Netflix Released an Animated Sitcom
In 2017, Netflix released an animated sitcom that has aggressively walked the line of controversial topics. Big Mouth, directed by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flacket, addresses puberty in a raunchy yet comical way. The show is based off of Kroll and Goldberg’s youth and journey through h the awkward years of puberty through their own animated characters and “hormone monsters”. The show Big Mouth addresses identity and representation while looking through an intersectional lens in an incredibly vulgar, but honest and accurate way. This textual analysis will look at how the show portrays race/ethnicity, class, gender, religion, and sexuality.
Animated television shows are a large part of American society. From children’s cartoons to popular adult cartoons such as The Simpsons, media studies scholars have done a lot of research pertaining to representation of identity in animation. In 2013, a dissertation done by Hye Jin Lee of the University of Iowa was written that includes textual analyses of the content on the channel Adult Swim. Lee highlights the common patterns within adult cartoons such as the sexism and objectification of women and appropriation of queer identity. On the other hand, a quantitative study was done that focused on representation of social class in screen media.
Our writers can help you with any type of essay. For any subjectGet your price
How it works
The study published in February of 2018 specifically analyzes how characters in these shows represented class through three indicators: occupation, financial security, and material possessions. Overall, the study found that class is portrayed in a screen media in a way that sets unrealistic expectations for the realities of economic challenges for the general population of Americans, but more specifically, people of color (insert citation). These studies both compliment and contrast the representation of identity in Big Mouth as these patterns can be seen in, but are also challenged by the progressiveness of the show and the topics addressed.
Representation of race can be seen in multiple ways throughout the show. First, there is representation of an interracial marriage. Missy’s parents are the one and only representation of this yet it still falls into the stereotype of interracial marriages in media. Interracial couples are most commonly portrayed with an African-American man and white woman with an equal job and socioeconomic status (Galician, 2007, p.90). Big Mouth portrays the couple in this exact way. This portrayal can also be problematic because it falls into the stereotype of the minority giving up their culture and acting in the same way as the majority partner.
The second way that representation of race is portrayed in the show is the actual representation of characters. Of the five main characters within the show, two are minorities. Although the representation is there, the African-American character Missy, is voiced by white actress Jenny Slate. On the other hand the character that is Armenian, Jay, is voiced by Jason Mantzoukas who is also a minority. Ultimately, the production staff of the show is predominately part of the privileged majority group, which reflects in the lack of representation and puts the show at risk for misrepresentation.
Similar to the study previously addressed, the representation of class within the show is typical in the sense that all of the characters are well off financially. This plays into the unrealistic expectations that are built through screen media. Media does not often discuss class, but the portrayal of class generates unrealistic perceptions that can often influence behavior (Kendall 2008). Within the recently released second season, writers bring up class with an entire episode about Planned Parenthood.
The episode “The Planned Parenthood Show” begins by tackling the taboo of Planned Parenthood by showing how it is so much more than just abortions. The episode highlights aspects of Planned Parenthood through storytelling such as cancer screenings, contraceptive education, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion.
Producers of the show expected backlash for the episode, but according to producer Nick Kroll, the episode was meant for more educational purposes than entertainment. When interviewed Kroll states, ” I think we feel like a show about puberty?”but really about human sexuality, with a frank discussion of all of the issues around it?”to us feels very relevant and in certain ways cathartic to be able to talk through some of this stuff and express it through a comedic lens, which I think is what’s been so tricky.” (Adams 2018)
Gender identity can be approached in multiple ways. Throughout the two seasons of Big Mouth, gender identity is most prominently seen through the feminist themes. Both Jessi and Missy both identify as feminists and almost the entire second season relates back to those values. Jessi struggles with wanting to stick with these values and support her fellow females who have gone through puberty faster, but struggles with the fact that all of the males are giving the attention to other girls.
The planned parenthood episode elaborates on these values by stating that a women should have choices and make her own decisions when comes to her own body. This is stated through a “bachelorette” episode where a character chooses which method of contraception is right for her. Finally, the episode follows the story of Andrew’s mom and her experience with abortion and why it was the right choice for her life.
These feminist themes are fairly new for adult animated cartoons. Often in cartoons, the male character is the focus. Although the show does focus on the two main male characters, the female characters are just as prominent…if not more in season two. Traditionally, both genders are portrayed stereotypically within cartoons with males appearing more frequently and portraying more masculine characteristics (Thompson & Zebrinos, 1990). Big Mouth has a pretty equal representation in regards to screen time of both genders, but falls into those stereotypes of very masculine and feminine characteristics. It can also be noted that the show only represents men and women and does not represent any other gender identities.
