Here is my first animation essay, hope you will read it. Makes my page look proffesional: “Issues of representation are complicated, first, by the purpose of the
representation, and second, by its expression.” (Wells, 1998:188). Discuss the
process of representation in animated film, making reference to critical texts
and one of the films screened during the unit.
The term nuclear family is used to refer to a family household consisting of the spouses and their dependent children. A western American term used in post WWII to describe what would later become the poster image of a perfect family. It has been depicted in a range of media from simply print ads through to advertisement and American television series such as Father Knows Best (1940). Not only has the representation transcended into sitcoms, it broke out in the relatively new media of animation in the form of The Flintstones (1960). The show portrayed a, quite literally, blue-collar worker in the character Fred Flintstone. He featured alongside his housewife and baby daughter as they lived out their daily lives.
Hana-Barbera, the production company responsible for The Flintstones, also produced another animation representing the nuclear family, called The Jetsons (1962). Much more of an embodiment of the nuclear family, it featured a stereotypical daughter and young son. The show much like its live action counterparts, followed a code and convention that would be used throughout decades to come, in an array of television shows. Most popular to note include The Brady Bunch (1970) and Family Ties (1980), each of which added their own twist to the representation and portrayal of the family itself, this helped reflect its audiences needs and also kept the show modern. An example of this is from The Brady Bunch's family being made up of siblings from previous marriages, a expression of some family life at the time.
Working-Class is a term used in society to describe proletariat citizens, they are considered the lowest class in society. Of late the term working class has become somewhat of a derogatory term, 'But working class can also bring to mind lazy, unproductive failures who are going nowhere, or relics of earlier era of industrialization...working-class is becoming synonymous with racist.' (Linkon, 2008) As for the working class in media, Barbara Ehrenreich states that 'Working-class people are likely to cross the screen only as witnesses to crimes or sports events.' (Ehrenreich, 1995: 40)
The main two animated shows I will be looking at include a family which have widely come to be known as Americas most loved dysfunctional family, The Simpsons (1989) and relatively newcomer Family Guy (1999). The Simpsons and Family Guy are shows that feature the most profound and obvious representation of the American working class family. A creation of cartoonist Matt Groening, The Simpson family household includes: Homer the father of the family, whose sole income from a low paid job supports the family of five. He is considered the protagonist of the show, and the one who gets into the most trouble. A 'buffoon'(Butsch, 1995: 403) stereotype, he drinks heavily and often causes trouble. And on multiple occasions is seen to comically strangle his son Bart. This overrepresentation of Homer is not seen negatively by the audience. The Wife Marge, a caring housewife that cleans and looks after the children of the house. The complete polar opposite to Homer, Marge counteracts the troublesome husband. Their children Bart, Lisa and Maggie complete the family. Bart the oldest sibling is troublesome and most reflective of his father in many aspects. And Lisa, the intelligent and musical daughter but who also struggles with popularity at school. Lastly there's Maggie, the baby of the family, mysterious and perhaps the most innocent throughout the series.
Family Guy was created by Seth McFarlane and like The Simpsons it also consists of a family of five. Peter Griffin is an Irish-American who works, much like Homer, as a safety inspector for an industry. The similarities between Peter and Homer are many, most prominent are the drinking habits and the tendency for getting into trouble. Lois is the spouse of Peter, again sharing qualities of Marge. Lois represents the strong role model of the house, she maintains her morals and ideals throughout the majority of the series, only breaking them to protect her family or to resolve issues. The children of the show include Chris, the oldest son, who struggles with learning and other non complicated issues. Then there's Meg, the somewhat outcast of the family, she struggles with popularity and fitting in. Both Chris and Meg are stereotypes on the modern pubescent teen siblings. Lastly there is Stewie, a character along with Brian (the talking family dog) who break the verisimilitude of the animation by having them either talk or be, in Stewie's case, intelligently evil.
Both The Simpsons and Family Guy kept the ideals of the nuclear family, and like the shows predecessors it changed its issues to those of more modern and current. However in an attempt to broaden their audience the shows swapped the good children image to one that represented the much more modern and entertaining teen that appealed to both the young and old.
