The ‘Other’ in TV Comedies

Diversity in the media is and will be a topic that keeps on coming up because the media reflects our society. How ‘the other’ is presented reflects how we as a society view social norms. To make this point clear, lets look at the history of tv sitcoms. First, lets look at the idealistic Brady Bunch or The Andy Griffith Show. In these shows ‘the other’ (anyone that isn’t fit in the majority) is either marginalized or downright ignored.

The Andy Griffith Show
The Brady Bunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ln these shows, we are only shown white, well-off, healthy, educated, and straight happy people whose biggest problems include finding the courtroom is full of dogs (Seriously thats the plot of Season 3, Episode 30 of The Andy Griffith Show.) ‘The other’ wasn’t just unrepresented, it was completely ignored.

When African-Americans were shown, such as the show Amos n’ Andy, it was stereotypical and racist against them. Amos n’ Andy, one of the first shows with an African-American cast, was based on a popular radio program in which all the stars were voiced by white dudes.

Then, eventually, ‘the other’ gets represented as actual people. For example, shows like The Jeffersons and eventually The Cosby Show, showed African-Americans whose main characteristic isn’t that they are black. And while the so-called black comedy only lives on basic cable, shows like New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine show multiple people of color, where they don’t ignore race, but it’s just one out of hundreds of characteristics of it’s characters.

You can see this path of presentation in almost every different ‘other’ group. Just look at the LGBT community.  First, they were ignored on television. Then when they did show up, the biggest thing about them was that they were gay. Shows like Friends (that had a wedding between Susan and Carol, where the brides don’t kiss) and Will and Grace, while trying to be progressive, were just stepping stones to get to non-stereotypical representations.

Now you can watch shows like Orange is the New Black, Shameless, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (again) or the recently canceled Happy Endings, to see great layered gay characters on TV comedies.

Is ‘the other’ presented perfectly on tv? No, but there are a lot of signs that show that we are getting there. There is no longer an excuse that shows that aren’t filled with just white dudes can succeed.

But this doesn’t just apply to tv comedies. In other media, 2013 was the first year that a female-driven movie (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) was the biggest box-office hit, and Scandal (a tv drama featuring a African-American female lead and a gay Chief of Staff to the President of the United States) was one of the highest rated tv show of the year.

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