The show’s religious representation is a significant part of the story line. Two of the five main characters identify as Jewish. The other three have alluded to being Jewish however it was not explicitly stated. The representation of the Jewish religion is another example of how the show is borderline offensive.
The show makes jokes that could be considered “dark humor” but might be offensive to some. An example of this is when Nick and Andrew walk into Jay’s house and Andrew says “This place looks like the Holocaust Museum”. Ultimately, the Jewish humor found in the show is intended for those who know more about the religion. The humor that is included is hard to catch without prior knowledge.
Representation of sexuality is the most prominent topic found in the show. The entire show is based off the struggles of puberty and sexuality. One of the first episodes of season one is called “Am I Gay?”. This episode follows the character Andrew through the exploration of his sexuality. After watching a video of Dwayne Johnson, Andrew believes he might be gay. The episode addresses the struggles of figuring out sexuality at a young age. Andrew goes through stereotypical experiences such as the fear of falling in love with his best friend and the fear of being “out-ed”.
The schools stereotypical gay character named Matthew helps Andrew along the way. His mannerisms, style, and the way he talks all fall into stereotypes and Andrew begins to act the same way and he starts to wear scarves to school. The rest of the school automatically thinks he is gay now based on him wearing a scarf. This implies that one must act, dress and talk that way in order to be gay. It also implies that a straight man cannot wear a scarf. Matthew also references queer culture in a way that a straight audience might not understand, but ultimately the show is obviously directed at a straight audience.
Overall, Big Mouth tries to simplify LGBTQ sexuality for a straight audience. The ghost of Freddie Mercury is shown as a man who only likes other men when in fact he identified as bisexual. This is catering to the straight audience by implying that there are only two options: gay or straight.
Furthermore, the “hormone monster” performs a test similar to an eye exam in order to tell if Andrew is gay or not. In the same way as Freddie Mercury, the show does not even allude to the idea that the Andrew could very well be bisexual. Although visibility is important, the misrepresentation and stereotypes portrayed in the show can be potentially harmful to minority social groups and alter how they are seen (Hilton-Morrow & Battles, 2015).
Race/ethnicity, gender, class, religion, and sexuality are all obviously portrayed in the show. It is evident how they all fit together as well. Intersectionality is not only how identities overlap, but also how forms of oppression connect and create a “Matrix of Dominance (Hill Collins & Bilge, 2016). A great example of how intersectioinality can be seen within the show is the overlapping of both class and gender identities can be seen in the Planned Parenthood episode discussed previously. Other examples include the privileges that all of the characters have by being well off financially, but the hardships that some have because of their race/ethnicity and sexual orientation.
I identify as a white, straight, female. My identity strongly comes into play when watching this show. I could relate on the struggles of puberty, high school, and overall just growing up. My privilege is also a factor in watching the show. I thoroughly enjoyed the content, humor, characters and songs, but also understand that this content was directed for an audience like me.
There were certain things that I did not pick up on such as the queer culture references and the Jewish jokes. These things were not obvious to me because I am straight and was raised Christian. I have also lived in small towns in the Midwest my whole life therefore was not surrounded by many people who were Jewish or were more familiar with Judaism, therefore was not exposed to the content that the show alluded to.
I also identify as a feminist. I could strongly relate to characters Missy and Jessi and their struggles with being a feminist, but also being insecure and jealous of others. With this being said, I took away more from the show in that regards. Men or women who don’t identify as a feminist or don’t believe in feminist values may have taken that content in a different way. Finally, I am a big supporter of Planned Parenthood. I thought the episode was great and the message was fantastic, but also know that it received a lot of backlash. Many Christians and people who are not supportive of the organization were strongly against the show after hearing about this episode or watching it themselves.
Overall, the show Big Mouth portrays race/ethnicity, class, gender, religion, and sexuality in many different ways. It addresses cultural issues, representation and identity through an intersectional lens. Although the show falls into stereotypes and is ultimately catered to a straight, white audience, it brings attention to important social issues and highlights a variety of identities. The adult cartoon industry is well known to go against the themes within this show, but Big Mouth breaks these barriers and talks about issues that many don’t address.