Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Katherine Roberts

The Most Imperfect Romantic Comedy

Something that really resonated with me within our discussion of Jane the Virgin was the idea of the romantic comedy and how it defines the show, creates and alienates an audience, and sets the entire tone of the show. This applies strongly to The Mindy Project where the entire show is centered around Mindy’s search for love and (in her eyes) the perfect life. In the season two finale, “Mindy and Danny”, she finally gets her true love in, as the title suggests, the form of Danny. In true comedic fashion their journey towards each other was hilarious, complete with montages of Mindy crawling up stairs and Danny getting hit by a taxi. And in true romantic fashion, Mindy gets her happily ever after, on top of the Empire State building à la every classic New York romantic movie, even if she is too exhausted from climbing the stairs to stand. She has the perfect partner, great friends, and a wonderful job. Mindy has it all.

Mindy and Danny having their romantic moment on top of the Empire State Building.

This is the cornerstone of the rom-com genre: through trials and tribulations on a journey of self-discovery, it generally (but, as we learned in Jane the Virgin, not always) ends with the women “having it all”. This idealistic idea includes the women being a perfect mother, wife, worker, friend, daughter, and a host of other roles. And while it’s the goal for some, it rarely works without a hitch in real life. This is where The Mindy Project comes in: it’s the imperfect rom-com. Mindy’s an unlikely hero, and even during her perfect ending Danny quips about her becoming a stay-at-home mother, even through her job and her professional ambitions are vital to her sense of self. The show does something unlikely in demonstrating that the heavily anticipated relationship is not perfect, or anywhere relatively close to it. For most stereotypical rom-com heroines, once they find their partner, they abandon their job to focus on working in the home. And it is a completely respectable choice; however, it is not the choice for Mindy.

That what I love about the show: for better or for worse, it demonstrates an unapologetic amount of honesty and candor. As a subset of the rom-com genre, it’s more representative, shows more relationship failures, and genuinely doesn’t shy away from the issues surrounding the modern romance. Mindy is not your classic heroine, in more ways than one, and she doesn’t try to become something that she isn’t. This show flipped the entire genre and its subsequent expectations on their head and completely revamped them. Real life is not like the romance movies and getting more shows with more accurate representations and expectations is vital. The Mindy Project does just that.

Quick Cuts, Chaos, and Colors

The Mindy Project remains steadfast in its exploration of the idea that life is messy, complicated, and not always fun. This is reflected in the rom-com genre itself, the music, the dialogue, and the cinematography. In general, the show is bright, chaotic, and complicated – the way in which the show is shot reflects this.

A notable example of this is in the season 2 episode “Music Festival”. The show relies on dramatic events as crucial plot points, and this episode is no different. The first scene involves a pastor declaring that he’s becoming a DJ. This declaration is coupled with a vast array of camera shots and angles. There’s the wide, sweeping shot of the church, the camera moving to follow the pastor down the aisle, close ups on Mindy and the pastor, shots of the audience, and ever-changing angles. These shots are pieced together quickly, rarely lasting more than a couple seconds. This scene was focused on dialogue, not actions, so most of the shots focus on the people talking and shift rapidly to match the quick nature of the conversations.

However, even in scenes not dialogue driven the nature of the cinematography remains the same. The name of the game is creating chaos in the background and placing the central action or characters in the front. At the musical festival, the backdrop is insane: people everywhere, bright colors, balloons, hoops, and things flying everywhere. Even still, the main characters remain in the center of all the shots, which allows the focus of the audience to stay on them. This usage of quick cuts relates strongly to the theme of the show – life’s chaos.

Mindy experiencing the chaos at her first music festival.

Similarly, the color scheme of the show is bright. Mindy herself is never seen in outfits of less than three contrasting colors, and all the background walls range from white to pale pastels. There is no absence of color, and the brightness allows everything to be seen plainly and clearly. This demonstrates the honestly the show is bringing, it doesn’t shy away or attempt to hide from the realities of life. It also relates to the fact that the show is a comedy, the brightness keeps the comedic nature of the show, even when the conversations or topics are difficult.

