Representation of Religion in Sitcoms

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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Image via Fox.

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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Image via Buzzfeed.

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.

 

Arianna Gershon

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5 Responses to Representation of Religion in Sitcoms

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with what you said here, as much as the industry has become more accepting of diversity and despite much social progress being made in the industry over the past few decades, it does seem like religion has been left out of the movement towards more accepting and progressive themes and jokes in sitcoms. I think you are definitely correct that Christianity is not the subject of jokes, cultural appropriation or marginalization very often but that many other religions are and this is not okay

    -Max Lissette

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with Max! I also absolutely think that religion is represented and misrepresented in many ways, and like another recent post on mediaphiles, religion is among the minority (as are disability misrepresentations, from the other post). Unfortunately I feel like culturally sitcoms are playing off of this: for example, 9/11, ISIS, etc. In other words, maybe sitcom creators feel like they have to appeal to the American people by recognizing their fears and catering to them. Interesting post! I hope it gets better and starts to follow more progressive television shows. – Corey

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I feel as if religion may be a little bit too touchy for mainstream television shows to explore? Maybe a streaming service could really take on these ideas, and talk about the tensions between conversation about it and silence. I really enjoyed this post. – Katie N

  4. mediaphiles says:

    South Park seems to be one of those shows whose theme is “we don’t discriminate, we hate everybody.” If you are going to pick on a certain few religions, you might as well pick on them all to make it fair, or pick on none to keep criticism at bay. Not everyone is religious, so it was bound to be a chosen topic for satirization and mockery. One of the reasons Christianity is not picked on as much in America is because our country was mostly founded on Christian ideals and thus a large portion of the population is Christian, and the media doesn’t want to offend such a large audience.

    -turner arrington

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with many of the comments above and that religion seems to be a very touchy subject on television. I feel like its a topic that can be misinterpreted by anybody since everyone has different beliefs and values. With a show like South Park, I agree with Turner in that it’s the type of show that “hates everyone,” which may be a solution to discussing a topic like religion without stepping on eggshells.

    – Ziba

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