Brooks notes that today's television sitcoms differ from the traditional television comedies that were mostly about families (think "The Dick Van Dyke Show; "The Cosby Show"). They featured husbands and wives and kids. Today's sitcoms are different. Forget families; now they are about groups of friends who sit around apartments or offices or coffeehouses and talk, gab, exchange witty one liners. Brooks calls these sitcoms "flock comedies."
Why the shift and what does it mean? Brooks posits that the patterns of friendship in society have changed. Young people spend longer periods of time away from the family where they grew up and, not yet in marriage, among a group of friends. They have networks of friends, often circles within circles so that one young person may have a circle of friends at work, another that is mostly fellow college alums, still another people from the hometown, and perhaps another of people who live in the same apartment complex.
Brooks notes that when these people do get married, they are generally in marriages where both partners work, they may now be commuting, possibly even have children. They have time pressures nonexistent in their post-college friendship period, and they sometimes yearn for the palling around they did for endless hours with their best buddies. So these young harried married types provide an audience for the flock shows, watching them as much from a place of nostalgia as anything else.
Brooks thinks that the nature of these flock friendships is different in kind from the traditional one-on-one friendships of earlier eras. He says that young people's co-ed flocks are more "many to many" relationships, where the friendships are networked, involving several people. Participants are less committed to each other than to the flock as a whole.
Hmmm. I have to think about this. As a student of conversation, I believe that face-to-face conversation is the new luxury. What Brooks is suggesting is that face-to-face conversation that is one-on-one may be less valuable in the flock universe than group conversation in which everyone participates (think "Seinfeld" when he and his friends are sitting around the table in the coffee shop). If he is right, it would explain some of the shifts in conversational styles I'm observing.
What do you think?