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Papers + Think Pieces Issue 2014

featuring the written work of this year’s TV-focused undergrads, from The Wire to Kristen Schaal to David Letterman and beyond

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CONTENTS Recoil: The Fierceness and Futility of “The Game” in The Wire Will Jones

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David Letterman: “Gap-Toothed Monkey Boy” or Late-Night Revolutionary? Joanna Ferrell

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Lucille Ball and Patti Stanger: Images of Womanhood Within and Behind the Scenes Briaan Barron

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Kristen Schaal’s Quest for Confidence and Connection Thomas Vohasek

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“Not the Opposite of What I Mean”: Sarah Silverman’s We Are Miracles and the Reality Prinicple Aleks Angelico

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Patton Oswalt: The Carnivalesque Comic Jim Sisto

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Saturday Night Live’s Coordinates in Culture Celine Elliott

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Credits

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Recoil The Fierceness and Futility of “The Game” in The Wire Will Jones University of Colorado at Boulder (2014) Contributor of the Month

Both sides of the war on drugs depicted in The Wire focus on moving forward, whether in business or making a case. Characters in the show refer to this war as “the game,” and the way they use language and rely on certain technologies indicates their own perspective on growth and efficiency. Some characters argue that “the game” has changed for the worse; others argue that “the game” has not and never will change. As drug dealers evade the police’s attempts to survey them, the game constantly adapts and evolves with new surveillance technologies. This evolution provides a paradoxical construct as the war on drugs constantly advances in technology with different players over time—but in a way that prevents any notion of progress on either side of the struggle. Whether the tools are guns, statistics, wiretaps, or power tools, an endless cycle of futility and the reliance on more competent technology frequently cancel out larger notions of systemic efficacy. As characters put their faith in certain weapons and tactics to ensure their own survival and keep tabs on their enemies, most fail to understand the repetition of the unchanged “game.” While the wire seems to represent a weapon that adapts to foiling tactics and ensures real progress against crime, language used by certain characters demonstrates a constant state of futility in a stagnant, never-ending “game.” Phallic Power and Number Power Within the language of power and efficiency in The Wire’s drug trade and law enforcement circles, “being up” seems to signify the notion of progress, forward movement, and success. For the drug trade, “being up,” means a customer is ready to buy a spider bag or eight ball, which represents the trade’s main goal of profit making. “Being up” in law enforcement usually connotes being “up” on a surveillance wire. The reliance on the wire stems from the belief that the tool provides the single most efficient way of building cases that matter, that the wire promotes real change and progress. However, language in The Wire demonstrates the paradoxical notion of moving forward without any progress. Watercooler Journal

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During a foot chase in season three, two police new to the Western District fail to identify where north is when asked by Maj. “Bunny” Colvin (“Time After Time”). As he points north, Colvin says: “You think it might help to know which direction you’re running?” Colvin teaches the two police how to use a compass: “Even numbers tell you north and west, odd, south and east.” Once the police are relieved, Carver mocks the rookies by saying, “I’m at a desk outside the roll call room on the first floor of 1034 North Mount, my feet are facing west, and my dick is pointing south, southwest.” Herc reassures them, “Bunny Colvin’s been giving that speech as Watercooler Journal

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long as you guys been sucking air.” The fact that Colvin has been giving that speech to almost every rookie who comes in demonstrates the inability of the police to learn directions and that their ignorance repeats constantly over time. Carver uses language of phallic power by joking that the two rookies’ “dicks” are facing paradoxical directions, taking their power away from them by mocking their own ignorance. Many characters throughout the show use phallic language to demonstrate their own power or efficacy in the proverbial “game.” Because The Wire presents a diegetic space where drug dealers and police have their own unique vocabulary that “operates in its own vernacular, these various structures of social, political and economic power are all linked to one another and share similar levels of linguistic density” (Hanson 209). As a character’s dialect signifies their race, class, or occupation, the way a character speaks can signify the lack of progress found in the system of the game. While language in The Wire points to a certain power dynamic, it also points to the paradoxical movement of a game that never changes but constantly moves forward with seemingly heightened stakes.

“While languages of power, efficiency, and weaponry like Slim’s ammunition and Burrell’s statistics seem to suggest a new fierceness of ‘the game,’ any motion forward is usually thwarted by systemic cycles found within The Wire.” Mirroring the use of phallic language comes language of and reliance on weaponry in order to succeed in the war on drugs. Similar to the way Colvin used numbers to teach directions, numbers play an important role in the language of power. Numbers seem to clearly represent a character’s own efficiency and success; more firepower equals a higher chance to hit a target. Numbers come to represent this notion of efficiency in episode four of season three, “Amsterdam.” Slim Charles, a “soldier” in the current game, and Cutty, a solider recently released after a fourteen-year prison sentence, prepare to hit an employee who stole off the count. Slim Charles hands Cutty a “Sig Sauer” pistol when Cutty objects: “I’m used to revolvers, man. .38 don't jamb.” Slim retorts, “Don’t hold fifteen neither.” Slim’s choice of weapon provides a glimpse into the current state of the game: a gun with a higher capacity magazine is more efficient and powerful than a revolver that “don’t jamb.” The reliance on numbers suggests that more firepower gives a player a better chance of survival in a game where violence and stakes have increased but morality and agency have decreased. Watercooler Journal

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As Cutty acclimates to this newfound principle of “the game,” he says, “The game done changed,” but Slim offers his own philosophy: “The game’s the same. Just got more fierce.” Slim’s language points to the paradoxical state of the game as something that does not change, but progresses or “gets more fierce.” Paul Allen Anderson points out that the game must be the same in “‘The Game Is the Game’: Tautology and Allegory in The Wire.” Avon Barksdale constantly reminds his soldiers, “The game is the game. Always,” as a tautological phrase indicative of his own “conservative proverbs or shorthand renderings of an epic worldview defined by necessity and institutional consistency rather than turbulent change and randomness” (Anderson 85). Throughout the entire series characters debate the current state of the “game” as something that either never changes or has changed drastically. While “Avon would like to stop time with the atemporal tautology” in an attempt to assert his own philosophy and dissolve his harsh, immoral decisions because “the game” is simply “always the game,” Colvin believes the game has changed (Anderson 97): “The West Side we knew is dead man… People in the game nowadays… I mean, it's a whole different breed” (“Final Grades”). Det. Bunk communicates a similar perspective to Omar: “I know you remember the neighborhood how it was . . . It wasn’t about guns so much as knowing what to do with your hands,” and finishes his critique of Omar’s generation with, “It makes me sick, motherfucker, Watercooler Journal

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how far we done fell” (“Homecoming”). Bunk’s assessment communicates the idea of falling rather than moving “up” as if to say the game has regressed into an amoral state due to the reliance on guns and violence. While Avon would argue against this change, Slim adds an interesting compromise with the phrase “just got more fierce” as if to admit technological advancements and a need for violence have raised the stakes, whereas other ideologies and objectives within the game have stayed the same.

Similar to the way Slim’s fifteen-bullet capacity magazine correlates to a higher success rate, Commissioner Burrell relies on the principle of numbers. High numbers of arrests, rip-and-runs, head-busting style of policing, and the amount of “dope on the table” all represent Burrell’s need to quickly produce results. Burrell’s reliance on these tactics demonstrates his ability to “juke the stats” rather than provide long-term solutions; more firepower in a shorter period of time is better than Cutty’s slower and supposedly less capable revolver. Commissioner Burrell displays a reliance on cold hard data as police efficiency, when in actuality, his style of policing negates any notion of progress in the war on drugs. When Burrell tries to kill the wire—a tool that takes more time, resources, money, and energy to build a case—after the drug dealers “change-up” and stop using pay phones, he tells Lt. Daniels, “You wanna listen to some brokeass pay phones, have it, but you don’t need that much manpower to do it” (“Cleaning Up”). Watercooler Journal

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Burrell’s goal is efficiency when he removes “manpower” from a wire that has “gone cold.” He orders Daniels to send back “Sydnor and Santangello” and to keep “that old man from the pawnshop” (Freamon) and “Valcheck’s brain-dead son-in-law” (Pryzbylewski). Freamon and Pryzbylewski are actually the two figures most effectively following the paper trail that would eventually expose the “higher-up” bureaucratic individuals such as Burrell or Senator Clay Davis. Burrell shows a lack of understanding of effective police work that leads to a false sense of progress within the police department. When Daniels gets his chance to finally expose these failed methods to much-higher-up Carcetti, he is reluctant to expose his bosses. But Rhonda Pearlman advises Daniels to “fire away, both barrels” (“Unto Others”).