'68.7% of American Youth are living in non-traditional families' (Rainbow, 2003)
With a statistic, as high as the one above, which shows that growing up in a nuclear family is less than half of the American population, which suggests that the representation of the nuclear family is something that now can be used to somewhat ridicule the ideals of the past decades. Suggesting that coming from a 'non-traditional' family is perhaps considered the norm in western America.
An animation that takes the ideals of heroic parents literally is the 2004 film The Incredibles. Again using the nuclear family as its structure it features a family of 'supers', with two retired superheroes as the parents. Bob, now retired from the superhero business, works in a small cubicle for an insurance company, a step up from Homer and Peter, but still confined by the walls of institution. Constricted by his boss, Bob takes up being a hero again, thus throwing his family into the adventure. Since The Incredibles is a movie it makes use of stereotypes to help develop characters more quickly, so forms the misfit daughter and mischievous son. However the movie carries a strong sense of ideals about the family unit as a whole. In essence the movies moral is that as a family unit, as a team, you can overcome difficulties. Even though Both The Simpsons and Family Guy use negative representations they still keep positive family ideals, thus proven by the show returning to status quo after each episode.
Both the protagonists of the shows, Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin share the same everyday-man sartorial code and use very similar lexis in the shows, such as mild swearing and the development of catchphrases. This every-man design is very reminiscent of Charley(1948) the animated propaganda of 1948. Charley, designed to appeal to the average man, was used throughout the late 1940's to help promote certain causes and raise awareness.
'[...]designed by Joy Batchelor. He [Charlie] is a happy go-lucky fellow with a bouncy walk and a mop of hair which he regularly flicks back with a toss of his head. The look of the character, although clearly 'cartoony', avoids broad caricature.' (Southall 1999: 79). Both Homer and Peter share the aesthetic qualities of Charley, thus widening and appealing to a much bigger audience. Perhaps a homage to the old working class character, both Homer and Peter retain that working class representation.
The buffoon stereotype, which can be used to describe Homer and Peter, is an argument made by Richard Butsch. He writes that the media, over the past 50 years, are to blame for the 'underrepresentation of working class occupations and the overrepresentation of professional and managerial occupations among characters' (Butsch, 1995: 403). The buffoon stereotype is the negative representation linked with the working class family, especially the blue collar head of house father. The buffoon character (for instance Homer) '[...]are played against much more mature sensible characters'(Butsch, 1995: 403). This is to help emphasise the representation portrayed and to amplify the characters traits. Butsch states that the '[...]men who are portrayed are buffoons. They are dumb, immature, irresponsible or lacking in common sense[...][though] He is typically well-intentioned, even lovable.' (Butsch, 1995: 403)
Each member of the Simpson and Griffin household carry traits from their real life counterparts. For instance the multiple scenes of Marge cooking breakfast or Lois doing the shopping makes the characters more appealing to their real life counterparts, and so applies to the other characters from the show. Both shows featured episodes where the wives became the head of house in some way or another. The Simpsons episode was called 'The Springfield Connection' in which Marge gets a job as a police officer. Not only does she become an authoritative figure outside the household but also in the household as well. This threatens Homers status as man of the house and sole money earner, to which Marge replies that Homer will stay the 'man of the house'(The Simpsons, 1989).
Family Guy's version includes Lois taking karate lessons, which ultimately leads to her physically defending her husband Peter, stripping him of his masculinity and male dominance. As the episodes progresses we see Peter in the morning claiming that Lois was 'the man'(Family Guy, 1999) both sexually and mentally. Even though Peter was still the money earner for the house, he was no longer considered the authoritative figure, which leads to Stewie beating Peter with a baseball bat. This switch of 'manly' figures also causes Stewie to imitate Lois, which causes him to become more aggressive and violent than usual.
A negative representation that arises just as much as the buffoon father is the mischievous and disturbed son. Examples include Bart, Chris and Dash from The Incredibles. However, these stereotypes are far less offensive than those of their fathers, but just as prominent. This representation of the disturbed teen, has been around since the 1950's in movies such as The Wild One (1953) and cult classic Rebel Without a Cause (1955) which featured who many considered the first teen, James Dean who played a young troubled teen named Jim Stark. Sigmund Freud had a theory called the Oedipus Complex, to which he claimed it was a subconscious process that involved the father, mother and child. He claimed that if there was no fatherly figure then the child would have no strong role model and would grow up to be mischievous and estranged. This theory can be applied to Rebel Without a Cause, Family Guy and The Simpsons. Even though both Peter and Homer are head of house and the main workers, they are, as Butsch said 'no one to respect or emulate'(Butsch, 1995: 403) when talking about the blue-collar characters themselves. So this lack of a fatherly figure can be the reason why both Chris and Bart are represented as troubled, disturbed teens and why Stewie, when Lois was head of house, became very violent.
