensures psychical tension. In other words, it is not just the gap between the characters and their schema, it is the gap between the key character and the diegesis within which they exist and its counterforce, brought to bear through the narrative that creates the incongruity and thus the comedy. The key character not only uses secondary processes to achieve their narcissistic goals, when faced with a threat to their sense of self they also regress to primary process thinking, forcing the character to work harder to achieve or maintain their Ego-Ideal. Hence the narrative reinforces the key character’s incapacity, instantiating tension both within their psyche and between them and the diegetic reality. Turning to the American program Everybody Loves Raymond,39 there is a slightly different rendering of the tension for the main character of Raymond, who is conflicted in the choice as to who is his love-object—his wife, Debra, or his mother, Marie. While Raymond is conscious of the tension between his wife and his mother—that the mother does not approve of, or like, Debra—Ray is paralyzed by the fear of rejection of both love-objects. This character loves both love-objects and both love him (or, in the case of the mother, she seeks to control Ray in the name of “love”); in the failure to achieve that goal, he has to deny that there is a problem (or avoid it at all costs when it arises). In his attempts to be loved by both, Ray denies, even disavows, the reality; he simply wants his wife and mother to get along, without having the responsibility to choose. Ray’s denial maintains him in a state of dependency, from which he sees no need to change despite his discomfort, delivered as confused looks. The struggle for characters such as Raymond arise from their confusion with how the world works in terms of relationships, especially with women, expressed by “comedic” performance rather than extreme behavior. Debra, on the other hand, is fully aware of the power of the mother’s hold over Raymond and struggles to 38

39

Rowe, quoting Cooper, Cognitive Dissonance:  Fifty Years of a Classical Theory, in Why We Lie, 199. Everybody Loves Raymond, created by Philip Rosenthal, produced by Where’s Lunch et  al. (USA: CBS 1996–2005).

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gain status (and power) within the family unit; her fear is being criticized for not being a good mother or wife, which Marie sprinkles commentary about in subtle and not-so-subtle ways (and as way to maintain her position of power). However, unlike Basil, Ray is not driven by repressed anger at the love-object, more likely he is scared of his mother, and in denying those feelings he then transfers them to his wife—in turn becoming paralyzed when her anger erupts (a common joke among family members is “mommy’s anger”). By trying to avoid mummy’s retribution or demands, Raymond acts like a child persistently on guard. It’s Ray’s fear of Debra’s rage or rejection that determines his behavior, rather than attachment to an Ego-Ideal. However, as neither Raymond nor Debra attempt to escape the situation, it is Debra who struggles to survive the dynamic as she is forever under threat from the gaze of Marie whereas Raymond basks in the rays of “the gaze” (hence the title). Who then is the key character? While Ray is a central character (with a dilemma as to who to love), in her struggle to achieve status in the family or even to be seen, Debra becomes the key character yet both disavow the reality in which they exist and struggle to survive. Furthermore, in light of the discussion from Chapter 3, I ask: Is Marie the manifestation of a Jocasta complex? Denial precipitates comicality in the incongruity between how the comic character sees the world and the reality of that world (Pauly and Memo), but when denial is born of fear, as with Jim, or conflict, as with Basil, along with disavowal, the key character, or central character such as Raymond, is forced to contain a psychical tension that can only increase with each threat to their sense of self. Thus the key character’s ego structure is determined by a combination of desire and fear that drives their actions and reactions. So while the comic is trapped in the Imaginary, when their fear is triggered they work harder to achieve their goal and do not regress, but for the key character, it is their neurotic fear and attendant anxiety which causes them to deny realities and, in extreme cases, regress in their attempts to deal with the disturbance. Furthermore, what defines the key character’s responses is their emotional regression when faced with a threat to their sense of self, their propensity to deny reality causes them to act in ways that manifest their fears. Thus defenses are erected to keep the “unpleasure” at bay. To be released from such a bind is to suffer disintegration of the self because the “self ” has been constructed through an enmeshment with a love-object that not only remains, it is unconscious. Thus the key character’s desire (and fear) must be related to their sense of (disordered) self. Again, it is not a matter of predetermining traits or the

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ego structure of a character, rather it is about knowing the nature of the key character’s struggle: whose struggle is it and, more pertinently, why. It is the narcissistic nature of the key character’s attachment to an Ego-Ideal and the fear of its loss that motivates them, or simply maintains their psychical balance; in their denial of reality, the key character is forced back to the emotional stasis at which they began; there has been no “growth.” The closed (rather than circular) shape of the narrative thus signals the key character’s situation as being nothing more than a reflection of their entrapment. In light of the analysis of Acropolis Now and Kath & Kim, and using Harmon’s model, I now offer the following diagram:

1. Situation established 1. Situation 2. Catalyst

3.

2. Catalyst: the character wants something, or they are threatened 3. Turning point – they enter an unfamiliar situation – attempt to change the ‘reality’ 4.

8.

4. Adapt to it by denying some truth 5. Get the goal (or so they think) 6. Suffer consequences (of their action/denial)

7.

6.

5. 7. Final assault that forces turning point and which 8. Sees them return to the ‘situation’/emotional stasis – the ‘re-situation’ (1).

Figure 4.3 The closed narrative structure of the sitcom. Copyright D. T. Klika

By letting the key character respond to events delivered by the story in a way that is consistent with their narcissistic (and wounded/ arrested) view of the world, the narrative is forced ultimately to return to the re-situation. Tim Ferguson, referring to screenwriter Jimmy Thomson, lists a series of questions as an exercise in devising characters for narrative comedy: What do they want? What do they need? What is their strength? What is their weakness? What do they fear? What or who do they love? How does the character generally

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see the world? How does the world generally see the character?40 I would add to those suggestions and, taking notes from Sandler: What are the key character’s big and little fears? What skill are they good at that they could teach an eight year old? Furthermore, and linking the character to the narrative, it is essential to know what, and how, does the key character deny the diegetic reality delivered each week through the narrative? One final point. I determined in Chapter 2 that the key character must remain unconscious of the dynamics of their situation and its entrapment reinforced by the relational dynamics represented by each (gendered) pole. However, in Acropolis Now there is no observable gaze—no relational “other” that Jim attempts to escape from, apart from the phone calls from his persistent “ma,” often distracting him. For Jim, while the very Greek mother may distract him from his goals of succeeding as a café owner, it is the discourse of Australian multiculturalism that disempowers him, much like Lucy, where “unseen” forces “contain” the key character.41 As such, the premise must embody a narrative enigma and counterforce in order that the narrative may deliver the psychical tension that drives the comedy. I now examine how discourses frame the key character, particularly when underscored by a counterforce.

40

41

Tim Ferguson, quoting screenwriter Jimmy Thomson, The Cheeky Monkey:  Writing Narrative Comedy (Sydney : Currency Press, 2010), 95. I Love Lucy, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf, produced by Desilu Productions (USA: CBS, 1951–61).

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To recap, it has been determined that for the key character, a combination of unconscious conflicts drives a need for power over the other or in the Symbolic through an Other, as a means to nullify psychical tension. We now examine the nature of the character’s struggle in the sitcom with relation to hegemonic discourses delivered by way of the narrative, which I view as a kind of “frame” that “contains” the character. Using Umberto Eco’s notion that social frames determine comic effect, I surmise that such entrapment impacts on the character’s behavior.1 I posit that in the attempt to transgress discursive frames the character becomes comic. Consequently, I find a source of tension that further accounts for both the tension and comicality of the character. The question now is how the spectator experiences other framing devices that open the diegetic world to social reference. Regardless of a program’s ideological base, if the hegemony promoted does not challenge and even reinforces the status quo, then it is easy to understand why the sitcom attracts the criticism of being conservative. This is the basis of Brett Mills’s criticism of the sitcom: it reaffirms hegemony instead of exposing the dissonances within that hegemony that play out in the private domain.2 While sitcoms may not alter discourses (that is, they are not radical), they can reflect and therefore expose discourses that are disempowering. This is what may account for the perennial popularity of Lucy.3 Determining the limits of previously unseen frames that artificially contain or define the character opens the way for an interpretation of the sitcom as being progressive, even subversive. 1

2 3

Umberto Eco, “The Frames of Comic ‘Freedom,’” in Carnival! ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (Berlin: Mouton Publishers, 1984), 1–9. Brett Mills, Television Sitcom (London: British Film Institute, 2005). I Love Lucy, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf, produced by Desilu Productions (USA: CBS, 1951–61).

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To that end, I continue my discussion of the three Australian programs Pizza, Kath & Kim, and Acropolis Now, to further explore shifts in social discourses and cultural perspectives that either limit or define individuals.4 This assists in both locating the key character (and the site of their struggle) as well as reading the key character in relationship to the social.

Tension in the premise In Television: Critical Methods and Applications, Jeremy Butler offers that tension through the story must be generated by a “counterforce.” This counterforce need not be personified by a single individual (as an antagonist), but “may also be the protagonist’s environment or an internal, psychological element within the protagonist”5; its purpose is to delay the protagonist’s attachment to a goal or satisfaction of some want or desire and its longing, as well as create opposition for the protagonist/s. In the last chapter, I determined the nature of the character’s ability to deny reality shapes the plot and maintains the re-situation. For Butler, the weekly “narrative enigma,” arising from a character’s wish or lack, sits within a larger narrative problematic of the series and because “the series is a repeatable form there must be some narrative kernel that recurs every week.”6 Butler applies this approach to television series in general using Friends7 as an example to demonstrate that each episode taps into the avoidance and desire of the characters that is inherent in the premise: the “lack (of the truth, of commitment in a relationship, of romance) [raises] the question of whether the protagonist’s desire [to find love] will be satisfied.”8 The characters in Seinfeld9 are also determined by a lack stemming from an arrested ego, yet also infused with a degree of

4

5

6 7

8 9

Kath & Kim, created by Gina Riley and Jane Turner, produced by ABCTV et al. (Australia: ABC, 2002–4, ATN7, 2007). Pizza created by Paul Fenech, produced by SBSTV (Australia: SBS, 2000– 6). Acropolis Now, created and written by Simon Palomeres, Nick Giannopoulos, and George Kapiniaris, produced by Crawford Productions et al. (Australia: ATN 7, 1989–92). Jeremy Butler, Television: Critical Methods and Applications (London and Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002), 24. Butler, Television, 25. Friends, created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, produced by Bright/Kaufman/Crane Productions et al. (USA: NBC 1994–2004). Butler, Television, 25. Seinfeld, created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, produced by West-Shapiro Productions et al. (USA: NBC 1989–98).

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narcissism demonstrated by their avoidance of responsibility to society, along with the wish to be “master of their domain.” While the comicality of Friends is driven by the exposition of the characters’ lack, the characters in Seinfeld are driven by their pursuit of, and commitment to, their pleasures and desires; the comicality comes from the characters’ determination to take from the world (as in the oral sadistic comic character) rather than engage in the struggle to “grow up” that is more evident in Friends. Again, as discussed in Chapter 2, the character’s want is undermined by their need and which they refuse to acknowledge no matter how dire the situation. However, while lack may enable the exposition of a character’s foible, their desire drives them to act. Lack and desire go hand in hand—and so it is necessary to determine which has the upper hand. Having discussed the psychoanalytic debates surrounding desire and lack in Chapters 2 and 3 with psychoanalysis defining desire as constituting a lack, here I separate lack and desire with the former more akin to arrestment and the latter a basis for action as per Kristyn Gorton’s argument.10 As I have argued, and flipping Gorton’s argument, I view the gaze as instituting desire as well as precipitating a lack that the subject attempts to fulfill in the other—I see all three as intertwined and relational. Butler demonstrates the need for a clearly defined narrative enigma that implicitly challenges and/or exposes the character’s lack; however in the sitcom, the key character, in particular, never faces up to their lack because they not only deny it, it is born of an unconscious fear and desire or need for power (their phantasy) that precipitates behavior, which in turn exposes those fears. In Acropolis Now, Jim is governed by the fear that Liz will reject him, in Pizza it is Bobo—the Pizza shop owner (and key character) is governed by the fear his mama will attack him, and he in turn takes it out on his assistant the New Zealand Kev, and in Kath & Kim, Kim is governed by the fear that Kath will abandon her, literally and figuratively. Thus it is necessary to not only understand the key character’s lack in relation to some fear, the premise must express a situation (including other characters) that repeatedly triggers their fear and exposes their lack—which they are not only blind to, but in some cases, as in Seinfeld, they also actively deny. The counterforce, may exist figuratively (Kath) or through a hegemonic discourse as we have seen with Lucy. Looking at the narrative enigma of each of the three Australian texts, in Acropolis Now the thematic question is: Will mainstream Anglo-Australia 10

Kristyn Gorton, Theorising Desire:  From Freud to Feminism to Film (Basingstoke, UK and New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008).

