Narcissus Theory in Modern Sitcoms

By: Lacey Worsham

As I was reading Chapter 6 in the Sitcom Reader about the 1960s Magicoms, I found the explanation of McLuhan’s theory of the relationship between egotism and media extremely interesting. This Narcissus theory insists that because we, as humans, are intrigued and obsessed with our own reflection, that we use media to extend this reflection. As a result, media becomes a part of our senses and we do not observe it as an external intrusion, but rather as familiar ideas and beliefs. This is dangerous, because it means we do not take the time to process ideas or beliefs that could be wrong or harmful to us. We readily accept them instead of exposing racist or sexist statements or opinions for what they truly are.

I began to wonder in which shows are we doing this exact same thing today. Where are we being complacent? As I thought about the shows often discussed in class or the sitcoms I keep up withsitc.jpg, I realized viewers everywhere practice this complacency. The perpetuation of racist stereotypes appears in many shows, including Glee. The Asian character is super smart (but only wants to sing and dance of course!)  and the black character is a large girl with an even larger voice and personality. Friends and Sex in the City consist of all white casts in a bubble where they do not have to interact with anyone that looks different than they do. These stereotypes also occur in other shows pertaining to women and the way they are treated by themselves and other men. How I Met Your Mother demonstrates Barney’s continuous mistreatment of women, but because it is hilarious, we often bypass its underlying meaning. 2 Broke Girls make fun of themselves using crude sexual humor. Amy and Penny in the Big Bang Theory are one-dimensional characters: the stupid, pretty one and the smart, ugly one. Sex and the City also revolves around four girls and their relationships with men. Their careers and real lives sit far away in the backseat while they are mostly defined by who they are dating or hooking up with at the time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love almost every single one of the shows I just mentioned. But I do think it is important to realize that the shows we know and love can be sneaking into our subconscious with wrong ideas that we are not taking the time to consider or process. Therefore, instead of allowing these ideas to enter our minds and stay there, we should be careful to process what we are watching and decide
whether or not we agree with the statement or claim being made.

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12 Responses to Narcissus Theory in Modern Sitcoms

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I think the approach you stake here is a wise one for watching sitcoms, because like our reading for this week suggest, our perception is shaped by these shows. Just from the sample of shows you mentioned here, it is no wonder that our society is so sexually obsessed. It always bugged me how on Friends the characters seemingly never hung out with anyone but each other and somehow had amazing apartments in expensive New York City, although we hardly ever see the characters working.

    • mediaphiles says:

      I feel the same way Reece! Why is it that we don’t see these people in sitcoms working yet they have gorgeous apartments and houses in the suburbs? Yes, it might be boring television, but you could argue it would make the show more complex and engaging. With peoples perceptions shaped by television, displaying snippets of some sort of balance might be nice. -Katie N

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with you in being aware of how these shows can affect us. I also love almost all of the shows listed above, but it’s important for us to look at them as more than just entertainment. The comment about How I Met Your Mother really resonated with me because for whatever reason, I love Barney Stinson, even though he’s actually a pretty terrible person when you pay attention to how he not only treats women, but his friends. Great post!
    – Sarah King

    • marymdalton says:

      It is always tricky for me when I’m drawn in to “pull for” characters who offend me on multiple levels, but good writers and performers are able to do just that.

  3. mediaphiles says:

    It’s interesting because when I was in middle/high school I would watch Sex and the City and totally desire Carrie’s lifestyle (I know, middle school is early but whatever). As I go back and watch the show now, Carrie is totally insufferable. She is completely a selfish narcissist and she didn’t deserve Aidan anyways. Like the episode where she can’t afford to buy her apartment back from Aidan (because she spends all her income on shoes), so she implies that she would potentially need a loan to her friends. All of them offer except Charlotte, so she angrily confront Charlotte over it….what? Why does she think she is owed something by her friend like that? I guess because Charlotte is a millionaire who doesn’t have to work….must be nice!

    Elyse Conklin

    • mediaphiles says:

      I could not agree more. I absolutely idealized Carrie when I was younger (although looking back on it now, some of her fashion choices were pretty questionable…), however, as I look back on the show now, I see the narcissism the overpowers Carrie’s character. It is important to take a step back and think about the shows that we watch on a daily basis, and analyze how they are shaping our thoughts on gender roles, race, and stereotyping.
      – Eleanor Raether

    • marymdalton says:

      That series is entertaining but oh-so-troubling in oh-so-many ways…

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I totally agree with everything you said. I feel like we almost give these shows a pass since it’s TV and not really real life. But at the same time I wonder how boring these shows would be if they were entirely realistic. Friends would definitely not have been the show it is without all of the characters chilling in Central Perk all day long getting into shenanigans. However, I agree in that there are SO MANY facets that could be changed in these shows to reflect a more grounded reality. There could be more diversity, less stereotypes and overall less marginalizing of characters.

    -Sam Moore

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I also really enjoyed reading about the Narcissus theory in this chapter. I thought the point about Narcissus actually being interested in the water as a medium to reflect himself instead of enjoying the reflection was really interesting. I think you are spot on with your analysis, and that so many of these shows do not give us enough variety in terms of race, sexism, etc. It’s also notable that when they do try to address one of these issues, they are immediately attacked for everything they left out (such as Girls trying to promote feminism, but they are criticized for being an all-white, straight cast). I love Big Bang Theory, but the extremely one-dimensional female characters bother me. I hate the juxtaposition between Penny and Amy, but it is somehow “okay” because we are used to those kind of stereotypes.

    Arianna Gershon

  6. marymdalton says:

    Good post (really resonates) and discussion thread.

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