Author and opinion writer Nico Lang recently addressed a topic that recurs constantly in the media, but that rarely gets talked about: sitcom stereotypes. His article for PolicyMic, “9 Damaging Sitcom Stereotypes That Need to Be Retired Immediately,” examines the seemingly harmless stereotypical characters portrayed on television, and explains why these stereotypes are actually doing more harm than good.
These are the top 9 sitcom stereotypes that Lang finds the most egregious:
- “The One Whose Asperger’s is Hilarious.” As Lang points out, Asperger’s Syndrome is a serious condition that often makes it difficult for people who have it to relate to those around them. When characters with Asperger’s are depicted on TV (think Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory), they are often portrayed as being the comic relief, minimizing the ways in which this condition impacts those who have it. People with any kind of condition, visible or otherwise, shouldn’t be part of the punch line in real life, so why should they be portrayed this way on television?
- “The Adorkable Gal.” Nearly all TV shows have this kind of character now, and some, like New Girl, are even completely centered on her. Lang notes, “When you don’t have anything to write for a female character, just make her conveniently quirky. That way she doesn’t have to get anything real to do.” This stereotype makes me wonder, why can’t women be quirky, and have autonomy and substance?
- “The Asian Character Who Is Practically Long Duk Dong.” “It seems that sitcoms really haven’t the slightest clue what to do with their Asian characters; they reduce them to stereotypes as crude as Long Duk Dong of Sixteen Candles fame,” says Lang. Lang also notes that when Asian characters are on screen, they are either hyper-sexualized like the assistant on Dads played by Brenda Song, or reduced to asexual caricatures like Lane from Gilmore Girls.
- “The One Trying to Have it All.” I’m sure you can think of a few of these over-achiever types; characters on Parks and Rec and 30 Rock come to mind. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to have it all, there is something wrong with the ways in which characters that are trying to find success in their endeavors, especially female characters, are portrayed as hysterical.
- “The Woman Whose Weight Is a Punchline.” Aren’t we all really tired of this stereotype by now? Super Fun Night, starring the hilarious Rebel Wilson falls so short because of the show’s constant focus on her body as the perpetual punchline. It’s absolutely time to stop fat-shaming, and attaching embarrassment and hilarity to characters that don’t fit into our society’s standards of beauty.
- “The Guy With the Inexplicably Hot Wife.” King of Queens, Modern Family, The Big C, Grounded for Life, Family Guy…the list of shows that play into this trope goes on and on. This particular stereotype is far less harmful than others, but still enforces ridiculous gender norms and often objectifies the “hot wife” on these shows, reducing her to a strictly sexual object that the husband in some way possesses.
- “The Gay One Who Isn’t Having Sex.” Even in 2014 it’s rare to find a genuine depiction of LGBT characters on network television, and rarer still to see gay couples having fulfilling sexual or romantic relationships. Lang describes Mitchell and Cam from Modern Family as being more like “asexual frenemies” than a loving gay couple, and while it’s important that they are being represented at all on a show that is all about contemporary family structures, it’s disappointing that their storyline relies on so many stereotypes about gay men.
- “The Black Character Who Gets Forgotten.” Lang points to Glee for being one of the worst shows to perpetuate this sitcom stereotype. He describes Glee’s character Mercedes as “an afterthought,” and notes how problematic it is that her “blackness is equated with sassiness.” Other shows often tokenize characters of color without fully developing their storylines and giving them depth, relying instead on stereotypes to appease audiences.
- “The One Whose Hair Color Determines Her Intelligence.” This stereotype is one of the most tired that continues to show up on nearly every television show today. 2 Broke Girls, The Big Bang Theory, and That 70s Show all play into the “dumb blonde” trope. Again, there are far more problematic stereotypes that exist in the media, but isn’t it time we stopped equating a woman’s looks to her intelligence and substance?
What other sitcom stereotypes do you find to be problematic?
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