Hi, everyone! My name is Madeleine Clemens but most people call me Maddie. I’m super excited to be enrolled in this Media Criticism Course this semester. By the end of this semester, I’m sure I’ll be extremely knowledgeable about media criticism and be able to carry what I learned with me throughout the rest of my life. It’s important for us to be able to know the basics of media criticism because media is ubiquitous in our lives and it helps shape the world that we live in. Media criticism is also important because generations are becoming more and more connected through various channels. Media criticism offers many “tools” that help us understand media messages and how they can influence us. Media helps shape our lives on a micro level, as well as shaping the society in which we live in a macro level. If we are able to understand the media that surrounds us (by using media criticism), we are better able to understand ourselves, our culture, and the society in which we live. After being enrolled in this course, I can see how vital it is to develop media literacy skills.
So, now that we got all that out of the way, let’s get down to the text that I’ll be analyzing today! The media text that I will be examining in this blog is the television show Shameless, which I have been absolutely obsessed with lately. Shameless is an American television comedy-drama centered around a family living in present day Chicago. There is a British version of this show, which is the original. However, today I’ll be discussing season 1 of the American version which came later (it was aired in 2011). I would say that the audience demographic of this show would be anyone in their late teens to mid-twenties. The show can be extremely graphic at times so it is certainly not recommended for children.
As previously mentioned, this show is centered on a family living in Chicago. This family lives on “the South side” which is the bad side of the city. The father of the family, Frank Gallagher is a raging alcoholic and cannot be relied on for anything. He is often gone for days at a time and can be found at the local bar. The mother of the family, Monica Gallagher, is not around at all. She left when her youngest child was a junior in high school. She did appear briefly in season 1 to try to reconnect with the kids, but left after a few weeks. Fiona is the main character of the show and the eldest child of the family. She dropped out of high school in order to raise her family after her mother left the first time. It is her job to look after the other five children of the family: Philip (Lip), Ian, Debbie, Carl, and Liam. She does this with the help of her supportive boyfriend, Steve. The whole show is centered around Fiona as she struggles to keep her house running, take care of her siblings, and provide for her family, without the help of her parents. In order to analyze this text, I will be using narrative analysis by using Vladimir Propp’s 31 functions model.
Here is the family. From left to right are Ian, Debbia, Frank (holding Liam), Fiona, Steve, Lip, and Carl.
Vladimir Propp is a structuralist theorist that used narrative analysis to examine folklores and folktales. Propp came up with 31 functions that he believes to be the most fundamental elements of the story. Not all stories include all 31 functions, but they will always occur in the order that Propp outlined in his studies. I will explain season 1 of Shameless by using Propp’s 31 functions.
Propp also concluded that all characters could be resolved into eight broad character types, also called roles or spheres of action. In order to help explain the functions better, I will first identify the various characters of the show. In this show, Frank Gallagher is the villain. The hero is represented by Fiona Gallagher. The donors of the story are Fiona’s next door neighbor’s, Kevin and Veronica, who often help Fiona if she needs it. The helper and the princess is represented by Steve, Fiona’s boyfriend. I would say that the dispatcher of this story would be Monica Gallagher, because it is her disappearance that leads Fiona on the quest to find equilibrium for her and her family. I would also argue that Frank is also the false hero/anti hero.
The first function of Propp’s thesis is abstentation. In this step, one member of a family absents him or herself. In the show shameless, this function occurs when Monica Gallagher abandons her family. Next comes the interdiction function, where a command or request is presented to the hero of the story. This function occurs after Monica leaves and it is up to Fiona to provide for her family. Here, Fiona is the hero and the command that is presented to her is providing for her and her siblings. The next function that occurs, function three, is the violation, where the villain enters the story and interrupts the interdiction. In this story, Frank Gallagher, the father, is the villain of the family. Whenever things start to go well for Fiona and her siblings, Frank comes in and ruins something. Oftentimes, this involves him stealing money from his kids, getting arrested and begging for bail money, or getting so drunk and/or high that he cannot perform his fatherly duties. This clips shows an example of when the villain Frank has kept his children from living their lives. In this episode, Frank went missing (he passed out drunk and woke up in Canada) and his children spent days and nights searching for him.
The next function that occurs in season 1 of shameless is trickery, where the villain attempts to deceive his victim. This occurs numerous times every episode as Frank is constantly lying to those around him in order to get something that he wants. He will lie, steal, and cheat in order to gain drugs, alcohol, food, money, and sometimes even a place to stay for the night. The next function that occurs after this is complicity, where the victim submits to this trickery. This rarely happens in this show, because everyone in the town knows that Frank is a terrible manipulative person, however, he does manage to fool one woman, Sheila. Frank manipulates Sheila into letting him live with her, feeding him, and even eventually starts a relationship with her. Sheila is under the impression that Frank really loves her, meanwhile Frank is really just doing all of this so that he has a place to live and warm food to eat.
The next function that is present in this show is villainy, in which the villain causes harm or injury to a member of the family. Frank is incessantly causing emotional harm to all of his family members. However, a prime example of villainy occurs when Frank hits one of his sons, Ian, after a frustrating day. Check out the clip here! Father of the year, am I right?
While villainy occurs often in this show, the function that is more omnipresent is lack. The family’s lack of money is often at the root of their problems and it is up to Fiona and the rest of the kids to provide. The next function that occurs in the show is the receipt of agent function, in which the hero acquires a helper. This occurs when she meets her boyfriend, Steve. After they start to seriously date, Steve spends a lot of his time at the house, helping Fiona take care of her siblings and helping her with money issues.
Since I am only analyzing the first season, the functions that occur only go up to this point (function 14). I have only seen the first season of this show so far, but I would imagine that many other functions will occur in the next seasons of the show. Honestly, I don’t think that the villain will ever be defeated in this show, because there would be no more conflict to center the show around. Perhaps in the final season of this show, Frank is finally defeated and his children will be free to live without him periodically terrorizing them. Personally, I cannot wait to continue to binge watch this show and find out what happens next! I hope that it ends with a wedding (function 31) and Fiona and Steve get married.
So, now that I’ve analyzed all that, you might want to know exactly why that this matters? This show is completely different from my everyday life and I cannot imagine living like these children do. However, there are people in the world that DO live like this and watching this show can help me see and understand what these people are going through every day. Although I cannot directly relate to this show on a micro level, I can analyze it and better under the society in which I live on a macro level.
I hope you all enjoyed my blog! See you soon!