Friday, February 28, 2014

Stereotypes in Suburgatory

Picture this; living in a perfect little town with prim and prep type homes, perfectly manicured lawns with white fences, and overly friendly neighbors smiling at every turn with teeth that match those perfectly white fences. Your surrounded by Ken and Barbie doll type looking people who only hang out at the country club, only spend time fake tanning, shopping or getting some type of plastic surgery done. This is what it is like to live in the suburbs. Or at least that is how it is portrayed on ABC’s comedy series Suburgatory. From the characters to the sets and props used, the show Suburgatory does not accurately portray how people live or act in the suburbs; there are many stereotypes present about the people and the “rich” Barbie type world they live in.
The pilot episode, originally aired September 28 in 2011, opens the floodgates for the stereotypical views being placed on the show. Tessa, played by Jane Levy, and George Altman, played by Jeremy Sisto, are both from the city and are the opposite of the typical suburbanites that are seen on this show. The episode starts with Tessa, the main character, talking about the moms in the suburbs as you see gorgeous tanned blonde women with their iced coffees and pink outfits on the screen. There is a scene at the country club, where everyone is a member of, and all the moms are laying out by the pool texting in their perfect bikini bodies while the men play golf, drink by the bar or swim in the pool. Also we see some scenes in the school where Tessa’s classmates are the mean girl snobs that have fake hair and wear 6-inch heels to class. Not to mention the show points out that there is only one multicultural student who is African American, making it seem like everyone in the suburbs is white. The show takes place in a suburb in New York called Chatswin. George Altman and his daughter Tessa make the move to this model like town in order to keep Tessa out of trouble. George found a box of condoms in her room and believes that living in the city has led her to hang out with the wrong crowd. So he moves her to the classy, safe and boring suburb to keep her out of trouble. In the pilot, Tessa says, “It’s pretty ironic that a box full of rubbers, landed me in a town full of plastics.”  (September 28, 2011). Tessa is referring to the “fake” dolled up people living in this stepford like town. The pilot episode really sets the tone for the rest of the show. I am from the suburbs and can ensure you that these things are not the case in real life. Big chested blondes or manicured lawns and perfect families do not surround me. 
            The perfect examples of character’s being stereotyped on this show are the characters of Dallas, played by Cheryl Hines, and Dalia Royce, played by Carly Chaikin, and also Malik, played by Maestro Harrell. Dallas is Dalia’s mom and these two are the perfect stereotypes for a suburban mother and daughter. They live in a lavished mansion that is decked out with everything imaginable; Dalia has separate closets for her clothes, shoes, hair stuff and even her makeup. Dallas is a beautiful woman with big boobs, sparkling white teeth and bleach blonde hair. She is the typical stay at home housewife that doesn’t work, or more importantly she is a trophy wife. Dallas wears very girly, tight fitting dresses and always accessorizes with nice expensive jewelry and designer heels. She always has her hair and makeup done as well as her hands and toes perfectly manicured. Dallas’s character is supposed to portray that all moms in the suburb are this trophy wife type character and all they do is spend their husband’s money on material things. Coming from the suburbs, I know most of my friends have extremely hard working moms who are able to support themselves and do not focus too much on the material things. They work, while also taking care of their husbands and kids, and they do not have enough time to make sure their looks are on point at all hours in the day.  Now Dalia, Dallas’s daughter, is supposed to be the superficial dumb blonde who is obsessed with gossip, texting, shopping or sugar free products. She is super tan, and wears so much makeup that she has trouble blinking. She is friends with another group of blonde popular girls who refer to themselves as “the KKK”, Kenzie, Kaitlin and Kimantha. Her character portrays the stereotype of the rich “white” teens that live in the suburbs that just blow their daddy’s money and strive to be the popular mean girl in their high school. In my high school, almost everyone wore sweats to school and would throw their hair up on top of their head. No one wore heals and mini skirts and plastered on their makeup. We definitely had more than just tan blondes that were in attendance too. These characters of Dalia and Dallas are an exaggerated portrayal on the types of people that live in the suburbs. The next character that’s portrayed in a stereotypical manner is Malik. He happens to be the only multicultural student that attends the high school in Chatswin. He is African American and goes to school with rich white people. Although Malik is African American he has more mannerisms of his white peers, he dresses and talks the same way as his classmates. This is another stereotype that the suburbs are only filled with the rich upper class white families. My suburb and many others are very diverse and many different ethnicities live there.
            The different sets and props that are seen in the show Suburgatory really coincide with the stereotypes of a rich suburb type town. All the characters have a good amount of money and are really centered on being materialistic. The houses are extremely big and well decorated on the inside, they all have white picket fences, and they all have perfect lawns and gardens that are full of fresh flowers. Along with the big houses in the neighborhood, there is the town’s country club that seems to play an important role on the show. If anyone in Chatswin is not a part of the country club they are shunned from the other community members. The country club is super fancy, and the characters are always seen dining in the five star restaurants, and being waited on by staff that is seen as lower class. Referring back to the pilot episode, George tells Tessa that he has to go get lunch at the country club, and she rolls her eyes and laughs at how ridiculous he sounds saying that. Along with the nice houses, all the characters in Chatswin drive super nice cars, and only wear designer clothes and jewelry. All the suburbs I’ve been to are all very different when it comes to the houses and cars, some of them are super nice, while others are more run down and shack like. A lot of suburbs do have country clubs, but they are not as important or centered around, than the one that is in Chatswin. This show really focuses on making sure that the town looks well-put together cookie-cutter like to match the stereotype of the “plastic” characters that live in it.
            TV critics are finding Suburgatory smart and witty, but also believe that it is really heavy on the stereotypes. Neil Genzlinger, from the New York Times states, “As you’re wincing your way through Suburgatory, an unpalatable sitcom that has its premiere on ABC on Wednesday night, ponder the question that no studio executives apparently did: Who is the audience for this show? The series begins with a tenuous premise, uses it to leap to an inaccurate dichotomy and supports that with tired, unfunny stereotypes.”  The stereotypes are so present in this series that we as the audience are unsure if they are trying to target an audience that lives in the suburb, or is the show just blatantly making fun of them? Is the show targeting people outside of the suburbs that believe these stereotypes to be true?
            So the next time you find yourself taking a trip to the suburbs, do not expect to be surrounded by the perfect lawns and houses, or the perfect “fake” people that live there. Do not expect to only drink sugar free drinks, or only wear designer clothes. Also, plan on hanging out in normal houses that are not decorated to the tee, and know that you will not be hanging out at the country club on a daily basis, unless you find yourself in Chatswin. From the characters and even to the props and sets that are used on the show, Suburgatory does not accurately portray how people live or act in the suburbs.