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accept the Greek boys for who they are, and not limit them to a narrow view of ethnic culture? The counterforce is the capture and abuse of the ideology of multicultural policies by opportunists seeking power rather than enabling inclusion. In the episode discussed in the last chapter, the question, “Will Liz leave?” taps into the larger question, now altered to become: With her loss, will the café be able to be part of an inclusive mainstream society while also expressing a cultural identity, or will it be relegated to a marginalized definition of ethnic?11 Jim’s want (to attract Liz and be seen as a VIG) coupled with his fear (of being accepted by the mainstream for who he is) sits within the thematic question. Similarly, with Pizza the episode question is: Will Pauly maintain his identity (his want) through the size and performance of the little car? The counterforce is the law, which not only thwarts his activities but also defines him as an outsider who is infantile and troublesome. Pauly’s overt and satirical opposition to this law also symbolizes the wish by marginal communities to maintain an identity on their terms. In their determination to do so, such communities resort to unlawful or deceptive behavior, or fight among themselves. In the episode discussed in Chapter 1, Kev’s Maoris take on a Lebanese gang in a slapstick-style street fight; Little Cop (a dwarf policeman), as the metaphor for equal opportunity, is flung into the air like a rag doll.12 The theme of each episode is guided by this group of ethnics wanting to be accepted for who they are, only to discover that they are excluded, marginalized, or derided by those in power. The program uses satire to turn the tables on those discourses. While both Acropolis Now and Pizza have similar narrative enigmas (multiculturalism), the first seeks to promote inclusiveness, while the second laughs at the evident hypocrisy of the reality. Narrative enigmas can thus be seen as guiding themes and/or discourses. Kath & Kim has a less clearly defined narrative enigma and thus counterforce. Satirizing aspirational white-bread middle Australia as masters of their destiny through the power of consumerism, Kath & Kim taps into the powerlessness of that demographic, asking whether these representatives will succeed in their aspirational wishes.13 There are no obstacles other than their own

11

12 13

Simon Palomeres, Nick Giannopoulos, and George Kapiniaris,“Writer’s Block,” series 1, episode 11, Acropolis Now, first transmitted October 18, 1989. Paul Fenech,“Small and Large Pizza,” series 4, episode 2, Pizza, first transmitted June 13, 2005. See Michael Pusey, The Experience of Middle Australia: The Dark Side of Economic Reform, for discussion on this demographic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Kath & Kim, Riley and Turner.

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ignorance or inability and, some would say, bad taste. The larger narrative question, will they achieve their goal “to be effluent,” is embodied in the characters. Like Pizza, these characters are caricatures of a certain demographic and class, and while both programs are satirical in nature, unlike Pizza, Kath & Kim asks us to laugh at the characters and not at their response to a counterforce. Not all programs sit within a clear “problematic,” and do not need to; however, I argue that the clearer the narrative enigma or theme, the greater the counterforce and its tension. Looking at long-running series, programs such as Hey Dad..! (an Australian sitcom from the 1980s–90s about a single father) and the British program My Family, the key characters are middle-aged male protagonists confused about or at odds with other characters, primarily female.14 In Hey Dad..! it is the ditzy secretary Betty and in My Family it is the wife or other family members along with incompetent colleagues. The struggle and resulting tension is at a more personal or familial level than societal, exploiting the gap in logic between the breadwinning male and the female, the premise exposing the male’s (father’s) incompetence or deficiency of understanding in the world in which they exist. More interestingly, both these programs reinforce contemporary views (at the time) of the family. In Hey Dad..! the male holds the power through his breadwinning capabilities, yet is thwarted by “straight-line” Betty, while, more than a decade later, My Family espouses a feminist line by depicting women as the intelligent capable characters and the men as ignorant buffoons, despite still being the breadwinners (Ben, is a dentist). The premise for both programs is man’s inability to understand how the world around them works, especially relations with women and children. Hence it can be argued that a program (and its theme) is related in some way to a discourse that espouses a societal and/or familial problematic played out in the situation and indeed among the characters. Trisha Dunleavy writes: “Accordingly, the point of reconciliation between the convention of narrative circularity . . . is that any development in a sitcom’s fictional situation or its characterizations must neither ‘destroy’ nor ‘even complicate’ the basic premise.”15 Thus the situation and its premise manifest a discursive struggle in relation to a social frame. 14

15

Hey Dad..! created by Gary Reilly and John Flanagan, produced by Gary Reilly Productions (Australia:  ATN7, 1987–94). My Family, created by Fred Barron, produced by Rude Boy Productions et al. (UK: BBC 2000–11). Trisha Dunleavy, “Tradition and Innovation in Situation Comedy,” in Television Drama:  Form, Agency, Innovation (Basingstoke, UK and New York: Palgrave Macmillan , 2009), 173.

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The key character’s “frame” Effie: Jim:

You are such a wog Jim. You are so up yourself. If you were me, wouldn’t you be?16

We each exist within a frame of reference that helps us make meaning of who we are, whether through family, peers, workplaces, or in our cultural and hegemonic discourses. Frames can be defined in many ways. In distinguishing how drama and comedy engage with social rules, Umberto Eco defines two kinds of frames, one being the transgression of a known frame, the other of a previously unknown frame. For Eco, dramatic and tragic texts expose the violation of a known rule that produces a tragic situation. The tragic effect (such as the killing of the father) occurs when a known frame is broken and then reasserted. By contrast, comic effect comes about because of a prohibition against “spelling out the norm.”17 If the limit of the frame is broken or transgressed, it is done by a character that we look down on. However, the law, and its limit, must be thoroughly introjected and broken in short bursts to make the transgression enjoyable (and then reinstated). This relies on knowing what has been transgressed. Eco’s concept of carnival is derived from Mikhail Bakhtin, where the notion of carnival is seen as a mental frame that involves transgression of a law of which only some may be humorous. In departing from the “hyper-Bachtinian [sic] ideology of carnival,” Eco sees comedy as a form of social control rather than social criticism. For him, carnival is an act of deceit because it pretends to take us beyond the limits of social codes and norms through acts of festive behavior, for example, by crowning the fool or letting animals “rule.” Carnival is condoned by participants, spectators, and lawmakers because the “law” is known. As such, it is a mode for controlling the population, operating under the illusion of “liberation” and freedom. In its (temporary) transgression, the participants and spectators alike enjoy its violation; the transgression of the law is in fact a reinforcement of its validity, not a repudiation of it. The limitation of Eco’s reading is that it places comedy or comic effect wholly within a context of carnival. Eco focuses on comic performance within carnival to highlight its lack of transgressivity, as opposed to comedy derived from humor, or indeed other sources. In doing so, he restricts comic performance to

16 17

Simon Palomeres et al., “Writer’s Block.” Wog is slang for someone from eastern/southern Europe. Eco, “The Frames of Comic ‘Freedom,’ ” 6.

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degradation. When we find something humorous, we experience a previously unseen “frame,” and when transgressed, we feel uneasy. Eco writes: “In comedy we laugh at the character, in humour we smile because of the contradiction between the character and the frame the character cannot comply with.”18 While Freud’s concern is with the superego looking after the ego, Eco provides a mechanism that enables a view whereby one can transgress a frame that is limiting, making the point that humor works in the interstices between narrative and discursive structures: the attempt of the hero to comply with the frame or to violate it is developed by the fabula, while the intervention of the author belongs to the discursive activity and represents a metasemiotic series of statements about the cultural background of the fabula.19

Eco’s reading suggests that the exposition of a frame that maintains and defines the “law” results in transformation; for him humor is the more noble experience, much like Freud. In triggering a response (rather than just an identification), humor thus enables the transgression of the limit of a previously unseen frame. However, Eco does not articulate the style of comedy or comic performance that operates in his perception of humor. What Eco enables is the setting up of the notions of a frame and how the transgression of a law may operate in the sitcom. What is of interest is the disjunction between the character and the frame that Eco sees occurring by means of the narrative. Each is at odds with the other and provides the potential to understand the capacity for social change. While Eco asks whether it is the character or the frame that is “wrong” (in comparison with expectations), what becomes apparent is the necessity of a relationship between the character, the narrative, and a frame. Viewing together the three programs under consideration—Acropolis Now, Kath & Kim, and Pizza—elucidates manifest shifts in the discursive frame of the Australian multicultural discourse and its hegemony. Multicultural policies and their implementation were widely debated in the 1970s in Australia; during this time many ethnic community councils and cultural centers were established for migrants primarily from Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe. In 1975, two ethnic radio stations were granted licenses,

18 19

Eco, “The Frames of Comic ‘Freedom,’ ” 8. Eco, “The Frames of Comic ‘Freedom,’ ” 8.

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one in Melbourne and one in Sydney, to accommodate the need for multilingual access to Commonwealth services. In 1978, a new broadcaster was enacted in legislation, the Special Broadcasting Services (SBS), which took over the radio licenses and in 1980, SBS TV was established, incorporating the radio stations. SBS initially programmed for non-English speaking communities, and over the years broadened its remit to being the broadcaster for multicultural diversity including indigenous Australians, commissioning programs such as Pizza and becoming the home of soccer (football). It’s most successful series was South Park.20 Additional channels include National Indigenous TV and more recently the network has partnered with VICELAND to replace SBS2 TV. The positive contribution of multiculturalism is the recognition of the diversity of Australian society. Its shortcoming is that it attempts to define specific ethnic cultures with the danger being that such definition risks stultifying the development of these cultures and their possible “integration” within the definition of multiculturalism now open for debate (having been recently replaced by the term “cultural diversity”). Such policies have also been criticized for supporting minority interests over what some would hold to be traditional (and thus mainstream) values. (SBS openly states its support for marriage equality.) And it is of some irony that the indigenous people, while a minority, are relegated with migrant communities seeking to find a “home” yet rarely seen on the mainstream channel ABCTV, an outpost for British programmes and the alienation of anglo-saxon men in urban and country communities. However, it is the existence and promotion of such policies that enable shifts in what is defined as “mainstream.” For some communities (and their offspring), it is desirable to “assimilate” with the dominant hegemony; for other communities, the discourse constitutes a threat to their cultural beliefs and values. By the 1980s, policies promoted the integration of the increasing diversity of cultures and ethnicities populating the nation, in particular from Asia, the South Pacific region, and, soon to arrive, large numbers from African nations. Produced at the height of the policy’s popularity, Acropolis Now is situated within this newly emerging multicultural Australia and, as such, attempts to negotiate the boundaries of the old and the new view of the city ethnic. In “The Trouble with Mothers,” the local council’s multicultural officer threatens to move the annual waiter’s race to the Hercules café because the Acropolis café no longer 20

South Park, created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, developed by Brian Graden, produced by Comedy Central et al. (USA: Comedy Central 1997–present).

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has an authentic atmosphere reminiscent of Greece: hanging fishing nets and old men sitting around drinking ouzo and playing games, hence the change in name of the cafe to, and title of the program, Acropolis Now.21 Kath & Kim, debuting thirteen years later, is a satirical parody of suburban-based soap operas such as Neighbours. This program is situated in the white-bread world of the aspirational middle classes who populate the outer suburbs of major Australian cities and explicitly deny the validity or existence of anything resembling multiculturalism as affirming difference. The characters are threatened by, and actively denigrate, those who look different, particularly “Asians.”22 In the episode “Roots,” Kim decries: “So many Asians, I mean where are all the Australians?”23 Later in the episode, Kim treats a local supermarket cashier with disdain because of her Asiatic features, underscoring support for a hegemony that attempts to maintain an Anglo, “white-centric” view of the world. (And recent political discourses in Europe echo the same sentiments of fear of loss of control of the center being directed at refugees.) The second storyline in this episode is about Kath’s discovery of her Aboriginal ancestry by immersing herself in the culture through a series of gags that expose her ignorance and feigned respect. While Kath reasserts ownership of her “indigenous” heritage, she is critical of Kim’s views. This episode is a good demonstration of which frames this program deems as “acceptable.” The frame of multiculturalism is rejected (by Kim at least) while the frame of indigenous culture is welcomed, or is given the appearance of being welcomed by Kath. The spectator is asked to laugh at Kim’s rejection of multiculturalism (by now an integral aspect of public policy), yet simultaneously laugh at Kath’s attempts to engage with an indigenous culture in a comical manner. By laughing at Kim, we reject her views. Are we to laugh at, or with Kath, as she ham-fistedly attempts to take ownership of her “heritage”? Furthermore, the frame of indigenous culture is not only defined by a limited view of tribal dance and dot paintings, it is also portrayed as something kept “over there,” away from the white man’s world. As these frames are determined by the discourse of inclusion, a kind of hypocritical political correctness emerges: Which frames do we deem acceptable and on what terms? 21

22 23

Simon Palomeres, Nick Giannopoulos, and George Kapiniaris, “The Trouble with Mothers,” series 1, episode 5, Acropolis Now, first transmitted August 30, 1989. People from Southeast Asia. Gina Riley and Jane Turner, “Roots,” series 4, episode 6, Kath & Kim, first transmitted September 23, 2007.

