New Girl Tackles Materialism and Promotes Censorship
While materialism is an idea that has been part of our society since we adopted capitalism as our system of economics, in terms of popular culture, it has slowly been spoon-fed to our society over the last few years, so much so that we don’t even realize that it is happening.
This became evident to me after watching Fox’s television series New Girl. I found the amount of materialism displayed in the show to be enlightening because it pointed to specific materialistic behaviors. This materialism is especially seen through a character like Schmidt, who is quite literally ruled by his material possessions and material thoughts, to the point that he can’t function without them.
The way materialism is portrayed in the series seems to hint that there should be a certain level of negativity attached to it, a negativity that everyone appears to overlook. The series seems to be doing this by showing the ways in which other characters view the idea of materialism and how they choose to either try to rid the world of it or how they instead, try to censor it. What is even more appealing is how certain friendships appear to perpetuate or discourage the idea of materialism. It is obvious that New Girl promotes the ideology of both materialism and censorship through the actions and ideas of Schmidt and his friendships as particularly evidenced in the episode “The Story of the 50.”
The premise of “The Story of the 50” revolves around Schmidt’s 29th birthday. After the disappointment of losing his ideal party bus, Schmidt abandons all hope of having a successful and memorable birthday bash. In attempts to raise his spirits, Jess tries to convince Nick and Winston that they should throw Schmidt a birthday party. Both Nick and Winston try to warn Jess that throwing Schmidt a party would be a bad idea, especially because of his high standards and his ill-mannered friends, who they would ultimately have to deal with. However, Jess ignores their warnings and throws Schmidt a surprise party, complete with a tricked-out school bus, half a pot cookie, and a sketchy male stripper. Many awkward and uncomfortable situations arise during the mobile party, making the night extremely hilarious and the episode rather interesting.
To begin with, this episode presents an ideology of materialism through the use of materialistic language and objects. The whole point of this episode is to throw Schmidt a birthday party. Although the overarching concept of having a party doesn’t strictly apply to materialistic people, Schmidt’s whole point of having a party for his birthday really to impress other people with unnecessary, flashy things, such as a party bus with a “state of the art sound system, a stripper pole, a love grotto, and a steering wheel in the shape of a boob” (Meriwether & Kasdan, 2012). None of these things are truly essential for a birthday party, where the purpose generally is to just have fun in the company of others.
In Schmidt’s case, he feels that in order to have what he considers a “good time,” he must have all of these showy material objects. This idea introduces the ideology of materialism right off the bat, for the scene in which this ideal party bus is discussed takes place within the first three minutes of the episode.
After Schmidt can’t get his ideal party bus, his behavior and the things that he says represent a materialistic frame of mind. When Jess asks him if he is alright, he responds by saying that he is not okay because “[he] had to cancel [his] birthday party” and that “it’s social suicide”; he also mentions that because he can’t get his party bus, he can “feel [his] ‘it’ factor going away” (Meriwether & Kasdan, 2012). This behavior is seemingly irrational, especially for someone who is turning twenty-nine years old.
The fact that he uses a heavy term like ‘social suicide’ shows how materialistic he is. He feels that because he can’t have a grandiose birthday bash, he might as well kiss his elite social status goodbye. He depends heavily on non-essential material objects and truly believes that without the presence of these objects, no one will like him and his life will have no meaning.
Later in this episode, Schmidt talks about his friend Benjamin, who is perhaps the most materialistic character in the show, even though he rarely makes an appearance. Benjamin’s character is another way in which this episode presents the ideology of materialism. Being a part of the social elite, Benjamin is only impressed with flashy items, more so than Schmidt, and is unhappy with anything that isn’t high end or expensive. To him, money is no object and is merely there to fuel his affluent lifestyle.
Toward the beginning of the episode Schmidt talks about his friendship with Benjamin during their college years. In that scene, Benjamin does not fail to display materialistic behavior. He states that one day, he is going to be very rich and as proof of this, he writes Schmidt a huge check for him to cash in the future. This behavior shows that, again, money is no object to Benjamin and that in the future his social status and wealth will be so high that the check he is writing will have no significant impact on him.
This idea of money and its relationship to materialism doesn’t solely relate to Benjamin, but to Schmidt as well. Schmidt has no problem spending copious amounts of money to maintain his social standing and to impress those around him. Schmidt obviously has no problem spending large amounts of money on things like a party bus if it will benefit his social status and make people like him. He uses his money to buy fancy clothes and accessories, which is yet another way that the ideology of materialism is made evident in this episode. In each episode, Schmidt is always impeccably dressed, even if he is just hanging out around his apartment. However, in this episode, Schmidt talks about specific clothes and objects that he has, which truly paints him in a materialistic light.