“While ‘recoil’ literally signifies the kickback of a weapon, it also metaphorically speaks to the movement of the game itself...” The language of weaponry and firepower is used when discussing a character’s opportunity to get promoted or expose the failures of others. Daniels is in a position to “fire away, both barrels” (like Slim’s fifteen-capacity mag) and do real damage or real change. Daniels, a “good po-lice,” can finally expose Burrell’s failures in law enforcement and start to work towards real progress, despite the notion that most progress in The Wire is scarce. But in season five, Daniels denies his promotion as Acting Commissioner because he knows his desire to enforce good police work will be consumed by the larger system at play. He realizes that his ability to “fire away” has no real impact, because he would be roped into the same cycle of every Commissioner before him and be forced to “juke the stats.” Just Another Horse in a Harness While languages of power, efficiency, and weaponry like Slim’s ammunition and Burrell’s statistics seem to suggest a new fierceness of “the game,” any motion forward is usually thwarted by systemic cycles found within The Wire. There is a sense of false progress even for those police who believe in high quality cases with higher quality equipment. Det. Jimmy McNulty whole-heartedly believes that the wire is the key to creating good cases. If the game has “got more fierce” and the drug dealers have discovered new ways of avoiding the police, the wire seems to be the most efficient tool to catch them. But as McNulty recognizes, bad Watercooler Journal

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police will always prevent progress. In the third episode of the series, McNulty attempts to get two lazy officers on the detail to go find a picture of Avon Barksdale. He points out that “the housing projects began to take photos of every registered resident as a security measure,” and once Pat finally picks up that McNulty “wants [them] to go down the housing department and pull his photo,” McNulty mockingly points out the late arrival of his conclusion: “Excellent. You know you and I, we think as one. We’re like two horses together in a harness” (“The Buys”). The image McNulty presents is appropriate for understanding the way the two types of police hinder and cancel out each other’s progress. Two horses moving together should make the load they carry lighter, however, if one horse refuses to do the job, any forward motion is negated by the other horse’s inability to move. Despite the fact that McNulty is in a detail that gets up on a wire, bad police like Pat and Burrell pull him down. McNulty’s image mirrors the paradoxical notion of the game itself, which constantly moves forward through time, void of progress. The only other image of a horse in The Wire is when Dukie works selling metal off a cart pulled by a horse in season five. The cart resembles a more glorified version of Bubbles’ shopping cart. Bubbles would be pleased if his broken shopping cart carrying white t-shirts could evolve into a cart carrying an abundance of metal being pulled by a horse in such an efficient way. However, the end goal is the same—Dukie is just another Bubbles, another dope fiend on the street trying to score another vial despite the new “horsepower.” The false reliance on more power and more efficiency in The Wire demonstrates surveillance’s false movement forward. The language of power and weaponry relates directly to the use of the wire as a surveillance tool in the series. Like Cutty, who believes the game has changed due to the increase of violence in the game, McNulty believes the wire will produce a higher quantity of high quality evidence, increasing his own success in the game. However, the game remains the same and the players have developed “more fierce” ways to foil surveillance technologies. The ability to advance surveillance equipment, then, leads to an endless cycle of “changing up” that keeps the game stagnant. A technological standstill occurs when Omar and Brother Mouzone confront each other in the cold open of “Middle Ground.” At the beginning of the scene, the camera starts out in a highangle view of an alleyway. Telephone wires cross the frame, connoting the idea of wires and surveillance technologies. The camera tracks down to the street as Omar walks into view, but he stops when Mouzone says, “That’s far enough.” The two proceed to stare each other down in the style of a Western duel as they discuss the weapons they wield. While Omar “favor[s] a Watercooler Journal

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.45,” Mouzone sports a “Walther PPK, 380, double action.” They each point out weaknesses in the other’s weapons as Omar states, “Hear them Walthers like to jump some… that gun ain’t got enough firepower to make my joint useless. It definitely won’t stop me from emptying out half my mag.” Mouzone responds with, “You might not hit me,” but Omar laughs and says, “This range? In this caliber? Even if I miss, I can’t miss.” The confrontation ends when Mouzone says, “I suppose we could stand here all night… I want to ask you something.”

Omar and Brother Mouzone seem evenly matched as far as their weapons go, and their discussion of what will “go down” in a shootout largely depends on probability, firepower, and caliber of bullet. These guns do not progress their movement, as their discussion to follow points to the truth that Stringer Bell set them both up. Evoking the image of the wires shown at the beginning of the scene, Mouzone seeks information from Omar. The way the two discuss their weaponry points to McNulty and Freamon’s reliance on the wire as their own weapon of choice. Omar’s point about “range” and “caliber” relates to the wire as a tool that transcends proximity, or “range,” and has such a intense firing power that detectives believe that even if they “miss, [they] can’t miss.” The caliber of the wire seems so big that it cannot miss its target.

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Gunpowder Tools While the wire seems like a surveillance tool that can constantly adapt to “change-ups,” no progress is made. Cutty and Slim Charles originally brought up the notion of backfiring or “jambing.” While McNulty believes the wire is an efficient tool to combat the new fierceness of the game, more ammunition does not necessarily mean more efficiency. The cold open of season four’s premiere, “Boys of Summer,” highlights this efficiency. Snoop shops for a nail gun in order to hide her dead bodies in vacant houses. The salesman notices her “Dewalt cordless… Dewalt 410.” Snoop complains that her nail gun’s “battery won’t hold up,” and the salesman replies “a cordless’ll do that.” The idea of being “cordless” or “wireless” is another connotation of technological advancement within the game. The salesman continues to recommend a “powder action tool… the Hilti DX 460 MX,” but Snoop misunderstands and later asks, “You say ‘power’?” But no, the salesman refers to “powder,” “like gunpowder.” He adds, “At that rate, the cost of the powder actuated gun justifies itself.” Snoop now literally mistakes the gun’s powder function for the word “power.” They discuss the gun’s caliber, a .27, and the salesman admits, “Not large ballistically, but for driving nails, it’s enough. Any more than that, and you’d add to the recoil.” In a unique moment Snoop understands that a smaller caliber bullet can be more efficient. She adds, “I seen a tiny ass .22 round-nose drop a nigger… motherfuckers get up in you like a pinball, rip your ass up. Big joints, though, big joints, man. Just break your bones, you just say ‘fuck it.’” Unlike Omar, who believed his large caliber increased his ability to hit his target, Snoop knows a larger caliber might not be as effective as a .22. However, her description of the .22 acting “like a pinball” provides an interesting contradiction. Along with the idea of a smaller, more effective caliber, comes her pinball simile. In the game of pinball, the objective is to continually keep the ball in motion but suspended in play for as long as the player can, like the larger “game”—constantly in motion but suspended in an unchanged state. Although the .22 seems more effective, it can still impede on the game’s progress and relates to the false reliance on the wire as a tool for change. Recoil The language of efficiency and reliance on “fierce” technologies demonstrates that the wire, when pushed too far, has the ability to backfire. Thus, any perceived progress is faulty. Apart from Snoop’s understanding of caliber, the notion of “kickback” links back to Cutty’s notion of “jambing.” Snoop provides this term when asked if she knows what the salesman means by “recoil.” The word “recoil” has a large resonance of meaning within the game that “just got Watercooler Journal

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more fierce.” While “recoil” literally signifies the kickback of a weapon, it also metaphorically speaks to the movement of the game itself in the midst of the technological advancement of weaponry and surveillance equipment. While these advancements seem to progress both sides of the drug war, they keep those sides in a false sense of causality as characters step into each other’s roles by the series end. In other words, what occurs is a “re-coil.”

The definition of “coil” is “to wind into continuous, regularly spaced rings one above the other” (“Coil” Dictionary.com). The word and definition of recoiling describes the mode of The Wire itself as a serial television program presented in a “continuous, regularly spaced” number of episodes and scenes, but it also describes the endless cycles and lack of progress found within the show as technologies and character types recoil on top of each other. Sydnor becomes the next McNulty, Carver the next Daniels, and Michael the next Omar. Unfortunately, the technology surrounding surveillance has plenty of “kickback” and fails to cause any significant effect within the series. McNulty and Freamon’s lust for the technology Watercooler Journal

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and abuse of its ability to bring in a case causes Marlo Stanfield, the detail’s main target, to walk free as they lose their own jobs. Even though the wire is thought to be an infallible tool, it pushes Freamon and McNulty to lie and manipulate crime scenes in order to obtain more money and time for their own investigation of Marlo. Along with the better technology comes a more “fierce” sense of morality, which ultimately keeps the game suspended and unresolved. Although the wire may accumulate more evidence over time, it can be misinterpreted, foiled, and abused. A revolver that “don’t jamb” may actually be more efficient than a magazine that “hold[s] fifteen.” The game has gotten “more fierce” and the language of its characters speaks to this very paradox with a stronger reliance on stats, a greater lust for power, and an increased lack of morality. But the game is the same, as the drug trade and law enforcement systems are stuck in a forward moving but futile struggle.

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Conclusion The Wire offers multiple perspectives on the war on drugs based on how certain characters speak, what imagery they offer, and what principles they communicate. The ways in which the “game” has changed offers certain perspectives on economics, morality, time, and technological advancement. The ways in which characters evaluate their own position in the game are based on many principles, such as numbers, weapons, objectives, technology, morals, and tools. As surveillance technologies evolve, so do the stakes of the drug trade and the need to evade those technologies. The interactions between characters and their dialogue in The Wire speak to the paradoxical idea of moving forward in systems of power like “the game,” which inevitably stays the same. Individual efficacy translates to a larger systemic paralysis of agency. While the wire seems to offer some form of hope in progressing this game to new answers or less crime, The Wire’s language speaks the very obsession of efficiency that keeps those values in a static game.

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works cited Anderson, Paul Allen. ""The Game Is the Game": Tautology and Allegory in The Wire." The Wire: Race, Class, and Genre. Ed. Liam Kennedy and Stephen Shapiro. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2012. 84-109. Print. "Coil." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 25 June 2013. Hanson, Christopher. "“A Man Must Have A Code”: The Many Languages Of The Wire." Quarterly Review Of Film & Video 29.3 (2012): 203-212. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 June 2013.

image credits, in order: image: The Scheme King, via http://www.weallscheme.com/ ©HBO Studios ©HBO Studios ©HBO Studios ©HBO Studios ©HBO Studios Watercooler Journal

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David Letterman “Gap-Toothed Monkey Boy” or Late-Night Revolutionary? Joanna Ferrell Sarah Lawrence College (2012)

Since the inception of both the variety show and late-night talk show (in 1948 with The Ed Sullivan Show and 1962 with The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, respectively), American networks have produced countless broadcasts that replicate both the structure and “look” of Sullivan and Carson’s paradigms. However, as a result of the constantly evolving televisual conditions and the difficulty to adhere to the classic late-night format (while simultaneously incorporating a unique sensibility and “look”), not many programs have run for more than a few seasons. Because this generic structure so rarely results in long-term success, Letterman’s command of the genre and revolutionary approach in the well-established Late Night with David Letterman—which flourished for over eleven years, and gave rise to the Late Show with David Letterman, now in its nineteenth season—will provide significant insight into why the late-night talk show remains a fixture in today’s contemporary televisual landscape. Watercooler Journal