However, when the show opts to use muted colors and long shots, it’s a stark change of pace. This occurs when Mindy breaks up with her boyfriend. The only two camera angles are focused on the two characters, the shots are longer, the backgrounds are bare, and the colors are subdued. This creates two clear distinctions in the show: the time for fun and the time for serious matters. The show attempts to walk a fine line of being a funny rom-com, and still accurately reflecting the parts of life that are not enjoyable. The differences in cinematography allows the audience to understand when these tonal shifts will occur.

The Musical Writing of The Mindy Project

Masterfully weaving together elements of comedy and romance without being overtly cliché is a difficult feat. Thankfully, The Mindy Project is stocked with witty, creative writers who are unafraid of leaning into classically complicated tropes to make them fresh and original. One clear example is the season one finale episode “Take Me with You” written by Mindy Kaling and Jeremy Bronson. Both writer’s careers are littered with household names – Mindy from The Office, an off-Broadway play Matt & Ben, and a host of stand-up comedy tours, and Jeremy from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Grandfathered, and Speechless. Outside of television, both wrote for their respective college newspapers (The Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern and the Harvard Lampoon) and Mindy has written two bestselling memoirs.

The fast pace nature of the show is what allows it to follow rom-com tropes without feeling overdone or boring. Specifically, Mindy is shown trying to seem “outdoorsy” on a camping trip to prove she is ready to move to Haiti with her boyfriend. The writing here uses the tent to demonstrate Mindy feeling trapped in her current relationship. The dialogue is quick to respond to the events bothering Mindy – before she is finished politely explaining why the lack of space is suffocating, the next irritation is already executed.

With most of the show’s dialogue being conversational, the lack of dialogue in scenes are notable. However, while there are periods of time when no one is speaking, there is never pure silence. Pivotal moments are emphasized with no dialogue, only music. This was used three times in the season finale. The first moment was Mindy alone, eating cake, overlaid with soft classical music. This returns to the main theme of the show – life will never work flawlessly, even when it externally looks perfect. She seems to have everything – the handsome boyfriend and a strong career, but she still retreats to be alone. This establishes Mindy as the heroine we know and love, as she wants her life to be like a romance novel but is never satisfied with the happily ever after.

The second musical interlude was upbeat pop and a montage of the doctors going into surgery. This reestablishes Mindy as a formidable doctor: while her personal life is reflective of the middle chapter struggle of a romance novel, she is excellent at her job.

Finally, there was the classic running through the streets to profess love trope, this time with music of increasing intensity. Here Mindy reveals she cut her hair off and is ready to change her life and move to Haiti. This scene had the potential to be cliché, but due to the comedy weaved throughout – her unsuccessful first attempts to reach her love and the clothes hangers chucked out the window at Mindy – it felt new. That is what is special about the writing here, the bones of the premise, theme, and scenes are all overdone, but the writing is so original and surprising that it allows everything to flow together perfectly.

Mindy unveiling her new short haircut to Danny.

Works Cited

“Mindy Kaling.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindy_Kaling.

“Jeremy Bronson.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Bronson.

(RE)SEARCHing on the QUEST(ION) for Answers: Gender Within Parental Careers in Disney Channel

How are gender stereotypes associated with occupation reflected in the careers of parental figures and mentors in Disney Channel Original Series that have aired since 2000?

Prior to researching, as we all grew up watching Disney Channel in the early 2000s, we were interested to see how these shows may have influenced our own perceptions and biases. During our research, we were shocked to learn about the frequency at which children watch television; it is the strongest source of cultural socialization outside of a child’s own parents. The themes and social interactions portrayed on television are directly linked to what children will deem as normal. Thus, we chose to focus on children’s TV, as the information being conveyed has a stronger influence on their biases and perceptions of gender than it does on adults.

