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Archive for the month “March, 2016”

Archer: The Comedy of Sound

Note-Another college essay


The show Archer, an adult animated spy comedy on FX, is unique in many ways. From the comic book inspired thick outlining to the willingness to break from the standard episodic procedure by having the main cast be drug dealers for a season, Archer is both a parody and a deconstruction of spy films and television shows. This creativity extends to its aesthetic elements as well. In this analysis, I would like to focus specifically on how the show uses the element of dialogue. In particular, I am arguing that the animated comedy Archer uses dialogue in in combination with tools like repetition and miscommunication to enhance both the comedy and narrative of the story in a unique way.

The Dialogue 

One of the most evident examples of comedy in sound comes through the dialogue. Ian Dawe makes the claim that, “Archer is clearly a parodic show, and one in the service of comedic ends. One of the strongest elements of the show’s sense of parody comes from its use of, and arguably obsession with, sound”(Dawe, 232). It is this parody aspect of the show that allows it to get away with its outlandish use of dialogue, since it parodies both spy shows and classic cartoon dynamics. The use of catchphrases to reinforce the parody aspects of the show is especially poignant, since in many of the later seasons the characters themselves recognize the catchphrases for what they are. One recurring phrase in Archer is, “Phrasing”, which is used whenever a character says something that could misconstrued as a double entendre. The line is first introduced in episode four of season one and is continually used for the next few seasons until it is quietly phased out around the beginning season four. However, in season five episode ten the title character, Sterling Archer, says, “So, we’re just done with phrasing, right? That’s not a thing anymore?” In fact, for the whole entire season he asks what happened to that particular catchphrase and even attempts to replace it with, “Said Ripley to the android Bishop”. Though a slight detour from catch phrases, I would be remiss if I did not mention another situation in which there was a verbal acknowledgment of the fact that a trope was being parodied. In the seventh episode of season one, Lana and Cyril are having relationships problems that causes them to take a break from the relationship. However, Cyril returns later on help Lana push a bomb off a plane. The conversation that follows is, “I cannot do this alone!” “You’re not alone!” “Baby! you came back to me!” “Lana, we’re not gonna make it!” “Yes, we are, Cyril! We are gonna make it!” “Oh, my god! Lana, we made it!”. This sweet moment is interrupted by Sterling sarcastically exclaiming, “Hurray for metaphors!” The humor comes for Sterling pointing out the cliché to audiences who didn’t notice it and vocalizing the thoughts of the one who did notice the over-exaggeration.


The Catch Phrases

This obsession with catch phrases and the acknowledgment in-show of their power as comedic devices must be noted. Joseph Darlington wrote in his paper “Catchphrases: a semiotic, genealogical and cultural materialist study of the form that, “The first and most essential component of the catchphrase’s signification as regards performers is its role in characterization …a pure metonym for a whole series of social expectations” (Darlington, 125). In this case, the metonym stands for pointing out words and sentences that could be sexual in nature. However, instead of saying “That could be misconstrued as a sexual innuendo and therefore it is funny”, that whole entire sentiment is wrapped up into one nicely packaged word that can be used over and over again without feeling labored. What makes Archer so interesting, however, is it’s complete obsession with catch phrases and reoccurring lines. To just name a few that occur throughout the shows six season run: The head of Human Resources Pam saying “sploosh” whenever somebody says or does something that she finds to be erotic, saying “The danger zone” whenever something exciting or dangerous happens, the secretary Cheryl yelling “You’re not my supervisor” even if it to her superivor, Sterling saying “classic mother” whenever his mom does something morally ambiguous, Sterling saying that he “May literally die” if he might not get something that he desires, Sterling and others saying “Stop…I can only get so erect” when something amazing happens, Sterling yelling Lana’s name multiple times in succession, “Nooope”, and many more. This obsession with running vocal gags makes Archer unique in the sense that everything about it seems over the top and exaggerated. For this show, repetition is king. Joseph Darlington wrote, “In short, repetition is the means by which organisms process and interact with their environment. Enter language, and signification becomes the medium of this interaction. One cannot separate language from its constant repetitions” (Darlington, 127). The show forces the audience to spot patterns, to both encourage familiarity with the content and subvert expectations when the expected response is not delivered in the usual way.


