Monthly Archives: April 2012

Got Yourself a Son: Tony Soprano’s and Hank Hill’s Confusion and Success as Modern Fathers

by Ed Scherer

Michael Kaufman writes in his book, Cracking the Armor: Power, Pain, and the Lives of Men, that “the joys and pains of manhood are now joined by a new confusion” (4). Kaufman is reflecting on twenty-first century masculinity and also postmodern fatherhood.  His words are inspired by the conventional shifts fathers’ roles in society have undergone, evolving from disciplinary breadwinners to also include an element of nurture—“caring and rearing to maturity,”— as Richard Christy declares in his essay, The Impact of Social Change on Fatherhood. Fathers must, in contemporary times, express to their children intimacy and emotion – not unlike a mother. Keep in mind that mothers and postmodern women have also expanded their duties to other facets of society, such as the workforce. Corporal punishment has been condemned and gender norms have been blurred. New technologies like video games and social networking add to the confusion of modern fathers who must feel as though they were sent too far into the future and are the focus of inescapable attention. This leaves men with something to contemplate as they are looked upon to become more emotionally understanding, as further surmised by Richard Christy:

“…Do men ‘mother’, can men mother, and do men mother enough? Nurturance puts the whole discussion of fatherhood and fathering on a new plain. It affirms that fathers are committed to nurturing over time and that nurturance is a key definition of a postmodern man’s self-identity” (38).

The postmodern fathers who have succeeded their own fathers of the 50s and 60s, the ones who may have used corporal punishment and withheld love and emotion to uphold standards of masculinity, are, as Kaufman writes, “confused.” They are not able to mimic their dads’ distant and authoritative parenting style. As Christy suggests, they are distinguishing themselves alongside mothers in their quest to bestow the nurture and intimacy to their children that modern society expects from them. I have realized that this “confusion” as to how to raise a child these days, specifically to nurture a teenager, is captured with hilarious and dramatic results on the television shows The Sopranos and King of the Hill. The specific relationship of fathers and sons are of focus because male on male nurturing particularly conflicts with the previous social conventions of fatherhood that Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini) and Hank Hill (voiced by Mike Judge) experienced themselves from their fathers. Yet, now they must endeavor to emotionally connect with their respective sons, A.J. Soprano (played by Robert Iiler) and Bobby Hill (voiced by Pamela Adlon.) It results in emotional outbursts and fumbling intimacy of great entertainment value.

King of the Hill is a half hour animated show set in fictitious Arlen, Texas. What makes Hank Hill natural to study is his comedic fear of any emotion whatsoever. The show, though animated, is also renowned for its realism. The Sopranos is an hour length serial drama set in New Jersey that is set within the world of Organized Crime. What makes Tony Soprano so natural to study is the fact that he sees a psychiatrist, Doctor Melfi, and this means the show comes with an analytical lens already installed towards his relationship with his son.

Both Tony Soprano and Hank Hill were raised under stringent masculine codes and were initiated into manhood in the 1960s. Tony Soprano was fathered by a Mafioso crime boss while Hank Hill was raised by a World War II hero who had his shins shot off. Therefore, both Tony and Hank were forcefully molded into, or at least ingrained with, an image of a man who was emotionally detached, primal, and who subordinated women and weaker men-overall a dominant creature. Hank Hill’s father, Cotton Hill, is brazenly misogynistic, a product of old standards prior to the women’s rights movement of the 1960s. In the episode “Shin’s of the Father”, upon receiving a full breakfast from Hank’s wife that lacks a sausage, he declarers to his grandson, “You see, Bobby? Women work: Man loses his sausage.” Tony Soprano meanwhile, while recalling his childhood in the episode “Fortunate Son,” witnesses his father dominate another man by chopping off the man’s pinky finger for not paying a gambling debt. Such were the fathers that Hank and Tony were to compare themselves to. But perhaps a shift away from this type of masculine figure was already beginning in their hearts. Frank Pittman of Psychology Today puts the paternal attitudes leading up to that transitional decade (1960s) into historical context:

“Society decided that raising children was women’s work and that making money was the single-minded point of men’s lives … I recall one man, talking about the problems of his son, saying, ‘I don’t know what Betty could have done wrong raising that boy. I know it wasn’t anything I did, since I was busy working and left it to her. I barely saw the kid so I couldn’t have done anything wrong” (1).

To parallel the last segment of that quote, in the King of the Hill episode “The Father, Son and J.C”, Hank’s father, Cotton, yells at him in anger, “You hate me do ya!? After all the love I allowed your mother to give you!” Tony Soprano, as a child, was seen in the episode “Down Neck”, tells his psychiatrist that his father “wasn’t around much”, while once again revisiting memories of spying on his father, who drove around New Jersey savagely beating people and collecting money-the physically dominant father on display. Tony admits in the episode to taking pride in this and bragging to his classmates that his father was tough. He mentions to his psychiatrist in the same episode that for his father, “the belt was his favorite child development tool.” Tony then patterns himself after his father insofar he also becomes a violent criminal later in life, but it is a volatile struggle. As a father, he manages to adhere to the postmodern ethics of being non-abusive and nurturing. These motherly qualities are in many ways indebted to the equality of a woman’s voice in contemporary society when looking at the following quote from the episode “Cold Stones” when A.J. slanders his mother, “Jesus, you can’t even talk to her.” Tony responds, “…You should be kissing her feet. Because when you were growing up, if it wasn’t for her, I’d have knocked all your baby teeth out with one shot.” Then talking to Dr. Melfi in the same episode, “If Carmela (his wife) had let me kick his ass like my father kicked mine, he might have grown up with some balls.” Dr. Melfi answers, “He might have also grown up taking out his anger of his father’s brutality on him on others. He might have grown up with a desperate need to dominate and control.” Dr. Melfi alludes to Tony’s job as a crime boss where he rules as a murderous alpha male.

