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May 1993


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Benjamin Leontief Alpers <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 19 May 1993 14:22:34 EDT
text/plain (38 lines)
I'm very suspicious of analyses of TV and movies like the article on
_Cheers_ from the _Globe and Mail_.  I think my suspicion flows from a
strong disagreement with the notion that popular cultural texts in some
simple way reflect some fairly straight-forward Zeitgeist.  To make
a long story short (I'm perfectly happy to make it longer if those
on the list are interested), my objection boils down to two things.
First, TV shows (and films) are written by a particular set of people, not
by "America."  Unless the writers, directors, etc are out to capture the
spirit of the times, I think it is highly unlikely that a show, even a
successful one, would act as a perfect mirror as the author of the _Cheers_
piece seems to think _Cheers_ was [I might add that those rare films and
TV shows that actually DO try to capture the Zeitgeist - e.g. _Grand Canyon_
and _Regarding Henry_ in the late 1980s/dawn of the '90s - often end up being
cartoonish and transparently false . . . see my second point.].  Of course,
any work of art is going to bear the marks of its moment of production, but
to say that is very different from seeing it as some kind of total meter of
a totalizing national spirit as the author of the _Cheers_ piece seems to think
Cheers was.
Secondly, there is no single, unified Zeitgeist, which is one reason why
descriptions of one ring so false.  The '80s, we often hear tell, were a
decade of excess and hedonism.  But they were also a decade in which
more open attitudes towards sex and drug use began to roll back (the end of
the sexual revolution was proclaimed well before AIDS was anything but a
mysterious ailment that seemed only to affect gay men and Haitians). The
'80s saw BOTH the growth of the cultural/religious right AND the growth in
a gay and lesbian movement which made talk of sexual orientation, once taboo,
an important part of political life.  And let's not forget that, however
popular Reagan and Bush may have been, a larger percentage of the American
voters voted for Dukakis (and, I think, Mondale) than voted for Clinton
(I don't say this to take anything away from Clinton, simply to argue against
seeing America in the 1980s as the equivalent of the Reagan White House plus
Wall Street).
-- Ben Alpers
   Princeton University