Works Cited
Asay, Paul. "Suburgatory | TV Review | Plugged In." Suburgatory | TV Review | Plugged In. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Barnert, Deanna. "What Critics Are Saying about Suburgatory." Entertainment RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Lascala, Marisa. "ABC’s New TV Show “Suburgatory” Can Go to Hell for Playing Up Westchester Stereotypes, Critics Say." Poptional Reading Poptional Reading. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
"'Suburgatory' Hard to Love, or Even like /" 'Suburgatory' Hard to Love, or Even like / N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

Windlemeese, Kate. "Media Criticism 325." » Suburgatory Plost. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Although I haven't heard or seen this show before I can't help but feel pissed off about the "cookie-cutter" way of life that you described, in a good way though. I think it's interesting how you break down the various facets and stereotypes that someone would associate with the suburbs, and also being from the suburbs I can relate to the realities as well. Are there any single-parent households or divorcees on the show? That and the fact that there's only one other non-white character really does give this false sense of location, basically making it look like the typical suburb is entirely homogeneous. But I also feel like the points you make about falsely representing the suburbs plays into what we discussed in class about how most programs tend to portray the middle class as being wealthier and more affluent than in reality. Cool analysis though, it would be interesting to hear if the show decides to throw in some more diverse characters or living situations, otherwise it seems like it's just a shitty representation of suburban life.


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