Anachronistic language in Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow is a TV show currently running on Fox. It reimagines Washington Irving’s classic story by making Ichabod Crane a Revolutionary War soldier who, after decapitating the (now) Headless Horseman, is mortally wounded. He is put into some sort of suspended animation by a witch to awaken in the present-day, 21st-century town of Sleepy Hollow, where he teams up with local law enforcement to fight off a host of supernatural horrors including the (also resurrected) Headless Horseman.

The show playfully uses the introduction of an 18th-century man to the 21st-century world as a way to slacken dramatic tension. Of course (as this show is on American primetime TV), Crane is remarkably enlightened for someone from the 1780’s; he is an abolitionist who, after one surprised comment about women wearing trousers, has no problem with the basic social reality of 21st-century America. But the show constantly uses Crane’s ignorance of 21st-century technology for comic relief; he tosses aside a handgun after firing it once, not realizing it has more bullets; he ends up showering himself with cold water when he tries to investigate modern plumbing; he records voicemails as if writing a letter; computers confound him, and he is flabbergasted by (although perhaps a bit curious about) a popup for sexy internet video chat. This comedy is playful rather than mean-spirited, as Crane excels in other areas his modern counterparts are ignorant of, and he is essential to the fight against the monsters.

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Commercials as Co-text

One of the things I’m interested in is the impact advertisements can have on the narratives they are trying to sell.  The idea that a reader will draw on other texts as he or she constructs the meaning of text is not new.  Barthes, Kristeva and others have argued that readers construct the meaning of a text as they read by, partly, applying intertextual links.  But what outside text could be more relevant in forming a text’s meaning than an advertisement for that text?  Advertisements are often syntheses of narratives that break down the text they are selling into its most crucial (or attractive) aspects and present them in an extremely compressed format.  It should be no surprise that ads can be a powerful referent in a reader’s construction of a text

Advertisements are usually developed by independent agencies with little input by authors or creators of the target text and sometimes with little access to the actual source material.  Ads may be developed long after the target text is completed (for a second printing, for example) Therefore texts rarely refer to their own advertisements.   Readers may be referring to advertisements in order to construct a text’s meaning, but a literary analysis that looks at the intertextual references within a text itself will not pick up on those sources of meaning.  Readers (or generally, consumers) are immersed in a dialogic commercial landscape that inevitably contributes to the meaning they construct for narratives they consume.  I propose that commercials can be a co-text or pre-text for the texts they advertise.

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