English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Nikhil Reddy

What is Titus’s Relevance in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?

When I first embarked on my journey to complete the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, one character stood out to me from the pilot episode. Kimmy’s roommate Titus has been a prominent character since the beginning of the show, but I quickly found myself questioning his worth. He frustrated me by proving that he would act as nothing but an obstacle for Kimmy to overcome. Time and time again I was wondering whether Titus was about to have a revelation and change from his greedy ways, but he continued to exploit Kimmy just because she was too nieve to realize. Examples of this include when he robbed Kimmy blind of her money, citing random home reparations or when he lied to her about the true cost of the rent. It became obvious to me that he was just stealing her money and taking advantage of her situation. This became even more apparent after he fails to feel sympathy for Kimmy after she is robbed, rather he is more concerned about his own money situation.

It was not until the midpoint of the first season that I began to understand Titus’s true relevance to the show. He acts as the difficult roommate to showcase Kimmy’s generous heart and ability to love anyone regardless of past actions. Whether this is a vulnerability or a powerful trait that Kimmy possesses is up to the viewer to decide. Not only is Titus a minority because of his male gender, but he is also a minority because of his color and sexuality. Kimmy has no problem seeing past Titus’s image as a struggling, but aspiring Broadway performer and even reaches out to Titus in acts of kindness that are unwarranted. She convinces him to sell his robot costume so that he can buy clothes to audition for more Broadway musicals and convinces him to pursue his dreams. Kimmy’s devoted interest in Titus’s happiness and success even though Titus did nothing but exploit her, shows Kimmy’s true nature to the audience and helps develop her character. Titus’s contribution to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is simply portraying Kimmy Schmidt’s character to the audience in the best light possible.

Titus Burgess helps portray Kimmy in her best light to the audience

Gender Portrayal in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The gender spread in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is fairly uneven. Although there are significant male characters in the show, only a few of them are recurring. Out of these few male characters, many of them are clearly depicted as antagonists and are pit directly against the show’s protagonist, Kimmy Schmidt. They are portrayed as obstacles for her to overcome as she adapts to New York City life. Agency in the show is almost always granted to Kimmy or sometimes to Mrs. Voorhees. Kimmy and Mrs. Voorhees are usually making significant choices that change the course of the plot and male characters are simply seen as reacting to these choices. A few exceptions are made. One example is when Mrs. Voorhees’s husband canceled his visit home for the party she was setting up and Kimmy’s work went to waste as a result.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt focuses on Kimmy’s adaptation to city life in the modern world after being separated from it her whole adult life. However, it is not merely adaptation to modern living that the show focuses on. Kimmy being a female in the show is essential to the commentary that the writers wish to provide. As a female, Kimmy is portrayed as more vulnerable and easy to take advantage of, which often happens throughout the first season. The show tries to make a statement that a strong, independent woman has a lot to offer and can make the most of her situation given the right mindset. This is the mindset that the show instills in Kimmy and is a large part of the reason that the show is female-centered. The most prominent male character in the show is Kimmy’s roommate who happens to be gay.  Class-wise, the show puts two of the most prominent characters on opposite ends of the wealth spectrum and lets one mentor the other on how she made it. However, Kimmy doesn’t feel the same urge as Mrs. Voorhees did to marry a rich, older man to attain success, rather she carves her own path to success throughout the courses of the show.

Given the show’s feminist lens, the gender spread among the show’s recurring characters is unsurprising

Kimmy Learns to Put the Past in the Past!

When exploring themes present in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it can be difficult deciding where to start. I chose the third episode because I feel like it conveys a theme that is relatable and essential to myself and a lot of my peers. This episode makes an argument for leaving the past behind and branching out to experience more. The episode opens with Titus being awakened by Kimmy in a delusional state because she is having flashbacks of her days in the bunker. Titus suggests that Kimmy should go on a date to get her mind on a boy and off of her tragic past, but Kimmy insists she is nowhere near ready to go on a date. However, Kimmy is once again pressured into going on a date by Mrs. Voorhees who claims to have been in Kimmy’s position once, single in Manhattan. The show makes the argument that it is positive to branch out and have new experiences through flashbacks into Mrs. Voorhees’s life. It becomes revealed that she grew up as a Native American to a family that had little, but now she lives in a penthouse in Manhattan. Mrs. Voorhees’s success serves as the main argument for Kimmy to pursue a date that is set up for her.

