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How American TV Show New Girl Has Broken Sitcom Stereotypes

How American TV Show New Girl Has Broken Sitcom Stereotypes

Fresh from the winter break with a brand new time slot (Tuesday, 8 pm, ET), New Girl continues to rack up the glowing reviews; this is a rare achievement for such a longstanding sitcom. The show is now in its sixth season and shows no signs of slowing down!

A key to the long-lasting popularity of New Girl has been the show’s unwillingness to bow to typical sitcom stereotypes. Whether binging on Netflix or catching rerun blocks on cable, the show’s legion of fans has always appreciated their beloved gang of characters’ refusal to fall prey to the mapped-out rules that seem to govern the characters of most other shows.

Breaking from accepted societal norms in this way has worked to the show’s advantage. Hopefully, other sitcoms will take notice and be more inclined to follow New Girl’s lead by going against the grain. 

Redefining Masculinity

In the hands of lesser writers, New Girl’s basic premise would be a nearly intolerable parade of masculine vs. feminine clichés. We have Jess, the kooky teacher with the lovably messed-up life, rooming with three males, Nick, Schmidt, and Wilson. And they’re in a massive Los Angeles apartment. I know – like what could go wrong, right?

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Those unfamiliar with the show might most likely envision Jess having to struggle with your run of the mill stereotypical guy behavior.

Pick your poison: uncleanliness, sports marathons on the television, and a steady stream of disgusting male antics. However, in a clever twist, the writer—Elizabeth Meriwether—and the entire cast turn these outdated ideas on their head, subverting stock pitfalls and embracing a more hip, modern outlook that connects with younger viewers.

So, what we have with New Girl is a trio of sensitive, hip urban males who are more inclined to give Jess dating advice than to try to climb into bed with her at the closest opportunity. Hence, instead of the typical “girl living with a bunch of guys” easy punchlines and slapstick gags, the comedy revolves around the day-to-day lives of the four main characters and their banter around the apartment.

In essence, New Girl is a modern character staging where men and women are on equal footing. As such, they can hang out on the same level without the clashing interests or sexual undertones that may have been incorporated into a “girl tossed in with a bunch of guys” show just ten years, or even five years, previous.

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Portraying Race on Prime Time

Although the show got off to a bit of a rocky start on the race angle, suffering much criticism for switching out Damon Wayans Jr. with Lamorne Morris’s Winston as the “token” black roommate early on. However, the show quickly rebounded and began portraying race in ways that knocked the doors off your standard sitcom narrative.

First, there was the notorious, and hilarious, episode where Schmidt takes Winston’s joke about smoking ‘crack’ seriously and ventures into the projects to score some. The misunderstanding sets up a series of hijinks which include mistaking a kind stranger offering directions for a robber, a wallet for a gun, and a turn-of-the-tables accusation on Schmidt himself.

Granted, it was risky territory to venture into, and Schmidt’s scolding of his wayward character was done with a tongue-in-cheek élan that stood in direct contrast to the politically correct dogma that could have easily been written for the situation in most other modern sitcoms. Nonetheless, they managed to pull it off.

As a matter of fact, Winston manages to buck racial stereotypes right from the introduction of his character. Here is a black man who isn’t that good at sports, who wins over a woman’s affection by hanging with her at a girl’s night, and who turns out to be a trustworthy and skilled babysitter. He never cheats on his girlfriends, and loves cats. Think back to the sitcoms you watched as a child, or even to any other sitcom currently running. Has there ever been a less stereotypical black character than Winston?

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The real kicker here is when Wayans came back to the cast. Unlike what shows would have done in the past, i.e. “replace one black guy with another one,” New Girl boldly broke the mold and took on two prominent black characters. This breach of the “only one member of an ethical group allowed per white sitcom” code further pushed New Girl into unchartered territory as far as racial identity is concerned.

A Brave New World

It isn’t often that a cable sitcom comes around and challenges age-old formulas and unwritten rules that most writers and directors would just assume their audiences want.

In fact, shows that cannot fit into any category are often left by the wayside, dying quick one-season deaths, or never even making it beyond the pilot phase. New Girl managed to dodge this fate through strong writing, a likable cast, and an immediate following that has remained loyal to the show for the duration of its run.

Hopefully, other sitcom writers, directors, and producers can take up this charge and step forward with smart, challenging, and non-stereotypical fare for the TV viewing public. As a rapidly changing society fueled by recent leaps in ethnic advances and LGBT awareness, the viewing public no longer needs to the stale, formulaic fare win.

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The message is simple: To win the hearts of today’s viewers, shows must be willing to push the envelope.

Featured photo credit: Caitlyn Wilson via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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