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Before looking at Late Night with David Letterman, one must examine the late-night talk show genre as a whole. An amalgamation of the classic talk show and hour-long variety show, the late-night talk show traditionally consists of five to six “acts.” After a pre-taped opening sequence, the host opens the program with a comedic monologue and/or a series of short comedic bits (known as “extras”) followed by a commercial. Next, a house band usually plays as the show returns from sponsored messages, often as an art card or B-roll clip featuring a bug of the show’s logo is displayed. The host then launches into a desk segment, where he (or she, in rare cases) discusses a humorous anecdote or plays a pre-taped comedy sketch. After another break, the host introduces a guest to begin the first of two guest segments. Within these five-to-ten-minute segments, the host and guest discuss several topics (covered in a preinterview between the guest and a segment producer), culminating in an inevitable plug. After yet another commercial break, a segment advertises guests scheduled for the next episode, followed by a musical or comedy act which closes the show. Late Night With David Letterman, January 30th, 1991 Viewing an episode of Late Night With David Letterman broadcast on January 30th, 1991 demonstrates the full and evident adherence to the typical late-night format but with an engaging spin. The show opens with a pre-taped sequence over live music from the house musicians, Paul Shaffer and The World’s Most Dangerous Band. A helicopter shot of New York City zooms past the Queensboro Bridge, giving the illusion of flying through the city. The camera appears to travel through an office within a skyscraper, quickly passing through a series of cubicles before exiting. Next, the camera swoops down into a typical bachelor pad, complete with messy laundry basket and dog, continuing through a window to its next stop, a dive bar. Once exiting the bar, the camera travels through an indoor garage, passing several workers before making a sharp ascent into 30 Rockefeller Center and into the studio. Here, the band plays, a curtain parts, a scrim flies, and finally, David Letterman (dressed unconventionally in khaki slacks, a navy blue blazer, tie, and running shoes) makes his entrance, running full-tilt toward the middle camera. He introduces Shaffer and the band and then launches into a monologue of twelve jokes, often engaging a member of the audience from Wyoming (most likely approached by Letterman in a brief audience chat segment that takes place minutes before the taping). Letterman often solicits Shaffer’s response to the content of the monologue, and their camaraderie is obvious with Letterman teasingly demands that Paul “shut up” when Shaffer responds to a query in a sycophantic manner. Shaffer functions not unlike Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s erstwhile sidekick. However, Shaffer simultaneously performs the duties of bandleader—akin to Doc Severinsen, Carson’s musical director. Watercooler Journal

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“Letterman’s authentic chagrin appears to strengthen the audience’s perception of Letterman as ‘the common man.’” The monologue concludes with a visual gag, as a camera reveals an actor portraying Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood (known for missing a game-winning field goal in the final minutes of Superbowl XXV) cooking bacon on a hot plate. The audience groans, suggesting that either this was in bad taste, or more likely, that Letterman had used this gag several times before. Letterman is known for reusing both monologue jokes and gags that he finds funny, regardless of audience reaction. This behavior is congruous with Letterman’s rebellious, devil-may-care comedic style.

After a commercial break (decidedly slanted toward the desirable 18-49 male demographic, featuring commercials for Budweiser, the buddy adventure film Grand Canyon, Subway meatball subs, and GMC trucks), the show returns via a quick “bumper” displaying what appears to be Letterman’s office desk topped with a smattering of office supplies, a copy of Variety, several cigars, and a Late Night script. Letterman, now seated behind his desk amongst a phone, coffee mug, and his ever-present antique microphone, welcomes viewers back before placing a call. As the mysterious recipient does not pick up, Letterman leads a cameraman into the hallway of the studio, where he proceeds to interrogate an NBC page about the missed phone call. Letterman returns to the studio, where he engages the production crew on set with questions regarding the timing and pacing of the show, reinforcing the self-reflexive nature of the program. Watercooler Journal

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Letterman then sits at his desk, and sensing the audience’s anticipation of the next segment, stretches out and drinks slowly from his coffee mug, inciting laughter from the audience, who appear amused by Letterman’s stalling. This serves as a device to reassert his unchallenged position as master of ceremonies, build suspense, and defy the closely held broadcasting dogma of undesirable “dead air.” At various points in the show, Letterman pauses or physically reacts after several seconds of silence before finally introducing his “Top Ten” segment, wherein he ranks ten examples of a humorous topic, such as “Things that Almost Rhyme with ‘Peas’“ or “Orville Redenbacher’s Top Ten Most Horrifying Secrets.”

After a commercial break, Letterman introduces the first of two interview segments with comedian Richard Lewis. Lewis’s intro consists of a brief instrumental piece played by the band and a follow-spot to the desk, where Letterman stands up and shakes his hand. Their banter is friendly. Letterman is known for his amiability with guests he respects and his borderline condescending and hurried interaction with those he doesn’t. During this conversation, Dave reveals a previous failed marriage in a sincere effort to soothe Lewis. A serious mention of a negative real-life experience without a soupçon of Letterman’s trademark self-deprecation is very rare on his program. Three cameras assume four positions throughout these interviews: a standard middle two-shot, a head-on one-shot of both the guest and Letterman, and an overthe-shoulder shot focused on Letterman. This carefully devised and regularized series of angles not only allows for host/guest interaction, but the over-the-shoulder shot also provides an ideal perspective for Letterman’s signature facial reactions (i.e., mugging, sipping coffee, etc.) to unusual twists and turns that often take place during an interview.

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After a commercial and another interview segment with Lewis—in which Letterman refers to himself as a “dweeb,” effectively endearing himself to the audience, reinforcing his selfdeprecating TV persona, and perhaps divulging genuine neurotic tendencies)—a bumper in the form of an art card depicting a group of people viewing an exhibit with one observer sporting a Late Night baseball jacket appears. The picture transitions into Letterman at his desk, announcing both the guests for the upcoming show and his next guest on this particular show, Gretchen Warden, curator of the Odd and Obsolete Medical Devices exhibit in Philadelphia. Human-interest pieces occasionally fill the fourth act, often the final interview slot before the musical/comedic set. The band plays on Ms. Warden, but instead of sitting in next to the desk (in typical interview fashion), Letterman meets her at a table in the middle of the set. As Letterman questions Ms. Warden about the exhibit, his attention shifts to the tabletop, and he begins to fiddle with some of the objects there in a display of impulse. He cracks jokes about the objects, throwing Ms. Warden off her planned remarks. She concludes her segment with a plug for a museum-sponsored calendar. Letterman thinly veils his contempt for the concept of the plug by mocking the calendar, flipping through it dramatically, wisecracking, and rolling his eyes.

Finally, in an anomalous turn of events, after the final commercial break, Letterman introduces Kevin Bacon in lieu of a musical act. Often when an act runs longer than a planned segment, a musical guest or stand-up comedian will be bumped in favor of a more well-known celebrity. In a verbal sense, Dave approaches Bacon with a bit more caution than with his friend Richard Lewis, as he seems to be under the impression that Bacon is just another pretty boy celebrity. However, Bacon proves himself to be interesting, down-to-earth, and quite witty. The host and guest establish a rapport. As the episode concludes, Letterman quickly thanks his guests from Watercooler Journal

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his desk and wishes his audience and viewers a good night. The show’s theme music plays against footage of The World’s Most Dangerous Band. The Ethos of Late Night and Letterman As one can see, the elements of the late-night talk show genre are easily identifiable (and organized meticulously) within Late Night with David Letterman. But as a result of Letterman and his staff’s ability to imbue the show with its singular intellectual and defiant persona, the show seems to transcend the conventional format and carve out its own niche amidst its monotonous, highly structured competitors. Letterman achieves his carefully constructed “regular guy” persona via his casual dress, spontaneous physicality, and waning attention span. He endears himself to his audience by engaging with them in the studio and self-deprecating his looks, personality, and status (once referring to himself as a “gap-toothed monkey boy”) alongside a display of intolerance for vain, dull Hollywood types. While interviewing or discussing these individuals, Letterman’s personality seems to shift, and his biting wit replaces lighthearted teasing. Through this, viewers can detect moodiness and exasperation. This cantankerousness often charms the audience; Letterman’s authentic chagrin appears to strengthen the audience’s perception of Letterman as “the common man.” His persona— combined with his ability to see through much of the nonsense pervading the entertainment industry—endears him to many important figures within the industry while simultaneously creating wariness within the same circles. Letterman does not pander to celebrities. For example, on CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman in 2008, Letterman famously mocked Arizona senator and presidential candidate John McCain for months on air after McCain skipped an interview with Letterman—citing an emergency in Washington—for an interview on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric several blocks away. Letterman played raw footage of McCain attaching a lavalier microphone to his suit on the Evening News set at the exact time he had promised to be on Late Show. Three weeks after the gaffe (and after being the target of Letterman’s ridicule nightly), McCain appeared on the show to apologize. Occasionally, the skittish-yet-polite speaking manner and body language of guests will depict a degree of intimidation. This was apparent to some extent with Kevin Bacon, who keeps his arms folded and legs crossed in what seems to be a self-preserving pose. The role-reversing concept of having A-list stars in the proverbial “hot seat” is an unfamiliar one for most of the guests, and as Letterman strives to place the audience on his level, viewers feel they have an Watercooler Journal

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upper hand on the guests. This charms the audience once more, but Letterman’s influence on the audience is perhaps most evident in his monologues. Letterman takes jabs at high-profile figures both in America and abroad (mocking numerous governmental fixtures from the New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the former Attorney General John Ashcroft). As a result of the uproarious audience response, dissidence is encouraged and frequently taken into consideration by viewers. Letterman’s liberal political affiliations are obvious, and although most of his jokes are equal opportunity offenders, his leftist leaning is apparent in his reaction to or delivery of certain jokes (eye-rolling while speaking about George H.W. Bush, and in later episodes, playful jabs at Bill Clinton’s libido).

