Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Brothers & Sisters: Situated Within the Hegemonic Ideology (Core)
A cursory analysis of ABC’s primetime soap opera Brothers & Sisters (2006-2011) would seemingly support the notion of the cultural forum as established by Horace Newcomb and Paul M. Hirsch. The show centers on the Walker family, who are forced to pick up the pieces of their personal and professional lives in the wake of the patriarch’s death (this occurs in the pilot, so no spoiler alert necessary). Within this family is a composite of various American demographics. The mother, Nora, is a die-hard liberal alongside her openly gay son, Kevin; they often come into conflict with the staunch conservative daughter, Kitty who later falls for a Republican Senator running for President. The youngest child, Justin, is a Iraq War veteran who is also a recovering drug addict.
These conflicting identities allow the program to pursue a variety of contemporary issues and hot-button topics. However, it is done within the framework of an upper class, white nuclear family from California. Throughout the show’s run, the consistent conflict—outside of interpersonal drama within the family—is the Walker family business, and its struggles to survive. The capitalist venture that informs the family’s upper-class values creates the prism through which they view the world.
This blind spot in the Walker family is a similar blind spot to the one in Newcomb and Hirsch’s own essay. While the cultural forum is certainly a beneficent potentiality of the television medium, to extricate it from the institutional practices of the television business ignores the hegemonic ideology that constructed the forum in the first place. As Todd Gitlin says in his essay, “Major social conflicts are transported into the cultural system, where the hegemonic process frames them, form and content both, into compatibility with dominant systems of meaning” (264). I do not intend to insinuate that hegemonic ideology incapacitates resistant spectatorship, nor that television is monolithic in its cultural objectives. Rather, I simply wish to assert that the “cultural forum” is situated within a larger structure.