By all means, Tony Soprano and Hank Hill grew up with a masculine standard difficult to match and initiation into a similar state of manhood was daunting when you consider that the ideal established was that you needed to kill another man. In the Mafia and the world of The Sopranos, you must make “your bones” and eventually murder someone to be considered legitimate. In King of the Hill, Hank’s father boasts throughout the series how, in the war, he “killed fiddy (50) men.” And Hank, a constant disappoint in his father’s eyes (Cotton has a second infant child literally named G.H. which stands for Good Hank), never fulfills this initiation. Indeed, is this rite of passage even available to men of later generations who lacked a war as noble as World War II? It is referenced in the episode entitled (coincidentally) “Unfortunate Son” that Hank tried to enlist in the army as a teenager but they wouldn’t take him because of his narrow urethra: “The army felt I wouldn’t be able to relieve myself efficiently under duress, especially in front of others.” It is interesting then to watch Hank Hill’s behavior towards Bobby while considering Richard Christy quoting a man named Sam Keen. “…in postmodern society ‘many men have become aware of the wounds they suffer from the absence of their fathers and the vacuum they feel in not being initiated into manhood” (37).  Hank then, inexperienced with feeling intimacy from his father and uninitiated as a man in Cotton’s eyes, finds it difficult to initiate his own son into manhood in an episode entitled “Good Hill Hunting.”

In this episode, the passage into manhood is discussed and represented by Bobby killing his first deer. Hank, however, is reluctant to get the permits, and his wife Peggy tells him, “You are scared of your own son.” To which he replies, “Maybe I am. So what? I don’t get him sometimes—the things that come out of his mouth.” Hank Hill is frightened of being alone and emotionally communicative with his son in the woods. “Did you remember to pack batteries for Bobby’s GameBoy?” He is familiar with video games as something childish that will distract his son and help avoid communication because the idea of a father doing so is completely new to him. This is especially poignant when Hank Hill is unable to secure permits, but before telling this to Bobby, the child at the threshold of initiation says, “I know I’m about to be a man, Dad, so I wanted to take this last chance and tell you how much I love you.” Bobby has also modeled his perception of manhood after what he believes to be his father’s, and therefore, is eschewing emotion for the rest of his life. Hank Hill, however, does not want to be emotionally distant, he is just unaware of how to express himself having no male to pattern himself after. He struggles to be nurturing and show intimacy, and Tony Soprano, as a sociopath, struggles to be nurturing by not being abusive. Consider Lucia Genesoni and Maria Anna Tallandini’s Men’s Psychological Transition to Fatherhood: An Analysis of  Literature, 1989-2008, which, by virtue of the title, you can understand studied clinical data of modern father’s behavior in a culture directly fitting for the two decades that these shows made their most prominent runs.

“Our literature analysis confirmed the earlier documented findings of fathers’ gradual and conflict-ridden shift from traditional and authoritarian behaviors to more openly affectionate and warm roles. The recent literature more frequently described men’s willingness to break away from the paternal role model of previous generations. Yet, the literature did not examine the degree to which, or the frequency with which, fathers actually managed to put this intention into practice” (315).

This “willingness” to become an affectionate father, yet struggle to put it into practice, is a running joke and emotional beat throughout King of the Hill. Hank’s voice cracks, with pubertal tones (his underdeveloped intimacy vocalized!) just saying the word “love” at his son in the “Pilot” episode of the show. In the first season of the show, it was established this was a focus with, “The boy ain’t right” became a running phrase as Hank accepted his child as odd rather than himself as incapable of relating to him. Yet, at the end of every episode dealing with their relationship, he triumphs. At times the show is somewhat of a template for modern fathers to disregard their masculine concepts and find moments to be a nurturing father. At the end of “Good Hill Hunting”, Hank, unable to take Bobby hunting, let’s Bobby drive his truck: “I going to skip you ahead one whole milestone … grab some wheel.” His son’s reacts, yelling with pride, “I don’t believe it! I’m in your seat! … I’m driving the hell out of this truck!”  Hank Hill succeeds in shifting from previous notions of fatherhood to nurture his son and help initiate his manhood, “caring and rearing to maturity”—as previously quoted from Richard Christy.

But unlike King of the Hill, which is a half hour animated show meant to have emotional resolutions at the end of each episode, The Sopranos is an hour long serial drama. This, in a sense, gives The Sopranos a greater freedom and in fact a duty to leave unresolved issues every episode. The father-son relationship is often a part of this, wherein A.J.’s initiation into manhood is long and complex. In fact, one of Tony Soprano’s most confusing dilemmas as a father is keeping his son out of the life of organized crime. In many ways he just feels the child to be inadequate. He says to Dr. Melfi in the episode “The Army of One”, “A.J., in my business? He’d never make it.” Yet in some ways this is a form of mothering. Tony views A.J. as inadequate for his job which simultaneously keeps him out of harm’s way from the violent world of the Mafia. In many ways, Tony departs from his father’s habit of chopping off fingers and beating up people in front of his child, which helped create the gangster that is Tony Soprano. Tony does a much better job at hiding his crimes from his son. Ironically his distancing himself from A.J. is an act of nurture. He is not the visible tyrant that his father was but rather a secretive one.

The show is also explicit television. So while Hank Hill, not to detract from the emotional weight of the show, will jest when Bobby hits dog turds with his golf club that “the boy ain’t right,” Tony Soprano, in the episode “Cold Stones”, will confess to his psychiatrist that A.J., who has been fired from his job at Blockbuster video and is a dropout brat, does little but go to nightclubs and vegetate on the couch:

“How ’bout the fact that I hate my son? I come home—he’s sittin’ on the computer in his fuckin’ underwear…wastin’ his time in some chitchat room goin’ back an’ forth with some other fuckin’ jerk-off… gigglin’ like a little school girl. I wanna fuckin’ smash his fuckin’ face in…My son. Whaddya think about that?”

As a tangent, Tony’s aggression towards A.J., especially his great commentary about social media-“ some the chitchat room”-welcomes back my assertion that technology has altered fatherhood and helped fueled the confusion fathers like Tony and Hank Hill have towards their sons, wherein they view technology as being very childish. It is something their boyhood lacked, it is a modern phenomenon they don’t understand (just like the youth culture their sons are emblems of) and therefore it can’t be manly. Both equate computers, and in both shows, their children’s affinity for Nintendo, with laziness and a state of arrested development. In “The Fortunate Son” Tony asks A.J. when he’s going to “throw that thing out the flippin’ window?” Hank Hill ponders in the episode, “The Incredible Hank” that, “The boy’s got no fight in him. I don’t get it. He spends five hours a day playing violent video games. What’s the point if they don’t have any effect on him?”

