Politics and the American Television Comedy: A Critical Survey from I Love Lucy Through South Park

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This work examines the unique and ever-changing relationship between politics and comedy through an analysis of several popular American television programs. Focusing on close readings of the work of Ernie Kovacs, Soupy Sales, and Andy Kaufman, as well as Green Acres and The Gong Show, the author provides a unique glimpse at the often subversive nature of avant-garde television comedy. The crisis in American television during the political unrest of the late 1960s is also studied, as represented by individual analyses of The Monkees, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, and All in the Family. The author also focuses on more contemporary American television, drawing a comparative analysis between the referential postmodernism of The Simpsons and the confrontational absurdity of South Park.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786432356
  • Publisher: McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/10/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 275
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Writer and independent scholar Doyle Greene is the author of several books. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     vi
Preface     1
Introduction: Subverting the Medium     3
Is Avant-Garde Television Comedy Possible?
American Comedy and the European Avant-Garde     9
Dada and Distraction: The Origins of Avant-Garde Comedy     9
"Nightmare Farces": Surrealism and Silent Film Comedy     13
The Other Marxism: Artaud and the Marx Brothers     19
Waiting for Buster: Theater of the Absurd and American Film Comedy     11
The Culture Industry and American Television Comedy     29
Camera, Cinema, Revolution: Benjamin, Artaud, and Adorno     29
Adorno: The Culture Industry and Television     31
The Dual-Character of Comedy and Drama in Early American Television     34
From "Comedy-Variety" to "Situation-Comedy"     36
Clash of the Titans: Lucy Ricardo versus Ralph Kramden     42
Deconstructing Television: American Television Comedy, 1951-1966
The Humor of Anomaly: Ernie Kovacs     49
Ernie in Kovacsland     49
The Cockeyed World: Kovacs and Benjamin     52
Surrealism and Sight-Gags     56
"The Intimate Vacuum"     58
Poetry in Motion: Music, Montage, and "Sound to Sight"     62
Fanfare for the Modern Man: "Eugene," The Ernie KovacsShow (ABC, 1961)     65
Say "Dada": The Soupy Sales Show     78
A Brief History of Children's Television     78
Soupy Sales: The WNEW Years     84
When Worlds Collide: On-Screen and Off-Screen Space     88
From Bumpkins to Bigots: American Television Comedy, 1962-1971
The Idiocy of Rural Life: Green Acres     99
Barnyard Comedy     99
Class Struggle: The Beverly Hillbillies     101
Absurdist America: Green Acres     103
The Life of the (Capital L) Law: Oliver Wendell Douglas     108
Contradiction and Overdetermination: The Hooterville Order     112
Archie Bunker for President! The Crisis of American Television Comedy in the Counterculture Era     117
Monkee Business     117
The March on CBS: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour     120
Culture Industry Counterculture: Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In     125
The Great CBS Purge and the Rise of the Political Sitcom: All in the Family     133
Anti-Television: American Television Comedy, 1975-1983
Game Shows of Cruelty: Chuck Barris and The Gong Show     141
Disasters Waiting to Happen: The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game     141
Two Minutes of Fame: The Gong Show     144
The Process of Elimination      149
"The King of Schlock"     150
Situationist Comedy: Andy Kaufman     156
That's Entertainment: The World of Andy Kaufman     156
"I Don't Know if You're Laughing with Me or Laughing at Me": Saturday Night Live, 1975     158
"Maybe I Went Too Far": Pushing the Boundaries of Television     161
"I Was Just Teasing in Fun": Taking on the Talk Show     171
"Andy Kaufman Is Not Funny Anymore!": Revenge of the Culture Industry     177
Requiem for a Comedian: "The Andy Kaufman Show," Soundstage (PBS, 1983)     181
"A Sum of Spectacles": The Legacy of Andy Kaufman     190
Is Avant-Garde Television Comedy Still Possible?
Damage Control: Comedy-Variety and Situation-Comedy After 1974     195
Now Ready for Prime-Time Players: Saturday Night Live     195
Happy Days Are Here Again     198
Fair and Balanced Satire: Against The Sympsons     200
A Franchise Is Born     200
Simpsons, Meet the Simpsons...     201
Biting the Fox That Feeds It? P     204
Parody, Pastiche, Politics     206
Comedy Is Not Pretty: In Praise of South Park     212
A Sore Sight for Eyes     212
"Friendly Faces Everywhere..."     215
Democracy Happens      219
Notes     115
Bibliography     249
Index     255
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