When a female character is introduced to such series as The Simpsons and Family Guy and represented as a strong, professional, middle-class citizen, they are normally ridiculed by the lower-class characters from the show. A character that was introduced to Family Guy was Peter's new boss Angela. A successful business women who ranks Peter lower than his mentally challenged colleague Opie. Peter throughout the series shows no respect towards Angela unless he needs something. In the episode "Tales of a Third Grade Nothing" Peter attempts to impress Angela in order to get a raise, but shows no real empathy towards the female character herself. To help define Peter as lower-class he is also played off another character called Joe, a disabled but successful cop who lives next door. Many scenes show the pair conversing at their local bar to which Joe usually points out faults in Peters ideas or generally aids in making Peter appear dumber. In portraying Peter against these disabled characters, Opie and Joe, helps to solidify the negative representation and also makes it more apparent to the audience.
It's possible to argue that even though The Simpsons and Family Guy portray negative representations of the American family, they still have clear reflections of real American life. An example of this is The Simpsons opening credits to the show, in which the family congregate on the settee to watch the television much like the audience would to watch the show. The Simpsons and Family Guy satirizes each member of the nuclear family and rebels against traditional family sitcoms. However they do not entirely destroy the stereotypically ideal of the nuclear family, especially in the sense of family relations and continuing male dominance in society. It presents a balance between reality and fantasy, that shows like The Brandy Bunch had, to offer a show that, despite its medium and hyperrealism, has more of a resemblance to real life.
In conclusion, the representation of the nuclear family and the working class, are ones that have been expressed for over half a century and with the ability to change and adapt to the times the representation shows no signs of stopping. The representation is so strong and prominent it can be applied to all sorts of media, making no defined separation between film and animation. The representations purpose is simple, to help reach and gain an audience that share the experience portrayed on screen. It appeals to both a wide and varied audience and can not only be used for western America, but all over world.
Butsch, Richard. (1995) 'Ralph, Fred, Archie and Homer'. In: Gender, Race and Class in Media. Ed. by Dines, Gail and Humez, Jean M. pp 403-412 Place of Publish: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. (1995). 'The silenced Majority' In: Gender, Race and Class in Media. Ed. by Dines, Gail and Humez, Jean M. pp 40-42 Place of Publish: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Southall, John. (1999). Cartoon Propaganda and the British School of Animation, in Animation Journal, vol. 8, no. 1
Linkon, Sherry. (2008). Stereotyping the Working Class. http://workingclassstudies.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/stereotyping-the-working-class (4th February 2010)
YouTube. (2009). Charley in New Town. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ophEYd4A-Q (4th February 2010)
Rainbows. (2003). A Generation At Risk. http://www.rainbows.org/statistics.html (5th February 2010)
Films and Television
The Incredibles. (2004). Directed by Brad Bird. [DVD]. America: Walt Disney Pictures
The Simpsons. (1989). Created by Matt Groening. [DVD]. America: Gracie Films
Family Guy. (1999). Created by Seth McFarlane. [DVD]. America: Fuzzy Door Productions
Father Knows Best. (1940). Created by Ed James. [DVD]. America: Screen Gems
The Flintstones. (1960). Created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. [DVD]. America: Hanna-Barbera
The Jetsons. (1962). Created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. [DVD]. America: Hanna-Barbera
Family Ties. (1980). Created by Gary David Goldberg. [DVD]. America: Ubu Productions
The Brady Bunch. (1970). Created by Sherwood Schwartz. [DVD]. America: A Sherwood Schwartz Production
Plates, Figures and Tables
Still from Family Guy. (1999). Created by Seth McFarlane. [DVD]. America: Fuzzy Door Production
Still from The Simpsons. (1989). Created by Matt Groening. [DVD]. America: Gracie Films
Still from YouTube. (2009). Charley in New Town. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ophEYd4A-Q (4th February 2010)