Both Tony Soprano and Hank Hill view their children’s generation as lazy and unmanly, yet, and this is perhaps why so many of the studies examined in this essay used the term “postmodern father”, both Tony and Hank constantly reflect on the authoritative upbringing of past generations to help steer them towards a more equal role parenting role, and therefore a more motherly role. What is finally interesting to look at is the role of Hank Hill’s wife, Peggy, and Tony Soprano’s wife, Carmela, in helping their husbands assume these motherly duties which decades ago were exclusively theirs to carry out. In The Sopranos episode “From Where to Eternity”, A.J. drops a platter of food, and Tony, after arguing with Carmela about a vasectomy points at his son and says, “I’m supposed to get a vasectomy when this is my male heir? Look at him.” Carmela shouts, “Tony, come back here and apologize!” But Tony leaves. He later gets up the courage himself to bring pizza to his son’s bedroom and sits down and explains:

“..I got to learn to control my emotions around the people I love. I think you’re the same way, you know? I think your feelings—you keep them inside, and you and me, we react without thinking. That’s why I get mad at you, you know? I see myself in you. I couldn’t ask for a better son A.J. And I mean that.”

Tony is unaware that his wife, A.J.’s mother, eavesdrops outside the bedroom as if supervising, and surely approving of the mothering her husband is attempting.  Likewise, in the “Pilot” of King of the Hill, when Hank Hill’s voice cracks trying to tell his son that he loves him, it was Peggy who set up the confrontation.  “I want you tell Bobby that your love for him is unconditional.” Hank then goes to try and tells his son he loves him and, after a very funny minute of garbling his words, he eventually manages it all in one breath, “I love you no matter what you do. There!” To which Bobby asks. “You mean I’m not just a big disappointment?” And this provokes Hank to open up. He explains that his son is the only thing in life that hasn’t let him down, not once. “Dammit—you’re my boy!” And the father-son bond is shown as unbreakable and loving.

These two acts by Tony and Hank, expressing their inner most feelings towards their sons, are brave in that they contradict the very concepts of manhood they were raised to believe. Never do the men fully understand their sons or the generation they are a part of. They will be forever confused by that, but by communicating affection to their sons, they succeed as fathers in the modern world.

Works Cited

Christy, Richard D. “The Impact of Social Change on Fatherhood.” International Journal of the Humanities 8.3 (2010): 31-39.

Genesoni, Lucia and Maria Anna Tallandini. “Men’s Psychological Transition to Fatherhood: An Analysis of Literature, 1989-2008.” Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care 36.4 (2009): 305-318.

Kaufman, Michael. Cracking the Armour: Power, Pain, and the Lives of Men. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1993.

Pittman, Frank. “Fathers and Sons.” Psychology Today. 1 Sept. 1993. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200910/fathers-and-sons?page=2

Dad to Dunce: Dumbing Down Television’s Victorian Father

by Andrew Donellan

In television, the father is perhaps the most recognizable masculine figure. His evolution from the straight-laced Ward Cleaver to the hip Cliff Huxtable to the oafish Homer Simpson parallels the evolution of social ideals of manliness and masculinity from the Victorian 1800s to the progressive mid-1900s, to an eventual reversion to individualistic primitivism. Leave it to Beaver exemplifies the “perfect” Victorian patriarch and his role as head of the family. The Cosby Show demonstrates the progressive father is still head of the family but is also a more realistic view of the father figure. Finally, The Simpsons illustrates the father’s transformation into a primitive buffoon who is but a shadow of his no-nonsense predecessors. These three series illustrate how television’s father figure has evolved from a respectable, knowledgeable man to a clueless, accident-prone dunce.

In her book, Manliness and Civilization, Gail Bederman notes the definition of Victorian manliness, according to the Century Dictionary, as possessing the qualities of a man and being ”… independent in spirit or bearing; strong, brave, large-minded…” as well as being ”honorable [and] high-minded” (18). If this is true, then Ward Cleaver is manliness incarnate. He is respectable, dignified, and well restrained. As head of the household, he executes his duties flawlessly— being a role model and positive influence for his children, providing the income for his family, and above all, maintaining the socially prescribed sex roles within the home. These qualities blend together to make what I like to call the “great patriarch.” Ward’s self-restraint and high-mindedness allow him to maintain his manly composure even when his son confesses his misbehavior. For example, in the “Beaver’s Prize”  episode, Beaver tells his father that, unpermitted, he went to the movies and won a bicycle the same day. He also discloses that he left the bike at a church to be “adopted” by a nice family. In response, Ward calmly thanks Beaver for telling the truth and prescribes a punishment, no going to the movies for two weeks. Beaver answers with a sincere ”Yes, Sir” and marches to his room.

Beaver’s willingness to tell the truth and his father’s reaction says something about Ward. The patriarch’s reserve provides him the patience to listen calmly while his son speaks of his transgressions; at the same time, his honorable character allows him to thank Beaver for his honesty and prescribe a fair punishment. As the father of a son who has been disobedient, Ward must be stern enough to ensure that his offspring will not misbehave again. He must also be fair and gentle enough to guarantee that his children feel safe talking to him the next time they make a mistake, as in the “Beaver’s Typewriter” episode where Beaver confesses that he cheated on his homework. In short, Ward’s self-restraint, forcefulness (when he needs to be), and honor make him the perfect Victorian man. It seems that 1950s television, while trying to portray the perfect family, still held on to the last vestiges of Victorian ideals. To be sure, Rhonda Wilcox acknowledges ”… critics have been comparing television to serially published multipart Victorian novels” (Abbott, 37). In this manner, the assertion that Ward is the perfect Victorian manly father is not off the mark.

Discussions between Ward and Beaver also shed light on the relationship Mr. Cleaver has with his wife. We also see Ward’s role as the powerful patriarch in his preservation of gender specific duties. In one episode, Wally asks his father why he grills outside when he cooks, but when June (mom) cooks it is inside. Ward thinks about it then matter-of-factly explains ”… a woman’s place is in the home and as long as she’s in the home she may as well be in the kitchen” (The Wisdom of Ward Cleaver, 10/26/2011). He then explains how women are comfortable and happy with the modern conveniences, while and men are rugged and better suited for the outdoors. Here, Ward is clearly positioning himself within the sphere of the dominant patriarch— protecting women from the harsh world outside by claiming dominion over the outdoors and leaving the more delicate tasks to his wife. He is also doing his fatherly duty by passing on the knowledge of “man’s work” to his eldest son, the next great patriarch. Ward’s teaching also extends to the silent, visual lesson that he expects his children to follow.

In discussing Leave it to Beaver‘s legacy, a review stated that through all of the kids growing up”… father Ward… and mother June… observed and nurture their children with quiet selflessness and obvious love” (Orlick). This is indeed true, and, in the case of Ward, it is more than just his nature, it is also a part of his image. Whether eating dinner or reading the newspaper, Ward is always dressed exceptionally in a shirt and tie and khaki pants. He never slouches and is remarkably well spoken. Always neatly shaven, the Cleaver family patriarch is the poster child for Victoria manliness. By being aesthetically impeccable, Ward not only displays his respectability, but also provides a visual example for his children to follow and emulate as they mature.

