Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Access Restrictions


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Berry, Venise

Second Advisor

Havens, Tim

First Committee Member

Tully, Melissa

Second Committee Member

Logan, Travis

Third Committee Member

Bennett, Jeff


From a critical perspective, this study interrogates issues of representation and relevance among Twitter fans. Sitcoms are a satirical reflection of everyday life. Studying audience response on Twitter can offer insight into the connection between a television show as a text and its responding fans. There has been a variation in engagement when it comes to television viewership. Some viewers are no longer passively watching their favorite shows. They are engaged on social media offering comments and questioning what they see and hear. This comes at a time when television has evolved with a renaissance of programming and technology, but still covets rating success and the ability to cultivate captive audiences.

This research applies textual and discourse analysis in an examination of three episodes each from Modern Family and Family Guy while linking direct commentary in response on Twitter. Specifically, representations of masculinity, race/ethnicity, class and sexuality are explored. The findings indicate an active audience that is supportive of both of sitcoms and an extension of their enjoyment beyond the texts themselves into personal, communal and societal experiences.

Each text was analyzed based the context of the episode in connection with the discourse of the corresponding tweets. Tweets were singled out based on their context in connection with the defined categories of inquiry; masculinity, race/ethnicity, class and sexuality. The findings indicate that the nature of parody/satire itself prompted cultural exchanges of discourse on Twitter in specific areas of personal, communal and societal relevance. More specifically, personal relevance meant an intimate connection between the person tweeting about the text and the context of the text itself. Communal was more about shared experiences between members of the Twitter fandom and societal was defined by projected comments beyond the isolated nature of the shared community on Twitter.

The result is a negotiation of audience members with the text as it unfolds in front of them. There is a range of commentary from acceptance to disgust. This study reveals the rich data that is available in response to popular sitcoms. It investigates how an audience negotiates and rationalizes hegemonic forces at work alongside progressive modes of representation. The result is not a monolithic response to the text. Instead, this work revealed a more complex level of responses given the polysemic nature of the audience (Fiske, 2010).

Negotiation works as a constant cyclical process between the producers, the text itself and the audience’s interpretation. Popular sitcoms like Modern Family and Family Guy were shown in this study to exist upon an important base of fan support because of the predictability of the existing narratives. Whether audience members chose to love, hate or compromise for each text, as demonstrated by their tweets, there was active participation including their choice in viewership and activity on Twitter.

Participation occurred at multiple levels. First, their choice to view the text in the first place. Second, their negotiation concerning how to engage with the text, and third, their resulting reaction to the text on Twitter. This study examines that participatory experience during the spring 2013 television season. This in-depth analysis found that over a 24 hour period the tweets surrounding each episode included personal, communal and societal relevance for Twitter fans, especially when it came to issues of masculinity, race/ethnicity, sexuality, and class.

Public Abstract

Television audiences play a role in shaping the nature of the content they enjoy. The depth and nature of how this negotiation of creation and viewership unfolds is often up for debate in television scholarship. And as television viewership has evolved, so has the engagement between the audience and the apparatus. The advent of social media has vastly assisted this, as the viewer has demanded to be more engaged and thus synergized with the text.

Given the existence of an active participatory audience on social media that is readily uninhibited by the infringement of the research process; this presented the ideal setting for a study that analyzed activity surrounding televisual fandom on social media. Naturally, the sitcom presents a space of convenience for this type of research as it is a generally predictable and isolated narrative from week to week. This research then sought to interrogate the community surrounding two contemporary popular texts.

By examining tweets associated within a 24-hour period of the initial airing of either Modern Family or Family Guy from the 2012/2013 season, it was evident the relevance the audience was associated with the text during their process of serving as active viewers of original content. Datasets of tweets were collected and analyzed in associated with the specific content of each episode.

Further, the audience demonstrated an affiliation that spanned personal, communal and societal relevance. This also was found to cross the boundary lines of negotiation with the content as audience members provided commentary associated with representations of masculinity, race/ethnicity, class and sexuality.


Class, Gender, Race, Sexuality, Social Media, Television


vii, 159 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 137-159).


Copyright © 2017 James Robert Carviou