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Sue Turnbull reads the characters of Kath and Kim as powerless figures in a “suburban existence dependent on the consumption of goods which are intended to confirm status but not power.”24 In using Purdie’s theory to read Kath & Kim, Turnbull argues that rather than the rule of the discourse being repudiated, it is in fact reinforced by our laughter: to laugh at the characters of Kath and Kim, we must first know the rule that is being broken. For Turnbull, characters such as Patsy and Edna from Absolutely Fabulous are funny because “they break the rules at the same time as they take control of their joking discourse through their comic performance.” The question is whether the character becomes ridiculous through the breaking of the law or it reaffirms “the importance of the rule which should not be broken.” For Turnbull, by laughing at a character like Kim, in particular her unruly body and failed desire, we are “therefore simply reinforcing the notion that this is not how desiring bodies should appear or behave.” Thus for Turnbull, “the comedy of Kath & Kim . . . depends on a type of cultural condescension which asks us to laugh at those who apparently don’t know any better.”25 We are asked to laugh at the characters within their frame; a frame clearly not known to the characters but known to (some of) the audience. It is this line between those who are in the know, and those who are not, that appears to be at the heart of Turnbull’s unease. What we can say is that Kath & Kim explores the gap between how Australians think they are and how they really are and goes some way to explaining why some like the program (it reinforces their view of themselves) and why some do not (it shows them who they really are). Such a repositioning in perspective also helps to visualize where the spectator is being positioned in relation to the character and their frame. In doing so, Turnbull’s article raises the difficult yet interesting point of how frames are read. Pizza, regularly described as a cult comedy, positions itself outside the frame of known and very observable, dominant hegemony by overtly challenging its rules and meanings. In its exploration of an almost tribal subculture, this program laughs, often aggressively and tendentiously, at the language and practices of “inclusion.” “Small and Large Pizza,” discussed in Chapter 1, attacks not only the judiciary but also the practice and ideology that underpin the policies of “equal opportunity” (the Law)—their opinions made clear by Little Cop’s

24

25

Sue Turnbull, “‘Look at Moiye, Kimmie, Look at Moiye!’: Kath and Kim and the Australian Comedy of Taste,” Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy (113, Nov 2004), 106. Turnbull, “ ‘Look at Moiye, Kimmie, Look at Moiye!’ ” 103–5.

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airborne experience.26 This program’s audience comprises those, like Pauly, who identify with the minority that experience feelings of exclusion; by aligning itself in opposition to the dominant hegemony, Pizza situates itself outside the frame. The narrative enigma of the series is the conflict and struggle between the cultural practices of marginalized ethnic communities and the mainstream white-Anglo society, often depicted as stupid, lazy, and dishonest. While the law in Pizza finally wins, in the intervening twenty-odd minutes the audience has delighted in Pauly’s attempt to challenge and outwit those that seek to contain him. Much like Eco’s definition of carnival, the pleasure comes from Pauly’s attempts to challenge the limits of the law; likewise his transgression is shortlived. While this program may appear to transgress the limits of the discourse by exposing its failings and hypocrisy, it in fact reaffirms the dominant hegemony. In light of the satirical nature of programs such as Pizza and Kath & Kim, what appears to be a satirical attack on aspects of society is, in fact, a reaffirmation of the hegemony. In the character’s attempt to attack a discourse, they are ultimately defeated by the narrative and the diegetic reality that it delivers. Mick Eaton’s notion of the inside/outside dichotomy, where the “outside” must bear some relationship to the “inside world” (the situation), assists in realizing the tension brought to bear by a hegemonic counterforce.27 Trisha Dunleavy unpacks the inside/outside divisions in Steptoe and Son: “While its ‘outside’ is the unseen bourgeois society beyond the sagging wooden gates, the familiar, yet stifling, ‘inside’ is delineated by the junk-cluttered Steptoe home and yard,” going on to quote Neale and Krutnik, which is “only occasionally and reluctantly visited by such representatives of the bourgeoisie as the vicar and his wife, a doctor, a tax officer and Harold’s short-lived Bohemian acquaintances.”28 The tension is realized not only between the characters but also between the situation and the outside world. Further, be it an incongruity with ideology, values, social mores, behavior, family expectations, political discourse, or indeed any hegemony where actions undermine intentions, a perpetual tension exists between characters and situation. Dunleavy underscores the importance of such a dichotomy: “Albeit marginalised in sitcom narratives and rarely seen, the ‘outside’ wields significant symbolic power as an imagined presence that motivates the behavior and 26 27

28

Fenech, “Small and Large Pizza,” Pizza. Mick Eaton, “Television Situation Comedy,” in Popular Television and Film (London: British Film Institute Open University Press, 1981), 26–52. Dunleavy, “Tradition and Innovation in Situation Comedy,” 178. Steptoe & Son, created by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, written by Rob Hartill, produced by BBC (UK: BBC 1962–74).

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responses of the characters on the ‘inside.’ ” Having underscored the need for disruption, Dunleavy goes on: “Even though sitcom characters are predisposed to disagree with each other, it is to the ‘outside’ that the catalytic visitor, event, or object that causes each episode’s disruption can usually be sourced.”29 Thus the dichotomy underscores and maintains the key character’s struggle beyond the situation, enabling a reading of the sitcom as contextualized within a hegemony, either reinforcing its ideology or in overt opposition to its discourse, as we see with programs like M*A*S*H.30 Regardless of the degree or source of tension between the “inside” and “outside,” such a dichotomy must be inherent in the premise. Even though characters may sling abuse at each other, we find that it is not always a struggle for life or death or a sense of self as in the battle of the familial or social wars we have seen, rather such struggles are informed by economics or circumstances, uniting the characters in some way “against the world.” In Chapter 3 I explored what holds the group together; now I ask: What or who are they in opposition to and with what hegemonic discourse? In other words, it is necessary to define the inside/outside dichotomy in which the characters find themselves. Some characters in the sitcom are permanently at odds with a social hegemony within which they exist; at the very least their expectations are at odds with how it will deliver to them their goals. In certain programs this may be expressed by a main character’s overt conflict with the social, as we see with Pauly; as I have argued it is this tension that drives the program and indeed its comicality. Evan Smith makes a distinguishing point that the predicaments of a series might be permanent (using Gilligan’s Island as an example) yet within such restriction along with the characters’ foibles and weaknesses, storylines emerge.31 However, it is not just the case that the comic character is responding to some form of containment enabled by a discursive frame and its hegemony; I offer that it is the relationship between the main character and a frame that determines the comic style of the program. This is best illustrated by pictorial examples. I begin by looking at programs that reinforce a hegemony such as Hey Dad..!, My Family, and Everybody Loves Raymond,32 that reaffirm the image of the middleclass family where the male still wields overt/covert power over women’s lives 29 30

31

32

Dunleavy, “Tradition and Innovation in Situation Comedy,” 178. M*A*S*H, created by Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds, produced by 20th Century Fox Television (USA: CBS, 1972–83). Evan Smith, Writing Television Sitcoms (New York: Perigee Book, 1999), 27. Gilligan’s Island, created by Sherwood Schwartz, produced by Gladasya Productions et al. (USA: CBS, 1964–7). Everybody Loves Raymond, created by Philip Rosenthal, produced by Where’s Lunch et  al. (USA: CBS 1996–2005).

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yet is at odds with the social discourse within which the program exists (such as three waves of feminism), resulting in some degree of confusion. These characters signal their confusion or defeat by using surprised looks or pained expressions when they transgress or butt up to its limits. More worryingly, they do not understand the demands or views of the women and thus seek to suppress or avoid them (running from “mummy’s anger” rather than understanding it). While the main character is contained in ways she/he either objects to, or does not understand, the spectator identifies with, or at least recognizes these characters, yet is simultaneously also aware of the frame that seeks to define them. They are laughing at the character from the position of a known frame. And while not all the main characters are necessarily key characters in the programs mentioned above, they are characters whose performance is determined by their relationships to a frame. The spectator’s “gaze” goes from the frame to the character as pictured in Figure 5.1. The arrow indicates the direction of the spectator’s gaze. In this case, there is no surprise (for the spectator) when the character clashes with the frame, and in their moment of degradation the hegemonic discourse is reasserted. Reflecting its satirical approach, Pizza uses a broad style of comic performance, including physical and exaggerated expressions, along with camera techniques such as the use of extreme wide angles that give it a cartoonish feel; it aims to attack social discourses and their institutions by means of identification with the character. Pauly laughs from outside the limits as a way of exposing his exclusion. Thus, while this program attacks a discursive hegemony, it also reinforces its frame. As a satirical parody, Kath & Kim laughs at those characters that are happy to exist within and be defined by the discourse of that world. Acropolis Now also situates its characters within a frame, attempting to shift the limits imposed on its characters, through and within the discourse of multiculturalism. As mentioned, what differentiates Acropolis Now from Kath & Kim is that while the frames for each program are known to both the key character and spectator, in the first instance we are asked to laugh with the character from within their frame and,

Figure 5.1 Laughing at the key/main character. Copyright Andrew Pomphrey

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in doing so, the limit of the frame is shifted; in the second instance the audience is asked to identify with the characters while also laughing at them within their frame. As such, Kath & Kim situates the spectator outside the frame. Finally, with Pizza, we have a slightly different rendering of the relationship between character and spectator. The character laughs at the frame and, in doing so, asks the audience to join in. The spectator, in this case, is asked to identify with both the character and the site of satirical attack. These three programs can thus be classified according to whether they seek to attack a frame (and its hegemonic discourse), reinforce it, or shift its limits. In the following diagrammatic classifications (Figure 5.2), the position of the character and the spectator becomes important. The previous diagram is included as the standard from which the others deviate. The character from Acropolis Now has been supplanted by a new culture that seeks inclusion yet finds limits applied to them—The Kumars at No. 42.33 The more satirical programs on the right side situate the spectator outside the frame. The diagrams further illustrate that the relationship between character

PERFORMANCE STYLE COMEDIC

SATIRE/EXTREME

(Raymond/My Family/Hey Dad..!)

(Kath & Kim) Character defined by a frame.

FRAME RE-INFORCED

ATTACK/SHIFT/ CHANGE

(Acropolis Now/The Kumars)

(Pizza) Character outside a frame.

Figure 5.2 Characters in relation to the frame, enabling comic performance underscored by the direction of the spectator’s gaze.34 Copyright Andrew Pomphrey

33

34

The Kumars at No. 42, created by Sharat Sardana, Sanjeev Bhasker, and Richard Pinto, produced by Hat Trick Productions (UK: BBC, 2001–6). Drawings by Andrew Pomphrey.

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and frame changes in line with the style of performance moving from “comedic” to extreme performance, including farce and satire. The chart also offers how the discomfort of Kath & Kim might be realized: the spectator is required to simultaneously relate to the character and laugh at them in their frame. Moreover, all these characters never transgress their frame; they are comic as a result of contrivances delivered by the deus ex machina narrative and underscored by perceptive and humorous performances. Further, it is evident that identification with the main characters is necessary for a program to have any extended life. We need not like the character but we do need to relate to them; this then explains in part the success of Kath & Kim. This program also laughs at the upper middle-class (or upper class) through the characters of retail assistants Prue and Trud, who work in an upmarket home-wares shop, where the site of attack again comes from outside the frame, satirizing those we recognize yet may not identify with; denying we are like them requires a positioning of the spectator by way of both identification and distancing. Whether the characters and their struggle arise from outside a discursive frame, as in Pizza, from within it, as in Kath & Kim, or attempt to shift its boundaries, as in Acropolis Now, what is apparent is that the character is at odds in some way with a social frame and resulting tension arising from the inside/ outside dichotomy. Thus both the character’s and spectator’s relationship to the frame—and how it comes to be transgressed—must be addressed when developing a program. And while Kath & Kim exists within a frame that they attempt to master, it plays with frames (such as multiculturalism) that they actively deny or denigrate; thus the “mobility” of the frame depends on the relationship of the spectator to the character and the hegemony that the series upholds or indeed attacks. Returning to Patricia Mellencamp’s analysis of Lucy,35 discussed in Chapter 1, by articulating the containment that defined and limited women, Mellencamp makes possible a reading of Lucy as the character existing within, and contained by, a social and cultural frame that is unknown to that character.36 However, Mellencamp uses the notion of Lucy’s ignorance of her containment as the basis for demonstrating the duality of comic performance and humorous pleasure. Her 35

36

Patricia Mellencamp, “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy,” in Critiquing the Sitcom: A Reader, ed. Joanne Morreale (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2003), 41–55. I Love Lucy, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf, produced by Desilu Productions (USA: CBS, 1951–61).