In the broadcast era, a figure such as Ward Cleaver was a must in order to attract as large an audience as possible. Debuting in 1957 on CBS, Leave It to Beaver used Ward as head of the household to gain a broad viewer base by catering to the dominant, postwar era belief system. This system revolved around, among other things, the idea that life was carefree (at least superficially) and what problems that did arise could easily be fixed by a talk with dad; or if that did not work, a drive in the country using the newly invented power steering might calm the nerves. In fact, Critic Robert Lewis Shayon pontificates, ‘”Ward and June Cleaver were ’Mr. and Mrs. Average-American living in their typical Good Housekeeping home” (Orlick). This suggests the Victorian fatherly character portrayed by Ward pleased the audience enough to garner the audiences CBS needed to maintain its top position in the ratings game. The self-restrained, honorable, and loving characteristics of the Cleaver household patriarch were so prevalent they could be found in popular magazines like Good Housekeeping.

With its display of the great patriarch, Leave It to Beaver put forth a figure that every father strove to emulate, or at least should have. In this matter, the show acted somewhat like a textbook on how to be the perfect patriarch— sit at the head of the dinner table like Ward, be controlled like Ward, keep your wife safe from man’s work like Ward. Despite his being the perfect father, Ward’s Victorianism could not last. As Michael McGerr suggests in his book, A Fierce Discontent, the Victorian desire to change domesticity and the ideals of work and pleasure transformed them into progressives (68).

Just as the Victorians of the late 1800s and early 1900s became progressive, so too did television adapt to the changing times. In other words, “The assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy changed the nation’s views of itself and its times… and a country preoccupied with civil rights strife, Vietnam, Woodstock, and Watergate would find little relevance to Beaver’s radio-derived simplicity” (Orlick). These transformations in American society spawned the figure of The Cosby Show‘s Cliff Huxtable, the progressive father.

Some would argue that Cliff’s progressivism stems from the fact that he is an African-American; however, I posit the idea that it is not his race but his parenting skills and portrayal that make him progressive. For one, his life lessons are more ”fun” than the straight talk of Mr. Cleaver. For example, in the season one pilot episode Cliff discusses the importance of money with his only son Theo after the boy received all Ds on his report card. However, instead of having a stern and stoic talk with his son, father Cliff turns this life lesson into a game by using Monopoly money. He allows Theo to decide how much money he will earn after his graduation ($1200 a month) and then proceeds to deduct his earnings based on such circumstances as taxes, food, housing, and whether or not Theo will have a girlfriend, until there is nothing left. Throughout this lesson Theo is smiling and having fun as if it were a game of Monopoly itself.

This is a far cry from Ward’s great patriarchal style of teaching. By using entertainment as a tool to teach his son, Cliff is demonstrating a new mindset of raising children, a progressive mindset. As opposed to the strong patriarchal ethos of child rearing, which depends on direct confrontation with the problem, the head of the Huxtable family opts to dispel some of this confrontational problem solving by intertwining the lesson at hand with amusement. The fact that Theo is enjoying this training session with his father points to the progressive tendencies of Mr. Huxtable. Although Ward’s method of teaching was effective, it was nowhere close to the entertaining professorial techniques that Cliff employs. This is because Ward is forever stuck (in reruns) using the Victorian model of straight talking, no-nonsense instructing while Cliff (also in reruns) implements a progressive train of thought that focuses on creative ways of teaching. Cliff’s playfulness does have its limits however.

Later in the episode, Theo makes a last ditch effort to stay out of trouble for his failing report card by belting out a heartfelt speech discussing all the reasons why his father should love him no matter what grades he gets. After a brief pause, Cliff answers with an emphatic, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life… You are going to try as hard as you can and you are going to do it because I said so! I am your father! I brought you into this world, I could take you out!” All the fun and games are for nothing unless Cliff fails to adequately assert his authority. He must remind his children that he is indeed their father and under his roof his word is law. Here too, the Huxtable family patriarch shows his progressivism. Ward is too much of a gentleman to tell his son that he has just said ”the dumbest thing” he has ever heard in his life. Cliff, on the other hand, is a progressive and not afraid to be blunt and even jokingly threaten bodily harm by suggesting he can end Theo’s life.

Despite these occasional exhibitions of strength, Cliff always reverts back to a gentler state that allows “Rudy (Keisha Knight Pulliam) and Vanessa (Tempest Bledsoe)… [Who are] cute pre-teens [that serve] admirably as foils to Cosby’s hilarious child-rearing routines” (Hunt). Like the Cleaver children, the Huxtable youth, “Secure in a cocoon of loving parents and affluence… steered clear of trouble as they grew up over the series eight-year run”(Hunt). This sounds quite similar to the previously stated quote concerning Leave it to Beaver (… father Ward… and mother June…), suggesting that the two patriarchs are both effective at fathering despite the marked differences in their paths taken to achieve parental control.

Cliff’s progressivism is not only shown in his parenting skills, but also in his interactions with his wife. The progressives of the late 1800s sought to modernize domesticity by creating a new social contract between men and women. Part of this social contract concerning domesticity meant ”… endorsing the concept of’ ’voluntary motherhood’— the right of wives to dictate when they would have sexual intercourse and children” (McGerr, 50). In other words, a husband would now have to respect the wife’s newfound dominance of her sex. Husband Cliff duly takes note of and participates in this new domestic contract. In many an episode, Cliff can be seen seducing wife Clair through such means as dancing, massaging, and making seductive faces. For the most part, she performs these scenes silently, save for the generally romantic soundtrack playing throughout the sequence, which results in comedy yet deep romance. In one episode, for example, after cutting up an apple, Cliff feeds a piece to his wife who is resting her head against his chest. Clair then feeds the remaining piece to her husband who proceeds to eat it in one bite. The scene ends with husband and wife cuddled together on the couch while a romantic, smooth jazz song plays in the background.

