Hardly any other television format is as popular with young people as sitcoms. Many are teeming with sexism and racism – with one exception.
More progressive than you might think: the Sinclair dino family Foto: getty images
When “Friends”, one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, celebrated its 25th birthday last year, a discussion started about how up-to-date the series is. Six white middle-class friends – that goes far beyond today’s diversity standards. And the sexist attitude of the series is now also negative. The homophobic and transphobic gags are rightly taboo today. At the same time, fans of the cult show stressed that it was unfair to judge them by current standards.
What has become popular since then situation comedys, what the American entertainment series are actually called, done? How progressive are today’s formats?
In Germany, “The Big Bang Theory” is one of the most popular sitcoms. According to the industry magazine DWDL at times it was even the most successful TV series among 14 to 49 year olds. With the Indian astrophysicist Raj, the circle of friends is not exclusively white. However, like his friends Sheldon, Leonard and Howard, he is a single cliché. They are all scientists and thus nerds without social skills. They are condescending towards women and homosexuals. Her “Gay Panic” jokes correspond to the level of the running gag of the “Friends” series, where the supposed homosexuality of the character Chandler is supposed to serve as amusement.
The problem of mass suitability
“How I Met Your Mother”, which started in 2005, is even more sexist than “Friends”. The only goal in life of the character Barney is to manipulate women so that as many people as possible have sex with him. This often borders on sexual assault. His “playbook”, in which he collects “pick-up lines”, makes machism the only form of legitimate masculinity and women objects. The constant slutshaming, which is particularly excessive by the two women in the group, Robin and Lily, rounds off the horror program.
What “knowledge” could be more widespread than clichés and prejudices?
From “Fresh Off the Boat” about a Taiwanese family in Florida that doesn’t leave out any Asian cliché to “Two and a Half Men”: The list of negative examples could easily be continued. There are significant differences – some popular sitcoms like “Scrubs” or “Malcolm in the Middle” have aged less badly. Ultimately, however, all postures, figures or at least individual gags can be found that could cause indignation today.
That’s only natural. Sitcoms are an entertainment format that primarily strives for mass appeal. In order for humor to be understood by as many people from as many parts of the world as possible, it needs a basis with which the majority of viewers are familiar. And what “knowledge” could be more widespread than clichés and prejudices?
Of course, there are also isolated experiments with large sitcoms. But even these usually don’t deviate too much from the general taste. Take the gay rainbow family in Modern Family: Well meant, but Cameron and Mitchell almost never kiss. Probably because the target group can now endure a traditionalized idea of homosexuality, but does not want to see gay affection on television for a long time.
It is all the more surprising today if you take another look at a sitcom from the 90s: “The Dinos”.
“Not the mother”
The life-size dinosaur dolls represent the Sinclair family. Father Earl, who is a Megalosaurus in the mega-corporation “Treufuss” as a “tree pusher”, acts as the patriarch of the family while he is submissive to his tyrannical boss. Mother Fran is the kind-hearted housewife who is increasingly coming into contact with feminist perspectives through her divorced best friend Monica. Driven above all by status, the teenage daughter Charlene is the ideal type of the growing “Dino Oeconomicus”. Son Robbie, on the other hand, is empathetic and questions traditions. The actual star of the sitcom, however, is Baby Sinclair, whose iconic exclamations “Not the mom!” And “I’m the baby, have to love me!” Have found their place in series history.
What was negotiated in the 65 episodes of “Dinos” is more topical than ever. If four-legged friends are met with suspicion by two-legged friends and they are thus pushed to the margins of society, racism is also an issue.
When Monica tries to push a tree and is harassed by a foreman, sexism comes up. When the dismissal follows her objection, a show trial begins, in which the dinosaur is denigrated as an “asphalt dinosaur”. With regard to #MeToo, the ironic statement at the end of the episode seems almost prophetic: “We have a modern dinocracy, it can’t take long with equal treatment.”
The most progressive is probably the Dino son Robbie. Relative to the beginning of the show, he realizes that, unlike the rest of his family, he might be a herbivore. He secretly goes to a special bar for herbivores to indulge in the “forbidden fruits” – a homosexual dinosaur. And that in prehistoric times. In other episodes he campaigns against the extinction of species, takes care of cavemen who perceive the dinosaurs as callous (useful) animals, or invents a sustainable energy source, the use of which is prevented by the profitable Treufuss company. Fridays for Dino-Future.
Superior power of the megacorporations
In any case, the dominance of the mega-corporation is the dominant theme of the sitcom. Company boss BP Richfield tried in the meantime to go into politics and sold himself as a simple “man of the people”. He promises the electorate that the abolition of taxes for the rich would result in such wealth among the rich dinosaurs that they would surely tumble a few dinosaur marks out of their pockets. There is no better way to parody the empty promise of the “trickle-down theory”.
Pangea is anyway a paradise of neoliberalism and thus a paradise that has to perish in the end: Because the Treufuss drains an important swamp, a species of beetle that feeds on climbing plants dies out. When they begin to grow, the said group boss organizes a troop of “concerned citizens” who, through further interventions in nature, conjure up an ice age. As temperatures drop, the company triumphs over an unprecedented sale of heaters, blankets and hot drinks. Whether the climate catastrophe will finally put an end to the dinosaurs is then a problem for the coming financial year.
Probably because the show was packed in a primeval setting, staged with the help of puppets and generally understood as a “children’s show”, it could, contrary to the logic of the sitcom, be both critical and loved by a mass audience. With the Disney Group, which co-produced the series in addition to the Jim Henson Company, there have always been disputes, emphasizes producer Michael Jacobs. Over four seasons, however, the in-house broadcaster ABC could be persuaded to continue, as long as Baby Sinclair, the show’s “comic relief”, received enough attention.
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