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reading of humorous pleasure is more closely aligned with the spectator’s dissociation from the character at the moment of the character’s degradation, rather than with the spectator’s relation to a discursive frame; in Lucy’s attempts to transgress the limit imposed by the discourse of the time, the spectator, especially women, experiences what Mellencamp describes as not only humorous pleasure but also a “complexity of shifting identifications amidst gendered, historical audiences.”37 Part of the success of Lucy results from the series’ capacity to straddle both forms of pleasure: the character attempts to satisfy her (ego) want (to have a life outside the home), yet is thwarted by a discourse completely unknown to her (rather than simply being at odds with her conception of the world). Lucy remains unaware of the situation because her narcissism both blinds her and enables her to deny the reality of her capacities; her echoism and the fear that it engenders traps her in the situation that attempts to contain and exploit women for the benefit of others, especially men. And though Lucy’s entrapment is reinforced by the relational other (Ricky), the primary source of her struggle is the Other by means of the contemporary social discourse. Lucy’s comicality served to obfuscate the real message of the program that women outside the home were seen as buffoons. Not only is the character unconscious of the world within which they exist, but the spectator also is unconscious of the discursive frames that governs them, raising the question about the degree to which the contemporary audience of Lucy was aware of their containment and reassignment of roles to the “benefit” of society. However, this program’s popularity underscores some unconscious relationship to the situation and, as such, Lucy’s performance moves from comedic to a more physical style of performance as she attempts to transgress an unknown frame. This program would sit in a new category, the unknown frame, and the style of performance would be a combination of both.

COMEDIC

EXTREME

FRAME UNKNOWN/ UNSEEN

Figure 5.3 Lucy attempts to escape the unknown frame. Copyright Andrew Pomphrey

37

Mellencamp, “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud,” 54.

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The limit, depicted by the dotted line, indicates the unknowable frame, while the solid-line arrow depicts the conscious attempt to transgress the frame. At that point, the character suffers degradation, while the spectator is released from the flying shrapnel of humiliation and pain. While Mellencamp demonstrates that the cleverness of Lucy enables both comic performance and humorous pleasure to be experienced, here we have a pictorial representation of how that might come about. Furthermore, and picking up the process of humor as a means of defending the ego, could we not say that the humorous pleasure engendered by Lucy not only releases one from the pain of degradation, by helping one to see life as a game (thus denying the reality), it also denies the impact on one’s own ego from the degradation of the character. It is the denial of reality that enables the character (and viewer) to return each week. How the spectator shifts from, or is enabled to shift from, a shared narcissism to a detached enjoyment is still not clear but what is evident is that the key character’s struggle must resonate with the audience. While such frames are not always clearly observable, they are still felt—and, as such, can be exposed. As per Eco, a clash with an unknown (and covert) frame produces a feeling of unease, rather than humorous pleasure (and the attendant superiority of the superego looking after the ego), as per Freud. Hence some frames can be covert within a hegemonic discourse. In Chapter 3, I ascertained that the desire for the other lures the subject to the gaze and in the unknowing of their desire, the fear of rejection/abandonment maintains the subject in the enmeshment. It is the intention of the other to limit the subject for its own needs that is narcissistic, and of which the subject is unaware, in turn objectifying them. And while I offer that an unconscious echoism (of the subject) enables the entrapment, Lucy demonstrates that the entrapment is narcissistic in nature (in that it seeks to exploit the subject, now object), engendering the unconscious echoism, and in turn precipitating a struggle for power. Blinded by narcissistic desire, the key character is trapped in the gaze of the other that now instantiates or re-ignites a dormant echoism and its possible exposing nature in the degradation—the character is stripped of their ego. Turning to Fawlty Towers,38 Basil’s actions are driven by extreme behavior rather than by responding to extreme situations as we see in Lucy (often as a result of her doing). With Lucy, we experience humorous pleasure and some unease in the release at the moment of the character’s degradation, but with 38

Fawlty Towers, created and written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, produced by BBC (UK: BBC, 1975, 1979).

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Basil there is a pained humiliation for both character and spectator—our pain is never released. Fawlty Towers is situated in the discourse of the postwar selfmade man (shopkeeper mentality of the British) struggling to be accepted by the upper class, yet under threat of the impending march of five-star salmon-colored hotel boom of the 1980s (and owned by the very establishment by whom Basil seeks to be accepted). However, while Fawlty Towers was produced in 1975 and 1976 before the hotel boom, it is not only the personal class struggle that drives the series but the larger discursive struggle set in the familial realm that has made it timeless. What differentiates Fawlty Towers from Lucy is that Basil has a secondary frame governed by Sybil’s disempowering gaze (Ricky thwarts Lucy while the discourse disempowers her). Basil is trapped in multiple frames, only “transgressing” the unknown frame (and its intentions), never achieving his goal or even transgressing its limit. His entrapment and struggle can be depicted as:

Figure 5.4 Basil’s dual “frames.” Copyright Andrew Pomphrey

The spectator identifies with Basil’s motivation and therefore the solid-line arrow moves from him to his Symbolic Ego-Ideal illustrated by the solid square outline. The gaze of Sybil is more covert, and is depicted by the dotted arrow. Sybil manipulates Basil by triggering his fear of not achieving on his own efforts and, as such, traps him; his want or goal diverts him from seeing the impact of to Sybil’s actions and intentionality. It is the dotted arrow that keeps Basil tied to Sybil like an umbilical cord; when this frame is transgressed, Basil’s anxious humiliation is almost too much to bear. The want is known to Sybil but the nature (and intentionality) of the enmeshment is unknown to Basil inducing a neurotic and ephemeral anxiety (again represented by the dotted line); this character is not only prevented from achieving his Ego-Ideal by an active force, his blindness prevents him breaking free from the cobweb that engulfs his psyche, giving us another way of locating the key character: to ask who is in a bind—why and how. The last two diagrams begin to complicate the notion of the character and their relationship to a frame that maintains a perpetual struggle, whether single or multiple, further complicated by the positioning of the spectator. Returning to our own “re-situation,” the frame of Seinfeld would have the character of George,

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positioned inside a solid-line frame with the arrow pointing away from him and across it, depicting not only his attempt to escape the stultifying demands of social mores (as seen by him at least), in “crossing the frame” he also suffers degradation.39 As with Lucy, George’s humiliation is often a result of his own doing. The spectator identifies with the character yet is also aware of the hegemony and its discursive frame with which George head butts. It is the transgression of the frame that is limiting (whether known or not) and which appears to enable humorous pleasure; when not transgressed, in particular if covert, it is anxiety-inducing. While their inveiglement is principally relational, the key character’s longterm and ongoing comicality is enabled by their alienation with social discourses, delivered through the narrative. Thus it is imperative to understand the nature of the alienation and the discourse within which the key character exists. It is the tension between the main, or key character, and a discursive frame, whether known or unknown, attacked or reinforced, and which primarily attempts to subvert or define them, that gives rise to comic performance. The struggle is born of the character’s exclusion by cultural or economic circumstance or simply their confusion as to social expectations and attitudes. However, such tension is maintained by the character’s relationships and the situation (be it the home, pizza shop, café, or shopping mall). Furthermore, if the social hegemony of the time precipitates narcissistic desire and associated personality traits (as well as echoistic traits), then the sitcom has the potential to be both an advocate for, as well as to challenge, discourses that are limiting. By determining the existence and nature of the disempowering gaze, we may better locate sites of (comic) struggle.

39

Seinfeld, Seinfeld and David.

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Sitcom: A (Comic) Site of Struggle

When we watch sitcoms, we are watching ourselves, and when we deconstruct them, we become aware of how we are constructed.1 This book has offered a new way of reading the television sitcom by examining two commonly cited aspects: the character’s perpetual entrapment and the closed narrative structure whereby the plot returns to the emotional stasis. Utilizing psychoanalytic theory to understand the psychology of the “character,” this book explains why some characters remain trapped in situations that are clearly disempowering or which repeatedly render them powerless. By analyzing the psychical construct of the mythological figures of Narcissus and Echo, it has been determined that in the sitcom there exists in a character what some psychoanalysts would call a personality disorder; in an attempt to theorize the disorder, we can read the character/s as alienated or divided subjects arrested in maturational development. However, there is at least one character in each sitcom that struggles to actualize, yet is prevented by their actions, those around them, or the hegemonic discourse within which the “situation” exists. This is the key character. This character’s phantasy or idealization is at odds with either the situation or the relationships that entangle them, resulting in both comic tension and degradation. Unaware of what prevents them achieving their ego-ideal/ Ego-Ideal, the key character is compelled to repeat or forget, yet never sufficiently work through their problems, making them the comic engine of a series. In order to maintain the “struggle,” the key character must exist in dyadic relationships that render them powerless or disempower them. While it is not necessary to know the determinants of the character’s psychopathology I have argued the need to recognize that some characters are caught in a struggle that

1

Joanne Morreale, “Introduction,” in Critiquing the Sitcom:  A Reader, ed. Joanne Morreale (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2003), xix.

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may have its genesis in early experiences centered on power, resulting in some degree of arrestment. It has been further determined that there exists a triumvirate of narcissist, key character, and echoist, with the narcissist and the echo characters mirroring behavior that the key character actively denies or represses. At the very least, there is one character with power and may or may not know it and one who does not know they have no power—if they do, they deny it or seek it through the key character—this is the echo comic character. Thus the nature of the relationship between the main characters is based on a struggle for power, maintained by conscious and unconscious fears that may include abandonment, loss of love, rejection, commitment, or unprocessed desires that, when triggered, disrupt their sense of self. Furthermore, in their idealization, the key character is trapped in relationships that reinforce or challenge the hegemonic discourse yet they never submit to it; the refusal to submit enables repeatability. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that comic performance is enabled through the tension experienced by a comic character’s relationship to a social frame arising from exclusion or limitations, be they cultural or economic. It is the key or, in some cases, the main, character’s struggle with a frame, variously determined by its limits (outside it, within it, and attempting to shift its boundaries, or denial of knowledge of its existence altogether) that facilitates the style of performance. Furthermore, the comic character is determined by their relationship to a hegemonic discourse while the key character is trapped in familial relationships underscored by the social discourse at odds with how they see the world and themselves. As such, I argue that the key character’s echoism keeps them tethered and makes them comic while their narcissism denies the reality of the (familial) situation and enables the degradation. Jokes and gags are enlisted as forms of defense against that which threatens the character’s idealization. Finally, the narrative with its catalyst and resulting disturbance increases the psychical tension of the key character compelling them to deny any reality that does not accord with their view of the world; in doing so the plot is forced to return to the re-situation. As such the emotional stasis is maintained by the ego arrestment arising from the tension that has been generated. If sitcoms reflect who we are, then this book has shown they can also be read as a reflection of our own psychological struggle to actualize or escape situations that repeatedly disempower us. In locating characters that struggle to maintain or gain an identity, we can now ponder whether the sitcom can assist in the exposition of discursive frames that are disempowering, opening the way to reading this form of comedy as progressive, even subversive. In memory of my parents Olga and Karel Klika, from whom I learnt to laugh at life.

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Appendix—Theory in Practice Putting it on the page Here I outline some ways of reading the sitcom in light of the framework that has been proposed. The first section brings together all the questions raised while the second section, (Re) reading the Sitcom, has a series of questions from workshops I have given, for group work or individual participation. I make recommendations on which chapters to review or authors to consult. Following on, (Re)developing the Sitcom outlines a series of steps that may assist the writer in developing/revising a series proposal. These are drawn from the framework and craft texts, such as Evan Smith, Tim Ferguson, consultations with Ellen Sandler, and my own writing. As there is some inconsistency in the use of terms, particularly between feature film, short film, and drama series, for this purpose I define the following:

Premise: defines what sets the show up. (How did the characters come to be here). Tagline: a few words that give a taste of what the show is really about. (May be the same as the premise such as “A comedy for anyone who has to work with their ex”). Logline: Who and what the show is about. What is the “situation”? Proposal/Pitch: 2–3 pages outlining characters, setup and future episodes. For an episode: Synopsis: short description of what happens in the episode. Beat sheet: list of beats that move the story forward. Outline: story of the episode in prose (short treatment). Long outline: story broken down into scenes with no dialogue.