This dialogue free scene demonstrates how Cliff takes part in the new social contract sought after by the progressives. Instead of forcing himself against his wife, husband Cliff delicately plucks the outer strings of his wife’s newly found self-determined sexuality—by first cutting the apple, then feeding it to her, then finally ending with his legs wrapped around her waist. This process can be seen as a courtship dance that Cliff must perform if he wishes his advances to be accepted by his wife. This also suggests a progressive shift of thought towards the wife’s role in domestic life on behalf of the husband. Whereas Ward sees June as an object meant for “women’s work” in the kitchen, Cliff acknowledges Clair’s individual rights as a woman and sexual being whom he respects. These romantic, often comical, scenes bringing to light the progressive nature in which the show portrays Cliff.

Throughout this series’ lifespan, The Cosby Show depicted its patriarch in a progressive manner. In a Thanksgiving Day episode, Cliff continuously makes trips to the supermarket, whether it be because he forgot to buy something or because his shopping bags ripped causing eggs to break on the floor, during a severe rainstorm and is dripping wet with a rain drenched hat that droops over his eyes. His miserable demeanor is a clear attempt to knock the great patriarch figure off of his proverbial high horse and bring him to a more tangible level. This depiction of Cliff is also progressive because his wife and the other women force him to brave the storm so they can finish cooking dinner with the provisions they sent him to buy. In this manner, his comfort, and indeed respectability, is subservient to the needs of the women—something rarely seen with Mr. Cleaver. In another episode, Cliff raps in front of Theo and his friend suggesting that the Huxtable patriarch is not only hip (or at least tries to be), but also progressive enough to participate in the youth culture. These examples give credence to the idea that Cliff Huxtable was the quintessential progressive father.

With the dawn of the cable/ satellite era, NBC needed a show that could compete in the growing media scape; The Cosby Show was their answer. With a program that depicted a progressive father while at the same time being, in the words of Jonathan Leonardo, “‘… a sitcom throwback… [and]… Leave it to Beaver in blackface’” (Staiger, 145) NBC was able to create a show fresh enough to be considered different yet similar enough to attract audiences looking for something familiar. On the one hand, Cliff’s progressivism—his humorous teaching styles, acceptance of his wife’s sexual independence, and tangibility— made him appeal to the changing times of the nation as a whole. On the other hand, his similarity to the great patriarch and other throwbacks such as vaudeville performance (Cliff’s riffing with the apple) made him desirable to fans unwilling to give up the nostalgia of 1950s television. In fact, Cosby’s wide demographic, including women 18 to 49 and an estimated 34.1 percent of children, allowed it to be the top ranked network show in late 1984 and thus one of the only network shows to resist the audience drain caused by the onslaught of new cable programs (Staiger 143-144).

Like the fall of Victorianism caused by the change in social thought, the appeal of the pursuit of individual pleasure overtook progressivism. Gail Bederman notes that between 1894 and 1912 “… a growing subcurrent in middle class culture was constructing the capacity for selfish aggressiveness and sexual predation as an essential characteristic of the natural man” (158). When this selfish aggressiveness and sexual predation transfer from a flesh and bone individual to an animated character, the exaggerated result is the figure of Homer Simpson, the primitive, masculine father.

Homer J. Simpson is the personification of raw masculinity, what Bederman designates as aggressiveness, physical force, and male sexuality (19). In the case of Homer, it is not a stretch to add stupidity, clumsiness, and impulsiveness. He demonstrates these traits (especially the latter ones) from the very onset of the show’s opening sequence. In the first appearance of Homer, he inadvertently is causing an accident in the workplace while simultaneously accidentally catching some radioactive material in his shirt. The fact that he is unaware of the accident and the plutonium not only calls attention to his clumsiness, but also to his lack of attention concerning the world around him. Although Cliff is sometimes prone to unintentional blindness, he most certainly would notice his coworker falling off a ladder, not to mention the radioactive material in his clothing, something Homer does not realize until he is halfway home. In the final portion of the title sequence, Homer is almost run over, and in later seasons is actually hit by his wife’s car as she pulls into the garage. This vehicular assault by the wife suggests that Marge, who is seen as the levelheaded one, is challenging Homer’s position as head of the family. The opening sequence sets up Homer to struggle, if not outright fail, at everything he does. This can be seen in his parenting skills, or lack thereof.

Unlike Ward’s gentle manner of teaching and Cliff’s progressive style of education, Homer opts for a much more rough education regimen. In any given episode, the Simpson patriarch can be seen strangling his son, Bart, at the slightest provocation. Here, the aggressiveness and physical force Bederman describes comes out, albeit in a situation usually reserved for less harsh methods. In strangling his son, Homer personifies raw, primitive masculinity. He does not possess the high mindedness of Ward, nor does he have the creative teaching style of Cliff; instead, he relies on his violent, primitive instincts to educate his misbehaving child. Clearly, this barbaric method of teaching fails to curb the unruly behavior because, without fail, Bart will resume his mischievous pranks. These pranks may have been what one progressive woman was speaking of when she remarked that she was tired of “‘the frustration that children must be permitted to ’express’ themselves without a hint of parental interference”‘ (McGerr 315). Although Homer does occasionally interfere with his son’s misbehavior, the harsh methods he uses are not sufficient enough to stop Bart from “expressing” himself. Perhaps, if Homer were more like Ward, he would be more effective at preventing his son’s bad behavior. Despite the physical force Homer uses to educate his son, he does seem to understand that he must be gentle when educating his daughter.

When it comes to Lisa, Homer tries to be more fatherly by being more kind and sympathetic but ultimately fails to deliver the proper message. In the “Dead End” episode, Lisa confronts her father when she notices that her mother’s grades began to fall once she met her future husband. In response, Homer proudly declares that if not he, someone or something else would have made his wife’s grades fall, and “sooner or later everyone finds their Homer.” Defending her honor, Lisa says that no boy will get in the way of her dreams. Homer replies that it may not be a boy that inhibits her dreams and that she should “just pick a dead end and chill out ’til you die.” This is hardly the advice Lisa was looking for, not to mention the advice a parent should give to his child. To make matters worse, he calls his daughter “my son” then promptly corrects himself with the phrase, “my girl son.”

In the “The Squirt and the Whale” episode, Lisa befriends a beached whale only to discover that her new companion has died after spending two days on land. Homer tries to ease his daughter’s pain by suggesting that the whale is now lying on God’s beach; Lisa promptly corrects her mistaken father by claiming heartbreakingly that whales do not like the beach, they live in the water. Homer apologizes that he is not a perfect father. When Bart overhears this he makes a snooty remark, to which Homer replies, “I am trying to be a sensitive father you unwanted moron!” By using trying and sensitive in the same sentence Homer, and indeed the show, acknowledges the shortcomings of the primitive father when compared to the great patriarch and the progressive father.

