I’ve written before that I don’t like sitcoms. Mainly because they rely on a laugh track to make unfunny things, funny, and use manipulative music to make you feel things, you’re not actually feeling. Another reason I don’t like them is because they usually get their laughs from stereotypical characters (either racially or by sexuality, or gender), and the jokes are based around these marginalized “others.”
There’s almost always a nagging wife (who’s also conventionally attractive), a domineering husband, a materialistic sister, a “nerdy” brother, a “cool” character, the comic relief (usually a person of color, an LGBTQ+ person, etc.), and the main character is usually an "every-man." He’s not that popular, but he’s still likeable. He’s good looking, but not too good looking. He makes mistakes, but learns from them, only to make the same mistake a few episodes later. There are a few shows that are the exception such as Roseanne which was about overweight people, and therefore, “more real.” And I’m not saying that sometimes sitcoms can’t have their good moments, and can’t include others equally and respectfully, but the popular ones, definitely don’t.
I want to talk about The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. At first, I didn’t want to watch this show, because as a kid, it had an all black cast, and therefore, in my naïve head, I thought it was a show only for black people. How could I relate to it? But after watching the first three seasons, I realized how well I can relate to it, and even the parts I can’t relate to, are great because it exposes so much about racism and classism in our society that we need to see. But just because it talks about class and race, doesn’t mean it’s totally free of all the other sitcom faults, some of the most prevalent being sexism and fat-phobia, and homophobia. There’s not one episode where Uncle Phil’s weight isn’t mentioned in a negative light, not one episode where Will doesn’t openly mock someone for being gay, or acts gay himself, not one episode where Aunt Viv uses sex as leverage to get what she wants. Not to mention, Will and Carlton objectifying women, and trying to make situations where a girl just “can’t say no.” Except for Ashley, they’ll kill any guy who gets close to her virginity.
So my question is this, can a show that addresses racism and classism in a deep and meaningful way, also include talks about feminism, sexuality, gender, and body positivity? Or does every sitcom need to have at least one phobia to rely on in order to be a sitcom and appeal to audiences? Can there be fights for racial equality, by also uplifting women of color? Or do battles need to be fought and won, one at a time?
21 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.