Panel Report: Community and Metafiction

Editor’s note: this article is part of a series of posts that covers the discussion panels The Analytical Couch Potato hosted during Connecticon 2012. For those who couldn’t make it, the staff decided to summarize some of the panels and provide pictures of the staff presenting. Those who want to see the full album of Connecticon pictures can see it on Facebook here. Thanks to everyone who made it out there to see us.

Chronologically, this was the first panel we did upon arriving at Connecticon – but at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night when we were competing with the con’s annual striptease, we were lucky to fill as much of the room as we did. All the same, the fans were fantastic conversationalists (and it should really speak volumes about the Connecticon diversity when 3/4 a room wanted to talk about Community and metafiction over seeing a striptease).

We started out by defining metafiction: namely, that it is any work that acknowledges its own fictionalism. And while Community never outright breaks the 4th wall, there are many moments where light jabs are made to acknowledge the possibility. For example, the first episode has Abed compare the cast to the breakfast club, and in “Cooperative Calligraphy” he refers to the actions of the other characters as a bottle episode. 

Community uses metafiction pretty heavily, some ways like other shows and some ways like nothing else on television. Many of the metafiction references utilize a sense of humor that rewards tv nerds, the same way continuity jokes can reward loyal fans of a show. There’s a sense of surreal humor that comes when movie and television tropes are applied to mundane activities  like making pillow and blanket forts, playing Dungeons and Dragons, or beating the class billiards instructor — something action packed. The tropes emulate times when the stakes were high, but the action itself and the actual consequences are all pretty low stakes. Humor arrives from both sides; we laugh at non-serious moments being taken so seriously, while also attributing that high stakes mentality vicariously to our own activities of similar nature. Audience members chimed in here, noting that they think of the show when making forts now or other activities that occurred on the show (one guy in particular mentioned he actually goes to a community college, leading to this train of thought frequently). 

But unlike other shows, Community also has a way of using metafiction in serious tones. Scenes like when Abed referenced Hawkeye to pep talk Jeff come to mind – Abed in particular is good at relating other characters to fiction to get them where they need to be. 

As we mentioned this, conversation started to revolve around Abed for a while, partially because he redefines relatability through his metafiction ways. The same way most characters are relatable for quirks, like Jeff’s ego, Britta’s pontificating, or Pierce’s old man racism, Abed is also relatable — but we relate to him as consumers, not as people of a certain quirk. Abed’s frequent references to television are something we understand, having seen these shows. Not only that, but Abed relates to the rest of the world through television the same way we relate to him; his understanding of what to do in a given situation is largely influenced by television. For example, he proved he could pick up girls when the group suspected otherwise, but only because he was able to successfully imitate Don Draper. Through imitating other things he has watched, he is also able to run a chicken nugget mafia, help save his school with paintball, and operate a space simulator simulator, among other talents. Not only that, but the insight he brings to the group in hard times occasionally rivals Jeff’s “Winger takes it home” speeches that end many episodes. Despite the fact that Jeff runs on street smarts and smooth talking, Abed is able to quote movies and reference shows and still often prove to be just as insightful and relevant. 

And Abed, much like Community itself, is less concerned with reaching all of the possible audience as much as he is concerned with reaching choice targets who will understand or need to understand what he’s trying to say. “Introduction to Film” and “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” both come to mind here, as well as the end of “Filmmaking Redux.” One of the ACP members, Jonah, commented here on how Dan Harmon frequently got into arguments with the network about whether or not the show should be a generic, safe, selling sitcom. The show isn’t meant to be safe, though. 

All in all, the Community panel went pretty well, largely thanks to, well, the community. Thanks to everyone who participated through listening or contributing comments! 

Is there anything else we forgot to add? Say so in the comments! 

2 thoughts on “Panel Report: Community and Metafiction

  1. This panel was fantastic – and it's how I heard about you guys! I came with two friends – one was the friend who had gotten me into Community, and the other a friend who had never seen any Community before. But because of your panel (in addition to our prompting) she has decided to watch it!My only wish is that the panel could have been longer so we could have talked more.

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