Absurd Parody for Nostalgic Night Owls: Understanding Adult Swim's Offensive Content Open Access

Nowak, Grayson Theodore (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/0c483k034?locale=en


This thesis explores how and why Adult Swim network's signature block of late night programming caters to specific niche audiences and how its content differs from mainstream television's Least Offensive Programming which targets as wide an audience as possible in order to boost ratings and advertising exposure. Beginning in 2001, Adult Swim formulated itself as an independent network in spite of its housing on Cartoon Network. All of Adult Swim's original in-house content and strategically acquired preexisting properties - including Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy (1999-2003, 2005-present) - reveal shared generic markers unique to the network's particular style. This style manifests itself in the form of Adult Swim's trademark versions of parody, comic absurdity, and nostalgia. Chapter one examines the industrial precedents of Adult Swim which manifest themselves over the course of cable television's rise to its modern day prominence through narrowcasting and the broadcasting of concise content libraries of extant content and newly produced programming targeted at network-particular demographics. With Adult Swim firmly established as a stable network, the "genre" of its programming will be taken to task utilizing the genre theories of Rick Altman and Jason Mittell in chapter two. What follows in chapter three is an in depth look at Adult Swim's variations on parody, comic absurdity, and nostalgia. Beginning with Henri Bergson's theory on the comic, a multitude of theorists will be used to highlight the issues at hand including Ron Russo, Dan Harries, Bob Plant, and Janelle L. Wilson. Each of these traits defines the specific humor and appeal of the network and offers "kidult" viewers the chance to capture a sense of an idealized, unknowable childhood by both mocking and venerating the content it parodies. Critical analysis of several programs is performed including the following sample: Robot Chicken (2005-present), Superjail! (2008-present), Rick and Morty (2013-present), and Too Many Cooks (2014).

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Adult Swim Phenomenon 1

Chapter 1: Adult Swim as a Network 17

Chapter 2: Adult Swim's Genre Pool 45

Chapter 3: Parody, Comic Absurdity, and Nostalgia in Adult Swim's Genre Pool 62

Conclusion: Why Adult Swim Works While Others Flounder 118

Bibliography 125

Filmography 136

Discography 138

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