The Sound

            Archer’s distinctive style of dialogue is not limited to catchphrases though. One of its most noticeable parodic devices is the use of references. Intertextuality and referencing pop culture is common in television, but the goal is to have the audience laugh because they understand the reference. It makes the audience feel as if they are in on an inside joke. In Archer, however, the joke is that nobody gets the reference. Characters, usually Sterling, make obscure references that do not really exist in the mainstream consciousness. Sometimes the reference is literary, other times it is from a movie, while other times it is a pop culture references from decades ago (which makes sense due to the anachronistic nature of the show). Sterling has either referenced the material of or name-dropped people such as O. Henry, Oscar Wilde, Herman Melville, Emily Post, George Orwell, Manning Coles, Jonathan Edwards, and Rien Poortvlie, the illustrator of Gnomes. This dialogue works comedically on two different levels. The first level is one that reaches the most audiences, the fact that the jock-like and insensitive Sterling Archer is the probably the best-read person in the series, making references that nobody understands. The second, however, is much more selective. The second level is reserved only for the select few who were luck enough to understand what Sterling is referencing and the significance of the reference to the situation. While it is true that in this modern era, one can easily look up the reference on Google or Bing, the time and effort that it would take to do this would rob the moment of its comedic value due to the reliance on timing in comedy. While still adhering to traditional television comedic traditions, Arch also finds a way to parody these conventions by changing how the reference and audience interact. Catchphrases are not the only way in which Archer makes use of dialogue though.

Another example of the use of dialogue for both comedic and narrative is having dialogue continuing on through multiple scenes, either as one conversation between two people or two different conversations that have a sentence that connects them. In the sixth episode of season one, the spy Lana and the CEO of the spy organaizaion ISIS, Malory Archer, are having a conversation about Lana’s current at the time boyfriend, Cyril, and her ex-boyfriend, Sterling. This conversation takes place over four locations: The elevator of the office, the car to the airlines, the airplane, and the taxi outside of the other airport. In this case we see the discourse time much shorter than the story time. While it is understood that the ellipsis suggests that much time is passing, along with the indexical relationship presented by the multiple modes of travel, the actual dialogue flows as one conversation despite the fact that it must either be one long conversation or a collection of conversations. This strange juxtaposition of the dialogic content being presented as scene while the image is presented as ellipsis can be seen as both humorous and useful to providing information while moving the story narrative time along.


This juxtaposition is also used when transitioning between the kernel and satellites as defined by Seymour Chapman, also known as the A-plot and B-plot or main plot and subplot. This is done by either taking advantage of a word having multiple meanings or simply having a sentence working in both scenes. In the eighth episode of season one, the former is used. When talking about earning a contract to Sterling and Lana, Mallory Archer says, “All of San Marino could fit in the South Bronx. The Important thing is that they’re loaded”. This is followed immediately followed by Pam talking to Cyril saying “About 15 freakin’ beers, all that schuetzie, and holy shit! Did I honk down a bunch of absinthe?”. This is a transition from the kernel that is about ISIS trying to earn a contract and Pam and Cyril talking about the party they went to last night. Once again, we see an eclipse. The physical scene changes with a cut. However, the two are connected with a word. In this case the word is loaded, which in colloquial terms means that someone or something is excessively rich but can also mean that somebody had an excessive amount of alcohol. This is not a one time device and can be seen being used multiple times in one episode.

Later on in the same episode, the latter example of having a sentence that has the same meaning but in two different sentences is used. In fact, this is done between the second scene of the previous example and a new scene. After Cyril punched Pam in the stomach he apologizes by saying, “ Wow, I am incredibly sorry”. The story then cuts back the scene with Mallory, Sterling, and Lana in the conference room. Time has obviously passed, since the leader of San Marino is talking to them via a video screen and says, “ …but that is my decision Ms. Archer, and as captain regent as…” The whole entire sentence “ I am incredibly sorry” is being used to connect the two scenes. Ian Dawe refers to this as bridging. He goes onto write:

This technique, once again rarely seen in animation, not only creates more jokes but blends the episodes together in a creative way that highlights the centrality of sound in their construction. Non-verbal sound, or any other kind of sound, seems to form the basis of the communication between all of the characters in Archer (Dawe, 235).

Every television show uses particular techniques in dialogue to suite their specific needs. What’s so unique about Archer is the way that dialogue functions as both a comedic and narrative tool. In many cases, the dialogue functions in the same as way as a camera fade or cut by bringing two scenes together. While much of Archer is reliant on communication, miscommunication also plays an important role in dialogue.


