Graduate Program

Communication Studies with Pedagogy Option

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion

Spring 2022

Thesis Director

S. M. Walus

Thesis Committee Member

Marita Gronnvoll

Thesis Committee Member

Claudia Janssen Danyi


Narrative transportation is a captivating phenomenon in which an audience member psychologically departs from material reality and immerses into the narrative world (Gerrig, 1993). Existing literature on narrative transportation mostly consists of audience-level studies, primarily focused on the phenomenon’s persuasive effects and audience attributes that mediate their ability to be transported. From a theoretical media perspective, transportation is conceived as an aspect of the larger audience cultivation process (Gerbner, 1998) due to its persuasive influence, revealing the importance of viewing it from the textual level. This thesis fills a significant gap in narrative transportation theory by examining television narratives through the semiotic perspective to inductively determine how their structural attributes coalesce to achieve transportation. The narratives of the third seasons of three exemplary comedy-drama televisual texts—Gilmore Girls (legacy broadcast), Girls (premium cable broadcast), and Grace and Frankie (streaming content)—were analyzed through a synthesis utilizing semiotic deconstruction (Barthes, 1974) and inspired by grounded theory (Straus & Corbin, 1990) to determine how television comedy-dramas invite transportation.

Informed by previous literature on transportation and narrative, 47 episodes were coded for elements of causality, conflict, enigma, character, and setting to determine structural similarities that invite transportation through immersion and identification. Cultural myths (Barthes, 1957/2013) of autonomy, authenticity, fulfillment, and meritocracy were prevalent throughout these narratives. This study interrogated how these myths impacted immersion and identification. This study determined that comedy-drama television narratives invite transportation through a combination of enigmatic immersion and mythic identification. Enigma is realized as the driving force of narrative through binary relationships of question/answer and problem/solution. The constant posing of questions and problems immerses the viewer in a participatory process of extrapolating outcomes and origins. This places the viewer in a perpetual enigmatic middle state where no ultimate conclusion is reached and no complete origin is ever realized. Myth is present through the character embodiment of values and beliefs and enacted through conflict with antithetical characters. The alignment of mythic belief evokes identification with the characters and forms a coherent narrative world that operates under mythic understanding. The synthesis of binary, enigma, and myth results in a transportive experience of immersion and identification. This study demonstrates that semiotic deconstruction is a valuable tool in media research to gain insights into our complex relationship with the narrative worlds that engage and captivate us.