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May 1992


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 22 May 1992 10:48:52 EDT
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I know even less about Brecht than I do about music videos, but Jeremy's
comment about comedians "breaking through the fourth wall" touched on a
point in popular entertainment.  One of the defining characteristics of
popular entertainment is that it is presentational rather than
representational.  The players are always conscious of the audience and
the audience is conscious that the performers are conscious of them.
The phrase "playing to the audience" captures the idea.  This
relationship sets up an interaction that makes hash of any notion of
"fourth wall."
Stand up comedy is the reference example of presentational form but
similar relationships are present in other types of mediated
entertainment which seem to depend on the conventions of the fourth
wall.  The presentational relationship pervades tv, not only in the
obvious places of direct address but also in most (all?) sitcoms.  How
else explain the patterned audience cheers (generated by the laugh track
machine) when Fonzi (for example, there are others) makes his first
entrance.  Sometimes this is exaggerated to the point that any entrance
is greeted by cheers of anticipation (the Darryls in Newhart comes to
mind).  There are slightly more subtle examples as when a character
almost winks at the audience as to say "get the joke?"
Along these lines I suspect that an analysis of laugh track placement
and intensity as it relates to so-called laugh lines might prove
interesting.  My hunch is that the laugh track relates to distanciation
in complex ways.  The point to much sitcom, it seems to me, is to bring
the audience into the play, make them part of the conspiracy,
so-to-speak.  If all of this sounds very speculative, it's only because it is.
Cal Pryluck                               <PRYLUCK@TEMPLEVM>
Dept of Radio-Television-Film             <[log in to unmask]>
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122