The American Sitcom
From the 1950s until very recently, the sitcom or situation comedy has been one of American television’s most popular and emblematic genres. Network lineups have been determined by it, household rhythms organized around it, and legal and financial battles fought over its content. In large part, the sitcom’s popular significance and financial success have stemmed from its unique approach to the representation of social, economic, and political change. Both the genre’s strict stylistic conventions and its comedic approach to storytelling have allowed it to function as an unusual kind of “public sphere” in which contemporary debates about race, class, gender, and sexuality are represented through visual and narrative forms. In this course we will examine the sitcom from institutional, aesthetic, and historical perspectives so as to understand its role in the negotiation of cultural change.