Cougar Town Semiotics

This semester has been a bit rough. Late night paper writing, last minute article reading and in class struggles to stay awake have been commonplace. Eating out of necessity, getting my news from Twitter, and taking my dog to daycare – silly, you may think, but he’s a puppy…the energizer bunny can’t compete – are all sacrifices I have made to get through the semester.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, I just need to do less of it. Rather, I need to do less other stuff perhaps. It’s hard enough being a graduate student, but couple that with a full-time job and freelance work and you have the makings for a very busy lady. Luckily – or unfortunately? – my body has recently decided that enough is enough and I have spent the past few days incapacitated. No work. No school. Just me, sleep, and the TV screen. Cue sitcom catch-up and elusive daytime television watching…

I have watched a lot of pointless television in the last few days – day time programming is an interesting thing – but I have also had the opportunity to catch up on a lot of good television that I had been missing. Case in point – Cougar Town.

I will be the first to admit that the first few episodes were really rough. A show about cougars…really? No, thanks.

Fortunately, as their recent title jokes suggest, the show hasn’t been about cougars since the first few episodes of Season 1. Instead, it is a wonderfully quirky and admittedly silly show about a group of friends – or, if you’re from around these parts – the Cul de Sac Crew.

Perhaps my love for the show is nostalgic. Courtney Cox was always my favorite Friend. But apart from this, I am starting to get the sneaking suspicion that someone on that writing staff has either a background in or a love for communication theories. This undoubtedly contributes to my love and burgeoning addiction to this show.

A few months back, they aired an episode about Bobby Cobb’s superficial state of the world today. Long story short, they exposed Bobby to the real problems of the world which ended up messing with his golf game (he’s a professional golfer for those not in the know). In an effort to free his mind from the worries of the world, they immediately decided that he needed to be desensitized – by of course, watching more world news.

As a communication scholar, I was eating up this storyline. I even started writing a blog post thereafter titled “Media Desensitization Meets Cougar Town.” Unfortunately, that post was a casualty of war…or, rather, the semester.

Lucky for me, the folks over at Cougar Town love them some comm theory. One of this week’s episodes included a storyline where the crew reinvented the meaning for the phrase “kicks ass.”

Bobby: (Disappointed) Aw, that really kicks ass.

Grayson: You know, when something kicks ass it’s usually a good thing.

Bobby: Hell, every time I’ve had my ass kicked it’s been horrible.

Andy: We’ve been misusing that phrase for years, so let’s all agree to change it?

Laurie: Absolutely.

Grayson: No, you can’t just change common phrases okay? Words have meaning!

Perhaps it is because I’m a communication nerd, better yet, it’s definitely because I’m a communication nerd, but I immediately thought of semiotics. Simply put, semiotics is the study of signs. It suggests that the relationship of any sign to a particular individual is arbitrary because the meaning of certain words, sounds, or images is not the same universally. The crew’s reassigning of “kicks ass” to something that is bad rather than good is a perfect example of this perspective. Additionally, Grayson’s extreme dislike for the reassigning of the words’ meaning plays perfectly into the dialectical conundrum of whether meaning is found in people or in words?

Personally, I would like to argue that meaning is found in people. For me, words do not have any meaning until they are received and interpreted. Printed text, for example, could be seen as a sign or symbol by someone who does not understand the particular language in which it was printed. These words would then have no meaning because they were never received nor interpreted by that individual.

Further, words and signs alike are highly subjective in that they create different meanings for different individuals. For example, to the average person the word “rich,” as it relates in the monetary sense, would simply imply that someone is wealthy or has a great number of possessions; however, to someone who is poor, this word holds so much more meaning. It could be a representation of what they hope to be someday or in contrast a representation of what they hate. Either way, it is a representation of what they’re not. Furthermore, every word possesses certain connotations for different people. The word “home” for example could be associated with warmth, comfort, and affection for one person and possibly cold, violent and numbing for another person. For these reasons, I maintain that meaning is found in people rather than words. But, as mentioned previously, this is a dialectical debate. What do you think?

By now, I may have lost some of you, but I hope I got the point across. Either way, Cougar Town continues to surprise with these little gems of communication theory in practice and for that I am hooked. Now let’s just hope that the end of the semester is kind enough to let me stay caught up with my TV watching.

Ha, not likely.

P.s. Here’s a fairly complete listing of all the title jokes from this year, episodes 201 – 214, if you’re in need of a chuckle. Thanks to godonlyknowssarah for the upload!

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