For Archer, comedy through dialogue relies both on how well characters interact verbally, but also how badly they interact. In the seventh episode of season one, Lana and Sterling have to disable a bomb. In order to find out what wire to cut, they must contact headquarters and talk with a fellow agent, Ray, telling him the serial number on the bomb. The complication with this procedure is multi-pronged, and all come from errors in communication. The first is the fact that the satellite link becomes fuzzy, muffling Sterlings words on certain letters. The second is that Sterling does not know the NATO phonetic alphabet, forcing Lana to take over. The third is when Sterling uses the word okay and it is misinterpreted as the letters ‘O’ and ‘K’, since Sterling used okay instead of ‘Roger’. The linguistic nightmare ends when Sterling tells Ray the last two letters of the code. The twist is that the last word that Sterling used was muffled. While everyone thought Sterling said “N as in Nancy”, he said “M as an Mancy”, causing the timer to pick up speed. The sequence takes about three and half minutes, a significant amount of time for a twenty-two minute episode. Another example of miscommunication is actually another example of a running gag. Sterling has habit of firing his gun right by his ear, resulting in temporary hearing loss. Archer uses a high-pitched tone to simulate tinnitus. Just like Sterling, the viewer can only hear what Sterling is saying, with all of the dialogue drowned out. This causes Sterling to misunderstand what is being said around him. These are only two examples of miscommunication being used for comedy in Archer. The comedy works because it subverts our expectations as viewers. Yet another running gag is Sterling’s long and confusing voicemail that tricks the caller into thinking that they are actually talking to him. Each successive voicemail gets more complex, attempting to fool the viewer along with the character calling him. As viewers, we are used to being omniscient their-person viewers with the power of dramatic irony on our side. When Archer takes that power away from us, we are forced to react in real time with the characters and experience what they experience, which is usually confusion.

Dialogue in comedic television shows tend to fairly formulaic. Sometimes it succeeds, as in Friends. Other times the formula fails, such as The McCarthys. In most cases though, changing the formula is a risk that most companies would not want to take. Archer, however, refuses to be trapped. It switches back and forth between conventional and unconventional dialogue to create a unique blend that sets it apart from other television shows. With both repetition and miscommunication as its tools, Archer may not be reinventing comedy, but it certainly is livening it up.




Works Cited


Darlington, Joseph. “Catchphrases: A Semiotic, Genealogical and Cultural Materialist Study of the Form.” Comedy Studies 5.2 (2014): 123-36.             EbscoHost. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.


Dawe, Ian. “Archer: A Spy Parody for Ears.” James Bond and Popular      Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy. By         Michele Brittany. Jeferson: McFarland, 2014. 232+. Print.


Animated Resistance: Counter-Hegemonic Ideology in Adventure Time

Note- I wrote a bunch of essays for class and I want to upload them since they are taking up space in my computer.


Bare-bone definitions:

Hegemony– “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group” (Merriam-Websters)

Ideology– ” a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture”(Merriam-Websters)


“It’s not whether children learn from television, it’s what children learn from television… because everything that children see on television is teaching them something” –Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop.

Children are the future, and the media that they consume now will influence them and the way that think in the future. That is why it is important to study what ideological values are present in television programs made specifically for them. What is this show saying about society? How is race being presented? How is sexuality being presented? How is gender being presented? It is impossible for a show to not have a stance on the dominant ideologies that exist within our culture because ideology encompasses everything. Many modern children television shows both reproduce and challenge the dominant values of America ad similar nations. The animated show Adventure Time is a great example of a currently running show that constantly combats the dominant ideologies of gender and acceptance that exist in our culture through positive representation. Adventure Time is just one of many contemporary children shows that challenge the hegemony presented in media.

The Males

Since the main character of Adventure Time is a young boy named Finn, his age begins at 12 in season one and is 16 as of seven, the concept of masculinity is addressed and challenges quite a bit. Chase Wesley Raymond states in his essay that, “Fairclough (1995) describes the relationship between media and society as a dialectal one in that the former is both shaped by as well as shapes the latter, to a great extent a cyclical process” ( Raymond, 24).   In many ways, Finn is a young boy enamored by our societies definition of masculinity and attempts to live up to it. In this way, the show is shaped by cultures definition of masculinity. The basic premise of the show suggests that it upholds the ideology of masculinity as it is defined by our culture. A boy and dog goes on fun adventures slaying monsters and being knights for a princess. In many ways, it does uphold this belief system. In episode five, “The Enchiridon”, Finn saves the princess when she falls from her tower. He is then sent on a series of quests in order to find the The Enchiridon, which is, ‘…guarded by a manly minotaur… waiting for a truly righteous hero to claim it”. Many of the trials are solved through violence and the minotaur, whose name is Mannish Minotaur, is shown to be overflowing with muscles. All of this upholds the standard definition of manliness. Most of the first two seasons establish Finn as a fairly standard male action hero. By setting Finn up as the definition of masculinity, the creators can establish forms of masculinity that are alternate to the dominant ideology by having Finn experience them.