Late Night with David Letterman not only succeeded as a faithful supporter of the late-night talk show format, but also as a revolutionary exemplar within that genre. Through Letterman’s egalitarian treatment of his audience, adroit interview skills, innovative segments, and signature brand of irreverent, rebellious-yet-cerebral humor, Letterman has established the late-night talk show as an entertaining and informative postmodern genre that has and will continue to stand the test of time.

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works consulted Adler, Bill. The Letterman Wit: His Life and Humor. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994. Print. Carter, Bill. The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night. New York: Hyperion, 1994. Print. “Late Night with David Letterman December 1991 including Commercials.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 May 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNLFetTYq1I>. O’Donnell, Victoria. Television Criticism. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2007. Print. Shales, Tom. “David Letterman and the Power of Babble.” Esquire (New York), Nov. 1986. Print. Sullivan, Robert E. “Letterman: The First 100 Nights.” Vogue (New York), January 1994. Print. “This Day in Quotes: The First Letterman Top Ten List Debuted 25 Years Ago Today.” 18 Sep. 2010. Web. 18 Feb. 2012. <http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2010/09/first-lettermantop-ten-list-debuted-25.html>.

image credits, in order: ©Associated Press, via http://media.npr.org/ ©NBC Universal Studios ©NBC Universal Studios ©NBC Universal Studios ©NBC Universal Studios Watercooler Journal

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Lucille Ball and Patti Stanger Images of Womanhood Within and Behind the Scenes Briaan Barron Sarah Lawrence College (2013)

One is a vibrant redhead with a quirky demeanor, trying to quench her thirst for the spotlight. The other is a blunt brunette bursting with colorful quips and provocative jargon in her search for love. Though these descriptions may ring true for a female sitcom duo, they describe two separate women who have managed to make a mark on the entertainment industry in two distinctive eras of television history. Watercooler Journal

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1950s starlet Lucille Ball created an iconic image of the housewife with her portrayal of Lucy Ricardo in the classic sitcom I Love Lucy. Patti Stanger, the founder of Millionaire’s Club International, Inc. and star of the Bravo reality show, The Millionaire Matchmaker, makes her lavish living by providing a unique dating service—a boot camp approach to love advice for an elite clientele. It may seem that these two women have little to nothing in common, but the roles that they play in terms of both their on-screen characters and their real world influences share some intriguing parallels. Specifically, Stanger and Ball both firmly grasp the importance of self-branding. They both star in television shows that commodify love, and they both have to reconcile decisions on how to represent femininity in society. Given the dual occupations of starlet and entrepreneur, these women craft an image that subscribes to particular social standards in order to attain broad appeal while simultaneously defying those standards by occupying positions of power in traditionally masculine spaces. Branding Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy Self-branding is the concept of creating or selecting one’s most unique, interesting, appealing, or provocative attributes and exaggerating them to invent a marketable caricature of one’s self. Whether developing a unique hairstyle, facial expression, fashion, catch phrase, or all of the above, self-branding is all about creating a signature “you” that is quickly and easily recognizable to an audience. Lucille Ball embodies a classic example of self-branding during early television’s “golden age.” At the mere mention of I Love Lucy, an image of Ball’s gingerhaired headshot most likely enters one’s mind, or perhaps the lively, retro theme music, or even a visual of the show’s title scrolling across the inside of a black and white heart as per the famous opening segment. The twenty-first century provides a plethora of media outlets that propel the potential of self-branding to an entirely different level of significance. In the current hypermedia climate, audiences and consumers demand an intimate level of familiarity with the subjects on-screen. The ever blurring line between the public and the private sphere forces contemporary television personalities to be increasingly more conscious and deliberate about their representation in the media. It is within this milieu that Patti Stanger’s career subsists. While consumer expectations and tools of communications may have advanced within the past several decades, an analysis of Patti Stanger’s and Lucille Ball’s respective branding strategies reveals that the fundamental principles behind representing famous women have scarcely changed. One peculiar but prominent component of Lucille Ball’s visual brand is her signature red hair. What began as a ploy to stand out amongst competing flaxen starlets of the era (Doty 5) Watercooler Journal

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ultimately became a career-defining decision that carried more significance. As Ball transitioned from the medium of radio and film to television in the 1950s, the set of qualities associated with her hair color evolved with the characters she played. Doty notes that, “Most frequently, RKO cast Ball in roles that reinforced qualities of directness, harshness, unpretentiousness, practicality, job-competence, straightforward sexual attractiveness, and sharp, ironic humor” (5). The “Lucy” that America came to love in her television career thoroughly contrasts the characters Ball personified during her run as a contract player with RKO. As the sitcom genre—which both depicted and targeted the traditional nuclear family— called for a relatable or widely accepted sort of woman, Lucille Ball’s brand adapted to these demands. As a result, Ball’s red hair, having become associated by the 1950s with glamour, sharptongued wit, aggressiveness, and temper… became linked to Lucy’s comic vanity, deceptiveness, manic energy, and “screwball” illogic. Ultimately, Lucy Ricardo, and even Lucille Ball as a public figure/star were frequently characterized by some variation of the phrase “crazy redhead.” (6) In fact, Ball’s hair color served distinct purposes for both film and television as she traversed the two media. In the film industry, the vibrant hue lent itself to the use of Technicolor that typified RKO films in the mid-twentieth century. With the arrival of I Love Lucy, the hair color abandoned its function as visual stimuli to become a more figurative mark of Lucy’s personality, since the iconic television show aired in black and white.

“While I Love Lucy utilizes costumes, sets, and narratives that resemble a more traditional American household to obscure Lucy’s unconventional ideals and behavior, The Millionaire Matchmaker uses Stanger’s assertive language, powerful comportment, and skin-exposing garb to obfuscate its perpetuation of sexist ideologies.” During Ball’s era, the film and entertainment industry depended heavily upon a woman’s appearance and ability to emote a particular sentiment through her eyes and bodily Watercooler Journal

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movements. As implicated in descriptions of Ball’s roles prior to I Love Lucy, sensuality played a key role in the success of female characters. Given this framework, Ball had the opportunity to carve a niche of her own, not only as manifested in her choice of hair color but also in the characteristics she embodied. While Marilyn Monroe occupied the role of the sultry, coquettish Blonde, the role of Lucy Ricardo allowed Lucille Ball to lay claim to a sort of whimsical glamour. Lucy’s iconic bemused and wide-eyed pout contrasts with the memorable portrait of Marilyn Monroe, lids low and lips agape. Even solely from the neck up, Lucille Ball had contrived a signature look, exemplifying perhaps the primary objective of self-branding, which is to develop a set of visual traits that don’t compete or compare with other existing public figures and yet still demand attention.

Another component that distinguished Lucille Ball’s brand was the platform for alternative forms of expression offered by sitcom television, which did not exist on the big screen. While Watercooler Journal

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Ball’s hair color transferred well from film to TV, her style of dress, living environment, and the narrative premises in which she worked were adapted to the world of television. Doty examines the strain that arose between Ball’s previous film roles and her portrayal of Lucy Ricardo: In I Love Lucy, elements of Ball’s earlier film personalities are strategically camouflaged by Lucy’s housedresses, aprons, and hostess pants. The resulting tensions between “Lucy Ricardo” and “Lucille Ball” in Ball’s televisual star image often threaten to disrupt the series’ sitcom characterizations and narrative development, thereby opening a space for more complex, if not always progressive, readings of Lucy Ricardo and the series. (4) Here, Doty speaks to the way in which Lucy Ricardo’s attire attempted to dilute Ball’s performance ability in order to make her character believable as a housewife. Yet, it is these same dramatic faculties that allow for Ball’s success in portraying the character. This complex play between Ball’s talents and the expectations of her character reflect a particular ideology about acceptable gender roles, suggesting that if Ball were going to star in her own sitcom and dominate the program’s comedic substance, both unusual feats for a woman at the time, her character’s lifestyle would have to subscribe to more traditional standards: “Ball realized that the construction of her television character was the result of a series of denials: of glamour, high style, wealth, wit, and independence; that is of certain key elements of her film image” (4). Yet while Ball’s television persona was forced to reject many of the “edgier” traits of her film personas, Lucy Ricardo still covertly challenged the narrative of the content housewife in that she vocally expressed her desire for a life outside of the home and persistently sought to achieve it by challenging her husband—albeit through botched attempts. Lucille Ball’s physical characteristics allowed her to distinguish herself from other actresses and acquire a trademark that translated across different media as well as disguise the contention between her endeavors as a woman in a male-dominated industry and the social expectations to which her character complies. Branding Patti Stanger on The Millionaire Matchmaker Matchmaking professional Patti Stanger’s experience as a woman in the television industry differs from Lucille Ball’s in that she stars not in a fictional narrative but in a non-fiction “reality” show. As a result, her persona within the context of the program is difficult to distinguish from her true identity. The Millionaire Matchmaker on the Bravo Network portrays Patti’s tasks and Watercooler Journal

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encounters as she seeks to initiate serious relationships between wealthy clients and qualified dating candidates whom she selects. However, the emphasis of the show lies on Stanger’s assertive personality, raunchy aphorisms, and propensity for mild verbal abuse toward her clients and club members.

It is also important to note that the show’s home—the Bravo Network—has in recent years found a niche in reality television that highlights a high society lifestyle with a tendency to play upon the irony between social status and lowbrow behavioral choices. Bravo’s reality series have become so popular, in fact, that the network has coined the term “Bravolebrities” to refer to its programs’ stars. Bravo frequently engages in cross-promotion within the company as a way of further embedding its brand into the minds of viewers. Consequently, as the star of The Millionaire Matchmaker, Stanger assumes the responsibility of representing herself, her company, and the mission of the Bravo Network. Patti Stanger’s image betrays the evolution of a social standard for femininity in the media, a Watercooler Journal

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social standard that seems to have reversed many physical expectations while still clinging to certain behavioral principles. Like Ball, Stanger possesses visual identifiers that give clues about her character traits. Long dark hair, blunt bangs, mini dresses, and six-inch heels all work insistently to camouflage Stanger’s fifty years of age. Visual media of Stanger frequently depicts her in a hip-tilted stance with arms akimbo, thereby suggesting both femininity and control. Episode trailers hinge upon scenes of Stanger’s disapproving reaction shots while she confronts others with finger-waving, voice-raising fury.