A.1 To (re)cap: Questions from the chapters In defining the key character, who struggles to maintain/gain an idealization and is unable to? Who or what (actively and, in some cases, accidentally) thwarts the key character’s attempts to achieve their ego-ideal/Ego-Ideal? In their failure to achieve their goals and desires, it is useful to know what relationships disempower the key character. By whom does the key character seek to be accepted (and is either not forthcoming or they refuse to give that acceptance)? Why? Who has the power within the relationship? Why? Who does not?

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What is the key character’s (indeed all the characters’) relationship to power? How does each character seek power? What is the intent? And is it conscious? What is the nature of the key character’s fear and how is that then expressed when triggered? Who has a straight line view of the world? Who reflects back to the key character behavior that they deny in themselves? How? Who manifests the key character’s fear? What are those fears? Who is disempowered? Why? Articulate the source of their disempowerment. What does the echo character desire? And how does that translate into an objective goal? What does the key character deny about themselves and the world around them? Connecting the character to the narrative, ask : What, and how, does the key character deny the diegetic reality delivered each week through the narrative? For each character, ask: What do they want? What do they need? What is their strength? What is their weakness? What do they fear? What or who do they love? How does the character see the world? How does the world see them? How do the characters see each other in terms of what they can get from the other? What are the key character’s big and little fears, what skill/skills are they good at that they could teach an eight-year-old? In a group or buddy sitcom, what holds them together? And what or who are they in opposition to? Is there an inside/outside dichotomy? How is that manifested?

A.2 (Re)reading the sitcom In pairs or alone pick a program that you know well.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Why do you like it? What is its relationship to you? (Introduction, David Marc, Brett Mills). Determine the key character—whose struggle is it? What is their goal? (Chapter 1). What do they wish to be or what image/status do they seek to maintain? Determine the triumvirate: key character/s, their echo/es, and the puppet master. What is the nature of the power struggle? (Chapter 2). How are the characters related to the key character? For example, Lucy’s neighbor, Lucy’s cousin, Lucy’s mother, and so on. (Chapter 2, Chapter 3). Where is the show set? When is it set? What does that tell us? Could it be set in another time or place?

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Appendix 7. 8.

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What is the logline/premise of the show? What is the tag line? (Evan Smith). What is the show about? What is it really about? (What is the theme?).

For more detailed discussion or academic analysis: ●









● ●







1

Ellen Sandler’s proposition is that the TV series “family” has a central character and an oppositional character who oppose the central character; in the sitcom family there exist at least two characters who surround the key (central) character and who oppose, thwart, or simply foil the key character’s attempt to achieve an idealization. Discuss. Candida Yates notes, “Comedy addresses questions of morality, and drama may invite empathy . . . enabling the viewer to ‘work through’ the various emotional dilemmas of contemporary experience.”1 Discuss. Discuss the nature of comic performance in relation to the “frame” of two programs (Chapter 5). Discuss Susan Purdie’s thesis on the comic. (Introduction, Chapter 1). How does this book depart from that thesis? (Chapter 2). Choose two programs and discuss their relationship to hegemony and its discourse? (Chapter 5, Brett Mills, and BFI dossier, in particular the essay by Giles Oakley). Do they reaffirm the hegemony or challenge its discourse? Who first used the term “re-situation”? What is meant by it? (Introduction). How does the re-situation affect whether the main character has a dilemma or struggle? In other words, are they a central character or a key character? With reference to Bainbridge et al. can television and the sitcom in particular be a form of therapeutic “working through”? Discuss the following with reference to two programs chosen from two different decades. (See David Marc, Joanne Morreale, and Brett Mills.) What does the program tell us about the times, the attitudes, and about ourselves? Pick an episode and break down the story into beats (Chapter 4) and note at least three of the following: ● Inciting incident/catalyst—what starts the story for that episode and how it is resolved. ● How is the tension enabled? ● What are the turning points in the plot? How does the key character respond? ● What is the moment of comic degradation for the key character? ● Does the episode reflect the struggle of the key character? How? Candida Yates, “Psychoanalysis and Television:  Notes towards a Psycho-Cultural Approach,” in Television and Psychoanalysis:  Psycho- Cultural Perspectives, ed. Caroline Bainbridge et  al. (London: Karnac Books, 2014), 9.

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Choose an episode of a show and draw the narrative shape, defining the turning points. (Chapter 4). Discuss the nature of “echo” comic characters (Chapters 2 and 3). Give some examples. What makes them funny?

Some further essay questions: ●

● ●















2

3 4

In his text Comic Visions, David Marc argues that sitcoms are a reflection of the times in which they are spawned. Give an example and discuss. Explain the relationship between comic theories and the sitcom. Lisa Trahair notes that “The comic is nothing other than the operations of primary process that have managed to force their way through to consciousness . . . . The pleasure principle is still operative in the secondary process, but it has been modified”2 Discuss a comic character that utilizes secondary process to achieve their wishes. (Chapters 1 and 2). What are the three Lacanian registers of identity formation? How do they relate to the ego structure of the comic? (See Susan Purdie and Chapter 1). Can they be applied to comic characters in the sitcom? Give examples. Analyze one sitcom character and discuss their actions and behavior in terms of their projective idealizations, that is, onto whom do they project an ideal image? Lisa Trahair writes that when psychoanalytic theories have been applied to analyze the narrative, it is traditionally using the Oedipus complex and the fort/da game; the narrative is seen as “An economy of repetition and variation, symmetry and asymmetry, installing a trajectory that moves from lack to mastery.”3 Discuss. (Chapter 4). Define the “comic frame” within which a key character exists. Does it influence comic performance? If so how? (Chapter 5). Give examples of programs that reflect or explore a theme through the characters and their relationships. Further, how does the setting or the “situation” reflect the theme? (Chapter 2). With reference to the Introduction along with Chapters 4 and 5, what is meant by inside/outside dichotomy?4 Discuss with reference to two programs. The sitcom can be read through various theories (feminist, psychoanalytic, multicultural, or Foucault). Utilizing one theory, discuss how such readings enhance an understanding of this form of comedy. Lisa Trahair, The Comedy of Philosophy:  Sense and Nonsense in Early Cinematic Slapstick (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), 176–7. Trahair, The Comedy of Philosophy, 37–40. Mick Eaton, “Television Situation Comedy,” in Popular Television and Film (London: British Film Institute Open University Press, 1981: 26–52).

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Taking a sitcom, analyze whose struggle it is, and why? How is that struggle manifested by way of the character’s relationships and/or the social? Does the sitcom have the potential to be both an advocate for, as well as to challenge, discourses that are limiting? If so, how? With reference to Seymour Chatman (Chapter 4) define kernels and satellites and how they affect the logic of the narrative. What is the relationship between the narrative structure and the key character’s “entrapment”? (Chapter 4). What does Jeremy Butler mean by narrative enigma? Discuss in relationship to two programs. (Chapter 5). “There needs to be some incongruity between characters and the diegetic world.” (Chapter 5). Discuss.

A.3 (Re)developing the sitcom For undergraduates, I recommend they work in groups of five or at least three; each member may come up with 1–3 characters and a setting. The group then brainstorms which are the most appealing characters and why, then decide on the central/key character and what is their dilemma/struggle. If shooting a ten-minute pilot, focus should be on developing one storyline with no more than four characters. Define characters, setting, the struggle, the fears, and how they are personified. Keep it simple. For more detailed development here are some questions to ponder: ●

● ●

Is it a sitcom or comedy series? If it is a series then the central character has a dilemma rather than a struggle. If it is a sitcom there is a key character with a power struggle in the relationships that surround them, underscored by the situation. How many episodes are there in the first season? Who is the key/central character? And more specifically, although not all these questions will apply: ● How does this character relate to you? ● What is their struggle/dilemma? ● What do they fear? ● What does the key character seek to achieve? ● Who do they seek to be seen by? ● Who are they surrounded by and how are they related to the key/central character? ● Who do they fear or who are they persecuted by? ● Who obstructs their goal?

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What relationships disempower them? Who do they persecute? ● Does that character personify a fear in the key character? What is it? Define the core triumvirate/pair? List the main characters (2–6). List how each character sees each other? What is each character’s fear—one big and one little? Do some exercises that give you an idea of where the characters come from, what their needs and wants are, their peculiarities, where were they just before this, their family background, what is on the bedside table, and so on. See Linda Seger, Ellen Sandler. Define what the show is about? What is it really about? Confirm the title. Does the title reflect the theme/situation or name the key character? What is the world? (Place, rules). What is the inside/outside dichotomy? ● How is that manifested? Through character? Setting? What are the sets? ● ●

● ● ● ●



● ●



Brainstorm some story ideas, at least ten, beginning with the key character wanting something. Think outside the box. What happens if . . . (a meteor crashes to earth, the lights go out, they get lost in a car park—you get the gist). Prepare a draft proposal (2–3 pages). Return to it once the pilot script is finished:

Logline (25 words). Setting (the world) and setup (how the world came about) (100 words). Description of key character/central character/s (50 words). Description of 3–5 main characters (up to 50 words each) and their relationship to the key/main character (boss, colleague who undermines, sister, cousin, parent). Description of supporting characters (up to 20 words each). Demographics and time slot. Number of episodes. Synopsis of pilot episode (when you have it). List of sets/locations. Follow with at least six other story ideas for the series. Choose one that will be your pilot. Or you may have chosen the pilot before you have done the proposal. There is no right or wrong. Write the pilot as a short summary then as a longer treatment. As humans, we understand story instinctively so write it from the heart. Some craft texts advise to do the beat sheet first to avoid getting caught up in “telling the story.” The beat sheet is the spine of the story and is essential in order to “break the story” (see Ellen Sandler and Evan Smith). This is the hardest part. Get the story right

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with the rise of tension through twists and turns. Regardless of whether you do the short outline first, once you complete the beat sheet, sit on it for at least a week. Once you are happy, write out the story, first the short outline if you haven’t done it and then the long outline with scene headings and slog lines but no dialogue. Once you are happy with the long outline (don’t be afraid to cut scenes that don’t maintain the emotional through line). Move onto the pilot episode using industry standard software (final draft). Get the first draft out. (I start at the beginning each day and work on one scene—gives the unconscious writer time to edit the previous day’s work. So a script with nine scenes will take nine days to get out the first draft.) Do not worry about the jokes at this stage. As they say, writing is about rewriting. Get the story and logic right to the best of your ability then find a good joke writer and invite them to a table reading. (I have a great ex-student that I pay to punch up the script and tell me what can go and what must stay.) Let the jokes come from the characters and their situation. If the triumvirate is right, the conflict will drive the jokes. Ask yourself one final question: Is the key character being echoed? And does that character personify a fear that the key character harbors? I contend, as you may have guessed, that it is the “echoing” alongside the incongruity (between the characters—how at least one sees the world and the inside/outside frame), which is the source of repeatable comedy in the sitcom. Let me know what has worked and what didn’t and what you discovered. Good luck and keep writing! God knows, we all need a good laugh.

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Glossary Beats Terminology used in screenwriting to define an action followed by a reaction. Comic Man (new term, see Tragic Man, Guilty Man) The attempt to restore the “fractured self ” through relationships, or by way of achievement, and failing. Complex A core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions, and desires residing in the unconscious. It may originate out of the desire or need for power and status or by way of response to a relational dynamic, as in the oedipal complex. Counterforce A narrative means by which to delay the protagonist’s attachment to a goal or satisfaction of a desire, as well as create opposition for the protagonist/s. Diegetic world/diegesis The world of the story or situation. Discourse A set of ideas used communicate certain values and beliefs. Dyadic Binary relations. Echo/Echoism (new term) The mythic character who echoes Narcissus’s declaration of love in the originating myth from which Freud theorized Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In reversing the analysis, it is offered that there may be a complex that is dyadic in nature enabling the self-love of the other. Ego A unified sense of self or identity that is mediated between the conscious and the unconscious; responsible for reality testing. Ego-Ideal/ideal ego/ego-ideal Lacanian identity forming structures.Ego-Ideal is formed through the discourse of the Other as well as being determined by relationships within the social (society and its discourses); ideal ego is how the subject sees themselves, whereas ego-ideal is a negotiated identity between self and Other/other—“how I wish to be seen in light of how the Other sees me.” Extrovert A personality trait whereby a person gets energy by being with other people. Works best and achieves by being part of a group. Fabula The components of a story/narrative. Fort/da (game) Freud’s observations of the actions of a young child who repeatedly throws a cotton reel tied to a string, in response to, and during, the absence of his mother. Translates as “gone/there.” Gaze The process of “looking” and by which affects are generated, such as desire, melancholia, hysteria, and shame. In this case it is the affect of the gaze resulting in some psychical entrapment of the character/s. Guilty Man Term used by Heinz Kohut as defining one of two poles that “structure the self ” (the other being Tragic Man). Arising from the enmeshment with the mother, it is the harbinger of narcissistic personality disorders.