These two examples set Homer apart from both Ward and Cliff. By suggesting that his daughter should “pick a dead end” he is doing the very opposite of what a father should be doing, nurturing and inspiring the future goals of his children. Whereas the great patriarch and the progressive father would use this moment to push their kids to be the best they can be, Homer, the primitive father, almost takes pride in leading his daughter down the path of laziness and underachievement. In regard to the latter example, the fact that Homer cannot comfort his daughter (due to his lack of knowledge about a whale’s natural habitat) suggests that he is fully out of touch with Lisa’s emotional state and clueless as how to fix it. In the same vein, his outburst at Bart’s remark demonstrates that, although he tries to be a “sensitive father”, he is dumbfounded as to how to go about it. This outburst also demonstrates his lack of the self-composure associated with Ward because he instinctively yells at his child. Also, although Cliff may yell at his son, it is in a manner that forces his offspring to better himself. Homer’s outburst, on the other hand, serves no other purpose but to belittle and humiliate Bart. This circumstance brings to light yet another characteristic of the primitive father, his impulsiveness.

Homer’s impulsiveness causes him trouble and to end up in situations that are usually detrimental to his health. In one episode Homer is given a doughnut by the devil (played by Ned Flanders). If he finishes it, he will be sent to hell. After receiving these instructions Homer proceeds to eat all but one piece of the cursed doughnut, which he promptly puts, in the refrigerator. Later that night, ignoring all the warning signs posted on the donut’s plate, he devours the remaining pastry as a midnight snack. Following this, Homer is sent directly to hell where his punishment is to eat all of the doughnuts in the world. This particular scene highlights Homer’s lack of self-control because he is unable to resist the temptation of the doughnut to save his life, literally. Ward Cleaver would have no problem resisting the temptation thanks to his manly self-restraint. Likewise, Cliff Huxtable would fare just as well, perhaps after a brief moment of comedic weakness and a riff on judging right from wrong. Homer, on the other hand, clearly makes the wrong decision because, like a primitive man, he is quick to make irrational choices without giving a thought to the repercussions. The punishment the Simpson patriarch receives illustrates a clear portrait of his physical and characteristic images.

Homer Simpson is a bald (except for three hairs), overweight, lazy doofus. In more than one episode he is described, and even portrayed, as an ape—further emphasizing his primitiveness. Instead of sitting at a desk like Ward does, Homer chooses to lounge on the couch in front of the TV with a beer in hand. Unlike Cliff, Mr. Simpson does not dress appropriately for work. Instead, he arrives wearing jeans and a T-shirt and sometimes, nothing but his underwear. Annie Winsor, a progressive-era woman asked, ‘”How can they [men] be gentlemanly, of pure speech and right behavior at home and with ladies, and go to drink and swear and think foul thoughts, to see ugly sites… do ugly and cover them over.'” The answer: “‘There is a code of honor which will protect them from exposure'” (McGerr, 48). In Homer’s case, there is no “code of honor” that protects him from exposure. His wife, and indeed the whole town, knows that he is a drunk and a menace to society when he is intoxicated. In one episode, Homer is drunk at a social get-together in his own home. Here the whole town is witness to his inebriated antics and the embarrassment he causes his wife.

It is also well known that Homer is lazy. In the “How the Test was Won” episode, Homer’s laziness causes him to mail his insurance payment a day late. When he confesses this to Marge she says that she is not disappointed in him and that “In this point in a marriage a wife should know what her husband can do and what he can’t. Who was I to think you could mail an envelope.” This exemplifies Homer’s laziness and evolution—the father has become someone so inept he cannot even mail a letter. By not taking the time to mail the letter Homer is demonstrating his individualistic nature because he is putting his own leisure time above the financial well being of his family.

This also stands in direct contrast to Ned Flanders, the show’s hard-working, very religious Victorian father. Unfortunately for Ned, Homer usually picks on and abuses his neighbor. It is as though The Simpsons is mocking the figure of the great patriarch or, as Matthew McAllister puts it, “The Simpsons often parodies the hypocrisy and contradictions found in social institutions such as the nuclear family…” (McAllister). The contrast between Homer’s lazy, impulsive, aggressive nature and Ned’s gentle, caring, cautious (all extremely exaggerated) nature parallels the battle between Victorianism and primitivism in which “[The] weakness, effeminacy, and civilization [of Victorianism] had been pitted against [the] strength, male sexuality, and primitives [of primitivism]” (Bederman, 92).

Just as “… the war [World War I] would undermine the new regime, progressivism, and point the nation back toward its individualistic, conservative past” (McGerr, 310), so too would the war among networks and cable providers in the post-network era create an individualistic, violent, and primitive character. With the progressive father on the way out, Fox has filled the void with the primitive Homer Simpson. Although Homer is not the best role model, as a result of his unsatisfactory teaching methods and his laziness, the fact that the viewers in the coveted 18 to 34-year-old demographic as well as those beyond that range enjoy the show signifies that he is a beloved character (Horowitz). Maybe it is his lovable stupidity that attracts so many people to the program. Or, perhaps by watching Homer doing outrageous activities in his cartoon world, the audience can live vicariously through him and enjoy the carefree life display that they themselves cannot experience.

Either way, The Simpsons is extremely successful as demonstrated by the amount of transmedia content—video games, toys, clothing, accessories, web content, DVDs, and posters—that stem from the show. The fact that The Simpsons is the longest running sitcom in US television history underscores the program’s longevity and popularity, owing in no small part to the character of Homer Simpson.

In the age of iPhones, MySpace, and even personal pan pizzas it seems as though our society is becoming more individualized even as new technologies are bringing people closer together and, in the process, making the world a smaller place. In the 1950s, when suburbanization was at its highest and American life was centered on the home; Leave it to Beaver was a perfect fit for society. The great patriarch demonstrated all the qualities necessary to maintain this domestic-centered existence. His high-mindedness allowed him to fully understand his fatherly duties and continue to provide for his family’s needs. As a result of his self-reserve, he was able to remain calm when disciplining his children and thus gain their trust. Because he was honorable, he garnered the respect of his wife and children. Indeed, it was these Victoria qualities—high-mindedness, self-reserve, honor—that allowed Ward Cleaver to be the role model for the patriarchs of the Baby Boomer Generation.

As society began to grow less innocent, The Cosby Show and its progressive father mirrored the social changes. Cliff’s creative teaching style allowed him to deal with such issues as drugs, money, and relationships in a unique and entertaining manner that helped his kids to cope with the world outside their middle-class home. His relationship with his wife was passionate and allowed her to express her individual freedoms found in the women’s movement. Also, his tangibility made it easier for his children and indeed fathers in the audience, to relate to him.