The theme of leaving the past behind and branching out is most evident in this episode because of the multiple arguments presented through Kimmy and Mrs. Voorhees, but is also evident in the show as a whole. The whole show is about a young woman who had most of her life experiences robbed from her and faces the decision of whether to remain in that state or make the most of her newfound opportunities. A good indicator of this theme is the naming of the episodes. Each one is named after a new experience that Kimmy has. These include getting a job, going on a date, and graduating high school. I think this theme is culturally relevant to a lot of people like myself. College signifies newfound independence and with it comes opportunities that people should open up to trying. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt does a great job highlighting this lesson.

Her date didn’t go as planned; he was old as rocks!



The Visuals Behind Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I decided to analyze the second episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to study the show’s cinematography and direction. The show utilizes a diverse array of takes to enhance the scenes’ ability to convey different moods to the audience. For example, if the scene depicts a bonding moment between Kimmy and Titus or a motivational talk given by Kimmy to Titus, there tend to be fewer cuts and smoother transitions between takes. However, when conflict arises in the scene, the transitions are jarring and the takes are much shorter. This can be noticed in the scene where Kimmy reattempts grounding Xanthippe. The camera quickly cuts back and forth between Xan and Kimmy as Xan tries to verbally attack Kimmy and Kimmy fights back by threatening to expose Xan as a fraud to her friends. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt uses the combination of long takes and short cuts to sharpen the contrast between different moods.

Another interesting aspect of the show’s visuals is the lighting  The lighting is always bright in the show, regardless of the setting. Even in Kimmy’s underground loft which she shares with Titus, it is always well lit. I feel that this is in large part to convey Kimmy’s positivity towards any situation. Her personality is always cheerful even when her situation does not reflect this. This can also be noticed in the brightness of her clothes and lipstick. In Kimmy’s confrontation with Xan, Xan tears Kimmay apart for her light up Skechers. This colorful color scheme is also seen when Kimmy throws the birthday party Mrs. Voorhees calls for. Mrs. Voorhees complains that the party color scheme will not match her dress, but the color scheme is predictable as the entire show follows this color scheme. Lighting and color scheme play a major role in the show’s portrayal of Kimmy’s character and that is especially evident in this episode. The party Mrs. Voorhees requested was Kimmy’s outlet to express her personality to the family. It is no secret that Kimmy is not self-conscious, rather she embraces her vibrancy.

Kimmy Schmidt’s colorful clothing choice, a common outfit of hers

Annotated Bibliography for Analysis of Gender Representation in Late Night Television

Glascock, Jack. “Gender, Race, and Aggression in Newer TV Networks’ Primetime Programming.” Communication Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 1, 2003, pp. 90-100. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/216480842?accountid=11107.

This source determines the portrayal of minority characters on television shows over time. Jack Glascock compares the older networks to some of the newer networks and analyzes whether or not the portrayal of these minorities is changing at all. In particular, he focuses on the portrayal of black characters as opposed to white characters. He notices that black characters are often portrayed as more violent and aggressive because this appeals to younger viewers. He also notices the discrepancy between major male leads and major females leads. Stating that females are usually dressed more provocatively because it engages the viewers. This source is useful because it provides us with a framework to begin analyzing gender representation in television. It shows not only the major networks’ use of stereotyping but how their use of stereotyping has either decreased or increased over time. This is a good starting point because we get an idea of how strong the bias in television is currently.

Anderson, Jacqueline S., and Sharmila P. Ferris. “Gender Stereotyping and the Jersey Shore: A Content Analysis.” Kome, vol. 4, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1-19. ProQuesthttp://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/2089252706?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.17646/KOME.2016.11.

