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Unwrapping the wings of the television show The West Wing

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abstract
My thesis project is a textual analysis of the television show The West Wing using John Fiske’s narrative analysis approach and Douglas Kellner’s multicultural and multiperspectival critical cultural theory. My initial venture into the show was more a chance to get away from commonplace television shows, such as family dramas and soap operas, than an opportunity to think critically about the interplay between culture and politics. What began as a casual television viewing session soon became a dinnertime ritual and finally challenged me enough to begin exploring the possibility of analyzing the show for my thesis project. Politics and the presidency in America make an interesting combination, and it is captivating for a viewer like me, who is originally from another culture, to explore these topics. Many questions have arisen for me from watching the series and considering its implications. What can we make out of the gender portrayals as seen in the series, especially as every female character is either the secretary, assistant, wife to the President, someone in every case who facilitates the voice of the President with not much voice of her own? What conclusions can we draw when we see people of color only serving the President as personal assistants in the early episodes of the show then, when diversifying the cast later, to include a couple of African American characters in prestigious roles that remain peripheral to the central action? How do we interpret the fact that a show of this caliber does not make much effort to address concerns like sexual preference and social class, claiming to be liberal and progressive at the same time? The underlying complexities of individual identity and political diversity lie at the heart of the show, which debuted in fall 1999 and had an average of twenty million viewers tuning in every week. Written and produced exclusively by Aaron Sorkin and co-produced by Thomas Schlamme for the first four seasons, this show features the activities of the senior White House staff. Produced by Warner Bros. Television Limited, the series has won over twenty Emmy Awards, out of which nine came in the first season itself, which is a record for the most Emmys won by a series in a single season. The series shares the Emmy award record for the most acting nominations by regular cast members for a single series in a year with Hill Street Blues and L.A.Law. The series is also credited with winning two Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards in 2000 and 2001 in the category of Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a drama series. My study is a textual analysis of The West Wing using John Fiske’s narrative analysis approach and Douglas Kellner’s multicultural and multiperspectival critical cultural theory, reading the show both historically and topically. My point of emphasis will be to use categorization schemes to identify and explain the narrative patterns related to the characters and storylines presented in the show. My study will involve looking at how Kellner’s multiperspectival categories of representation are presented in the series and examining the implications of the interface between larger issues of cultural politics with the representations of gender, race, sexuality, and social class by applying John Fiske’s narrative theory across the four categories and also applying relevant theories specific to each one. The political dynamics if the show is no doubt, very exciting but I am more intrigued by the depiction of power relationships, gender roles, sexual dynamics along with race and social class issues as the show handles them for the seven seasons that it was aired for. Each of the categories will be examined with specific episodes, incorporating other theorists like Laura Mulvey, Stuart Hall and Judith Butler to name a few. One of the important elements in the show is the aspect of disability, which is a recurring issue. This is depicted in the form of the President dealing with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and forms a key part of the story line following the second season of the show. This category is not included in Kellner’s categories for analyzing media culture and will form a part of my study since it forms a critical part of this narrative.
subject
Media and Cultural Studies
Communication
contributor
Biswas, Anindita (author)
Mary M.Dalton (committee chair)
Allan Louden (committee member)
Wanda Balzano (committee member)
date
2008-12-20T18:53:10Z (accessioned)
2010-06-18T18:58:25Z (accessioned)
2008-12-20T18:53:10Z (available)
2010-06-18T18:58:25Z (available)
2008-12-20T18:53:10Z (issued)
degree
Communication (discipline)
identifier
http://hdl.handle.net/10339/14764 (uri)
language
en_US (iso)
publisher
Wake Forest University
rights
Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide. (accessRights)
title
Unwrapping the wings of the television show The West Wing
type
Thesis

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