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Hegemony Beliefs, perceptions, and values of a culture, commonly the dominant culture. Id Forces of the libido, often unconscious and instilling repetitive behavior when repressed. Imaginary The first of Lacan’s three psychical registers—the mirror phase—the beginning of a sense of self that is separate to the Other (often the mother), and on recognition becomes the other. Introvert Personality trait whereby one gains energy being alone; works best on their own and achieves by their own efforts. Inveiglement Enticement that traps. Kernels Plot points/narrative moments that change the direction of a story or change the character. Defined in this case as the moment when a choice is offered. Narcissism A necessary aspect of psychical development, often used negatively and as a short hand term for Narcissistic Personality Disorder; traps the ego in behavior that prevents actualization. In its positive sense it enables a healthy sense of self love and achievement of goals through innate abilities and effort. Narcissistic Personality Disorder A disorder arising out of a need to maintain an identity on which the false self has been constructed. Negative/Shadow Narcissism (Used in this book as a means of delineating types of behavior and goals of different character types). Negative narcissism and negative echoism is when a personality becomes disordered through the attachment to a false sense of self. The term is defined in comparison with positive narcissism and echoism that enables actualization. In an attempt to differentiate between behavior born of a false self and must be maintained at all costs, even to others, and behavior that attempts to simply survive or maintain some degree of ego cohesion, shadow behavior of the positive is benign whereas shadow behavior of the negative is malignant. Negative Narcissism/Echoism Negative narcissism/echoism results in shadow behavior that is malignant and seeks power from an other rather than only be self destructive. objet petit a Psychoanalytic term whereby the subject, in order to constitute itself, has separated part of itself off and serves as a symbol of lack. In this sense it is the projection of behavior onto a lackey that the key character denies in themselves. Object/Subject Psychoanalytic term to distinguish between subjectivity and identified agency (the person is a Subject) as opposed to a person seen as a means to an end (Object) by the other/Other. Oedipus complex A complex resulting from repressed and unresolved conflicts or traumas experienced in early relationships, commonly a son’s (enmeshed) relationship with his mother. This book extends the common usage of the term to include affects of experiences of power in early relationships.

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Oral sadistic comic The comic that takes in and acts through the mouth often with language. Other/other How the child sees the parent/s first as the “Big Other,” and later as the “little other” as the child begins to engage with the world. Phantasy A “lens” through which we engage with the world and that shapes behavior, both conscious and unconscious; as opposed to fantasy, which is a conscious narrative with the subject as the central character. It is argued that phantasy is born of power struggles, whereas fantasy is born of wish-fulfillment and longing. Phantasies are determined by conflicts that are largely unconscious and influence choices and behavior that seek to nullify unresolved conflicts, often by way of the use of power. Pleasure Principle and Reality Principle The pleasure principle is governed by primary processes such as immediate wish-fulfillment. The reality principle governs the secondary processes, modifying the primary processes and their instincts through thinking and the connection of ideas. Romantic Man (new term, see Tragic Man and Guilty Man) The successful “healing” of the fractured self by way of attachment to a love-object. Satellites Minor plot points that serve to reveal the consequences of the choices made at the kernels. Superego Freudian term to depict the formation of the ego as seen through a moral or external lens. Determines behavior that is acceptable to the Other and the Symbolic (society). Suzjet Plot—the result of narrative/story (fabula) on character. Symbolic The second of Lacan’s register whereby the child enters the social by way of fear of castration and through mastery of language. The third register, the Real, is located beyond the Symbolic, the site of anxiety and trauma. Tragic Man Term used by Heinz Kohut as defining the second pole of the “structure of the self.” It is the result of failure to actualize after the resolution of narcissistic enmeshment and brings with it an empty depression—a feeling of having not lived the arc of one’s life.

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192

Programography Increasingly recognition is now given to series creators, the showrunners, and so I have listed the creator and/or writer of programs. Only series are listed here, along with production companies (the risk-taking “middle man”), broadcaster (as the “publisher”) and year of broadcast. Channels within broadcasters (e.g. BBC2, ABC1, CBS2) are not specified. Individual episodes, where quoted, along with their writer are footnoted in the main text and listed in the bibliography. Absolutely Fabulous. Created by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French (original sketch). Produced by French and Saunders Productions and BBC. UK: BBC, 1992–6, 2001–4, Specials 2011–12. Acropolis Now. Created by and written by Simon Palomeres, Nick Giannopoulos, and George Kapiniaris. Produced by Seven Network and Crawford Productions. Australia: ATN 7, 1989–92. The Addams Family. Created by David Levy. Produced by Filmways. USA: ABC, 1964–6. All in the Family. Created and developed by Norman Lear. Produced by Bud Yorkin Productions and Norman Lear/Tandem Productions.USA: CBS, 1971–9. Are You Being Served? Created by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1972–85. Bewitched. Created by Sol Saks. Produced by Screen Gems Television and Ashmont Productions. USA: ABC, 1964–72. The Big Bang Theory. Created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. Produced by Chuck Lorre Productions and Warner Bros Television. USA: CBS, 2007–present. Birds of a Feather. Created and written by Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks. Produced by Alomo Productions, Retort Productions/Quirkymedia Stuff. UK: BBC, 1989–98; ITV, 2014–present. Black Books. Created by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan. Written by Arthur Mathews, Kevin Cecil, and Andy Riley. Produced by Assembly Film and Television and Big Talk Productions. UK: Channel 4, 2000–4. Breaking Bad. Created by Vince Gilligan. Produced by High Bridge Entertainment, Gran Via Productions, Sony Pictures Television. USA: aMC, 2008–13. British Sitcom: 60 Years of Laughing at Ourselves. Produced by Breid McLoone. Produced for BBC Scotland. UK: BBC, transmitted September 12, 2016. The Burns and Allen Show. Created by George Burns and Gracie Allen. Produced by Columbia Broadcasting System, McCadden Productions. USA: CBS, 1950–58. Butterflies. Created and written by Carla Lane. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1978–83.

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Programography

193

Cheers. Created by James Burrows, Glen Charles and Les Charles. Produced by Charles/ Burrows/Charles Productions and Paramount Network Television. USA: NBC, 1982–93. Community. Created and written by Dan Harmon. Produced by Krasnoff Foster Productions, Harmonius, Claptrap, Russo Brothers, and Universal Media Studios in association with Sony Pictures Television. USA: NBC, 2009–14; Yahoo Screen! 2015. Dad’s Army. Created and written by Jimmy Perry. Written by David Croft. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1968–77. Dharma & Greg. Created by Dottie Dartland and Chuck Lorre. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television, 4 to 6 Productions, Chuck Lorre Productions, and MoreMedavoy Productions. USA: ABC, 1997–2002. Everybody Loves Raymond. Created by Philip Rosenthal. Produced by Where’s Lunch, Worldwide Pants, HBO Independent Productions, and Talk Productions. USA: CBS, 1996–2005. Father Ted. Created and written by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan. Produced by Channel 4 Television and Hat Trick Productions. UK: Channel 4, 1995–8. Fawlty Towers. Created and written by John Cleese and Connie Booth. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1975, 1979. Frasier. Created by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee. Produced by Grubstreet Productions in association with Grammnet Productions and Paramount Television. USA: NBC, 1993–2004. Friends. Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman. Produced by Bright/Kaufman/ Crane Productions, and Warner Bros. Television. USA: NBC, 1994–2004. Gavin & Stacey. Created and written by James Corden and Ruth Jones. Produced by Baby Cow Productions. UK: BBC, 2007–10. George & Mildred. Created and written by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer. Produced by Thames Television. UK: ITV, 1976–9. Get Smart. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Produced by Talent Associates. USA: NBC, 1965–9; CBS, 1969–70. The Ghost & Mrs Muir. Developed by Jean Holloway. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television. USA: NBC, 1968–9; ABC, 1969–70. Gilligan’s Island. Created by Sherwood Schwartz. Produced by Gladysya Productions, United Artists Television and CBS. USA: CBS, 1964–7. The Golden Girls. Created by Susan Harris and Warren Littlefield. Produced by Witt/ Thomas/Harris Productions and Touchstone Television. USA: NBC, 1985–92. The Good Life. Created by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1975–8. Goodnight Sweetheart. Created by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran. Developed by Alomo Productions. Produced by Alomo Productions, BBC, and SelecTV. UK: BBC, 1993–9, special edition 2016. Hancock’s Half Hour. Written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1956–60.

194

194

Programography

Hey Dad . . .! Created by Gary Reilly and John Flanagan. Produced by Gary Reilly Productions. Australia: ATN7, 1987–94. Hi-de-Hi! Created and written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1980–8. Hogan’s Heroes. Created by Bernard Fein and Albert S. Ruddy. Produced by Bing Crosby Productions, Alfran Productions, and Bob Crane Enterprises. USA: CBS, 1965–71. How I Met Your Mother. Created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Bays Thomas Productions. USA: CBS, 2005–14. I Dream of Jeannie. Created by Sidney Sheldon. Produced by Sidney Sheldon Productions. USA: NBC, 1965–70. I Love Lucy. Written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf. Produced by Desilu Productions. USA: CBS, 1951–61. The IT Crowd. Created and written by Graham Linehan. Produced by Talkback Thames and Channel 4 Television. UK: Channel 4, 2006–13. Julia. Created by Hal Kanter. Produced by Hanncarr Productions and Savannah Productions. USA: NBC, 1968–71. Kath & Kim. Created and written by Gina Riley and Jane Turner. Produced by ABCTV and Riley Turner Productions. Australia: ABC, 2002–4; ATN7, 2007. Kingswood Country. Created by Gary Reilly and Tony Sattler. Produced by 7 Network, RS Productions. Australia: ATN7, 1980–4. The Kumars at No. 42. Created by Sharat Sardana, Sanjeev Bhasker, and Richard Pinto. Produced by Hat Trick Productions. UK: BBC, 2001–6. The Last of the Summer Wine. Created and written by Roy Clarke. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1973–2010. Laverne & Shirley. Created by Garry Marshall, Lowell Ganz, and Mark Rothman. Produced by Miller-Milkis Productions and Henderson Productions in association with Paramount Television. USA: ABC, 1976–83. The Librarians. Created and written by Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler. Produced by ABC and Gristmill. Australia: ABC, 2007, 2009, 2010. The Liver Birds. Created by Carla Lane and Myra Taylor. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1969–79, revival 1996. Mad About You. Created by Paul Reiser and Danny Jacobson. Produced by In Front Productions, Nuance Productions, and TriStar Television. USA: NBC, 1992–9. Malcolm in the Middle. Created by Linwood Boomer. Developed by Linwood Boomer, Michael Glouberman, Andy Bobrow, and Gary Murphy. Produced by Satin City Productions, Regency Television, and 20th Century Fox Television. USA: Fox, 2000–6. Married . . . with Children. Created by Michael G. Moye and Ron Levitt. Produced by Embassy Television, ELP Television, and Columbia Pictures Television. USA: Fox, 1987–97. The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. Produced by MTM Enterprises. USA: CBS, 1970–7.

195

Programography

195

M*A*S*H. Created by Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television. USA: CBS, 1972–83. Mr Ed. Created by Walter R. Brooks. Produced by The Mr Ed Company and Filmways. USA: CBS, 1961–6. Modern Family. Created by Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan. Produced by LloydLevitan Productions, Picador Productions, and Steven Levitan Productions in association with 20th Century Fox Television. USA: ABC, 2009–present. Mork & Mindy. Created by Garry Marshall, Dale McRaven, and Joe Glauberg. Produced by Henderson Productions, Miller-Milkis Productions, Miller-MilkisBoyett Productions, and Paramount Television. USA: ABC, 1978–82. Mother and Son. Created and written by Geoffrey Atherden. Produced by ABC. Australia: ABC, 1983–93. The Munsters. Created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward. Developed by Norm Liebman and Ed Haas. Produced by CBS Television Productions and Kayro-Vue Productions. USA: CBS, 1964–6. Murphy Brown. Created by Diane English. Produced by Shukovsky English Entertainment and Warner Bros Television. USA: CBS, 1988–98. My Family. Created by Fred Barron. Produced by Rude Boy Productions and DLT Entertainment. UK: BBC, 2000–11. My Favorite Martian. Created by John L. Greene. Produced by Jack Chertok Television Productions and CBS Television Network. USA: CBS, 1963–6. My Name’s McGooley. Created and written by Ralph W. Peterson. Produced by ATN7. Australia: ATN7, 1966–8. The Odd Couple. Created by Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall. Produced by Paramount Television. USA: ABC, 1970–5. The Office. Created and written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Produced by BBC Comedy–North, Capital United Nations Entertainment, and The Identity Company. UK: BBC, 2001, 2002. One Foot in the Grave. Created and written by David Renwick. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1990–2000. Only Fools and Horses. Created and written by John Sullivan. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1981–2003. Parks and Recreation. Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. Produced by Deedle-Dee Productions, 3 Arts Entertainment, and Universal Media Studios. USA: NBC, 2009–15. Peep Show. Created by Andrew O’Connor, Jesse Armstrong, and Sam Bain.Written by Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, and Simon Blackwell. Produced by Objective Productions. UK: Channel 4, 2003–15. Peter Kay’s Car Share. Created by Paul Coleman and Tim Reid. Written by Paul Coleman, Peter Kay, Sian Gibson, and Tim Reid. Produced by Goodnight Vienna Productions and BBC Television Productions. UK: BBC, 2015–present.

