Born Alone, Die Alone, But Never Dine Alone:
The Creative Individual and Generic Family Structures in Recent TV Series
Ever since television has been part of the American family, the American family has been part of television. Even under the “not TV”-paradigm, family remains a central aspect of television, as shows like The Sopranos or Six Feet Under attest. In many recent shows, this constitutive part of the televisual landscape interacts with a highly fetishized figure in contemporary television, the creative individual. Californication’s Hank Moody, Mad Men’s Don Draper, or 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon are but a few examples of non-conformist, iconoclast and ingenious characters who express their innate urges in various aesthetic(ized) fields and serially assert their individual freedom and self-reliance. Yet, despite their superficial undermining of traditional (family) concepts, they also take serial recourse to standard conceptions of family. They may be adulterers, divorcees, or singles, but they hardly ever define themselves without the (white, middle class, nuclear) family, which emerges as a structure that provides the creative heroes with boundaries that prevents them from becoming antisocial.
My paper analyzes this dynamic interaction between an aestheticized individualism and the continued relevance of family structures. Furthermore, I want to link this narrative aspect of television series to their respective take on genres. In an era that is purportedly moving beyond genre, it becomes nevertheless apparent that series frequently resort to classic televisual genres and thus return to their generic ‘family’. In the end, looking at recent television’s simultaneous deconstruction and reconstruction of the American family helps to explain how and why today’s segmented audience(s) are symbolically (re-)united by forms of television that restore the social function of an “electronic hearth” (Tichi).