30 Rock and Intertextuality

If you need to really find out what intertexuality means, check out Wikipedia.

The way I learned it, it means anytime a text/work makes references to another text/work. How that’s different from an allusion, I dunno. And I’ll refrain from using the term “trope” in this entry. Whoops, too late.

But intertextuality is a $5 word that’s nicely sesquipedalian and as a professor of mine once put it, sounds salacious.

So I was watching “30 Rock” starring Tina Fey (+Baldwin, et al.). It was the episode entitled “Succession” and it is a fan-tastic episode.

The show made numerable references to the movie Amadeus. Genius. I had to go watch Amadeus again to get even more of the allusions. There were intextual references galore — ranging from actual quotes, characters (Salieri), camera shots (view from behind the mask, Dr. Spacemen with a cape, etcetera), and of course, the music. I thought it was hilarious, just because Amadeus was a serious movie, and 30 Rock is not a serious anything. At the end of the day, we all like to think that we “got” something — and if it’s based on some intertextual reference, then maybe we think of it as a stepping stone to the low-brow cinematic referential intelligentsia.

And then the next episode of 30 Rock made more references (Brady Bunch, etcetera). And it will continue to do so. Of course, 30 Rock isn’t the only show to do it — a lot of shows do it, ranging from simple parody to clever allusions hidden somewhere.

The question is this: as we continue to get our “texts” (whether they be actual texts or TV shows or movies) from diverse and fractured sources (basic cable, premium cable, internet, word of mouth), is our ability to derive enjoyment from intertextual references going to be eroded?

For example: If TV show A makes reference to movie B, but the audience hasn’t seen movie B, then won’t the audience ultimately lose interest in TV show A?

If you hadn’t seen Amadeus, a lot of the jokes made in that particular episode of 30 Rock were lost on you. This particular episode of 30 Rock may have just sucked if you didn’t get the allusions. If you didn’t watch Brady Bunch reruns every summer like I did you wouldn’t have loved The Brady Bunch Movie, nor get my reference to George Glass from Niagra Falls.

You could look up everything in Wikipedia like I do, but by the time that happens, it loses something in the process. It’s like having your 9th grade science partner describe the plot to Star Wars or the goth chick describe the plot to Can’t Buy Me Love — there’s a degradation of sorts in the process of communication.

There may have been a time when the mighty 3 networks ruled the air that the chances of you being educated in a universal fashion in a “canon” of popular knowledge was much greater than it is today. But I’m sure that tomorrow’s scribes will either find a new “canon” where common knowledge and enjoyment can be derived or really serve their specialized audiences extremely well. Maybe all the references will be based on Wikipedia . . .

2 thoughts on “30 Rock and Intertextuality

Add yours

  1. I like how “Liz Lemon” is evocative of the Superman Double L conventions. Or in the words of Tracy Morgan “Superman does good, you’re doing well.”

  2. Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Liz Lemon, Lex Luthor, LL Bean, yeah yeah I get it.

    Wait til I start posting about Superman!!!! YEAAAAAHHHHH. Son of Crip-ton. Yeah.

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