Deconstructing Comedy: Teach Me How to Understand Christmas

Full disclosure: I am a big nerd about comedy. I love watching it, I love creating it, and I love sharing it with people. Comedy can be really funny if it is only taken at face value, but my favorite kind of comedy can also be deeply funny–funny in a complex and nuanced way that addresses all kinds of things at once. It can be an incredibly effective avenue for generating discourse about the world and how we interact with it, which can make it all the funnier and more satisfying for the audience. One song on Community‘s holiday episode is a fantastic example of how comedy can make you both laugh AND think.

Hattie did a great recap of this year’s Community holiday episode, both of which incidentally cheered up my exceptionally pathetic week. I loved this whole episode, but Annie’s song really stood out to me. The brilliance of this ostensibly silly song stems from the fact that it is a lot more than just a song by a pretty girl prancing around in a sexy Santa costume. This bit does something that Community has a habit of doing really well, which is providing spot on social commentary using humor. The writers tried (and succeeded) to cover a lot of topics in less than 2 minutes. This song is a comedic onion! There are layers!

Incompetence Is So Hot Right Now
Annie Edison goes from her usual level of high intelligence to rolling around like an infant in about 60 seconds. Her inability to “understand” Christmas juxtaposed with how hot she looks in a sexy Santa costume make a clear statement about some specific ways our society objectifies women. For some reason, it is both socially acceptable and sexually desirable (YUCK) for able-minded women to act utterly incapable of doing or understanding the most basic things. Let me first preface this by saying that there is nothing inherently wrong with not being book smart. It is absolutely wrong to treat anyone badly based on their level of intelligence. And, it is just as wrong to pressure women into operating beneath our actual abilities because being “dumb” (read: incompetent and easily taken advantage of) is interpreted as a sexually attractive quality. Barney Stinson and misogynists just like him love women who are both hot and dumb. Romantic comedies and shows like The New Girl drill it into our heads that being adorably clumsy and/or unable to interact with other human beings on a very basic level are what make us cute and down-to-earth. Aside from being a silly quotable line, “Boop-e-doop-be-doop-boop-SEX” is an apt description of female representation in media; it doesn’t matter what they’re saying because it will always be about sex and the male gaze. Annie’s ineptitude and “need to be taught” represents how the stunted emotional and social growth of women are typically conveyed as traits that men are socialized to find attractive. Community does a good job of showing that women should not have to resort to “dumbing ourselves down” because we will end up selling ourselves short. We just need to be ourselves. Also, people in the real world find stuff like this very annoying.

Glee is terrible.
I think the only person who hates Glee as much as I do is Dan Harmon. And, I will relinquish my ‘Sipper of the Most Glee Haterade’ title to Dan Harmon without a fight because he can do magical things with it. Like, create Community and air this episode as a head shake of vehement disapproval nod toward the show we both hate so much. Jeff grounds the scene in reality by having a real world reaction (disgust and annoyance) to how ridiculous Annie is acting. So, why does he eventually turn into a Greendale Gleek and turn Britta to the dark side a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Beyond that obvious dig at Glee‘s inability to follow its own continuity, Annie’s song also manages to address Glee‘s hypersexualized representations of underage teen girls. Now, clearly there is nothing wrong with teenage girls in real life expressing their sexuality in whatever way they feel comfortable doing so. There is, however, a huge problem with grown adults producing a show that routinely prompts its audience to view the teenage girls on their program through a highly sexual lens. The way that a lot of shows, including and especially Glee, portray its teenage girls discourages real teens from figuring out how to express themselves on their own terms. They are instead encouraged to emulate women in their mid 20’s and early 30’s who are playing teenage girls. These scripted Glee experiences are more often than not an entirely unrealistic representation of what it is actually like to be a teen, and thus present a warped interpretation of teenage behavior that many teens, myself included once upon a time, are led to believe is normal and necessary. Drilling sexual images of pseudo-teenage girls into our heads also perpetuates the fetishizing of girls who are too young to legally consent. Which brings us to the next layer of oniony comedy goodness:

Talk Baby to Me
The entertainment industry tends to throw women a lot of mixed signals about how we are supposed to look and behave. The one cohesive message that is really driven home for us is that we need to be attractive. But, in what way? They want us to look young, but act like sexually mature adults. They want us to be just smart enough to have a conversation but not smart enough to be threatening. Teach Me How to Understand Christmas plays with this idea by forcing us to re-evaluate the distinction between what is supposed to be sexy and what is actually just creepy. Because in reality, the line between the two is not too clear. We all know that Annie looks super hot in the Santa suit, but when she quickly degenerates into a baby-talking puffball with boobs, we have to ask ourselves why and when we started and stopped finding this Santa Baby bit attractive at all. How is the distinction made between grown women in sexy school girl outfits and just underage girls who go to school? How far are infantilized women in lollipops and pigtails from the real thing? Thanks to Community, you can now deconstruct all these internal questions you never even knew you had!

How did you feel about this song and episode of Community? Do you like your comedy with built in social commentary as much as I do?

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laurensmash

Writer, feminist, pop culture addict, and unabashed nerd living in Southern California. I'm enthusiastic about the Internet, and I enjoy smashing things.

2 thoughts on “Deconstructing Comedy: Teach Me How to Understand Christmas”

  1. There is, however, a huge problem with grown adults producing a show that routinely prompts its audience to view the teenage girls on their program through a highly sexual lens. The way that a lot of shows, including and especially Glee, portray its teenage girls discourages real teens from figuring out how to express themselves on their own terms. They are instead encouraged to emulate women in their mid 20′s and early 30′s who are playing teenage girls. These scripted Glee experiences are more often than not an entirely unrealistic representation of what it is actually like to be a teen, and thus present a warped interpretation of teenage behavior that many teens, myself included once upon a time, are led to believe is normal and necessary. Drilling sexual images of pseudo-teenage girls into our heads also perpetuates the fetishizing of girls who are too young to legally consent.

    This was so well put I almost cried.

    I wrote a paper for my media literacy on the gender roles taught in toy commercials and I got really into how “toys for girls” make everything about looks/physical appearance and how that plays into the Male Gaze. This is just like taking all of that further, an addendum to the permutations of the Male Gaze (it is EVERYWHERE).

    Thank you (and Dan Harmon) for this.

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