There are two ways in which Adventure Time combats the standard ideology of masculinity. The first is by having Finn’s definition of masculinity being challenged directly. In the episode “Blood Under the Skin”, Finn wears a thimble as an armor to protect himself from splinters. The other knights, all of them men, then ridicule him for not having real armor. He is sent on a series of trials to get the best armor. Unlike the Enchiridon trials though, each of these trials are meant to embarrass him and make him less manly. When he finally gets the armor though, it is “lady armor”. His friend Jake, who is not the standard definition of masculinity, wears the armor however and saves Finn from being killed.

As a short aside, Jake is the second most viewable male in the series as Finn’s best friend, roommate, and older brother. While he may be a source of much of the comedic relief, he is also seen as a source of wisdom for Finn. Finn goes to him when he has emotional problems, especially when they relate to women. Jake has his own ideal of masculinity. While he too goes on adventures and resorts to violence sometimes, he is also lazy and prone to avoid confrontation. With experience comes a watered down version of Finn’s masculinity. He cooks, accepts the eventuality of death, does not see the world as simply good and evil, and even settles down and has kids. Jake does not take masculinity as seriously as Finn does, and often act as a counterweight for Finn’s ideology. However he can be problematic sometimes, since he can reaffirm gender expectations, like when he tells Finn, “Make her think it was her idea. That’s how you make the ladies do what you want”.


The second way in which the show combats “Hyperheterosexual hegemonic masculinity [as] a socio-cultural product”(Meyers, 128) is through the showing of emotions. While the American ideological definition of masculinity forbids the showing of emotions that makes one looks weak, such as fear or sadness, Adventure Time does not shy away from showing Finn depressed and sad. When he is rejected romantically by his princess he is shown on the ground, depressed. He sings,

Can’t keep pushing this down any deeper,

Why do I keep trying if I can’t keep her?

Every move I make,

Is just another mistake,

I wonder what it would take,

Because it feels like there’s a hole inside my body,

Like there’s a hole inside my heart.

It’s like this feeling is gonna consume me,

If I keep waiting for this thing to start.

Oh, I feel like I’m all gummed up inside,

It’s like I’m all gummed up inside,

It’s like I’m all gummed up inside

This open expression of melancholy and helplessness is a clear crack in his manly façade.   He is later seen punching his tear ducts in an attempt to stop his crying. Finn is shown to cry openly, write poetry for the flame princess, and lose his temper. While Finn strives to be the Hollywood textbook version of a manly adventurer, his emotional reactions undermine this. Adventure Time does not only focus on masculinity though.

The Females

            One of the most striking features of Adventure Time is that most of the characters with authorities are female. Most of the world leaders are princesses, including Princess Bubblegum. Princess Bubblegum is an interesting character due to her role as the sovereign ruler of the Candy Kingdom. She is one of the most intelligent people in the world as a leading scientist, a pragmatist who is willing to sacrifice herself and others for the Candy Kingdom, and probably the most mature person on the show. The character Marceline the Vampire Queen is one of the strongest individuals in the show, with abilities that far surpass the hero Finn. Just like Princess Bubblegum, Marceline separates from the hegemonic display of women in media. She is a free spirit that loves to play pranks on others. In the first episode that she appears in, she kicks Finn Jake out of two different houses. When they all fight, Jake and Finn only survive and get their first house back because the fight amuses Marceline. In their relationship, Marceline tends to be the more active and superior one. Her next appearance shows her tricking Finn into becoming her henchman, where she harasses him by making him think that she is doing evil deeds. Marceline is the definition of Kathleen Rowe’s unruly woman. She is a spectacle and excessive(Both good things). She tends to be the dominant personality in whatever scene she is in and can only be restrained by Princess Bubblegum. Jake is scared of vampires and Finn usually adheres to her strength and cunningness. Banet-Weiser wrote in one of her essays that,

In the world of children’s television, programs about self-confident, assertive, and intelligent girls such as Nickelodeon’s 1991 hit, Clarissa Explains it All, and more recent animated programs such as As Told By Ginger, Rocket Power, and The Wild Thornberries initiated a new trend in programming that actively rejected the conventional industry wisdom that children’s shows with girl leads could not be successful (Banet-Weiser, 120).