There was an abundance of information about the effects of parental mediation of television and parents’ careers on children, but minimal information about what the careers of fictional parents are portraying and the effect of that on children. Thus, we believe the adults whom younger characters look up to for advice and counsel will reflect on the beliefs of real children. Children’s values are being formed through the respected adults they encounter in real life, so it would be reasonable to assume that the same would apply to the adults they encounter on television. Furthermore, children will assume that they should behave like the role models they see on television. Therefore, if adults of the same gender behave like their gendered stereotypes, children will feel the need to adhere to these stereotypes, and expect those behaviors from their peers.

We chose to focus on shows created after 2000 because we discovered that shows created prior to 2000 frequently relied on characters that were stereotypically masculine or feminine, and we wanted to see if that held true into the turn of the century. We are planning to analyze the data in two ways: the average salary of the jobs held by role models and their job’s alignment with traditional gender stereotypes.

This research matters because the perceptions of gender stereotyping of the future generations are directly impacted by the shows that they watch. Children are easily affected by these stereotypes, and gender norms are already firmly established in their minds by the time they are 5 years old. The first step in eliminating stereotypes is to show the next generation an equal and fair world that doesn’t submit to gender stereotypes. If children are surrounded by stereotypes, they will associate them with normality, and will be less likely to notice inequality in the world and work to change it. People have commentated on the effect of seeing stereotypes on television, but few have analyzed specific shows to see if children are being exposed to stereotypes in the form of the careers of fictional parents. Through this research, we hope to gain a better understanding of how reflective the careers of adults in children’s television are to the real world. We also hope to expose where gender stereotypes are prevalent in television so that audiences can be more proactive about changing them.

Work Cited:

Durkin, Kevin, and Bradley Nugent. “Kindergarten Children’s Gender-Role Expectations for Television Actors.” Sex Roles, vol. 38, no. 5, 1998, pp. 387-402. ProQuest http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/225373743?accountid=11107

Witt, Susan. (2000). “The Influence of Television on Children’s Gender Role Socialization.” Childhood Education, 76(5), 322-324. http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/210380519?accountid=11107.

 

The Confrontational and Disheartening Nature of Birthdays

Throughout my short tenure at college I’ve discovered one main lesson: being an adult is hard. This is also the lesson that Mindy discovers in the episode “Mindy’s Birthday”. This episode centers around her birthday, but being in her thirties, she is disillusioned with the party her friends decide to throw for her: a glitzy, public bash complete with presents that teach cooking for one and an elliptical. As people grow other, birthdays are no longer what they were when they were kids. Birthdays, events designed to be celebrations of life allow people to become disappointed in the events of their lives. It’s generally a time for people to come to term with the shortcomings of their own lives, as birthdays are milestones that can pass without certain moments of success. For Mindy, this is most evidenced by her lack of a relationship. Thus, the argument here is that birthdays force adults to evaluate their life choices, many times in a harsher way than reality.

The episode demonstrates the introspective, sometimes disheartening nature of birthdays by a series of bad choices made by Mindy. After confronting her lack of romantic relationship, she abandons her friends and coworkers to drink alone at a bar. This leads her to make a group of superficial friends before wandering NYC with her belligerent office assistant. Mindy became transfixed on what her ideal life should be in her mid-thirties, and when she realized she hadn’t achieved it, she ran away. She forgot to be appreciative for the wonderful things she already had in her life – her friends.

This ties back to the larger theme evident throughout the entire show – life is not a fairytale romance. Life is messy, difficult, not always enjoyable, and it certainly will not go perfectly. Mindy is an eternal optimist – she has high expectations and she really, truly believes she can achieve everything she wants. At the times when things don’t go perfectly, she breaks down. The show is technically considered a romantic comedy, and as such, Mindy strives for the same ideals perpetrated throughout the genre: to be happily married, have a successful career, and be perfectly content. She has achieved much of this, but she is still missing a crucial (in her opinion) piece – the relationship. This relates to the crushing expectations placed on women by society – they must be perfect and achieve milestones by specific times in life. As each birthday passes, Mindy feels herself drifting away from cultural perfection. However, as she discovers at the end of the episode, she has enough in her life to be happy. Even though she isn’t at the picture-perfect place in her life, life will always be chaotic, and people have to learn to leave their expectations and plans behind and just live life to the fullest with what they have.