Now, Homer, as the patriarch of The Simpsons, exemplifies all the individualistic undertones associated with the previously mentioned consumer-products. Although he cares about his son, it is not enough to try another method of teaching other than strangulation and abuse. He is not concerned with his own health as seen by his constant drinking and impulsive devouring of doughnuts. His relationship with his neighbors suggests that he does not care for their well-being. With the father figure evolving from a respectable Sir to a “cool” dad and finally to a dumb Homer, only time will tell what the next television patriarch will look like and what implications this will have for our society.

Works Cited

Abbott, Stacey. The Cult TV Book: from Star Trek to Dexter, New Approaches to TV             outside the Box. New York: Soft Skull, 2010. Print.

Bederman, Gail. Manliness & Civilization: a Cultural History of Gender and Race in the             United States, 1880-1917. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995. Print.

Cosbyshow. “Season 1 Episode 01-Pilot Presentation.” Youtube.com. 11 Sept. 2007. Web.             5 Nov. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFY0HBkUm8o>.

Fox. “Season 21 Episode 19 – The Squirt and the Whale.” Smotri.com. Web. 5 Dec. 2011.             <http://smotri.com/video/view/?id=v1418368faec>.

Fox. “The Simpsons: Dead End.” Hulu.com. Hulu. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <http://w            ww.hulu.com/watch/193225/the-simpsons-dead-end>.

Fox. “The Simpsons Season 20 Episode 11 – How the Test Was Won.” Watchcartoonsonline.com. 29 June 2010. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <http://            www.watchcartoononline.com/the-simpsons-season-20-episode-11-how-the-test-            was-won>.

Horowitz, Jon. “”Mmm… Television”” The Simpsons Archive. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <http://            www.snpp.com/other/papers/jh.paper.html>.

Hunt, Darnell M. “The Cosby Show: U.S. Situation Comedy.” Museum.tv. The Museum             of Modern Broadcast Communications. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://            www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=cosbyshowt>.

Jim Bartek. “The Wisdom of Ward Cleaver (1958).” Youtube.com. 12 Apr. 2010. Web. 26             Oct. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMZZhctPCfQ>.

McAllister, Matthew P. “The Simpsons: U.S. Cartoon Situation Comedy.” Museum.tv.             The Museum of Modern Broadcasts Communications. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.             <http://            www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=simpsonsthe>.

McGerr, Michael E. A Fierce Discontent: the Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement             in America, 1870-1920. New York: Free, 2003. Print.

Orlick, Peter. “Leave It to Beaver: US Situation Comedy.” Museum.tv. The Museum of             Modern Broadcast Communications. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=leaveittob>.

Staiger, Janet. “The Cosby Show.” Blockbuster TV: Must See Sitcoms in the Network Era             (2000): 141-59. Print.

Branding The Entourage

by Tiara Liquido

HBO, a premium American cable television network, is not only notorious for its substantial variety in films but their award-winning original series.  One of their most popular shows, Entourage, is a direct illustration of HBO’s impeccable taste and high-level production. The show centers on the theme of male friendship and its significance when enduring Hollywood’s harsh lifestyle.  The characters in the television program are a group of men working in the film industry who, on the surface, seem to only care about sex and partying.  In actuality, these men have a multi-layered love for one another.

Entourage has light, comedic qualities, which reflects upon the perceived superficiality associated with Hollywood.  However, the show is a comedy/drama and such drama is felt through the character’s hardships.  For example, when the main character, Vincent, struggles with a drug addiction, his best friends are there to coax him into attending rehab and begin his path to sobriety.  The cast exhibits empathy and care for one another, demonstrating a strong sense of loyalty to the audience.  Most viewers mistakenly assume that themes in the show are solely represented through dialogue and plot.  However, producers go far beyond the script and strive to perfect the mise-en-scène.

The mise-en-scène of a television show is the representation of space, which can refer to anything from camera angles, props, costumes, lighting etc.The mise-en-scène can also apply to the positioning and movement of characters, also known as blocking. Themes in Entourage are shown through aesthetic elements, the soundtrack, and the use of props.  Although these elements are often overlooked, they have been crucial factors in Entourage’s success.

Entourage’s meticulously crafted mise-en-scène can first be seen in its weekly introduction, the credit sequence.  Although there is no dialogue, the narrative of the show is portrayed effectively:  it can be felt, heard, and seen through the music, production values, screening techniques, editing, etc.  Jeremy G. Butler discusses in his book, Television: Critical Methods and Applications, the great importance of the mise-en-scène in television production; “Every television program has a mise-en-scène that communicates meaning to the viewer- meaning that may be understood before a single line of dialogue…is spoken.  Mise-en-scène contributes to the narrative system of fiction programs…It is shaped by the needs of these systems and by other economic, technological, and aesthetic concerns.”  Fortunately, HBO has a great deal of money and hires well-trained producers and craftspeople to create this type of quality mise-en-scène for Entourage.

The first scene in the credit sequence is a blurred close-up of the cast as they enter a car.  Los Angeles’s colorful city lights decorate the background, giving a nice contrast to the gray street pavement and buildings.  The camera is positioned low and subsequently the audience can only view the bottom half of the cast member’s bodies.  In spite of this, one can still sense the types of characters that will appear on Entourage through their wardrobe.  The men are wearing blue jeans and no-name brand shoes, meaning that they are everyday men.  They dress casually, even when going out to socialize, yet they’re wealthy (through Vincent’s star earnings).

While the cast may be dressed in laid-back attire, the car they are entering is anything but casual. It is a 1965 Lincoln Continental convertible with suicide doors, a model that is rarely seen in the twenty first century and prices can range from $30,000 to $50,000.  This demonstrates that the characters have a tremendous amount of money, as they can spend many thousands of dollars on a rare, valuable car, yet they choose to dress in clothing that common men wear.  This also insinuates that the characters have not let their wealth “get to their heads.”  They inhibit the world of L.A., known for it superficiality, but their friendship has kept them somewhat modest.

Various images of Hollywood Boulevard flash across the screen, making it overwhelming to focus on one single object.  The speed of the editing represents the fast-paced storyline, characters, and society in which they reside in.  As discussed before, the characters are a part of the film industry, which is a fast-paced and difficult occupation to keep up with.  Los Angeles is also a fast-paced city overwhelmed by materialistic mentalities and the car culture.  Their racy occupations and living situations make life hard to manage and impede one’s ability to keep focus, which is a direct reflection upon the rhythm and pace of the editing techniques of the introduction.

