Bardic Function-Then and Now

By: Alexa Young

Society, as an independent, is likely to view itself in a presumably realistic manner; free from external bias and influence. However, as television is given the opportunity to reflect back to a society, people are presented with a fabricated, yet desirable idea of what their lives are truly like. In John Fiske and John Hartley’s Reading Television, the social ritual that is the bardic function of television is touched upon, characterizing television’s messages as being structured to meet the needs of the culture.

The social ritual that is the bardic function of television is a fundamental facet of television’s many utilities. Its messages are structured in codes to meet the needs of society’s expectations of itself, and because those needs are met, they are in turn satisfied. Ultimately, people in a society are told exactly what they are looking to hear. Whether it is justification of their actions, confirmation of their lifestyle choice, or even the reassurance that other people are enduring the same hardships as themselves; there will always be people searching for someone with which they may relate. Predominantly for that reason, bardic function in television is just as important today as it was upon its recognition decades ago.

How I Met Your Mother is an American sitcom that premiered in 2005, and it still recording to this day. The first season in particular includes five characters that, through myriad experiences, form a friendship that essentially serves as the foundation for the entirety of the show. As the characters are introduced, however, it is not hard to see the bardic function of television beginning to rear its head. Fortunately for society, the sitcom’s recurring bardic function is in part responsible for the show’s prolonged success.


How I Met Your Mother encompasses a significant amount of extreme thinking. It believes in signs, relies on coincidence, and highlights the broader meaning of things otherwise unimportant. From its commencement, the show has made a habit of sugarcoating things to dull the hardships of reality. This is made evident as early as the first few episodes. At this time, two of the show’s five main characters, Robin and Ted, are introduced as strangers, not only to the audience, but to each other as well. Ted falls for Robin as hard as one conceivably could, but the feelings are not reciprocated. Time after time, Robin rejects Ted’s advances, but he is indescribably in love with her. Nevertheless, he finally gives up and agrees to remain solely friends. The striking part in all of this, however, is that by the third episode, Robin has found an in with Ted’s friend group, and it is as if Ted never once had feelings for her. The relationship between these two characters develops both sporadically and unrealistically. This example reflects television’s bardic nature, even from the very beginning; it seems that the show was hesitant to admit that people can truly get hurt, and instead conveyed the message that everything painful will be easily forgotten, and that if Ted can do it, society can too.


Fiske and Hartley make a clear distinction between those who can relate to what that they watch on television, and those called the “ex-nominated.” The latter differ in the sense that they do not exhibit or shadow culture’s social ideals, and are therefore unable to relate with what, and with whom they are watching. Nevertheless, the system has developed ways to draw in either of the two types of people, and that is to introduce them to each other. In How I Met Your Mother, the audience is introduced to a character named Barney who is both eccentric and has an extraordinary personality to go with it. His character stands out like a sore thumb, as he is the most immature of the bunch, but also exemplifies intelligence and wittiness. That said, he is one of the most complicated personalities and would, in real life, likely be an “ex-nominated.” Despite his role in relation to the others, Barney never seems to struggle fitting in, and associates himself with the remaining four characters, to whom society is more apt to relate. This association is exactly what television does to draw in the ex-nominated of society who cannot find representations of themselves in programs. Fiske and Hartley describe this as naturalization, and through the building of these relationships, an entire new branch of people become an audience.

Bardic function is inevitable in television today. For years, society has relied heavily on its ability to close the gap between reality, and the reality that is desired. In succeeding to do so, the bardic nature of television does not appear to be diminishing anytime soon.


Works Cited:

  • Fiske, John, and John Hartley. “Chapter 6: Bardic Television.” Reading Television. London: Methuen, 1978. 85-100. Print.

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