Mindy’s least favorite birthday present of the night – Microwave Cooking for One

Gender Representation Within Children’s Television Annotated Bibliography

Boboltz, Sara. “TV Still Perpetuates A Whole Mess of Gender Stereotypes.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 September 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/tvgender stereotypes-boxed-in-report-2017_us_59b814cce4b02da0e13cac47.

        This source offers basic insight on the ways in which women’s activities are portrayed on television. By analyzing over 4000 characters across a wide, diverse range of television shows, the author discovered that women are still disproportionately overrepresented in personal roles, such as being wives or mothers. Thus, male characters are left to fill the work-oriented roles. One counterpoint the author addressed is within “The Handmaid’s Tale”, where women’s lack of workplace jobs is hyperbolically used to emphasize the lack of women’s rights. However, she argued that this representation, even when the aim is to ridicule the current treatment of women, is still perpetuating and reinforcing gender roles. Furthermore, the author attributed the high frequency of stereotypically gendered jobs on television to the lack of women working on these shows behind the scenes. When women are employed in the creative teams behind the shows, the representation of women increases to equal the actual proportion of women in the US. This source offers insightful, albeit superficial, analysis on women’s jobs on television shows. The source only focuses on television as a whole, and thus misses the potential discrepancies across networks or genres. This source is beneficial for its confirmation of the suspicion that television shows generally rely on harmful gender stereotypes when creating characters.

 

Durkin, Kevin, and Bradley Nugent. “Kindergarten Children’s Gender-Role Expectations for Television Actors.” Sex Roles, vol. 38, no. 5, 1998, pp. 387-402. ProQuest http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/225373743?accountid=11107.

        This research confirms that kindergarten aged children are already aware of gender stereotyping and can guess the gender of a television character based on the type of activity being performed. The children answered with strong correlations to traditional stereotypes for both male and female activities and as they age, their responses align more strongly towards stereotypical gender roles. This study found that both young boys and girls found their gender roles to be rigid. This demonstrates that from an early age, children are aware of social expectations and internalize them, which then affects how they view their own competence within the world. As for where these expectations stem from, the authors argue that television is a strong contributor as children watch such a high amount of television that it forms a portion of their own reality. However, there are weakness associated with this data: this only covered a special case for the children and may not be reflective of their general viewing attitudes. Given the source’s focus on how children’s gender expectations affect their television viewing and the high-quality composition of the source, it offers helpful insight on how children can be socially conditioned by television.

 

Faniyi, Oluwakemi. “Gender Roles in Children’s Television.” The Odyssey Online, 28 August 2017,www.theodysseyonline.com/gender-roles-in-childrens-television.

This source argues that due to the high amount of time children spending watching television, especially during their formative brain development years, television grooms children to align themselves with specific gender roles. Through constant reinforcement, children learn to accept gender stereotypes are they are portrayed in the media, specifically television. This creates many adverse effects for children; lack of gender representation may give children the idea that female stories are not important, furthermore, stereotypical gender representation can affect opinions about occupations or interpersonal relationships. Although this source specifically focuses on the skewed representation of gender in the media and the adverse effects on children, the analysis in terms of the effect on children is weak. It contends that children are negatively affected by these gender roles on television, but it never explicitly clarifies what these expectations are. However, it offers apt analysis that explains how children are affected by gender stereotypes in the world around them, including television.

 

Jennifer, Aubrey, and Kristen Harrison. (2004). “The Gender-Role Content of Children’s Favorite Television Programs and its Links to their Gender-Related Perceptions.” Media Psychology, 6(2), 111-146. http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/230043335?accountid=11107.