“Stanger further reinforces the unwavering existence of standards that require women to appear submissive if they are to achieve success in a relationship.” If Lucy Ricardo reflects the image of the 1950s housewife in the city, Stanger reflects the image of the twentieth-century L.A. businesswoman, strutting her stuff in Christian Louboutin heels and Herve Leger dresses. Yet within her show, Stanger consistently advocates a set of requirements that states that women should avoid giving off “masculine energy,” soften their exterior, be intelligent but not intimidating, straighten their hair, wear form-fitted clothing and high heels, suppress overt sexual expression but be flirtatious, and, in essence, allow a man to be a man. Thus, Lucille Ball and Patti Stanger are inverted images of one another. While I Love Lucy utilizes costumes, sets, and narratives that resemble a more traditional American household to obscure Lucy’s unconventional ideals and behavior, The Millionaire Matchmaker uses Stanger’s assertive language, powerful comportment, and skin-exposing garb to obfuscate its perpetuation of sexist ideologies. “Patti Meets Her Match” Driven by this blatant entertainment contradiction, The Millionaire Matchmaker appeared to be doing well on the Bravo Network. However, despite the fact that Stanger’s show sustained five seasons, the unmarried Stanger began to come under fire by both club members and viewers. They criticized her (via the internet) for distributing love advice while not having achieved success in love herself. Stanger responded to the pressure by electing to take some of her own advice, and on the fifth season’s finale, she turned the tables and allowed her business partners to play lead matchmakers while she played the “millionairess” client. Watercooler Journal

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Over the course of the series, Stanger’s appearance evolved subtly but noticeably, while her trademark personality remained the same. She slimmed down her figure, softened her hairstyle, and underwent cosmetic surgery. It’s possible that altering her appearance was a response to the pressure her viewers put on her to practice what she preached. However, in the season five finale, entitled “Patti Meets Her Match,” Stanger accompanies her physical alterations with an attitude adjustment as well, so as to portray that she too has to succumb to gendered conventions in order to attain love. The entire episode aims to distinguish Stanger’s business persona from her temperament in a dating situation. It achieves this by showing Stanger preparing to find a match and undergoing her own process from the other side of the spectrum. This includes her being interviewed by her employees about why she wants love, what she is looking for in a mate, and what her deal breakers are. Scenes of Stanger in this reverse role are coupled with flashback scenes depicting moments from previous episodes in which she is seen working with clients and putting them through the same grueling process in which she is now forced to participate. Stanger’s wildly flailing hand gestures and emotive expressions in flashback moments contrast with her cool comportment in present-day scenes. The result displays both Stanger’s discomfort with suppressing her controlling tendencies and her eagerness to embrace the ameliorating process for the sake of finding “true love.” The significance of portraying even Patti Stanger—the rule-maker on love herself—as not exempt from the regulations of the dating world is two-fold. On one hand, producing an episode with this premise acts as a great marketing tactic in that Stanger directly addresses audience critique, granting viewers an opportunity to scrutinize her shortcomings as opposed to seeing her denigrate clients who break her rules. On the other hand, Stanger further reinforces the unwavering existence of standards that require women to appear submissive if they are to achieve success in a relationship. This infantilization of the female partner in a relationship appears in I Love Lucy as well. While the dynamic of the marriage between Lucy and Ricky appears to be more progressive than that of other television couples of that era (perhaps because there are factors that detract Ricky’s authority), Lucy still dwells within a patriarchal structure. Doty asserts that, “Ball took over the male domain of physical comedy… stealing the show in the process, yet neither [Lucy nor Gracie Allen’s character] escaped confinement and the tolerance of kindly fathers” (12). Thus, both Ball and Stanger’s onscreen personas perpetuate this idea: no matter how exceptional a woman’s talents may be, if they threaten to infiltrate a masculine realm, they must be stifled in order for her to function properly in a heterosexual relationship.

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“Merchandise to Match” As entities of the entertainment culture industry, both of these television shows sell ideologies with merchandise to match. Lori Landay’s “Millions ‘Love Lucy’: The Commodification of the Lucy Phenomenon” thoroughly investigates the consumer products and advertising ventures that arose as a result of the show’s popularity. Landay remarks on the way an idealized image of love portrayed by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz helped to sell goods through their onscreen characters: In the world of I Love Lucy, home meant the “love” that Ricky had for Lucy no matter what odd, property damaging, career jeopardizing, financially threatening thing she did. I Love Lucy assured viewers that with love, everything would turn out alright. And that “love” could be yours in the form of his and her pajamas for only $5.95. (33)

Landay also draws on irony to illustrate the connection between ideologies promoted through television programs and consumer products. She points to the way that the advertisement of merchandise associated with these shows is facilitated by persuading audiences that Watercooler Journal

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romanticized versions of abstract notions can be commodified. In a similar tactic, Patti Stanger has partnered with the floral company 1-800-Flowers to market the “Patti Stanger Bouquet,” an arrangement of flowers that incorporates a pink, red, and white medley of daisies, roses, and lilies. While the bouquet itself is quite standard in appearance, its association with the Matchmaker brand suggests that its composition was conceived by a love expert with inside information on what type of bouquet incites the best reaction from its recipient. Though the concept is as absurd as the idea of “his and hers” pajamas equating to unconditional love, the pairing of principles that appeal to the participation in consumer culture lies at the foundation of such advertising, and is essential in establishing a lasting brand. Roles and “Reality” As women with a hand in their business endeavors outside of the frames of their respective shows, Ball and Stanger recognized the commercial potential of their careers. But much like the rules that they seem to profess through their television personas about love and relationships, they had to carefully negotiate a balance between personal advancement and public expectations. Stars do not simply disappear when the director shouts, “Cut!” at the end of a scene. Popular culture and the obsession with celebrities that constitutes it requires television personalities to invite viewers into some aspects of their off-screen lives in order to offer the illusion of connection between the famous and the common. Even in the 1950s, well before reality television materialized or the Internet spewed tabloid journalism sites, the correlation between public and private life played an important role in public perceptions, particularly in I Love Lucy: One of the attractions of I Love Lucy was its blend of reality and fiction, or “real life” and “reel life,” as a 1953 article called it. Self-reflexive jokes like Lucy’s statement that Ricky needs a “pretty girl” in his act bisociate inept housewife Lucy Ricardo and TV star Lucille Ball, calling attention to how she both is and is not the “pretty girl” in the various narrative frames of the I Love Lucy phenomenon. Interwoven are the episode, the advertisements during the episode, knowledge about the series and its stars from secondary texts, the cultural contexts that inflect the combinations of private housewife/public pretty girl and femininity/comedy with contradictions, and the ideology of the feminine mystique. (Landay 28) Landay summarizes the interdependency between an audience’s familiarity with the subject, Watercooler Journal

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both when “in character” and as a public figure outside of his/her on-screen role. Landay also ties in the importance of cultural context and consumer culture in informing the way that a program is received. The genre of reality television, which claims to evade the shroud of fiction so as to provide direct access from the viewer to true accounts of actual events, engages the motif of the persona versus the personal in a more complex way. When playing a fictional character whose dialogue, behavior, and appearance are known to be designed by a team of industry professionals, an actress retains the ability to keep some distance between her own identity and the character she portrays. Yet reality stars are obligated to create an illusion that their onscreen personas reflect their true lives. The critiques that Patti Stanger receives mimic personal attacks more so than subjective opinions of a fictional character. Thus, she is held accountable for her self-presentation in a way that differs from the way Lucille Ball might be expected to account for Lucy Ricardo’s choices. Stanger’s role is further complicated and problematized by the fact that, though she stars in a non-fiction show, she still operates in an industry driven by interest in profit. In essence, without the vessel of a fictional narrative to distinguish the content of The Millionaire Matchmaker from Stanger’s personal belief systems, she limits her self-presentation to the attributes that are most marketable, yielding a distortive narrative of “reality” to audiences. Who is More Progressive? It is interesting to contemplate whether or not Patti Stanger and Lucille Ball would have been compatible with one another, especially considering Patti’s often-professed vocal detestation of redheads. Outside of the context of their television roles, the two women share some commonalities in the way they represent themselves. Lucille Ball played Lucy Ricardo, “in part because such an image would reinforce, and become reinforced by, then-current publicity and press stories… depicting her as someone who longed for a more traditional married life, and who relished the roles of wife and (future) mother” (Doty 9). Patti Stanger uses her position as a successful matchmaker to instruct men and women in the twenty-first century on how to translate traditional roles of masculinity and femininity in relationships to a contemporary setting. Later, she even depicts herself as someone who longs for such a dynamic so much that she would diminish the very strong and independent qualities that contributed to her success. Yet, one of these women tends to be read as more progressive than the other. Lucille Ball navigated the social climate of the 1950s by donning the costume of the accepted type of woman while stealthily offering an alternative representation of female characters. While she was forced to withdraw from the more cutting-edge personas of her film career, her decision to Watercooler Journal

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do so resulted in more mobility and longevity in the entertainment industry. This ultimately provided her with a platform for an alternative type of expression that did not depend upon sensuality, as did the careers of many of her movie star counterparts. In contrast, Patti Stangerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s more overt rejection of social norms manifests in her brazen references to obsolete gender conventions as the code for success in modern relationships. This concept is edgy precisely due to its lack of progressiveness, in contrast to I Love Lucy. However, Stanger arguably represents the voice of modern women who value and appreciate a conventional nuclear family structure and feel that their perspective is hushed by various forms of feminist critique. Perhaps a show like The Millionaire Matchmaker, which perpetually sexualizes the female body and highlights the eligibility of wealthy men, is not the best platform to showcase this perspective, but it remains a valid viewpoint nonetheless. The branding choices, ideologies, and cultural influences that Patti Stanger and Lucille Ball embody provide a catalyst for discussing the way that powerful women traverse public fame and private advancement. They also allow us to question whether temporal progress necessarily equals social progress, or if it is possible to move backward with regard to our perception of oppressive conventions.