196

196

Programography

Pizza. Created by Paul Fenech. Developed by Paul Fenech, Dave Webster, and Glenn Mitchell. Produced by SBS. Australia: SBS, 2000–6. Please Like Me. Created and written by Josh Thomas. Produced by ABC, John & Josh International, Pigeon Fancier Productions, and Pivot. Australia: ABC, 2013–present. Porridge. Created and written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1974–7. Rhoda. Created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. Developed by David Davis and Lorenzo Music. Produced by MTM Enterprises. USA: CBS, 1974–8. Seinfeld. Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Produced by West-Shapiro Productions, Castle Rock Entertainment. USA: NBC, 1989–98. Sex and the City. Created by Darren Star. Produced by Darren Star Productions, Home Box Office, and Sex and the City Productions. USA: HBO, 1998–2004. The Simpsons. Created by Matt Groening. Developed by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, and Sam Simon. Produced by Gracie Films, 20th Century Fox Television, The Curiosity Company, Film Roman Productions, Fox Television Animation, and Klasky-Csupo. USA: Fox, 1989–present. South Park. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Developed by Brian Graden. Produced by Comedy Central, Braniff Productions, Celluloid Studios, Comedy Partners, and South Park Digital Studios. USA: Comedy Central, 1997–present. Steptoe and Son. Created by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, written by Rob Hartill. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1962–74. That ’70s Show. Created by Bonny Turner, Terry Turner, and Mark Brazill. Produced by Casey-Werner-Mandabach Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, and CaseyWerner Company. USA: Fox, 1998–2006. Till Death Us Do Part. Created by Johnny Speight. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1966– 8, 1972–5. Upper Middle Bogan. Created by Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope. Produced by Gristmill. Australia: ABC, 2014–present. The Vicar of Dibley. Created by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer. Produced by Tiger Aspect Productions, BBC, and Britcom. UK: BBC, 1994–2007. Will & Grace. Created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnik. Produced by KoMut Entertainment, Three Sisters Entertainment, NBC Television, Everything Entertainment, New Dominion Pictures, and Outdoor Life Network. USA: NBC, 1998–2006. Yes Minister. Created by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1980–4. Yes Prime Minister. Created by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. Produced by BBC. UK: BBC, 1986–8.

197

Index Note: Article and book titles are shortened where possible. Programs are in italics, episode titles are in quotes. Book titles are in italics and articles in quotes.

Absolutely Fabulous (program) 102, 116, 158 Acropolis Now (program) 15–16, 105, 127, 132–3, 136, 138–9, 141–3, 147–52, 155–7, 161–3, 162 fig 5.2 “Writer’s Block” 133, 135 fig 4.1, 139, 143, 152 “The Trouble with Mothers” 156–7 actualize 71, 75, 79, 84–5, 119–20, 123, 126, 169–70, 181 Adler, Alfred, Understanding Human Nature 64 Adlerian lifelong goal 76 alienated (Lacanian) subject 36, 44, 48–9, 49 n.12, 169 Antigone 35–6, 59–60, 77, 112 Antigone/antigonal complex 59, 80, 92, 112, 115 anxiety 20, 31, 35, 37, 58–9, 120, 181 character response 58, 62, 66, 68, 88, 144, 166–7 and fear 47–52, 62, 143, 146, 166. See also fear and anxiety Aristotle, Poetics 6, 128, 133 Australian comedy/sitcom 15, 16, 19, 26, 28, 75, 105, 116, 127, 150–1, 153. See also Turnbull, Sue Bainbridge, Caroline, “Psychotherapy on the Couch” 4, 11, 89, 173 Bakhtin, Mikhail, Rabelais and His World 154 beats (story) 125, 127, 129, 132–3, 173, 179 beat sheet 171 Berry, Patricia, Echo’s Subtle Body 10, 118–19, 121, 124

Bewitched (program) 101 Big Bang Theory, The (program) 16, 26, 68, 75, 86, 89, 93–4, 97, 101, 142 Bion, Wilfred R., Attention and Interpretation 21 n.5 Birds of a Feather (program) 74, 93, 94n Black Books (program) 117 Blumenfeld, Robert, Tools and Techniques for Character Interpretation 26 Borderline Personality Disorder 73 Breaking Bad (program) 72, 84 British Sitcom 4, 74, 104 British Sitcom: 60 Years of Laughing at Ourselves (program) 4–5 Burns and Allen Show, The (program) 29– 30, 107, 118. See also Mellencamp, Patricia Butler, Jeremy, Television: Critical Methods and Applications 150–1, 175 Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces 8 castration, (fear of) 34, 52, 55–6, 59, 181 Chatman, Seymour, Story and Discourse 128–9, 131, 133, 175 comic character. See also Comic Man Bergson, Henri, Laughter 19 and comparison to key character 45, 92, 140, 146, 170, 172 definition 8 echo comic characters. See Chapter 3. See also 11, 21, 40, 43, 45, 55, 61, 67–8, 72–3, 82, 84, 89 fig 2.2, 92, 126, 134, 165, 170, 174–5 female comic characters 79 and gender 11, 14, 53, 87–8, 90, 123, 164 Comic Man 76, 179. See also Guilty Man

198

198

Index

comic performance 6, 14, 34, 16–19, 58, 127, 173–4 Eco, Umberto and carnival 154–5 and “frames” 16, 161–7, 170 Mellencamp, Patricia 14, 29–31, 164–5 and narcissistic striving, tension 34, 170 and narrative 127 and oedipal complex 115 Turnbull, Sue and Absolutely Fabulous 158 Community (program) 137–8 complex, definition 179 containment 5, 9, 21, 21 n.5, 31, 53, 86, 160, 163–4. See also Mellencamp, Patricia Cook, Jim, “Narrative, Comedy, Character and Performance” 126 ed. Television Sitcom: BFI Dossier no. 17 3, 6, 127n Coulson, Victoria, “The Baby and the Mirror” 40, 56, 110–12, 118–22 counterforce 145, 148, 150–3, 159 definition 179 Cowgill, Linda J., The Art of Plotting 84 cultural diversity. See multiculturalism Curtis, Barry, “Aspects of Sitcom” 2, 125n Dad’s Army (program) 103 Daniel, Katerina, “Feminists and Jacques Lacan on Female Hysteria and Feminine Desire” 86 desire (psychoanalytically) 7–14, 20, 29, 34, 37, 40, 47, 69–70, 73, 77–8, 80, 88, 90, 111, 113–14, 116–17, 119–20, 124, 151, 165, 179. See also Gorton, Kristyn, Lacanian theory, lack and character 39, 50, 54, 82, 86–7, 90, 92, 113, 116, 138–9, 142–6, 150–1, 165, 170 “Desire and fear” 55–63 Dharma & Greg (program) 106 dichotomy 2 n.7, 16, 86, 159–60, 163, 172, 174, 176 diegesis 36, 53, 67, 75, 131–3, 145 definition 179 diegetic (world) 4, 123, 126, 172, 175. See also Trahair, Lisa, diegesis and frames 12, 149

and narrative 14, 17, 132, 139–40, 145, 148, 159 discourse. See also hegemonic discourse, multiculturalism definition 179 and frames 154–67 programs reflecting discourses 91, 98, 104–6, 117–18, 148–52, 157–8, 160, 164, 166 in the Social 7–8, 16, 60, 74, 149–53, 156–9, 161, 164, 166–7, 170 and story 129–8, 133 and the Symbolic 33, 36, 60 discursive frames. See chapter 4 disempowerment 11, 31, 46, 67, 74, 77, 87, 91, 111, 121, 123, 172 disturbed characters 72–5, 79, 115 divided self 92, 109. See also alienated subject Dunleavy, Trisha, Television Drama 3, 16, 153, 159–60 dyadic relationships 10–11, 24, 102, 118, 169, 179 definition, dyadic 179 Eaton, Mick “Laughter in the Dark” 4, 32, 32n, 50 “Television Situation Comedy” 16, 126, 159, 174 n.4 Echo (and the myth of Narcissus) 9–11, 17, 20–1, 32, 39–40, 44–6, 56, 72, 80, 110–12, 118–19, 121, 124, 169. See “Narcissus and Echo as comic characters” 40–3. See also comic characters (echo), Berry, Patricia echoism, definition 179 echoism, negative 79, 92, 115–16, 120 glossary 179–80 Eco, Umberto, “The Frames of Comic ‘Freedom’” 16, 149, 154–5, 159 ego 21–7, 31–3, 38–40, 44, 48–54, 51 fig 2.1, 57, 60, 65, 72–4, 77, 81, 89 fig 2.2, 90, 98–9, 111, 117, 146, 165, 170, 174. See also ideal ego, superego boundaries 102, 138 defenses 22–9, 43, 51, 61, 70, 78, 85, 90, 120, 138, 165

199

Index definition 179 formation 20, 32, 174 maturation 13, 20–7, 40, 44, 57, 71, 122, 124 regression 144, 151 ego-ideal. See ideal ego Ego-Ideal 13, 28, 31, 33–8, 43, 45–6, 50, 54–5, 58, 60, 67, 76, 84–5, 88, 92, 139, 143–7, 166, 169, 171 definition 179 Elektra complex 114 Evans, Dylan 24, 33, 38, 60 Everybody Loves Raymond (program) 16, 45–6, 93, 145–6, 160, 162 fig 5.2 extrovert 9, 52–4, 66, 86 definition 179 fabula 128, 155, 181. See also suzjet definition 179 Fawlty Towers (program) 15, 16, 19, 54–5, 95, 102, 117, 130, 132, 144, 165–6 “Basil the Rat” 95 “The Germans” 37–8 “The Hotel Inspectors” 57–8, 132 fear 47–92. See also Chapter 2, “The Perpetual (Power) Struggle of Sitcom relationships” and abandonment 44, 113–15, 120, 165 and anxiety 47–53, 59, 62, 66–7, 143, 146 and castration 34, 52, 55–6, 181 and character 41–3, 54–5, 57, 61–2, 65, 68–9, 84–8, 91–2, 96, 119–20, 130, 137–48, 151–2, 166, 170, 172, 175–7 and desire 11–12, 14, 25, 29, 40, 69, 77, 111, 146, 165. See also “Fear and desire” 55–63 and phantasy 81, 84, 114, 121, 151, 181 “want, need, fear, wound” 8, 58 Ferguson, Tim, The Cheeky Monkey 8, 147, 171 fort/da 49, 59, 87, 139, 174 definition 179 Frasier (program) 1, 91, 93, 99 Freud 21–31, 39, 56, 72, 76. See also Oedipus complex, superego, pleasure principle, fort/da “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” 49

199

and the comic, humor, joke 4, 31, 32n, 49, 59, 155, 165 and ego-ideal 27–8. See also ideal ego The Ego and the Id 50–1, 51 fig 2.1, 89 and fear/anxiety 47–56, 121 “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning” 23 “Humour” 31–2, 32 n.30, 155, 165 and the hysteric 30, 59. See also Gorton, Kristyn “Inhibition, Symptom, and Fear” 47–53 and Mellencamp, Patricia 4, 14, 30–1, 53, 86 “Narcissism: An Introduction” 9–10, 13, 21 n.4, 21–3, 26, 111 and psychoanalytic theory 12–13, 20, 56, 110, 114 topography 50–1, 72, 89 Friends (program) 1, 93–4, 108–9, 117,  150–1 Gavin & Stacey (program) 106–7 gaze 17, 33, 37, 40, 44–8, 56, 61–2, 68, 82, 86–9, 104, 116–18, 123, 126, 148, 165, 167 “The character trapped in the gaze” 37– 40, 46, 6–3, 92, 94, 99, 13, 142, 144, 146, 148, 166 definition 179 and desire 10–13, 14, 34, 37, 60, 63, 90, 117–19, 124, 151, 165. See also Gorton, Kristyn and frames 161–2 male gaze 88, 113 maternal gaze 77, 87–8, 110–14 George & Mildred (program) 106, 115, 120 Ghost & Mrs Muir, The (program) 100 Gilligan’s Island (program) 55, 102, 106, 109, 160 Goodnight Sweetheart (program) 105–6 Gorton, Kristyn, Theorising Desire 10–14, 21, 30, 60, 63, 77, 87, 90, 109n, 113, 124, 151 Guilty Man 70, 74, 76, 78–82, 90. See also Tragic Man definition 179 Harmon, Dan, “How Dan Harmon Drives Himself Crazy Making Community” 137 fig 4.2, 137–8, 147

