Religion is ubiquitous in society, yet remains one of the most sensitive topics of discussion. We are careful not to offend our peers with our personal bias and shy away from deeply theological conflicts. The desire for equal representation without political incorrectness is difficult to achieve in public discourse and is reflected in sitcoms.
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The presence of Christianity is strong and rarely features negative stereotyping. Judaism and Hinduism, however, are often over stereotyped and portrayed through one-dimensional characters whose most prominent characteristic is their religion. On New Girl, Schmidt often jokes about his Jewish heritage and its cultural implications. His experience at a bar mitzvah on the search for the perfect Jewish girlfriend is rampant with appropriated humor about overly involved parents, Sunday School services, and incorrectly pronounced Hebrew words. Sadly, Schmidt is also the voice of many offensive jokes about Cece’s Indian roots and Hindu practice. He redeems himself by trying to respect her religion and create a perfect balance of Jewish-Hindu tradition in their wedding, but the preceding seasons of poorly planned one-liners inhibit New Girl’s ability to represent religion fairly.
South Park is arguably one of the most controversial sitcoms regarding religious representation. The show has satirized Scientology, Mormonism, Catholicism, and more relentlessly. Each episode criticizes the chosen religion through parody and the over dramatization of traditions. South Park has received extreme criticism for its alleged misrepresentations, but continues to create exploitive content.
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Some shows attempt to create a space in which different religions exist peacefully without being a character’s leading quality. On Friends, Ross and Monica are Jewish, a fact that is rarely addressed and is part of their characterization instead of their only characterization. Ross tries to teach Ben about Hanukkah to help him learn his Jewish roots. Jerry Seinfeld and the majority of his comrades are Jewish and gather to celebrate different holidays and practice culturally Jewish traditions. This representation is rare, but does help the audience gain insight to unfamiliar religions in a unique setting. The growth of equal representation is imperative in reflecting society and helping broaden cultural perspectives.