How grown-ups are born : the emerging-adult genre and American film and television
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This dissertation explores the representation of emerging adulthood in both films and television series. Recent research in the fields of sociology and psychology has advocated the development of a new life stage for twenty- and thirtysomethings that is in between adolescence and adulthood. During this age range, young Americans receive education and training for the jobs that will last the rest of their adult work lives and explore difference possibilities in love, work, education, and worldviews. While sociological research currently exists on the actual lives of emerging adults, little work has been done on its representation in the media. This dissertation aims to fill this gap in the discourse by analyzing emerging adulthood as its own genre that represents this new life stage in both films and television programs. While I use Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s sociological definitions of emerging adulthood to initiate my study, I analyze fictional narratives to illuminate what I have discovered to be at least 300 texts produced since the 1960s that circle around characters and plot points about transitioning into adulthood. To analyze the emerging-adult genre, I utilize the five different ways in which aspects of a person’s identity have been discussed as film and television genres: character representations; descriptions of semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic elements; historical periods; audience demographics; and authorship. Chapter One focuses on how the sociocultural elements represented in emerging adulthood (love and emotional partnerships, securing financial and residential independence, and finding a financially stable and personally rewarding career) are represented in media texts. Chapters Two and Three are dedicated to analyzing emerging-adult narratives, but Chapter Two focuses on film while Chapter Three focuses on television. I divide the narrative structure into two chapters due to the industrial and narrational effects upon each form of storytelling. Chapter Four concentrates on the historical roots of and changes in the emerging-adult genre to address the pragmatic approach found in Rick Altman’s genre theory. For this chapter, I divide this genre into three generation-based periods: Baby Boomers, Generation-X, and Millennials. The conclusion summarizes my findings and addresses areas of potential media studies research for this genre.