"That Boy Ain't Right": How Disruptive Male Characters in Sitcom Satires Can Reinforce Normative Gender and Sexuality for the Dominant Audience


Why do we laugh at eight-year-old Butters Stotch when he sings about sodomy in South Park? How does the dominant audience understand Michael Scott to be heterosexual following his announcement that he would have sex with a male employee in the American version of The Office? What are the implications of laughing at Bobby Hill when his father expresses embarrassment over Bobby’s plus size modeling career in King of the Hill? I argue that the above characters are versions of the disruptive male character type common in sitcom satires. The sitcom satire is a hybrid genre that follows the sitcom format and contains satirical content. Using tools from queer theory and cultural studies, this thesis examines how particular examples of disruptive characters function in sitcom satires to reinforce cultural codes regarding gender and sexuality. In the first chapter, I suggest that when the male character disrupts normative gender and sexuality the audience laughs at the surprise and incongruity. I argue that the key feature of this character type is that he consistently disrupts cultural codes in ways that would normally mark him as homosexual yet he is not read as a gay character in the shows examined. I suggest that he is queer insofar as he does not fit neatly into the heterosexual/homosexual binary. Following this, in the second chapter, I explain how techniques used in the narrative; such as other characters' reactions, awkward silences, music selection, and scene changes, provide commentary on the disruption. I argue that characters that disrupt expectations of nonnative gender presentation and heterosexuality create anxiety for a dominant audience; the narrative commentary acknowledges that anxiety. Recognizing a character's disruption of cultural codes allows the dominant audience to relieve the anxiety and to reconcile the character's disruption with his heteronormative identity. Finally, in the third chapter I argue that the disruptive character often displays shame or pride in unexpected circumstances and is represented as ignorant I argue that by comparing normative behavior with disruptive or ignorant behavior, the narratives create the preferred or dominant meaning of the desirability of normative behavior. I conclude that the process of disruption, recuperation, and reinforcement reveals two perspectives. First, if disruptions confirm the desirability of the codes they attempt to subvert, then resisting these codes is difficult. Second. disruptions can reveal the construction of these codes; if these cultural codes were as natural as we are to believe, then our culture would not need to work as diligently to uphold them.


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Thesis Completion





Schippert, Claudia


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities

Degree Program



Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic;Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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