Feed on

I’ve been thinking about this research topic since the beginning of the semester so I’ve accumulated quite a lot of ideas, and this is why it hurts me terribly that all these amazing ideas that I was so excited about are basically completely unfeasible because of the lack of scholarship in the field. I am mostly interested in television, so I wanted to investigate the narrative of certain television series or even television genres, because I think that there is a lot more to talk about when you are analyzing a TV show than when you are analyzing a certain movie alone. Specifically, I find it very interesting how in the case of television, just like we read in Prof. Mittell’s article in the Cambridge Companion a while ago, there are all these industry-specific factors (like scheduling choices, commercial breaks, the weekly character of series, and so on) that are external to the show itself, but nevertheless impact its narrative structure and its storytelling mode.

In terms of the series I wanted to look at, my first choice was Trapped in the Closet, R Kelly’s famous “hip-hopera”, which is not a TV show per se, but nevertheless follows the same serial pattern. Trapped in the Closet was, in my opinion, a groundbreaking production, both in terms of format and style, and I am sad to say that its immense ingenuity and resourcefulness has been terribly overlooked: rather, amidst pedophile charges and R Kelly’s superficial achievements in the music industry up to that point, Trapped in the Closet has been regarded as merely an epitome of “campy”-ness (which, I think, it consciously is) and a favorite youtube clip watched by college students when they’re stoned. I think it’s much more than that, I think that the narrative style and the series format were completely original and efficient, and that R Kelly knows very well what he is doing and he does it well. Tongue-in-cheek and all, the series is an amazing and unique achievement from an unlikely auteur. However, I cannot find any, and I mean any, scholarly sources that could back up my essay and since this is a research paper, I think this is a big problem. There definitely are newspaper and magazine reviews of the show, but I definitely don’t consider that to be enough to embark on this research topic.

Then I looked at another highly significant but overlooked milestone in pop culture history: the great, marvelous, astonishing MacGyver!!! I think it would be very interesting to analyze narration in MacGyver because the protagonist himself provides the voice-over narration (and his discourse as a narrator touches everything from bomb recipes to wanting to have a pony when he grows up!), the episodes set up a clear “reading pattern” (they teach you how to watch them, just like we talked about in class), and the series, by virtue of having been aired on television for seven entire seasons, has to obey the programming and scheduling rules that condition its narrative structure. And oh well, to make the story short, a half day’s search for MacGyver materials on Google Books, Google Scholar, ProQuest, WorldCat etc returned exactly 1 result, which was actually about the MacGyver book.

I mean, of course, I could try to research a more well-known or older TV show (for which finding scholarly sources would not be a problem) like Bonanza or Charlie’s Angels or I Love Lucy, to name just a few examples, but these shows do no exhibit, as far as I know, such an interesting application of narrative techniques and, moreover, I am not personally drawn to them in any special way – and I think that for an extensive research paper such as this one, it is important to be personally passionate about your subject of choice. Can anybody help me out and think of a TV show, old or new that can spark an original investigation of narration but that has been sufficiently already analyzed by the media scholars? (And in general, as I look at more and more research topics for this semester and for future academic work, I think that this conundrum is especially frustrating in the case of contemporary television, because naturally you want to do something original, but in the same time it must be “unoriginal” enough – if you will – in order to be able to find enough sources to sustain your research.)

Then I tried a wider approach to researching television topics, and thought of analyzing so-called “stunt episodes” : uncharacteristic, atypical episodes within a certain series, where writers take extreme liberties with the format and even the “feel” or genre of the show once audiences are familiar enough with its usual narrative structure. Examples of this are, for instance, the Scrubs episode that emulated a sitcom, the backwards Seinfeld episode, the live ER episode, and an impressive number of X Files episodes. Jeffrey Sconce, in his article “What If: Charting Television’s New Boundaries”, calls this type of experimentation “conjectural” episodes, and identifies it as an emerging trend in contemporary television. It would be really interesting to try to look at as many such instances as I can and come up with an argument about the generic and stylistic features of such narrative diversions in modern television, how they can afford to depart from the conventional narrative structure of the series, and how that impacts the medium’s current and future development. My only problem here relates to nomenclature. I just don’t know how to search for scholarly sources on this topic, because I don’t know what to call these experiments as a blanket term. I tried “stunt episodes”, “stunt television”, “spectacle episodes”, “experimental/ atypical/ unconventional episodes” and some others, but I haven’t come across much and I’m sure this is because I don’t know exactly what to search for. One useful article I found was actually written by Prof. Mittell (Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television) and it is very useful but he talks about narrative experimentation in television in general, and I think my topic should be less broad (or should it?). Sconce uses the term “metareflexive” to talk about new shows that comment on the process of narration itself, and this could also be interesting to explore, but again I don’t know how to limit my research scope, and if I should write about just about stunt episodes or about metareflexive television in general.

And, if none of these topics focusing on the realm of television prove to be feasible, I was also thinking of another possible option that is applicable to cinema as well: the narrative presentation of dreams on film. This idea came to me because I am currently reading Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (which is an absolutely fascinating book, by the way) and it amazed me to realize that dream sequences in movies actually do follow the mechanics of dreaming, that is, they often evidence a well-grounded scientific understanding of the phenomenon of dreaming – and the unconscious repression, substitution, combination and reinterpretation of real elements in dreams – while simultaneously crafting a dream sequence that works well within the established narrative parameters of the film. Therefore, I think it would be really interesting to explore the representation of dreams on celluloid, as they are necessarily conditioned both by the psychosomatic characteristics of dreaming, and by the practical and effective integration of these dream sequences within the larger narrative.

One Response to “ideas for my research paper…”

  1. Ioana – these are great ideas, and I’d encourage you to explore them without needing to find secondary sources about the specific texts – rather you can find research covering the broader context, and use your analysis and the primary writings like reviews & interviews to build a thesis. Personally, I’d encourage exploring Trapped in the Closet, both because it’s truly brilliant in its oddness, and because it’s an interesting hybrid between serial & song, music video & ongoing series. Looking at the literate on music video and even opera might be helpful, then build on the various online & print discussions of the series. I’ve actually almost shown a clip of this series in class a few times, but we’ve never had the right time to do it! Let’s chat more about strategies.

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