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works cited Doty, Alexander. “The Cabinet of Lucy Ricardo: Lucille Ball’s Star Image.” Cinema Journal Vol. 29 (1990): 3-22. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. Landay, Lori. “Millions ‘Love Lucy’: Commodification and the Lucy Phenomenon.” NWSA Journal 11.2 (1999): 25-48. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. “Patti Meets Her Match.” The Millionaire Matchmaker: Season 5. Television Show. 15 Aug. 2011. iTunes. 8 May 2012. Pozner, Jennifer. Reality Bites Back: the Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV. Berkeley California: Seal Press, 2010. 239-272. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. Walker, Nancy. “Humor and Gender Roles: The ‘Funny’ Feminism of the Post World-War II Suburbs.” American Quarterly 37.1 (1985): 98-113. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

image credits, in order: image: Watercooler Journal, screenshots: @CBS Studios + ©Bravo Media image via http://thereelist.com/ ©Bravo Media, via http://www.bravotv.com/ image via http://www.writework.com/ image via http://www.pattiknows.com/ Watercooler Journal

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Kristen Schaal’s Quest for Confidence and Connection Thomas Vohasek Columbia College Chicago (2015)

We all lack something in our lives. Stand-up comedy material shows what a comedian desires, even if they play a character. Breaking down a comedian’s act can be a strangely rewarding experience, revealing what may be absent in that comedian’s life. Kristen Schaal has an affinity for playing kooky characters, but they still hold up to psychoanalysis. In her stand-up, her comedy tells us about what’s missing in her unsatisfactory life: self-confidence and human connection. Schaal’s character has no self-confidence; she constantly talks about her life with selfdeprecating jokes. Her 2013 special Live at the Fillmore opens with Schaal telling her grandchildren about her performance this very night. Schaal explains that since this Watercooler Journal

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performance, she has lost everything and is homeless. She doesn’t think she is a good enough comedian to continue working. By the end, Schaal fakes having a serious mental breakdown. She does an exaggerated parody of stage fright, showing how much validation she needs to affirm her talent. The last third of the special is essentially one long mental breakdown, a result of her inability to perform under pressure. A young girl upstages her toward the end, and the show ends with Schaal dying in a retirement home. Lack of self-confidence literally kills her.

Schaal talks about her love life throughout Fillmore, noting, “This may come as a shock, but I’ve not had that many opportunities to please a man.” She gives a monologue on her childhood crush: she tried to ask him out next to a water fountain. He completely ignored her, so she picked up the water fountain and hurled it out the window. This story shows Schaal’s frustration with her inability to connect with people. One of her bits is on a relationship that “may or may not be autobiographical” with a Pot and a wooden Spoon (Schaal Fillmore). Spoon falls in love with Pot. The character of Spoon is clearly Schaal herself, as she uses her normal voice and changes it for the other characters. The doorbell rings in the midst of Spoon pleasing Pot, and in comes Lid, who is apparently Pot’s exlover because the two begin banging together “like [they] were made at the same factory” Watercooler Journal

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(Schaal Fillmore). Spoon, watching this, becomes deponent and commits suicide by jumping off the desk. This autobiographical (yet exaggerated) bit implies that Schaal has some problems connecting with other people.

“Lack of self-confidence literally kills her.” What makes the whole thing stranger is that Schaal is married in real life. In 2012, Schaal married Rich Blomquist (Schaal The Sexy…), a writer whom she met while a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This could possibly mean one of two things: Schaal is either unhappy in her marriage and so never mentions her husband in this special, or Schaal enjoyed writing jokes about her inability to connect with people before she met her husband and continues doing so now. Either way, Schaal leaves her persona’s life in emotional shambles. Stand-up confirms Schaal’s place in comedy and her need for human connection. It fills an emptiness she apparently feels in her life. However, before she walks on stage, Schaal turns to the camera and says that this may be her last performance. Perhaps this means that the character’s problems are ones Schaal once struggled with but has now solved. This could mean Schaal no longer needs stand-up to bolster herself; she is fine with her life the way it is yet feels her past problems are more relatable.

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works cited Ott, Brian L. and Robert L. Mack. Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. West Sussex: WileyBlackwell, 2010. Print. Schaal, Kristen and Rich Blomquist. The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2010. Print. Schaal, Kristen. Kristen Schaal: Live at the Fillmore. 1 Apr. 2013. Television. additional links provided by author: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AibrFBLdH7Y http://www.cc.com/video-clips/12w8pe/stand-up-kristen-schaal--uncensored---lonely-fire

image credits, in order: ©Comedy Central ©Comedy Central Watercooler Journal

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Not the Opposite of What I Mean Sarah Silverman’s We Are Miracles and the Reality Principle Aleks Angelico Columbia College Chicago (2016)

In an interview with The Comic’s Comic reviewer Sean L. McCarthy, Sarah Silverman stated, “I’m actually saying what I mean and not the opposite of what I mean [in Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles].” Silverman’s declaration about her latest comedy special suggests that she’s no longer (explicitly) trying to push the envelope, but rather making a point. As such, the comedian is making a deliberate attempt to balance Freud’s pleasure and reality principles, unlike in her previous specials. By analyzing this change in Silverman’s style and delivery, we can discover the relationship between a comedian’s material and an audience’s response.

It is no surprise that comedians like Silverman take part in the pleasure principle. In Critical Media Studies: An Introduction, Ott and Mack define the pleasure principle as “the Watercooler Journal

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uncontrollable human drive to satisfy desire,” and they point out that the process to attain this desire should be a pleasurable experience (151). A desire is not merely an object, but also an experience or process. In the case of stand-up comedians, the desire is laughter, i.e. audience satisfaction. Comedians work for laughs; they desire the audience’s approval. While Silverman too desires laughter from her audience, she is known for her very confrontational and controversial topics, e.g. race, sex, and politics. She not only works for laughs, but social justice as well. The reality principle—“The curbing of desire according to possibility, law, or social convention” (Ott 152)—is utilized to filter a comic’s material when presenting heavy or controversial topics. It is clear Silverman utilizes the reality principle in determining her material as well as its delivery in We Are Miracles. Allison Wilmore describes Silverman’s strong shift in tone and delivery: “We Are Miracles... finds a more mature Silverman letting glimpses of genuineness and frustration glimmer through between the jokes about vaginal odors and jerk-off techniques.” These jokes matched with the messages of natural feminine beauty and men being emotional are prime examples of how Silverman maintains the unique and vulgar sense of humor that gives her pleasure, while presenting a more realistic and personable motive behind her jokes.

“…this is a ‘game changer’ for her career, acting as a vessel for the matured comic to advance as both a comedian and a professional, balancing her material with the pleasure and reality principles, proving a correlation between comic’s material and personal experience.” While Silverman enjoys crossing the line with her material, certain kinds of jokes and subjects typically covered in her sets are never touched upon in this special. We Are Miracles lacks the edgy racial bits famous to Silverman, e.g. her “I Hate Knickers” sketch. Although her set here seems uncharacteristically “white washed,” it is apparent that her choices were made with the reality principle in mind. Silverman has received a multitude of bad reception for her racial jokes, specifically from Guy Aoki and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans in response to her use of an Asian slur. Controversial reception like this has limited Silverman’s success as a comedian. Her 2012 pilot Susan 313 was not picked up by NBC, causing her to Watercooler Journal

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reexamine what she enjoys putting in her work compared to what she wants her audience to receive from her output (Weisman “Sarah…”). It is clear that the reality principle was a vital factor in deciding Silverman’s set topics regarding family, body image, and aging as well as the selection of a small, neutral, and friendly audience used for this special (McCarthy “Reviewed…”).

Though Silverman’s humor naturally pushes boundaries, it is clear the pleasure and reality principles are considered in the production of her work. As Silverman describes in We Are Miracles, this is a “game changer” for her career, acting as a vessel for the matured comic to advance as both a comedian and a professional, balancing her material with the pleasure and reality principles, proving a correlation between comic’s material and personal experience. Silverman’s work merits psychoanalytic analysis as her creative process embodies a prime example of how a comic’s reception directly influences its future output.

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works cited McCarthy, Sean L. "Reviewed: Sarah Silverman’s We Are Miracles (HBO)." The Comic’s Comic. n.p., 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Ott, Brian L. and Robert L. Mack. Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. West Sussex: WileyBlackwell, 2010. Print. Silverman, Sarah. Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles. Home Box Office (HBO). Los Angeles, California, 23 Nov. 2013. Television. Weisman, Jon. "Sarah Silverman and Susan 313: Where Was Cable?" Variety. n.p., 22 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Wilmore, Allison. "Why It's Not Shock Value That Makes Sarah Silverman an Edgy Comic." Indiewire. N.p., 21 Nov. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. additional links provided by author: http://kristenschaals.tumblr.com/post/68122525348 http://stand-up-comicgifs.tumblr.com/post/80097195497/from-we-are-miracles http://jashnetwork.tumblr.com/post/46353224868/sarah-hates-knickers http://tropiezoeneltrapecio.tumblr.com/post/69681457971 http://kristenschaals.tumblr.com/post/68118144641 http://kristenschaals.tumblr.com/post/68220429034 http://portroids.tumblr.com/post/79475642600/sarah-silverman-because-this-particular http://coreyscoffeeshop.tumblr.com/post/75224764856/sarah-silverman http://popculturebrain.com/post/67703820314/poster-sarah-silverman-we-are-miracles-sat

image credits, in order: ©HBO Studios ©Showtime Watercooler Journal

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Patton Oswalt The Carnivalesque Comic Jim Sisto Columbia College Chicago (2014)

One can look at the nearly thirty-year career of Patton Oswalt and see a trail blazed by the likes of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. All three comics’ styles can easily be tied to the carnivalesque. The term “carnivalesque” comes from the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, who used the word to describe our routines and daily life as suspended in room for excitement, revelry, and danger. It is this dance with the devil that draws many audiences, and in this soiree, we lay down our expectations and are taken to a strange territory in delight.

