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Sitcoms as the ideological means of the maintenance of status quo

The contemporary media produce a profound impact on the audience. At the same time, it is very important that the ideological message conveyed by media basically targets at the preservation of the existing status quo, the existing social order, which is depicted in media as the most progressive and advanced and, as a rule, the main message of media to the audience is the necessity of the maintenance of this order. In this respect, sitcoms are not exceptional. In stark contrast, sitcoms may be viewed as very effective tools that contribute consistently to the promotion of the current ideology that dominates in the contemporary society. Their effectiveness may become obvious when the current popularity of various sitcoms is taken into consideration. Due to the simple form, in which the message is conveyed, sitcoms can influence directly on the audience affecting the large range of people representing various social classes, ethnic groups, etc.

At the same time, it is necessary to underline that in the modern world any sitcom is primarily a commercial product that needs to be financed and, therefore, there are people who pay for the creation of sitcoms and their promotion. Naturally, these people as well as creators, who actually earns for living due to the creation of sitcoms, are interested in the promotion of the capitalists, consumerist ideology that dominates in the world at the moment (Robbins, 144). In such a situation, it is possible to speak that the message and ideas that are conveyed by means of sitcoms are the message and ideas of the dominant and ruling elite which has economic and political power and defines the ideology of the society, while sitcoms just serve as instruments to convey this ideology and maintain the existing status quo in the established social order. In order to prove this fact, it is necessary to discuss in details some of the popular sitcoms which target at the mass audience, such as “Futurama”, for instance. Even though this sitcom basically focuses on the distant future, it only enforces the ideological value of the sitcom making its ideological message even stronger because the emphasis on the future makes this ideological message and ideas conveyed by the sitcom practically irrevocable. At any rate, it is possible to estimate that “Futurama” is a typical sitcom that is used to promote and maintain the existing status quo in the contemporary society.

In order to better understand the role of sitcoms at large and “Futurama” in particular as the means of conveying the dominant ideology to the mass audience to form the strong belief of the public in the necessity of the maintenance of the existing social order, it is necessary to focus on the sitcom as a product of the present epoch and take into consideration the context of its creation, setting, the main ideological message of the sitcom, and symbolism of its main characters.

First of all, it should be said that “Futurama”, as well as any other sitcom, is the product of the contemporary epoch and the modern entertainment industry. In actuality, this means that “Futurama” is a commercial project that primarily targets at the earning of money, i.e. at the increasing revenues of its creators and producers, as well as investors who finance this project. This major goal of the creation of the sitcom, to a significant extent, defines its ideological message and contents. What is meant here is the fact that in order to sell the product, the creators of the sitcom primarily need to create the product which meets the interests and demands of the public. In this regard, it should be said that the public interests and needs are determined by the currently dominating capitalist and consumerist ideology (Robbins, 311). This means that the audience prefers to consumer the product which reflects the current needs. In other words, the sitcom is supposed to share the values which are considered to be the dominant at the present epoch.

As a result, the audience wants to watch the sitcom which is promotes consumerist values and approves the righteousness of the existing social order. On the other hand, the creators of the sitcom are not interested in the revolutionizing the view of the audience. There are several reasons for this unwillingness of the creators of the sitcom to change the traditional views of the audience. First of all, if the creators of the film attempted to convey some revolutionary idea that would show people that the existing social order is totally wrong and their traditional lifestyle should be changed radically, it would be quite logical to presuppose that the project would fail commercially because of the lack of the popularity of such a product among the audience. In fact, the reason is quite simple since people do not expect to receive some profound ideological message, while watching a sitcom. What they really expect and want to receive is just some fun and to spend some time entertaining their emotions but not overpowering their brains.

In such a way, the sitcom, as a genre, should not overload the audience but provide very simply, if not to say simplistic, plot, funny and entertaining simply to amuse the audience (Bagdikian, 87). Naturally, it is possible to argue that it is possible to convey a different message using the same means, i.e. it is possible to show the audience a different lifestyle or criticize the drawbacks of the existing social order, instead of promoting the existing status quo and emphasizing its benefits through creation the positive image of the current social order. In this respect, it is necessary to realize that there is another reason for creators to avoid such a shift in the ideological background of such sitcoms as “Futurama”. In fact, it would be illogical to criticize the existing social order, which actually provides the creators of the film with ample opportunities to get richer and improve their own life since the use of a trivial plot and conservative ideas attract more investments as well as they are traditionally positively perceived by the audience. At this point, it is necessary to precise that the audience may be really sensitive to serious changes in the ideological message in the sitcom (). It is possible to refer to the recent past or even present epoch, when the use of some sensitive aspects of the existing social order encountered the opposition in society. For instance, the use of religious themes in the present epoch may provoke serious problems for creators of an entertainment product, such as was the case of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in European press, which caused strong opposition in the local Muslim community and worldwide protests from the part of Muslims. This example proves the fact that the message that outcomes the traditional borderline can evoke the protest and, therefore, may lead to the commercial failure of the entire project (Bagdikian, 79). This is probably why the creators of “Futurama” prefer to convey traditionalist ideas and values.