This study discovered that in 1st and 2nd grader’s favorite television shows, male lead characters far outnumber female leads and female characters were far more likely to exhibit stereotypical characteristics (defined here as “attractive” and “frail”). This creates a circular problem with representation, as girls see more male characters, so they choose male characters as role models, but boys do not see female characters, thus they are unable to pick female role models. This encourages network executives to continue making shows with primarily male leads as they are more popular. From the analysis based on cartoons, it was most common for programs to create gender-neutral or gender counter-stereotypical programing, this includes having male characters more likely to cry or follow orders. Although female characters conformed to gender stereotypes based on appearance, their general actions and plot importance was about equivalent to the male characters. This source offers insightful analysis that specifically focuses on gender stereotyping in children’s television through multiple approaches. However, there are still limitations with the data itself, as it only analyzed six television shows, from two networks, so the sample was not representative of all television watched by children. The analysis is invaluable because of its multiple approaches to the problem of gender representation – emotional attitudes, numerical representation and appearance, which will be useful lenses for future analysis.

 

Johnson, Fern, and Karren Young. (2002). “Gendered Voices in Children’s Television Advertising.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19(4), 461-480. http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/220423928?accountid=11107.

This source argues that children’s advertisements are geared to the gender stereotype that they envelop – “boy” toys are accompanied with an aggressive male voice, and the voiceover for “girl” toys is a sing-song female voice. These voices are clearly caricatures to adults, but to children they can be directly interpreted, leading to a rigid understanding of gender roles. Furthermore, when the language used in these ads is analyzed, the verbs utilized with young girl audiences are associated with emotions, and the verbs for boys are linked to destruction and action. In particular, the portrayal of the genders is different within the television ads – girls are seen in bright colors and in groups, engaging in trivial activities like gossip; the boys are in black and white, and are generally doing something active. These television commercials continue to rely on polarizing gender stereotypes because they have been effective in selling products and allow an acclimation to the gendered world of adult products. This research gives strong evidence for the total immersion of children into gender roles, as commercials, generally thought of as background entertainment, are enlisting the same stereotypes present within regular programming. This source offers apt analysis about how language, images, and voices are used to promote gender stereotypes. Even though commercials is not a primary focus for this research, it still offers high quality, well-thought out criteria and analysis for where gender stereotypes can be identified in the media.

 

Witt, Susan. (2000). “The Influence of Television on Children’s Gender Role Socialization.” Childhood Education, 76(5), 322-324. http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/210380519?accountid=11107.

Television is one of the strongest social influences that children experience, and they mirror the behavior and expectations that are portrayed on television. Perceptions and biases are established over time through constant reinforcement, so if children only see women nurses on television, this can become a steadfast, stereotypical belief in the minds of children. When children see males portrayed as decisive and assertive, and females portrayed as passive or subordinate, children begin to believe these are appropriate behaviors for the genders. This is especially problematic when television does not mirror the real world; an unequal workforce, an intense emphasis on relationships for women, and a majority of young, attractive women, establishes expectations that are not reflective of real life. This article is a great example of the power of television in regard to children’s socialization and alignment with gender stereotypes. It is important to understand the implications of what children watch and how that creates a worldview which will eventually lead to biases and prejudices.

The Mindy Project’s Complicated Conversation about Gender

On the surface, The Mindy Project seems progressive (for television at least). The main character is a bold, unapologetic, minority women working as a doctor in NYC. Mindy is constantly underestimated and undervalued, but time and time again it is shown that she is critical to the success of her practice. In the eighth episode, “Two to One”, her other partners use their male majority to box her out of decisions until the final moment when she swoops in and saves the day from their misguidance. Mindy allows herself to have a high level of agency, even if her choices are not always respected by the other characters. There is no question that the show centers around Mindy, and it is certainly refreshing to see a female main character with so much power.