Much of Oswalt’s career has been committed to visiting “these odd places” on the edge. In several ways, Oswalt is the wild, intellectual child of Bruce and Carlin. Their material is not only challenging, but utilizes jet-like stream of consciousness. They are masters of their language Watercooler Journal

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who constantly play against the grain and talk about topics deemed just taboo enough to irk particular audiences when it comes to particular ideologies. Similarly, Oswalt’s act often reveals his pent-up rage regarding “society” and himself. His situations always allude to ridiculous pop culture references like the Sarlacc Pit from Star Wars and William S. Burroughs. By remaining unfiltered and unflinching while satirizing the ridiculous nature of politics and culture, Oswalt is able to travel to the depths of carnivalesque comedy and find a massive audience.

“…we are able to laugh alongside Oswalt’s retellings even if he brings us to unchartered territory as he sets his life up as a punch line.” Oswalt stands for the nerdy, middle-class demographic. He drenches his acts in references to gaming, pop culture, and every graphic novel/comic book character ever created. Oswalt also constantly paints America as fragmented and hopeless, and combines both of these stylistic elements in My Weakness Is Strong: “What if Obama starts slinging amazing technology, hover boards, teleportation pills… At that time would there still be, like, two racists left? Oh yeah, there’s that nigger that gave us anti-gravity… BLEEP. Yeah, I’m going to be late to the cross burning, my free government blowjob robot broke down.” Here, Oswalt walks a tightrope on an innocuous standpoint and then slams the audience with an unexpected angle while simultaneously targeting racists and hinting that there will always be racists. This fulfills Horton’s requirements for standup: “…standup comedy champions individualism and at least potentially radical ideologies, whereas situation comedy favors the status quo and social consensus” (4). Dr. Seuss often slyly inserted social and political commentary through his cartoon aliens, and his career tackled many layers of carnivalesque. In most of his books, “the perfect scenario” doesn’t pan out in the end but becomes more of a critique of the futile issues that humans are incapable of overcoming—just like Oswalt’s material. Oswalt persuades viewers by drawing them in immediately. The more he paints up a story, the more he suspends his audience into thinking that it may end pleasantly and politely. Of course, this is never the case. Oswalt worries out loud regarding his parenting—he often is uncertain if he is “doing the right thing.” What will be the factor that will damage his daughter’s perfect mind? The bloody Wolf Man scene she accidently watched? He often admits that raising a child is a chaotic and Watercooler Journal

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random thing, but in the end you must trust your instincts, a quality, he states, highly lacking today. Many of his stories play on the idea of our inability as humans to be trusted.

In 2012, Oswalt made an appearance on Conan and detailed his depression. He described how he became blissfully suicidal while staring at the frozen food section in a Trader Joe’s as Toto’s “Africa” came on the radio speakers. He mentions his thought that police probably get a call about that specific suicide on a regular basis and claims how his depression is more like “a friend I have to just hang out with occasionally.” A big staple of Oswalt’s life has been his battle with depression, but by subverting viewer expectations and creating a persona, people can laugh at this. Audiences relate to him through his struggles; we are able to laugh alongside Oswalt’s retellings even if he brings us to unchartered territory as he sets his life up as a punch line. Life is a tragedy in more than a handful of ways, but we strive on, most of the time in a state of illusion. What Patton Oswalt does best is to stare down the beast festering us inept. Oswalt accepts the way the world is and details the truth, as he casually makes a derision of it all. Horton writes that in most of Aristophanes’ comedies, ”a middle aged adult goes through three stages: he or she is dissatisfied, dreams up a plan to cure that dissatisfaction, and then Watercooler Journal

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carries out that plan to a successful resolution. The final phase is a glorious celebration of the character’s success” (11). When Oswalt subverts the final phase with a dismal and often embarrassing account of his life, his “character” succeeds for both him and his audiences nonetheless.

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works cited Horton, Andrew S. Comedy/Cinema/Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Print.

image credits, in order: ŠComedy Central ŠTurner Broadcasting Watercooler Journal

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Saturday Night Live’s Coordinates in Culture Celine Elliott Columbia College Chicago (2017)

On October 11th, 1975, Saturday Night Live (SNL), or Saturday Night as it was called back then, premiered on NBC as a new comedy-variety show that combined the live excitement of the early days of television with the rebellious attitude of the 1970s. Its opening phrase, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night,” was simply an allusion to television’s beginnings as literally “live” in New York, but since then it has become an iconic sentence. Similarly, the show itself, which simply began as a filler for a Saturday late-night time slot, soon became a beloved comedic institution, making household names of its cast members. While it may seem ironic that a show so rooted in the structure of classic television would be described as groundbreaking and revolutionary, that is exactly the reputation that Saturday Night Live has achieved and owned for decades. With almost forty years under its belt, Saturday Night Live has maintained its relevance in American culture, daring to poke fun at the things others would not, even in times of tragedy. By exploring its many decades, one can find that Saturday Night Live provides a window to the times as well as a hand in shaping the culture of the society it loves to ridicule, even having such a powerful position as to influence the results of presidential elections. As the show approaches its fortieth season on a major network, it is important to examine how it has managed to stay relevant to society, how it has had such a major impact, and how it will continue to do so. The 1970s: Origins and Resonance Saturday Night Live was originally created to fill the 11:30 PM time slot on Saturday nights because Johnny Carson wanted to take his reruns usually allotted for that time and show them during the weekdays when he needed time off. NBC network president Herbert Schlosser set out to search for a new late night Saturday show and hired Lorne Michaels, known for being a writer on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, to executive produce whatever that show would be. Michaels came up with the idea to produce a satirical comedy variety show broadcast live from New York, the birthplace of TV. Schlosser accepted the program, dubbed Saturday Night Watercooler Journal

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(because Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell was already taken at ABC), and Michaels hired writers and a cast (called the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players”) consisting of Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman.

The show became a hit, but not just because of its unique comedic approach. Production assistant Neil Levy recalls, “It was just the times. Nixon had just resigned, the Vietnam War had just finished... and America wasn’t laughing. And this show came along and said it’s okay to laugh, even to laugh at the bad stuff” (quoted in Shales 60). Saturday Night Live certainly premiered at the right time. When people are struck with tragic events, television can help alleviate pain or fear. This was true before SNL, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Americans were then thrust into a dark period, mourning his loss, until the American debut of the Beatles was televised on The Ed Sullivan Show. Like the upbeat music of the Beatles in the sixties, the edgy comedy of SNL was able to make many Americans forget their troubles and frustrations for at least ninety minutes each week. This ability to enliven America’s psyche not only demonstrated the influential power of television but also that of SNL, as it achieved something not many programs were able to achieve at that time.

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With such a strong debut in 1975, SNL set its own standards as one of the most relevant and powerful shows on television, and it continued to prove itself as such for the rest of the decade. One thing the show influenced in its first few years was censorship on television. “Because SNL was a hit, the efforts it made to push the limits extended the standards for all of television. Language changed so that what was said on the air was more like what the people at home were saying” (Reincheld 6). It comes as a bit of a surprise that the show had such an influence on censorship, as years before SNL, The Smothers Brothers caused a censorship uproar and was taken off the air. Perhaps because Saturday Night Live was not as risqué as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, it was able to affect change with the censors more gradually and with less controversy. Regardless, the ability to use edgier and more realistic language may have helped the show connect more with audiences and provide a voice for audiences as well.

“Each decade SNL has been on the air—from the 1970s to the present—provides a history textbook cataloging what was going on in the world at the time and how the program affected society.” In its first five years, SNL also reached and uncovered a whole new audience for future programs: those watching TV at eleven o’clock on a Saturday night. The show’s popularity even prompted viewers who would not typically stay home to watch TV on a Saturday night to do so, thus changing the way television networks regarded Saturday night programming. Before SNL, television networks showed reruns or switched over to local affiliates on Saturday nights, assuming that people would not be staying at home. Other networks also attempted to duplicate the format of the show, such as Fox’s In Living Color in the nineties. The 1980s: The Dark (Or At Least, Less Edgy) Ages The show’s popularity peak only lasted until the beginning of the 1980s when Lorne Michaels left the show after clashing with NBC executives, beginning a period of turbulence as new executive producers tried to take the reins. In the first few months of 1980, talent coordinator Jean Doumanian acted as Lorne Michaels’ replacement until she was eventually fired. Then, Watercooler Journal

