“Why do I never listen to me?”: Internal Monologues and TV Comedy

I wrote a few months ago about the representation of interiority in film and television. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had about the internal conversation after six years researching it. While some sociologists are deeply sceptical of the concept, it nonetheless always seems striking to me how intuitively people grasp what it refers to. I don’t think the constructionist critique of the ‘internal conversation’ is intrinsically problematic, though some of the knee-jerk forms it can take are, but inevitably I’m not remotely convinced by them.

One of the more sophisticated forms a critique could take is to look at the normative force which representations of internal conversation could have on how people represent and narrativise their own inner experience. That’s partly why I’m becoming so interested in how interiority is represented in film and television. I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’ve started watching Scrubs for the first time in years (damn Netflix) and I’m newly aware of how central JD’s internal conversation is to the narrative form of the show:

Another comedy that relies on internal conversation in this way is Peep Show. The comedic role of the internal conversation is simpler in Peep Show, largely relying on the everyday disjuncture between internal conversation and external conversation. In a way I think the internal conversation in Scrubs is a lot more complicated, being both a source of humour (“Why do I never listen to myself?” asks JD after having done something stupid) but also a device to structure the narrative. The reason I find Scrubs so weirdly charming is the way in which JD narratives his experiences to himself.

I think the show could easily be read as somewhat postmodern but doing so obscures some interesting aspects of it. JD’s responses are clearly subjective responses to objective circumstances, with some of the humour deriving from the incongruity between them e.g. his attempts to cast Dr Cox as his heroic mentor long before Dr Cox is even remotely willing to play that role. The bricolage upon which the show relies is a feature of JD’s internal life rather than of the show itself. It’s a representation of the role pop culture plays in his own processes of making sense of life events, as enacted through the internal conversation.

Some of the internal conversation in Scrub isn’t naturalistic. But I just saw the episode where JD is revealed to be keeping a journal. So the very reflective narrativising moments, as opposed to the situational self-talk, should presumably be understood as self-reflection in his journal. This seems to extend my reading of the show as being about JD’s internal processes of making sense of his trajectory into the medical system.


Categories: Outflanking Platitudes

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