TV Today and Yesterday
South Park and I Dream of Jeannie: A Comparison/Contrast Essay
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of social revolution, reflected somewhat in the television shows of that era. Yet, those same shows may seem quaint and tame by todays standards. Indeed, when one holds the two up for comparison, one can see a much more obvious type of innocence in the former than in the latter. Still, despite the generation-gap, todays shows (even if they appear to be more vulgar, cruder, and more risque) also manage to have a similar type of innocence about them. This paper will compare and contrast I Dream of Jeannie, which ran from 1965 to 1970, and South Park, which debuted in 1997 and is still currently running, and show how the two are different when it comes to taste and decency, but the same when it comes to capturing something pure and innocent concerning human nature.
One of the biggest differences between the two sitcoms is the very nature of the comedy itself. I Dream of Jeannie was created during a decade when campy humor was in fashion and old traditional gender norms were still in vogue. In episode 2.5, “My Wild Eyed Master” from the second season, Jeannie is shown worshipping her master Major Nelson as a king. Nelson is obviously her lord, and the she receives infinite pleasure in catering to him and fulfilling his needs. When he is tired, she takes it upon herself to put him to bed even though he has not asked her to. As he is magically transported from his desk where he has been working to his bed where he is seen stretched out happily, the traditional model of the family is depicted, with the man as the head and the woman as the heart. It is humorous and fun and the comedy is innocent.
South Park, on the other hand, focuses on a different kind of humor. In its early seasons, the comedy was sophomoric, crude and raunchy. Audiences delighted in watching cartoon characters use profanity that was and was not bleeped out on television. The adult-oriented cartoon attempted to break taboos and distance itself from the kind of stereotypical sitcoms that had been on television for the past several decades. Finally, South Park began to transform and transcend the genre. In its later seasons, it became more critical of popular culture and evolved into a comedy satire in which current events and characters were skewered and reduced to their ultimate absurdities. If Jeannies humor was meant to be harmless, South Parks is meant to shock, alarm, inform, and delight. Whereas Jeannie is gentle, South Park (though capable of gentility at times) is often audacious
Yet, there is more to the two than that. Jeannie was silly, light-hearted entertainment that followed a standard portrayed a house in which the man was served by a genie that also posed as his wife. Jeannie wore sexy clothing, was perfectly obedient, and yet even as she made a mess of things she always seemed to have the upper hand in the end. For example, in “My Wild Eyed Master,” Maj. Nelson is grounded because of eye strain, so Jeannie — ever attentive — attempts to help him get back in the air again by improving his vision. The only problem is that she makes it too good. Suddenly, Maj. Nelson has a kind of x-ray vision and can see through walls and clothing. His problem has just gone from bad to worse thanks to Jeannies well-intentioned intervention. The situation is both fun and sexy, perfect for the 60s generation.
The South Park show entitled “Youre Getting Older” is similar to “My Wild Eyed Master,” in that it also depicts a kind of innocence and charm. The comedy in the latter is centered on Jeannies hi-jinks involving her master and her inability to correctly help him in his hour of need, and the comedy in the South Park episode is likewise centered on Stans friends inability to help him in his hour of need. The difference, of course, is in the problem.
Whereas Maj. Nelson has problems with his eyesight, Stan has problems with his worldview: he becomes a cynic. Maj. Nelsons problem is physical; Stans is, in a sense, metaphysical. The conflict in Jeannie is simple. The conflict in South Park is complicated and complex.
The South Park episode begins with Stan celebrating his tenth birthday. His friends are gathered around the table as he opens one present after another. The spoiled-child Eric Cartman receives his own gift for each gift that Stan receives (even though it is not his birthday — a point that emphasizes the selfishness inherent in the way children are raised today). Stan finally receives a CD of everyones favorite new “tween wave” band. His mother immediately objects and refuses to allow Stan to listen to it, calling it “crap.” The language used in the show today contrasts sharply with the language used in Jeannie: Maj. Nelson does not use vulgar language or profanities. Profanity is taboo in Jeannie — but not in South Park.
More differences are illustrated as analysis of the South Park episode continues. These differences concern plotting and conflict resolution. While the plot of “My Wild Eyed Master” is relatively simple and straight-forward, “Youre Getting Older” involves complex social issues like aging, friendship, dreams, loyalty, and a consumerist culture. The plot contains several twists and turns and virtually no resolution. Stan receives no answer to his problem of cynicism. “My Wild Eyed Master,” on the other hand, contains a resolution, with the original order being restored and no one being too worse for the wear.
The complexities raised in the South Park episode deal with different social concerns, as previously stated. Jeannie, since it is not satirical, does not raise such sensitive issues. That is what distinguishes it South Park. When Stans father Randy hears of his wifes intervention, he becomes angry, accusing her of “getting old” and censoring the younger generation. She defends her actions by insisting that the new music “sounds like shit” and tells Randy to listen for himself. When Randy listens, the music does indeed literally sound like flatulence. However, not wishing to appear old himself, Randy argues that the music sounds good, even as the look on his face gives away that all he hears is “crap.” South Park turns a common complaint into a literal illustration. Being a cartoon, it is easier to do so.
However, the show also shows a level of empathy and profundity that Jeannie does not even strive for. After being told he may not listen to his new music, Stan sneaks it onto his iPod and listens to it while in bed. But suddenly the music no longer sounds good to him. All he hears is flatulence. He is greatly disturbed. The next day he confesses to his friend Kyle that the new “tween wave” album “sounds like shit.” Kyle fails to understand. Kyle and the rest of the gang all love it. Stan goes to the doctor to find out why he suddenly feels so differently about “tween wave.” The doctor performs a series of tests that reveal Stan to have developed cynicism: not only does Stan no longer like “tween wave,” but he also thinks Bob Dylan “sounds like shit,” and the latest Hollywood movie staring Kevin James “looks like a turd about to be reheated in a microwave.” Stan goes home wide-eyed and wondering. His problem is much deeper than he or the audience anticipated.
Randy, meanwhile, does not want to feel like the American Dream of independence has eluded him. He begins to play music that “sounds like shit” in the local bowling alley. This causes a fight at home..