Images become more identifiable once the names of producers and actors on Entourage are lit up on billboards and storefronts.  The camera switches back and forth from the names being lit up in streets to the car and its flamboyance.

This gives a fanciful feeling to the show and the life these men lead.  Having one’s name lit up in glamorous lights is the American dream, a dream that many cannot attain.  One can clearly see that these are powerful men with money, fame, and extravagance.

In order to go further into the Entourage’s mise-en-scène and unspoken themes, an analysis of a specific episode needs to be executed. The second episode in Season 4, The First Cut is the Deepest, is a perfect example of the well-crafted elements in HBO production.  Although, the images shown in the Entourage are imperative to the mise-en-scène, another vital aspect is the music.  The importance of music in television is rarely noticed or given credit.  In Butler’s book, Television, he describes four main functions of music in television: capturing the viewer’s attention, manipulating the viewer’s understanding of the image, maintaining television flow, and maintaining continuity within individual scenes.

One particular scene in The First Cut is the Deepest that amplifies the importance of music in television is Johnny Drama’s party.  The scene begins in the hallway of Drama’s apartment, which is filled with girls in short dresses and high heels.  The song playing is a hip-hop and rap song by Wale entitled “Ice Cream Girls”.  This instantly grabs the viewer’s attention since it is an anthem for partying and having a good time.

The ability to attain the focus of the audience may be one of the most important aspects of music in television.  More often than not, visual stimulation is not sufficient. Butler stresses this by concluding,  “In sum, television viewing is an inattentive pastime.  The viewer gaze may be riveted to the set for brief, intense intervals, but the overall experience is one of the distracted glance.  In this setting, visuals alone are not captivating enough to grab the viewer’s attention.  Sound is a much more effective stimulus in this regard.”  Wale’s song in Entourage fulfills this need for stimulation by being loud and fun, yet not too abrasive.

The next function of music in television is manipulating the viewer’s understanding of the image.  This can be done by the sound and image supporting one another, the sound and image contradicting one another, or the sound helping to emphasize select elements within the image.  In the case of Drama’s party, the sound and image support one another.  The scene proceeds to show a room full of girls with only a hand full of men dancing with one another provocatively.  Wale’s song “Ice Cream Girl”, a song meant for people to dance to, coincides with that milieu because of its strong beats, drums, and bass.

Another aspect of song is the lyrics.  Wale’s song vocalizes sexual experiences and the sensuality of a women’s figure.  The hook of the song goes as follows:  “Two scoops, shorty get that ice cream (sing it to me girl), Get that ice cream; get that, get that ice cream.  Ooh, cherry on top, she like it on top and when I hit the spot the cherry gon pop.”  This also emphasizes the dominance of the men at Drama’s party and the objectification of women.

Throughout the scene, Turtle attempts to manipulate multiple women for sex, as guests in the background engage in sexual activity.  Sex is on everyone’s mind and Wale’s song is a direct reflection upon the young, rich L.A. lifestyle.  It could even be played at a real-life event such as this.

The last two functions of music in television are maintaining television flow and maintaining continuity within individual scenes.  These are exemplified at the beginning of the party scene and the scene prior to it.  The scene before Drama’s party involves Ari pulling his daughter out of High School as loud, angry music plays in the background.  Ari’s scene ends with him slamming the classroom door and segues into the party scene where an elderly woman across from Drama’s apartment opens her door to find provocative women in the hallway.  This creates a smooth flow in perfect sequence.  Ari’s emotions, frustration and shock, with the school his daughter attends is directly linked to the emotions of the elderly women, who seems distressed to find a party in her once quiet hallway.  The camera fades in and out just as the music does, naturally constructing continuity in space and time.  Audience members may not be conscious of the music playing, but without it they may not even watch the television show.

Another aspect of production that viewers are affected by, but often overlook, is product placement.  Many shows dabble with product placement as a form of business, but HBO is known for retaining a massive amount through their dexterous techniques. Below is a graph of products used in the first three episodes of Entourage, in season one, along with the amount of money companies paid HBO.

As the show has become more popular, more companies are willing to pay for their products to be shown. In multiple scenes in The First Cut of the Deepest, product placements are made and done so naturally that it is almost unnoticeable.  The first scene is in Ari’s office.  The camera shifts to his sleek, silver Apple computer.  Ari, a powerful, high-paid movie agent, is constantly on the go and relies on technology to make money.  This directly translates to his computer and telephone.  Without those products his success would not have been made.  He needs to network and contact companies, his Apple computer ensuring his financial security.

Another central product placement is the Hermes handbag that Ari’s wife, Melissa, constantly holds.  She is a symbol of elegance, class, and dominance and her red Hermes bag amplifies this.  This handbag is proof of her wealth and luxurious life.  She may be subordinate to Ari, yet she always seems to get what she wants.

The last major product placement in The First Cut is the Deepest is seen at Drama’s party.  The guests are intoxicated, holding ambiguous red cups and beer bottles.  What is apparent is that they are drinking Red Bull, a well-known energy drink.  Having guests drinking Red Bull sends the message that these people will party throughout the night, enhancing their drunken “buzz.”  Product placement is done carefully, like commercials, and sends subconscious messages without dialogue.  The viewer watches a character using a product and will feel that his or her life will also be enhanced if he or she obtains that product.

Television audiences often watch cable programs as a form of entertainment, a practice in which they can take a break from a busy day.  As a result, the viewer may not be fully attentive to dialogue or the images on the screen.  This makes it imperative that the mise-en-scène and unspoken themes be invigorating to all of the viewer’s senses.  Entourage has won awards such as Best International Television Series, Outstanding Sound Mixing, Best Supporting Actor, and Producer of the Year.  Although the script and actors may be astounding, Entourage owes much of its success to the mise-en-scène and unspoken themes.  The subtle aspects of the show often go unnoticed but the effects and outcomes are the extremely successful and lucrative.

Works Cited

Butler, Jeremy G. Television: Critical Methods and Applications. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007. Print. (p. 253)

“Part 2: Mise-en-scene.” Film Studies Program. Yale University, 27 Aug. 2002. Web. <http://classes.yale.edu/film-analysis/htmfiles/mise-en-scene.htm>.

“News.” Front Row Marketing Services. Web. <http://www.frontrow-marketing.com/press-detail.aspx?id=248>.