A conference was held at The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross onThe Role of the Father Figure in TV fiction series on 22 nd and 23rd April. TV series have become the key investment in the entertainment business in the last few years. This is in part because they can produce a good quality product with relatively low costs and in short time but also thanks to the mechanism of the series. In this way viewers grow attached to the characters and the story.
As a result, it is an expanding market and the family has become a direct consumer model and privileged target of this format. The aim of the two-day intensive study was to closely examine the father figure in TV fictions from a narrative, social and anthropological viewpoint to reflect on how the family is represented on TV. Visiting academics and journalists gave interesting insights and valuable contributions on and around this theme.
Prof Alberto Nahum García from The University of Navarra gave a talk about The phenomena of TV series in the golden age of television from a marketing point of view. He explained that TV fictions are well- tested products and enjoy much success thanks to the skills of the producers who satisfy the tastes and preferences of the TV audiences. Not only they produce series maintaining costs low but also have skilful scriptwriters available to create a well studied but continual coming next effect of the characters and the story.
The journalist Costanza Miriano presented her book: It is the father who indicates the way – a rather unconventional but thought provoking title to stress how the relationship between father and child has changed. Today, children are on a par with their parents in real life and in TV fiction. The model of the family is no longer a patriarchal and hierarchic model but a more “liquid” one and she quotes Zygmunt Bauman when he describes parents treat their children as equals. The consequence of this is that there is a continual negotiation of needs and desires which in turn creates a negative educative process. In this situation technology becomes a surrogate for the parents who are absent or irresponsible and unable to comprehend fully their parental duty.
Alberto Fijo , Director of the magazine Fila Siete discussed Tradition and modernity. Parental models in three British TV fictions: Downton Abbey, Luther, and The Hour . He discussed how the father figure is one of the pillars which miniseries are structured around. We can see this in historical dramas like Downton Abbey where the father is portrayed as a mediating figure amongst the three generations in the house, he endeavours to maintain traditions and values in his family.
Paolo Braga from The Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Milan) gave an interestingly rich talk on Father guilt. The crisis of the father figure in US cable television series: Mad Men, Breaking Bad; In Treatment, Shameless and Dexter. In theses series the father figure is not portrayed as an example or a role model but rather an anti-hero. He is not shown as the traditional father who seeks to raise his children with certain values moreover, we see the father from a more human point of view with all his defects and weaknesses displayed. He has a complex personality and a dark side to his nature, which make his character seem real, so much so the TV viewer can relate and show compassion for him.These problematic series reflect more than anything a tormented world made up of imaginary characters in particular situations rather than truly reflect the tastes and preferences of the majority of viewers. Series like these in fact, attract a particular niche of the public.
Prof Juan José García-Noblejas from The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome) presented a discussion on The crisis of well being and familiar nostalgia in Scandinavian Noir series . Here, the view of the father figure is decidedly more romantic and idealised. He presents no surprises or special effects and is a prisoner of a slow and pervasive existential nostalgia. The introspection of the character is at the centre of the mechanism of the story.
Finally, Prof. Armando Fumagalli, a lecturer from Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Milan) gave a lively talk on Conciliating the dramatic conflict with a positive approach to paternity. Here, the father figure moves inside the tested rhythms and reassuring characters of Italian comedy (Don Matteo, I Married A Cop and the bittersweet film White As Milk, Red Like Blood (currently at cinemas). For scriptwriters convenience it is easier to produce a series where there is continual tension between the characters i.e. fathers and children because it creates an element of suspense and spectators are never bored. In this way, the structure of the narrative is engaging because there is a conflict. The conflict does not last long and there is reconciliation on both parties towards the end. In general, what transpires is the centrality and the importance of the father figure in the narrative structure in fictions and is certainly more important than one thinks. The father figure is the character with his own dynamics and importance which prevails in the serial scripts. At times there is a message in the story and hints of recriminations and disdain but in the end this traditional and reassuring approach, manipulated by the scripts shrewdness, exalts the model within the fiction. By tradition these programmes appeals to a wider audience like families. All that remains is to wish you Happy Fiction viewing to everyone!