The show also leans into the idea of a romantic comedy being empowering for women. Mindy is active in her search for love, but she understands what she wants, and is unwilling to settle or compromise. Though she may desire a partner, she certainly doesn’t need one to have a fulfilling life. For the first part of the show, she is single, and is insanely successful within her job and personal life.

As the show is based mainly at a workplace, there is an interesting conversation to be had about stereotypically gendered jobs. Mindy is the sole female partner at her practice, working with three other male doctors. The nurse in the practice is male, which is refreshing for a job that is considered “pink collar” and is traditionally performed by a woman. However, some jobs are assigned to their conventional genders: the two secretaries are female, there is a stay at home mother, and a lawyer and a finance worker are both male. I’ve found that there is a relatively even split between the male and female characters, in both screen and speaking time.

However, the show lacks connections to gender in other areas. There is a distinct deficiency in the representation of LGBTQIA+, disabled, or mentally ill characters. All the named characters are straight, cis and abled, which leaves no room for gender intersect or interact with these areas. Furthermore, only the upper class is represented, with lavish NYC apartments, degrees from Harvard and Colombia, and no qualms about spending money. Gwen, Mindy’s best friend, is an excellent stay at home mom, who has a degree from Princeton and is married to a rich man. An interesting conversation is eliminated as Gwen never had to grapple with the debate that rattles parents: choosing between staying at home or having an extra income.

I truly commend the show for placing a minority women doctor at the helm. But, the show still makes tradeoffs: the lack of intersectionality within the show (apart from Mindy’s race) and humor that occasionally stems from blatantly sexist or offensive jokes. The show doesn’t handle gender representation perfectly, but it can still contribute to breaking stereotypes and increasing diversity within television.

Mindy explaining that a woman working and having a family are not mutually exclusive.

The Abridged Katie Chronicles

Hi – I’m Katie Roberts, a first year Biomedical Engineering student. I’m currently planning on graduating in 2022, but check back in 4 years to see if that actually happens.

My experience thus far with English classes has been typical – I read a lot, I annotated a lot, I analyzed a lot, and I mastered the formulaic 5-paragraph essay. I truly love reading and my Goodreads history will prove it. English 1102 – Television and Feminism will be my first GT English experience and my first class focused around a central theme where everything is interconnected. I really enjoy written communication, partly because its what I’ve practiced the most, but also because it allows me to reflect and then revisit my arguments. However, even though it is my favorite form of communication, I believe I can still become better at it – especially with more creative pieces. I really hope to strengthen my oral communication, as I dread speaking in front of crowds. I’ve made a lot of progress from when just commenting in class turned my face red and caused my entire body to shake, but I need to improve my ability to convey my arguments clearly through words.

I’ve watched TV my entire life – from the Disney Channel as a child to my current frequent Netflix binges. My TV habits encompass a wide variety of shows – from Madam Secretary to Parks and Recreation to Below Deck. Unpopular opinion: I love spoilers. I cannot watch an episode without stalking the wiki page or reading reviews online. This prevents me from watching shows live because I must know what happens before I watch it. I haven’t watched shows on a physical TV for over 4 years; I watch everything through my laptop. Furthermore, I definitely consider myself a feminist and try my best to stay well versed in everything surrounding that topic. My introduction to feminism stems from a gender studies unit two years ago: it opened my viewpoint to intersectionality and the important aspects of feminism that I had never considered before because I had never experienced them.

I have chosen to review The Mindy Project. It’s been in my personal queue for a long time and I’m excited to finally watch it. This show focuses on a New York based OB-GYN and her struggles within her practice and personal life. I’ll admit my primary motivation for choosing this show is because I’m thoroughly obsessed with The Office, and I’m hoping this show’s writing will fill my sassy humor quota. Also, based on my love of Greys and Scrubs, I evidently have a fascination with medical shows. To sum up: Mindy Kaling + medicine + comedy = strong contention for a new favorite show!

A picture of me at my first time visiting Georgia Tech’s campus

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