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Dick Ebersol, one of the network executives who helped Lorne create the show in the first place, took over as executive producer. Not only did Saturday Night Live struggle with the change of leadership in the eighties, it also struggled with maintaining relevancy as many topical subjects were considered taboo by those in charge. During the Iran hostage crisis, news programs paid rapt attention to the events unfolding in Iran; ABC even dedicated an entire program (Iran Crisis) to reporting on it. The crisis was something that was very prominent on everyone’s television screens. It is surprising that SNL, a show known for responding to current events, was not allowed to address it. Further frustrations occurred among creatives as even the new executive producer Ebersol restricted the show’s commentary on politics. Brad Hall, a writer on the show, states, “Someone’s taste did not run toward satire. And so the very thing that originally made the show popular was resisted” (quoted in Shales 290). The show’s decline in popularity during this period reflects this statement. When SNL began, people tuned in to see what public figure or current event SNL would skewer next, and when it was restricted from doing so, SNL may have lost those viewers. Although the show turned away from political humor in the beginning of the 1980s, it was still able to address significant events in entertainment, allowing it to have some success in satirizing the issues of the times. For example, after the television show Taxi was canceled, star Danny DeVito hosted and ridiculed its cancellation in an SNL cold open by “[blowing] up the ABC building and [driving] the taxi off the bridge” (Shales 302). SNL’s quick response to the news proved that it still had a grasp on what was relevant to the times, even though it wasn’t always allowed to display it. SNL sent out a message that its old attitude still remained despite being buried by new leadership. However, the show still decreased in popularity as the first half of the 1980s came to a close. Upon hearing of Saturday Night Live’s potential cancellation after the 1983-84 season, Lorne Michaels returned to save the show he had worked so hard to build. However, this plan backfired as the show continued to sink. At the end of the 1984-85 season, the show’s fate remained up in the air, as Michaels realized he had to yet again attempt to rebuild. Inspired by this ambiguity, SNL ridiculed itself in a season finale sketch that perfectly referenced pop culture while addressing a relevant issue among its own cast. Alluding to the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” Dallas cliffhanger, the show ended with the studio in flames as the question “Who will survive?” appeared on screen. In a clever touch, all the names in the closing credits had Watercooler Journal

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question marks after them (Shales 329-330). Not only did this closing segment reference one of the most popular events in television history, it also brought the show back into the limelight as viewers wondered who really would remain on the show. In a sense, SNL’s cliffhanger had almost the same captivating effect as the famous cliffhanger it was parodying. The 1990s: Relevant Unpredictability At the end of the 1980s, the show was finally able to address political material under Lorne Michaels’ leadership. Cast member Dana Carvey impersonated President George Bush so effectively that the president invited him to the White House “to cheer up the troops” (Shales 366). Politicians’ embrace of their SNL impersonators further showed how influential the show could be, as it was not only able to captivate the audience with its material, but the very people it was mocking as well.

The 1990s brought a decade of controversy, political influence, and clever responses to current events to Saturday Night Live. In 1992, musical guest Sinead O’Connor created quite a stir on the SNL stage when she tore up a photo of the Catholic Pope during the live show to protest the Catholic Church. The live audience and those who worked on the show were shocked, but Watercooler Journal

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ultimately, O’Connor’s protest proved that the show was as live and unpredictable as ever. With a live show, one never truly knows what to expect; this creates a heightened anticipation in viewers that brings them back week after week. Band leader Lenny Picket recalls, “It’s what everybody is secretly waiting for... when [incidents] do happen you’re aware that you were just participating in an event (quoted in Shales 393). To feel included is what television is all about, and Saturday Night Live fully embraces this by allowing people to say they were a part of something that happened in real time.

One moment in 1995 showed the magnitude of SNL’s ability to influence the opinions of its audience. After O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder, SNL produced an opening sketch that reflected what some people were really thinking about the verdict. SNL writer Andy Breckman remembers the reaction that occurred as cast member Tim Meadows playing Simpson (complete with one black glove on his left hand) spelled out “I did it” while marking football plays on Monday Night Football: “I’ve never heard a reaction in my life like that... it was just a release... and thank God somebody said it out loud” (quoted in Shales 458-59). Many times throughout its history, SNL has been known as the program that dares to address what a lot of people are thinking but do not know how to say aloud. The response to Simpson’s acquittal Watercooler Journal

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seemed especially daring, as much of the nation differed in opinion. Reincheld claims that SNL has had “a more important impact on public perception than any advertisement” (6). Therefore, those who were fans of the show could have adopted its “opinions” simply based on the fact that their favorite show had said opinions.

Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment also maintained a sense of relevancy to the times as it effectively satirized the way news coverage had changed in the nineties. Cast member Norm Macdonald acted as anchor and had a “flippant attitude toward current events” that, in a way, mirrored the “transformation of news content” (Day 7). At this point in history, news programs had shifted to focusing more on the entertainment aspect of news, dubbed as “infotainment.” Infotainment was especially popular in the decade of scandal that was the nineties, from the “Long Island Lolita” story to the highly televised O.J. Simpson trial. Norm Macdonald’s reign over “Weekend Update” allowed the show to have a more subtle and satirical hold on how television approached certain events. Watercooler Journal

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The 2000s: “Why Start Now?” The new millennium started off with many changes for Saturday Night Live, as Tina Fey became the first female head writer in 1999, and cast members Tim Meadows and Colin Quinn left the show. While the 2000-2001 season gave the show a wealth of election material, tragedy marked the 2001-2002 season premiere. Premiering just a few weeks after the September 11th terrorist attacks, SNL opened with New York City firefighters, police officers, and New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani on stage. As seen in the television documentary, SNL in the 2000s: Time and Again, SNL creator/producer Lorne Michaels asks the mayor if they were allowed to be funny. Giuliani playfully replies, “Why start now?” This exchange between Michaels and the mayor let viewers know that SNL was going to continue doing what it had always done despite the 9/11 tragedy. SNL’s resilience after 9/11 was quite surprising and different from other television programs’ reactions in the past. For example, the tragedy of JFK’s assassination in the 1960s strongly affected television programming. For four days, nothing but coverage of the assassination played, and some comedy shows avoided topical and political humor altogether. SNL’s respectful but resilient attitude sent a message to the nation that they would not stop producing comedy in the wake of a tragedy.

While SNL dealt with politics and tragedy at the beginning of the 2000s era, it also experienced many changes that allowed the show to remain relevant and revolutionary. After Watercooler Journal

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Jimmy Fallon left the show in 2004, cast member Amy Poehler replaced Fallon at the “Weekend Update” desk alongside Tina Fey. The partnership of Poehler and Fey at the “Update” desk marked the first time in the show’s history that two women presided over the “Weekend Update” segment. For a show that has a history of being so groundbreaking and bold, it was surprising to discover that the establishment of a two-woman “Update” team happened almost thirty years after the show began. As Poehler and Fey’s teamwork continued into the 2005-2006 season, so did SNL’s journey for relevancy. Andy Samberg joined the cast and brought along his group, The Lonely Island, who produced a new feature for the show: “Digital Shorts.” These were short, pre-taped segments, usually involving songs or absurd situations, like being on a boat with T-Pain or lamenting on a neighborhood stoop while eating lettuce. Samberg’s shorts became popular on the Internet, and soon, the show itself gained increasing relevancy through views on sites like YouTube.

Before SNL finished its first decade in the 2000s, there was one last election to cover in 2008. In sketches that featured Tina Fey as vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, writers often took actual phrases Palin had said and placed them in their sketches. Some critics believe this created a “seamless blending of reality and parody” and caused viewers to have a negative view of Palin (Flowers 16). Fey’s spot-on impression of Palin drew viewers to SNL and caused Watercooler Journal

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the show to gain extremely high ratings. The increase in ratings, coupled with Fey’s performance, is believed to have had a great impact on the loss of McCain and Palin in the election, as her impression and the show’s dialogue cast Palin in an “unsophisticated” light (Flowers 16). Because of exaggerated characteristics and a close resemblance between Fey and Palin, viewers may have referred to SNL sketches rather than actual appearances by Palin in their perception of her.

The 2010s Now in the 2010s, SNL has continued to change while maintaining a handle on pop culture and the comedy world. In 2013, responding to controversy over a lack of diversity on the show, Saturday Night Live hired its first female African American cast member in six years. This incident once again indicates the show’s dedication to maintaining relevancy.

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Although the show has had its highs and lows, it has never failed to provide its take on current events, even during times it was discouraged from doing so. SNL illustrates a perfect demonstration of media literacy, as it weaves cultural references with its own self-awareness. Each decade SNL has been on the air—from the 1970s to the present—provides a history textbook cataloging what was going on in the world at the time and how the program affected society. Examining SNL betters our understanding of television in that it shows just how powerful—and at times ridiculous—it can be. Saturday Night Live is not only a show that reflects the world around it, but also the world inside it. It illustrates nostalgia for the old style of TV while looking ahead at what technology is to come. Like television, Saturday Night Live is constantly changing and responding to the world.

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works cited Day, Amber and Ethan Thompson. “Live From New York, It's the Fake News! Saturday Night Live and the (Non)Politics of Parody.” Popular Communication 10.1/2 (2012): 170-82. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost. Web. 10 May 2014. Flowers, Arhlene A. and Cory L. Young. “Parodying Palin: How Tina Fey’s Visual and Verbal Impersonations Revived a Comedy Show and Impacted the 2008 Election.” Journal of Visual Literacy 29.1 (2010): 47-67. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost. Web. 10 May 2014. Reincheld, Aaron. “Saturday Night Live and Weekend Update.” Journalism History 3.4 (2006): 190-97. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost. Web. 10 May 2014. Shales, Tom and James Andrew Miller. Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. USA: Little Brown and Company, 2002. Print. “SNL in the 2000s: Time and Again.” Saturday Night Live. NBC. WMAQ, Chicago. 15 Apr. 2010. Television.

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CREDITS Watercooler Journal Editorial Board Aleksander Angelico Julian Axelrod Anna Bresnahan Justine Clarke Margaret Daab Kendall Klitzke Caitlin McLean Sam Stecklow Editor-in-Chief/President Conner Good College Supervisor Christy LeMaster Cover Graphics Virakri Jinangkul Special thanks to all of our contributors

All papers within are accessible as individual Issuu documents at http://issuu.com/watercoolerjournal/docs Watercooler Journal is an online academic undergraduate publication powered by the TV Dept. at Columbia College Chicago. Our multimedia issues publish monthly during the academic year. Our paper-only issue publishes at the end of the spring semester. At the time of this publication, we are currently only optimized for desktop screens and hope to work toward mobile compatibility in the future. Find calls for submissions and more issues at watercoolerjournal.com Feedback us and reach out: watercoolertvblog@gmail.com @WatercoolerTV Watercooler Journal

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Watercooler Journal: Papers + Think Pieces Issue (June 2014)