In the concluding scene, viewers see Schmidt either frantically searching for his fancy clothes and accessories or just bringing them up to his roommates out of nowhere. He brings up that his personalized condoms came in the mail; the fact that he spent money on something as unnecessary as personalized condoms is one display of his materialism. He also asks his roommates if they have seen his “good Pea-coat”, his “sharkskin laptop sleeve”, his “driving moccasins”, his “croquet cleats”, and his “other timepiece” (Meriwether & Kasdan, 2012). All of these things are non-essential, material objects. Viewers can detect his dependency on these items all by the hint of either franticness or frustration in his voice. This attachment shows his materialism because he believes that these objects are essential for everyday living when they certainly are not.
At the same time, this idea of censorship directed towards materialism is seen through the relationship and actions of Schmidt’s friendships with his roommates. His three roommates, Nick, Jess, and Winston, provide a sort of censorship to Schmidt’s material behavior and actions. Throughout the series, and especially in this episode, his friends are highly critical of his behavior. When Schmidt gets upset about not being able to get his ideal party bus, Winston suggests that he just get another one as opposed to sympathizing with him on any level. Nick suggests that Schmidt just have his party at a bar instead, which doesn’t make Schmidt very happy. In suggesting other alternatives that are not necessarily showy or flamboyant, Nick and Winston are essentially promoting the idea that having a party with flashy objects isn’t important and that having a good time should be the focus.
When Jess sympathizes with Schmidt and suggests to Nick and Winston that they should throw a party for him, the guys dislike the idea and start to criticize the behavior of Schmidt and his friends, whom they refer to as “d-bags.” They both criticize, for example, the costly and outlandish parties that Schmidt and his friends attend. Nick and Winston are basically voicing the fact that they dislike those who “live in a different world”—i.e. the world of the materialistic; they don’t understand the importance of throwing needless, expensive, and ridiculous themed parties called “Bros before Hoes on the Moon” or parties that require dress codes like “yacht flair” (Meriwether & Kasdan, 2012).
Jess, in a way, also presents a form of censorship when she creates a party bus of her own using a borrowed school bus. Jess’ party bus isn’t equipped with materialistic objects like a state of the art sound system, but rather it is put together in a homemade and craft-like sort of way. Whereas Schmidt’s party bus would have included features like a mini bar, strobe lights, a legitimate stripper pole, fancy seats, expensive liquor, and an extravagant sound system, Jess’ party bus is equipped with string lights, craft store lanterns, school bus seats with cloth draped over them, ‘bro juice’ in a portable Gatorade cooler, standard bus speakers, and a makeshift stripper pole. Jess’ party bus is really suggesting that a party bus with flashy additions isn’t essential to having a great time and that people can replace materialistic objects with simple ones and like them just as much.
The most evident form of censorship in this episode is the ‘douchebag jar’. Whenever one of the roommates is behaving badly, they must put money into the ‘douchebag jar’. While the jar is not limited to one person, Schmidt is the roommate who seems to add the most money to it.
Whenever Schmidt talks about his material possessions or displays materialistic behavior, his roommates immediately tell him to put money in the ‘douchebag jar’. In doing so, they are almost punishing him for acting in materialistic ways. The presence of the jar in this episode specifically hints at the negativity of materialism and a need for censorship of materialistic behavior.
Wrapping it all Up
Both of the ideas presented in this episode are important and have something to teach readers. The ideology of materialism shows readers that although materialism has become such a common idea in our society, it is not an idea that should continue to be perpetuated. The ideology of censorship is important because it essentially shows that there is a need to limit displays of materialism that people see every single day.
Materialism is more prominent now than it has ever been before; unfortunately the idea of materialism has become more normal and widely accepted in our society today, but there are those who are trying to discreetly discourage materialism.
I feel that New Girl is effective in indirectly making a statement about materialism. Because the show attracts a younger audience as opposed to a more adult audience, I feel that the idea that materialism is negative and that there is a need to censor it will leave an impression on younger generations and hopefully spark them to make materialism less of a norm in our society today.
*quotes in the show cited from: Meriwether, E (Writer) & Kasdan, J. (Director). (January 17, 2012). The Story of the 50 [New Girl]. In E. Meriwether (Producer). Los Angeles, California: Fox.
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