8.12.2006

wiki this


while engaged in my latest favorite pasttime of wikipedia-ing tv while i watch - usually shortened in my head, and sometimes in my diction to "wiki this, wiki that" - i looked up the entry for malcolm in the middle. the episode i was watching featured the mom, lois, costumed and dancing around with her mom, played by cloris leachman, in outfits that resembled the ensemble that sandra bullock wears in the scene from miss congeniality where she is playing the water glasses at a pre-pageant talent showcase. (i'm not sure i can actually count all of this information toward my love/study of "popular" culture....) anyway, moving on... i was caught by the cluster of information in the entry for MITM that focused on how the show was intentionally anonymous, similar to the mystery surrounding the geographic location of The Simpsons hometown of Springfield. this mystery has certainly captured the imaginations, and observation skills, of many of the show's viewers and some of the wikipedia entry writers. for example, they write:
- There is also a good chance that the family lives in Arizona, as in the episode "Future Malcolm" when Dewey is being reprimanded for painting on the wall, a water bottle with the symbol for the NFL team the Arizona Cardinals is clearly visible.

- Also, in episode 110, "Stock Car Races", when Hal and the boys are entering the track the billboard behind the entrance displays the place as Irwindale Speedway (a real race track in Southern California).

- (my particular favorite of the ones listed): Oklahoma is a possibility. In later seasons, license plates display "Cherokee State" which is another name for Oklahoma. Despite that, the look of the plates intentionally made like California's, such as the font of the words "Cherokee State", and digits are in the format of "1 XXX 111", where 1 is a digit, and X is a letter. In episode 415, Otto was singing the title song from "Oklahoma!." In episode 313, Oklahoma Highway Police can be seen on the police car doors. However, in one episode, Hal comes to visit Francis at military school and upon seeing his father, Francis exclaims, "you drove eight hours just to see me!" The school is known to be located in Alabama, so Malcolm's family must live within an eight-hour drive of the state, perhaps in Florida. On the other hand there is also in episode 418 where Reese is sent to Whitehorse on a bus for at least 52 hours. Malcolm: "Reese, think about it. It takes 26 hours to get to Canada, and 26 hours to get back. Your bag is filled with food and nobody called Grandma!" Only Alaska is within a 26 hour drive of Whitehorse, Canada. However, in episode 43, Alaska is stated to be "5000 miles away and in the episode "Krelborne Picnic", Francis says "So I'm still a member of the family even after you sent me away to military school 1,000 miles away". In the series finale, Malcolm reveals that Harvard is 2,000 miles away. Triangulation using these distances puts the family's location somewhere in West Texas.

...and so on. what fascinates me about this is people's (viewers') collective desire to locate information they receive - via a television program, fictional sitcom notwithstanding - within shared schemes and experiential landmarks. where do they live? where is all of this taking place? throw me a bone!!! it's even noted in the show's wikipedia entry that the family's last name is never (or maaaaybe once) mentioned.

if we continue to understand literacies as local and situated and epistemologies as informed by experience, from a research standpoint, "placing" the characters and the show would seem to be of utmost importance... situating our own "reading" of how they move through their worlds would be significant for interpreting and anlayzing what it is they are doing - e.g., arguing as a family; planning the annual practical joke; ostracizing the kid who isn't a team player; etc... from my experience, it's the desire to understand the concepts that are emic to who or what i'm observing before i can make claims about it. but what if our observational capacity is limited? what if, as more of us are exploring realms where we have limited access, limited time to acclimate, and limited understanding of what questions we should even be asking, the landscape remains anonymous? i can still say that malcolm is a quirky character who has taken on some of his "real life" actor persona, but then that would be all; and it would be based on occasional viewings of the show, coupled with an unfortunate viewing of an old episode of Punk'd, and driven by a proclivity to analyze through comparison. wikipedia might just be on to something though - thanks to the collective efforts of my fellow inquiring minds, i can now add to my analysis that anonymity was not only the ethos of the show, but also something that malcolm strived for and lived out through his little brother as he "help[s] him stay in normal classes" (instead of the "gifted" classes like he put in by his parents. ok, it's a stretch, but it's my ongoing support for collaboration in research, especially acknowledging that the construction of new and diverse spaces yields not only so many more questions, but also many more limitations on participation, access, and inquiry...