200

200

Index

hegemony 86, 102, 104–6, 123, 149, 155– 61, 163, 167, 173 definition 180 hegemonic discourse 4, 8, 16–17, 30, 31, 35–6, 149, 151, 154–5, 161–2, 165, 169–70 Hey Dad..! (program) 153, 160, 162 fig. 5.2 Hogan’s Heroes (program) 103 Horton, Andrew, Writing the CharacterCentered Screenplay 9, 25 How I Met Your Mother (program) 130–1 Humor/humour 165 Eco, Umberto 154–5 Freud 4, 14, 31, 32n, 50, 155, 165 humorous pleasure. See Mellencamp, Patricia hysteric 10, 11, 30, 52–3, 60–1, 86–8, 113, 121–2 I Love Lucy (program) 15, 16, 19, 21, 29, 87, 93, 148–9, 163–4. See also Mellencamp, Patricia id, the 49, 50, 51, 72, 89 fig. 2.2 definition 180 ideal ego 13, 23, 28–9, 33–9, 44. See also Ego-Ideal definition 179 Imaginary (imaginary order) 20, 24, 32–4, 36–7, 56, 59–61, 73, 78, 143, 146 definition 180 inside/outside dichotomy. See dichotomy introvert 9, 52–4, 66, 86 definition 180 Jocasta 14, 59, 76–7, 105, 110, 112, 114–15, 123 “Jocasta complex” 77, 92, 114, 146 Kaplan, Steve, The Hidden Tools of Comedy, 100–1 Kath & Kim (program) 15–16, 19, 28, 38, 75, 93–4, 127, 132, 147, 152–3, 155–9, 161 and discursive frames 161–3, 162 fig 5.2 “The Hideous Truth” 79 “The Moon” 28, 40–3, 53–4, 62, 65–6, 82–5, 136–7, 143–4, 150–2 “Roots” 157

Kernberg, Otto, “Factors in the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personalities” 25 kernels 129–34, 136, 175, 181 definition 180 Kohut, Heinz 13, 27, 48, 69–82, 121–2, 179, 181. See also Guilty Man The Chicago Institute Lectures 27, 70 The Restoration of the Self 13, 48, 69, 70–1, 91, 121 Krutnik, Frank 126, 159. See also Neale, Steve Kumars at No. 42, The (program) 162, 162 fig. 5.2 Lacan, Jacques 10 The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis 32, 33. See also Daniel, Katerina, Evans, Dylan, Gorton, Kristyn, Colette, Soler, Zizek, Slavoj Lacanian theory 10, 12–13, 24, 32–8, 46, 59–63, 110, 174. See also phallus, Ego Ideal, Gorton, Kristyn and Antigone 36 and the comic 13, 32–8 as alienated/ divided self 36–7, 44 definitions 179–81 foreclosure/“Name-of-the-Father” 34, 56, 59, 78, 80 identity, registers 20 lack (psychoanalytically) 10, 12–14, 21–2, 25, 33–4, 44–5, 50, 52, 59–62, 70, 78, 88, 91, 110–11, 113–14, 119, 124, 151, 180. See also desire Laverne & Shirley (program) 107 Lemma, Alessandra, Humour on the Couch 12 Liver Birds, The (program) 107 logline 171, 173, 176 love-object 22, 26, 32, 37, 39, 49–50, 52, 54, 58–9, 65, 68–70, 76, 82, 88, 110, 121, 138, 143–6, 181 Lowen, Alexander, Fear of Life 64 MacRury, Iain, “Humour as ‘Social Dreaming’” 9, 44 McKee, Robert, Story 8

201

Index Mad About You (program) 100, 106–7 Marc, David, Comic Visions 4, 16, 172, 173, 174 Married . . . with Children (program) 131 Mary Tyler Moore Show, The (program) 93, 97–8 M*A*S*H (program) 104, 160 Mellencamp, Patricia, “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud” 3–4, 5, 15, 19, 21, 21n, 29–32, 53, 86, 163–5 Mills, Brett, Television Sitcom 1, 3–6, 8, 17n, 149, 172–3 Milner Davis, Jessica, Farce 136 mirror stage 20, 33, 110–11, 180. See also Imaginary, Coulson, Victoria, Silverman, Kaja Mr. Ed (program) 100 Modern Family (program) 81 “Unplugged” 130–1 Mork & Mindy (program) 100 Morowitz, Laura 102 Morreale, Joanne, “Sitcoms Say Good-bye” x, 1–2, 2 n.7, 169n, 173 Morreall, John, “Philosophy of Humor” 7n Mother and Son (program) 116 Multiculturalism 16, 148, 152, 156–7, 161, 163 Murphy Brown (program) 93, 97 My Family (program) 1, 16, 93, 153, 160, 162 fig. 5.2 My Favorite Martian (program) 100 narcissism (negative) 92, 112, 115–17 definition 180 Narcissistic Personality Disorder 8, 25, 27, 70, 90, 92, 110, 113–14, 122, 179, 180 definition 180 Narcissus. See also Coulson, Victoria myth of Narcissus and Echo. See Echo (and the myth of Narcissus) and psychology of the character 9–10, 17, 21, 40, 124 narrative circular or closed 7–8, 16, 125, 132, 147, 147 fig. 4.3, 169 structure 3, 17, 125, 127–8, 132, 135 fig. 4.1, 147 fig. 4.3, 169, 175 theory 9, 125, 128

201

Neale, Steve “Psychoanalysis and Comedy” 4, 59 Popular Film and Television Comedy 126, 159 Nelson, T. G. A., Comedy, 7 neurotic fear 48, 51, 56, 62, 69, 82, 121, 146. See also objective fear, anxiety Oakley, Giles, “Yes Minister” 98, 173 object-relations 22–3, 25, 27, 43, 71, 73, 110, 122. See also love-object Object/Subject 10, 14, 37, 44, 59, 61–3, 77, 90, 114, 116–19, 123–4, 143, 165. See also love-object, Ego-Ideal, object-relations, prop as object definition 180 objective fear 48, 51, 62, 65, 67, 69, 80, 88, 121. See also neurotic fear objet petit a 61 definition 180 Odd Couple, The (program) 107, 119 oedipal comic 9, 13, 23, 25–6, 44–5, 109 complex 24, 60, 70, 73–4, 77–9, 82, 85, 92, 112–15. See also Oedipus complex drama 12, 121 phase 9, 13, 23–4, 34, 56, 70–3, 78, 109, 112, 122 Oedipus. See also Jocasta and Antigone 59, 112 complex 23, 52, 56, 59, 70, 77–8, 112, 114–15, 139, 174. See also oedipal complex definition 180 tale of 14, 23, 56, 59–60, 74, 76–8, 87, 110, 112–15, 123. See also Coulson, Victoria One Foot in the Grave (program) 4–5, 119 oral sadistic comic 151 definition 180 Other/other, definition 181 Ovid 20, 111. See also Coulson, Victoria Palmer, Jerry, The Logic of the Absurd 3 Paulic, Vlasta, “The Antigone Complex” 59–60, 76 Peep Show (program) 15, 93

202

202

Index

Peter Kay’s Car Share (program) 119 phallus 33, 52, 56–7, 59–60, 68, 91, 123. See also castration, lack phantasy 13, 63, 67–8, 72, 76–81, 84–5, 87, 90, 106, 114, 121, 124, 126, 132, 140, 151, 169 definition 181 Pizza (program) 15, 19, 24, 26, 57, 61, 65, 119, 127, 132, 143, 150–3, 162 and comic performance 159, 161 and frames of multiculturalism 152, 155–6, 158–9, 162–3, 162 fig. 5.2 “Small and Large Pizza” 26, 35, 61, 132, 152, 158–9 Please Like Me (program) 15 pleasure principle. See also reality principle, primary processes and the comic 32, 116, 140, 145 definition 181 Freud 23–4, 31, 39, 49–50, 76 and Guilty Man 76 Stam, Robert 24 Trahair, Lisa 14, 23–4, 126, 139–40, 174 preoedipal 13, 23–5, 44, 109. See also oedipal primary processes 23–4, 66, 126, 140, 143, 181. See also pleasure principle, Trahair, Lisa prop as object 26–7, 35, 43, 57, 136, 140, 143 Purdie, Susan, Comedy 13–14, 23–4, 47, 55n, 158, 173, 174 re-situation 2, 6, 16, 46, 86, 127, 133–4, 138, 147 fig 4.3, 147, 150, 167, 170, 173 reality principle 14, 23–4, 32, 126, 140–4 definition 181 Restak, Richard, The Self Seekers 73, 75 Romantic Man 76. See also Guilty Man definition 181 Rowe, Dorothy Beyond Fear 48, 52–4, 64, 66, 71, 139, 142 My Dearest Enemy My Dangerous Friend 48, 64 Why We Lie 138, 142, 144–5

Sandler, Ellen, The TV Writer’s Workbook 9, 147–8, 171, 173, 176–7 satellites 129–30, 133, 175 definition 181 secondary processes 23–4, 26, 32, 140, 143–5, 181. See also reality principle Segal, Julia, Phantasy in Everyday Life 13. See also Phantasy Seger, Linda Creating Unforgettable Characters, 47, 67n, 176 Seinfeld (program) 1–2, 16, 45, 68, 74, 103, 107–9, 122, 129, 150–1, 167 “The Marine Biologist” (program) 63 Sex and the City (program) 7 shadow behavior (and comic characters) 78–9, 90–2, 108–9, 112–17, 119–120, 122 definitions 180 echoism/narcissism 78, 90, 92, 108, 120, 122 Silverman, Kaja, The Acoustic Mirror 62n, 77–8, 82, 85n, 112–13, 115 Simon, George K., Character Disturbances 71–3, 122 Smith, Evan S., Writing Television Sitcoms 8, 125, 160, 171, 173, 176–7 Soler, Colette, “The Subject and the Other (II)” 59 Stam, Robert, et al., New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics 19 n.1, 24, 56–7, 128 Steptoe and Son (program) 159 Stolorow, Robert D., “Towards a Functional Definition of Narcissism” 25–7 superego 28, 31–2, 32 n.30, 34–5, 38, 50–1, 72, 108, 155, 165. See also humor definition 181 suzjet 128. See also fabula definition 181 Symbolic 20, 24, 26, 28–9, 44–6, 56–7, 118. See also Evans, Dylan, Lacan, Jacques and Antigone complex 59, 80 and comic character 35–7, 54, 61–2, 73, 86, 88, 120, 123, 140, 143, 166 definition 181 and Ego-Ideal/ego-ideal 33–7, 45, 60–1, 166

203

Index and the hysteric 87 and subjectivity 70, 76, 91, 121, 124 socio-symbolic order 24–5, 33–5, 60, 68, 78, 80, 123, 149 Symington, Neville, Narcissism 56 Tannen, Ricki S., The Female Trickster 5 Television Sitcom: BFI Dossier No. 17, 3, 6, 98, 125, 126 n.6 Till Death Us Do Part (program) 74 Tragic Man 70, 74, 76, 78–82, 179, 181. See also Kohut, Heinz, Guilty Man definition 181 Tragic Woman 80–1, 112. See also Kohut, Heinz, Tragic Man, Guilty Man Trahair, Lisa, The Comedy of Philosophy 14, 23–4, 126, 139–41, 174 truth-teller as character 19, 98–9, 108–9, 123 Turnbull, Sue, “Kath and Kim and the Australian Comedy of Taste” 158

203

Upper Middle Bogan (program) 15 van der Borgh, Simon 58 n.30, 108 n.26 Vicar of Dibley, The (program) 5, 93–4, 96–7 “Election” 96 “Songs of Praise” 97 Vogler, Christopher, The Writer’s Journey 8 Ward, Ivan, “TV Times at the Freud Museum” 25 Will & Grace (program) 74, 106–7 Winnicott, D. W. 22, 110–11, 122. See also Coulson, Victoria Home is Where We Start From 64 Yates, Candida, “Psychoanalysis and television” 88–9, 173 Yes Minister (program) 93, 98–9 Zizek, Slavoj, How to Read Lacan 34, 124n Zupancic, Alenka, The Odd One In 14, 49 n.12