Community is at meta as meta can get

Community S02E19 references Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”

Community is a television sitcom that first aired in 2009. Appeasing to David Foster Wallace’s need for the removal of cynical irony and the push of sincerity, Community deconstructs television genres, and archetypes through post-irony.

Community S02E05 references Leonardo DaVinci’s “The Last Supper”

Postmodernists believe the text is understood through the complexity of the individual (Barthes, 1967). The knowledge one has for the culture around them will, in part, affect the way they read a text. Reality comes into existence through our interpretation of what the world means to us individually (Schoder, 2016). Combining that with Barthes’ theory, Death of the Author (1967), it’s clear how aware Community is of the audience’s understanding of existing structures.

Throughout the series Community uses pastiche, mimicking many television and film genres, using perceived stereotypical characters to exaggerate the tropes within each of these known story structures. Perceived, because on the surface they appear stereotypical, but on a deeper level they are the perfect iconic protagonist layered with internal contradictions. These contradictions help develop a complexity of character that allows an audience to connect on a deeper level (“Complex Characters and the Power of Contradiction”, 2017). Indiana Jones is scared of snakes and yet finds himself in an occupation that is likely to cause him to interact with snakes. The characters of Community have similar contradictions, as stated in the video from PBS Idea Channel (2013), such as Troy being a jock who dislikes sport.

Community S01E23 references Scarface’s famous “say hello to my little friend” scene

Mimicking genres in the way Community does allows the audience to deconstruct meaning. This technique has been successfully used in Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), in which the characters of the movie and the storyline itself draws attention to the tropes of the horror genre. Community does this further by exploring a variety of genres across several episodes. Derrida talks about how the meaning of a sign is created in relation to other words (Wisecrack, 2014). In a way, using pastiche to imitate the style of other genres allows the audience to create meaning through their knowledge of other works and text. In doing so, Community is given more time to focus on deeper character development within its iconic protagonists.

The flaw in this approach comes from expecting the reader to have enough pre-existing knowledge of various genres. Barthes explains that meaning doesn’t come from the author, but instead is dependent on the reader (Barthes, 1967). An audience member, however, is likely to be more familiar with genres they frequently view. By using pastiche to mimic a variety of genres, there are episodes in Community that may confuse audiences that don’t have knowledge in that genre. The film noir homage in season 3 might not be as clear to the masses as the action genre homage seen in season 1 and 2’s paintball episodes.

Community S03E19 film noir homage in the season’s paintball episode

Does relying on genres and character tropes negate the diversity of representation? Perhaps. But how many variants of characters truly exist in film and television? The need for stereotypes is unfortunately crucial to be able to introduce characters and tell stories that appeal to a large audience. This, in turn, limits the representations available to audiences. But this can still be used to the filmmaker’s advantage.

By adhering or challenging character stereotypes, television programs are able to venture into more difficult themes and issues without the need to frequently remind audiences of character personalities. This has only become more popular, as seen in recent shows such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Dear White People, and The Politician. All these programs use the iconic protagonist, using contradictions to challenge character stereotypes known to audiences. Shows like these rely on the audience's understanding of story and character structures from other cultural text to be able to fully appreciate and understand the issues and themes within these products.

Community is a clear example of where television is going in a post-postmodern era. As audiences are learning to understand the frequently used structures such as film genres and character stereotypes, they are able to appreciate products that challenge these structures. More television shows are being produced with sincerity in place of irony, and in turn are creating products that rely more heavily on audiences’ understanding of structures within other texts.

REFERENCES

Barthes, R. (1967). Death of the Author. Aspen, 5–6. Retrieved from http://www.tbook.constantvzw.org/wp-content/death_authorbarthes.pdf

Complex Characters and the Power of Contradiction. (2017). Retrieved 3 November 2020, from https://writershelpingwriters.net/2017/05/complex-characters-and-the-power-of-contradiction/

Craven, W. (1996). Scream [Film]. United States: Woods Entertainment.

Harmon, D. (2009). Community [Television Series]. Los Angeles: Sony Pictures Television.

PBS Idea Channel. (2013). Is Community A Postmodern Masterpiece? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios [Image]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/YanhEVEgkYI

Schoder, W. (2016). David Foster Wallace — The Problem with Irony [Video]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/2doZROwdte4

Wisecrack. (2014). Is A Cat A Cat? (Derrida + Double Dragon) — 8-Bit Philosophy [Video]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/3Zw04hraCVo

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Studying a Masters in Creative Industries with a focus on contemporary digital filmmaking

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Kristina Chapman

Kristina Chapman

Studying a Masters in Creative Industries with a focus on contemporary digital filmmaking

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