Thus, it is possible to estimate that the creators of the film are interested to use and promote the dominant ideology and maintain the existing status quo because of the fear of the commercial failure of their project in case of the lack of interest from the part of the audience to the totally new product. At the same time, the use of the traditional ideological message may be viewed as a part of the receipt of a commercially successful project, which was tested by the creators of “Futurama” in the previous project “The Simpsons”. Also, the use of the traditional ideological message attracts sponsors and investors to the development and promotion of the project.

In such a situation, it is quite natural that the sitcom “Futurama” contains a strong ideological background that maintains the existing social order and promotes the idea of the necessity to maintain the status quo. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the setting of the sitcom. In fact, the action takes place in the distant future. This logically implies that the future society is more advanced not only technologically but also intellectually and culturally and this difference may be easily traced through the representation of the main character Phillip J. Fry, who originates from the present epoch, and other characters, who were born or created much later and originally belong to the future society. At the same time, the future society depicted in the sitcom is apparently a reflection of the modern society where the traditional values and ideology were preserved in its original, contemporary form. In such a way, the creators of “Futurama” emphasize the fact that the contemporary social order and lifestyle of people can hardly be changed in principle, though some insignificant elements may evolve but the backbone of the contemporary ideology and society will never be changed, i.e. the traditional dominance of the material values, the strive for wealth and the existing social inequality.

By the way, the social inequality is one of the main elements of the ideological message of the sitcom. It should be pointed out that the future society, depicted by the creators of the sitcom, is still based on the traditional social hierarchy where there are upper and lower classes, celebrities and stars opposed by social marginal groups and outcasts. In fact, the social hierarchy of the future society resembles the contemporary one. To put it more precisely, there are upper classes constituted by richest people, leading politicians and celebrities. For instance, Amy Wong, one of the main characters, may be viewed as a representative of the upper classes because she is incredibly rich. There is also the middle class represented by the scientists, for instance. And, naturally, there are lower classes and oppressed minorities amply represented in the sitcom. For instance, it is possible to name sewer mutants who are the lowest caste in the future society depicted in “Futurama”. These mutants live in the sewers by law and they are not allowed to live along with the rest of society on the surface of the planet. The fact that there status and life is defined by the law is very important because it creates the impression that this is nothing wrong with all these mutants since they live in accordance with the law. In such a way, the author shows that the deprived position of certain groups of the society is a norm and not an extraordinary phenomenon. At any rate, the image of the mutants rather evokes negative feelings of the audience, while their life is shown not so miserable as it could and should be, taking into consideration the conditions of their life. In fact, they are shows as satisfied with their life in the sewers, where they created their own world and live in accordance with their own rules, feeling quite comfortable in their misery.

Probably the most interesting and noteworthy of the future society depicted by the creators of “Futurama” are robots. In fact, robots represent the largest minority in the world of “Futurama” (Lewisohn, 114). Basically, they are treated as second-class citizens that are treated as inferior to humans and other beings that occupy the dominant position in the future society. In such a situation, it is very important to underline that robots are depicted as creatures that possess practically all possible vices that could have been created by the human imagination. One of the main characters, robot Bender Bending Rodriguez, is a typical representative of this marginal or inferior class of the future society. This character personifies practically all negative qualities which characterize his class. He is alcoholic, he constantly smokes cigars, he is ill-tempered and practically unbearable robot. Moreover, he is kleptomaniac and tends to the commitment of various crimes, basically cheating, stealing and robberies. All these characteristics are apparently the characteristic of all robots. In such a way, the creators of the sitcom attempt to convince the audience that there are lower classes which may be socially dangerous and, even though there are some exceptions, it is still necessary to be very careful in relationships with representatives of the lower classes.

The lower, inferior class of robots is contrasting to the upper class of rich people, such as Amy Wong, who is just a spoiled girl who is not socially dangerous as many robots are. In this regard, other main character representing the middle class are practically ideal, while the vices, which they have a lot, are rather insignificant drawbacks that make the characters more realistic and close to the contemporary audience. Moreover, the existing state structure is similar to the contemporary one and even state symbols, such as the flag, resembles contemporary ones. For instance, the flag of the Earth resembles the flag of the US, the Democratic Order Of Planets resembles the UN (Sterngold, 43).

In such a way, the creators of “Futurama” actually portray the contemporary society and show that, in spite of certain drawbacks, this is the only way that is acceptable and that will persist in the future. In this respect, even the existence of social inequality and oppression of some classes is easily justified by the concerns about the security of society from socially dangerous elements representing lower classes of society. This is why it is possible to conclude  that sitcoms contributes consistently to the promotion of the existing social order and are used as tools to maintain the status quo.

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