The women in Adventure Time come in all shapes and sizes, with different personalities and moral codes.  They do not exist simply to assist Finn or be his romantic interest. Bubblegum rejects him and later another suitors advances claiming that, “Oh, Braco, I don’t want any of that mess. I do love you, but it’s the undifferentiated love I feel for all candy citizens”. Despite her many suitors, it is commonly accepted by the Candy people that she does not date. Flame Princess broke up with Finn and rebukes his attempts at getting her back, instead focusing on herself and her kingdom. Very little of the conversations between female characters are dedicated to talking about men, meaning the show would likely pass the Bechdel test with flying colors. The latest season was focused on expanding Marceline’s backstory and growing her character, a season that Finn and Jake played only a nominal role in. The role of women in Adventure Time is counter-hegemonic because of their own agency. They turn down the main characters love advances for both responsibility and personal growth, they are given adequate screen time and characterization without even the mention of male characters, and all of the main females are shown to be able to hold their own in confrontations. Despite Finn’s role as an adventurer and knight it is acknowledged many times on the show that each of the three women that I have mentioned are either significantly physically or mentally stronger than Finn. Finn accepts this reality and does not particularly care that he is weaker than them, another characteristic that shows how counter-hegemonic the show in when dealing with gender roles and expectations.

Another main ideology present in Adventure Time is the concept of unadulterated acceptance. In society we tend to have conditional acceptance, though we frame it as unconditional. For example, a family member may say that they will unconditionally love another family member. However, societal standards tend to see this as circumstantial and changing with the times. We are finally starting to see LGBT+ characters being treated with unconditional love by their family members, though this is usually done after some soul searching and only covertly done on shows for children since queer characters are still seen as risk in youth television. Character traits are not seen as something deserving of unconditional. Usually if a character has trait that is deemed undesirable, they either change or are rejected. Self-determinism plays a big role in American culture. Unfavorable personalities are things that we have to overcome. Adventure Time denies this narrative though. In the episode “Bonnie & Neddy”, Princess Bubblegum’s brother Neddie is introduced. Neddie is shown to be scared of almost everything and is shown to only be calm when alone or with his sister. When the princess explains that how she enjoyed being connected with others while forming in the mother gum. Jake protests, “ But Neddie’s from the same place you’re from and he’s a wet hotdog around everyone”. She calmly responds, “ People get built different. We don’t need to figure it out, we just need to respect it”. This is not the first time that Bubblegum preaches about acceptance. When talking about the cankerous and mentally unstable Lemongrabs, Jake asks Bubblegum, “But how come we don’t just fix their hearts like we did with Lemonjon so they’re more selfless and less selfish?” Bubblgum responds, “Oh, no, no. Their hearts are fine. They’re just like this”. In the episode “Donny”, Finn attempts to cure Donny of his jerkiness. However, it is shown that by changing him, Finn changed the natural order of the environment he was in and put many lives into danger. Marceline has a whole entire arc in which she must come to terms with being a vampire. Though she initially attempts to expel the vampire aspect of herself, which creates the antagonists of the season, she comes to terms with it by the end. Adventure Time does not discriminate against personality types, and calls for acceptance of others and their differences. The few times that people attempt to force others or themselves to change, the consequences tend to be dire. This could be seen as a reflection of our society that is moving towards unequivocal acceptance as a new dominant ideology.


            I do not believe that mainstream television can ever be truly counter-hegemonic. It must adhere to the dominant ideologies to be well received by its viewers and more importantly, the advertisers. However, shows such as Adventure Time have the ability to be counter-hegemonic in small ways, challenging the vanguard ideologies and replacing suggesting alternate forms of ideology that are generally accepted by the young-adult culture that the creators live in. It is the generation of the shows creator Pendleton Ward, age 33, that began to learn what post-feminism meant in the classroom and grew up in a world where television studies was already an established field. Adventure Time is not simply a passing fad or lone shout against the current ideology. It is one of many shows that are participating in the changing of the ideological guards. These young show creators who grew up in the same time periods and went to the same colleges are now established show runners, at least in the youth animation field. Very soon, the ideologies of gender representation equality and acceptance will not be counter-hegemonic, but simply the norm.




Works Cited

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “Girls Rule!: Gender, Feminism, and Nickelodeon.” Critical   Studies in Media Communication 21.2 (2004): 119-39. Web.

Myers, Kristen. “”Cowboy Up!”” The Journal of Men’s Studies 20.2 (2012): 125-43. Web

Raymond, C. W. “Gender and Sexuality in Animated Television Sitcom Interaction.”         Discourse & Communication 7.2 (2013): 199-220. Web.



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