This source delves deep into gender representation in television popular among younger viewers. Jersey Shore holds a prominent place in pop culture with millions of viewers at its peak. It is no secret that reality television shows aren’t always reality and that most of the time they are scripted. Jacqueline Anderson and Sharmila Ferris analyze the representation of the female characters in Jersey Shore and notice the portrayal of females as seductive figures who play little role in the plot other than to engage the audience through drama they create. They compare the behavior of the females on the show to the males and provide evidence of the discrepancy. This source is useful for studying gender representation in television because it ensures that we cover all facets of television. Reality television can easily be overlooked since it is believed to be “reality” so there are no biases, but this is not true because most reality shows have loose scripts and are pushed in one direction or another by the network. We cannot be narrowminded by only analyzing fictional shows.

Bingham, Dennis. “”before She was a Virgin . . .”: Doris Day and the Decline of Female Film Comedy in the 1950s and 1960s.” Cinema Journal, vol. 45, no. 3, 2006, pp. 3-31. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/222247026?accountid=11107.

This source details the golden age of comedy for females, a time when females were more popular than males in lead comedy roles. Dennis Bingham details the rise of Doris Day, one of the biggest female film comedy stars of all time and analyzes her rise and fall. This source does not only focus on Doris Day however, Bingham broadens the scope of his research to see where females have stood in the comedy film scene since then and analyzes the statistics on males and females in lead comedy roles and compares the number of men and women landing these roles since the days of Doris Day. Although this source may not seem useful because it centers around film than television, it is important for us to look at this source to understand the trends in females and males playing leading roles in television and film over time. This is similar to the trend that can be analyzed in Glascock’s paper over biases and stereotypes in television over time, except this one is specific to gender representation.

Falk, Erika. “Stereotypes as the Basis for Humor in Saturday Night Live Parodies of Hillary Clinton.” Media Report to Women, vol. 45, no. 2, 2017, pp. 12-15. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1906364913?accountid=11107.

This source details Saturday Night Live’s writing of comedy skits involving the election. The election is a huge source of content for most late-night television shows and Saturday Night Live is no different in this regard. Erika Falk specifically analyzes the skits written by Saturday Night Live that are intended to serve as parodies of Hillary Clinton. She notices these skits are full of stereotypes and that these stereotypes are the humor that is appealing to younger audiences.  In the case of Hillary Clinton, a lot of the stereotypes are gender stereotypes simply because it is uncommon for a woman to run for office. This source is extremely essential to our research because we have chosen Saturday Night Live to base our research on. Saturday Night Live is one of the longest running shows on television and also one of the most influential. However, it has often been criticized for its lack of female cast and writers. For this reason, this source provides us with a crucial analysis of gender stereotyping by Saturday Night Live writers and creates a framework for the rest of our research.

Wilstein, Matt. “‘Saturday Night Live’ Mocks Trump’s Creepy Comments about Daughter Ivanka.” The Daily Beast, Apr 03, 2016. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest com.prx.library.gatech.edu/docview/1786621027?accountid=11107.

This source shines a new light on Saturday Night Live’s representation of gender on its show, but once again not through the crew of cast and writers, but through the commentary, they provided on the election. The election being a huge source of Saturday Night Live’s content, Matt Wilstein notices the writers’ unison in defending Heidi Cruz over Donald Trump’s sexist remarks. Donald Trump made several remarks over “punishing” females over abortions and Heidi Cruz took offense to this. In return, Donald Trump attacked her in a Twitter rant and Wilstein remarks on Trump’s behavior as clearly sexist. Wilstein also remarks on Donald Trump’s creepy tweets over his daughter Ivanka as he constantly calls her beautiful and according to Wilstein, objectifies her. This source is important because it helps us to understand the position that Saturday Night Live takes on the oppression and degradation of females by powerful male figures. Saturday Night Live’s willingness to criticize and bring these comments to the spotlight help us understand the character of the television show when doing further research.

Fallon, Kevin. “‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Ladies Steal the show from Host Chris Pratt.” The Daily Beast, Sep 28, 2014. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1649028174?accountid=11107.

