Analysis of Family Rituals in the Media

Activity Description:


To encourage students to reflect on the connections between rites of passage and family transitions


Film and television clips are often helpful in encouraging students to reflect on the ideological features of family rituals, as well as the nature of mass media representations of these complex events.

For example, my students have responded with lively discussion to the Thanksgiving scene in Barry Levinson’s Avalon, in which one branch of the family cuts the turkey before another branch arrives, leading to a long running family feud. Readings from Babcock’s edited volume The Reversible World might be discussed in conjunction with film clips of weddings scene, a perennial Hollywood favorite.

Explore questions, such as:

In what respects do interstitial times and spaces in ritual frames intensify the comedy or poignancy inherent in fraught social predicaments?

How do highly circumscribed performance arenas, ostensibly divorced from ordinary life, enable implicit commentary about the wider social world?

Why are accidents or acts of semiotic subversion within ritual frames so compelling?

Interrupted wedding scenes, in films ranging from It Happened One Night to The Graduate might be screened and compared: what precisely is a stake in these scenarios?

Students might also be encouraged to surf the web and interpret sites documenting family rituals; what kinds of explicit and implicit narratives about weddings, reunions or holiday festivities are told on line?

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Mark Auslander.