This source analyzes changes in the show’s cast after season 39. Season 39 came with a massive reboot in terms of cast and Saturday Night Live seemed to respond to the common criticism over the predominantly male cast by bringing in Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, and Taran Killam. Kevin Fallon states that the females played a major role in the new season’s opener and were a hit among audiences, praising them for various skits with guest host Chris Pratt. This source is essential because our research largely focuses on the criticism of Saturday Night Live’s lack of female cast and writers. Just like Matt Wilstein and Erika Falk, Kevin Fallon addresses some of the proactive methods that Saturday Night Live has been taking to combat this criticism. Although he praises the females for their performances and insists that it was a hit among the audience, he does note that the skits still focused heavily on gender stereotyping for humor which is important to take into account when studying gender representation on the late-night television show. The females were once again portrayed in a more provocative sense and were often playing certain roles simply for seductive purposes to gain appeal from the audience.

Let’s Take a Look at the Writing Behind Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!

I decided for my first blog post delving into the television sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I would focus on the writing of the show. More specifically, I will focus on the writing of the pilot episode. The pilot episode is written by Robert Carlock, a writer for several NBC comedies and Tina Fey, a household name who is known for her work on Saturday Night Live. The writing still is not entirely unique in comparison to other shows that I watch often; however, there are some aspects that are worth noting.

First, the prevalence of comedy in this show is unmistakable. The comedy skits are everywhere. The first scene of the show which displays Kimmy with her fellow cult members would be expected to be a serious introduction to the show, but this is not the case. In about thirty seconds, the situation turns into a comedy skit where apocalyptic cults are torn apart by humor that takes advantage of all cult stereotypes. I even found the name of their supposed leader to be quite humorous, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. This comedy skit approach is a predictable one, taking into account the writers of the show. Tina Fey’s rise to fame is credited to her ability to write humorous skits for Saturday Night Live. Her talent for writing skits is clearly incorporated into Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Aside from the heavy use of comedy, the rest of the writing is pretty standard. There is no use of a voiceover which surprised me due to the fact that a lot of newer sitcoms choose to incorporate this. A major portion of the universe which the show takes place in is fabricated. There are many references to Kimmy’s fabricated background in the pilot. Kimmy’s cult, the cult leader’s name, and even her hometown: Durnsville, Indiana, are all fictional. Personally, I believe Robert Carlock and Tina Fey were the perfect choices to write this show. I can’t imagine how this show would have turned out if half the comedy skits were removed. The subject matter of the show is too outlandish to keep viewers hooked without the comedy. Nevertheless, Robert Carlock and Tina Fey are killing it and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

The opening scene where Kimmy Schmidt and fellow cult members await rescue

Reddy for Television!

Hello, my name is Nikhil Reddy and I am from Suwanee, Georgia about forty minutes away from Georgia Tech. I am currently a Business Administration major and intend to graduate in 2022. I have taken an English course every year since Kindergarten,  but most recently I have taken English Language and English Literature. I was never a huge fan of English classes, mostly because of how predictable they were. We would be directed to read a book and write essays weekly, analyzing the text. That being said, I couldn’t be more excited for English 1102 at Georgia Tech! The unorthodox manner in which this class will be conducted is what I have been looking for in an English class this whole time.

The component of communication I enjoy the most is written. This is because I have had plenty of practice in written communication. Aside from essays assigned in class, I have been mastering the skill of written communication almost every day in one form or another, whether it be texting, writing notes in my phone, or working on a project for school. Another reason I love written communication is that I have time to think and can ensure what is written is exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. The element of communication I struggle with the most is electronic communication, simply because I have shied away from using graphic design or video editing software in the past and have instead opted for a simple posterboard. However, as I stated in my common first-week video, I am looking to challenge myself this semester by taking advantage of electronic resources and gaining proficiency in this form of communication.

When I learned that the theme for this course was television, I was thrilled! Television is how I choose to spend most, if not all of my free time. I own Netflix, HBO, and Hulu subscriptions. Some shows I am a fan of include Lost, Breaking Bad, and Stranger Things. Recently, I have also started to enjoy some HBO shows such as Entourage, Ballers, and Silicon Valley. I chose to review Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a show about a woman who was rescued from a cult and chooses to move to New York City to learn about the world that she has missed out on her whole life. I chose this show for my blog entries because I recently watched a TED talk on what it is like to be a member of a cult and have become fascinated with cult life. Watching Kimmy Schmidt adapt to New York City culture should prove to be entertaining. I cannot wait to begin!

Kimmy Schmidt as a member of a cult

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