New Girl's New Man
Fox’s New Girl could never have avoided the question of gender. The very title isolates gender issues by framing protagonist Jessica Day within the male-dominated apartment she joins. The sexual politics of New Girl are mostly wrapped up in Zooey Deschanel’s character. My friend Mike, for example, has written about Jess as a postfeminist figure here, and the show creator herself has more than once addressed the gender politics of the Nick-and-Jess coupledom. I’d like to acknowledge that the “adorkable” appeal of Deschanel’s character positions her strangely between feminist and postfeminist positions, but, for the purpose of considering the visual appeal of the show, I’m more drawn to the way the show represents the masculinity of lovable douchebag, Schmit.
Most of Schmidt’s best and worst qualities are verbal, not visual. For example, entire reels of one-liners, like this one and this one show off the snappy writing of New Girl’s staff. Still, the character’s arch depends heavily on the transition between the days when he was obese and the fit version we see weekly.
Schmidt's story begins like this:
Image Credit: E!online
So, Schmidt’s role becomes something of a dramatized before-and-after shot. Most of these flashbacks are meant to assure us that while Nick and Schmidt’s friendship was founded during this time period, Schmidt himself was desperately unhappy. His smiles are generally self-deprecating, or at the very least unaware that others are mocking him.
After having lost a whole bunch of weight, Schmidt looks more like the fit and handsome Max Greenfield:
Image Credit: Us Weekly
On the show, though, Schmidt’s body is still the site of spectacle. He’s the character we’re most likely to see in a costume, and his body has started to function like a paper doll for the writers’ various getups:
Image Credit: UnderScoopFire
Image Credit: Entertainment Weekly
Image Credit: Hollywood.com
What strikes me is that this outlandish behavior is so often associated with Schmidt’s trying-too-hard enthusiasm for his new body. In other words, thinness has corrupted him into the cartoon we (I, at least) love to laugh at. So, this brings up interesting questions for masculinity. Are we viewers in for a more nuanced and sensitive treatment of male body image issues? Also, how does “metrosexuality” get figured in visual terms?
I’m interested in the way the show positions Schmidt’s morality. Nick describes him as a sweet boy in college, yelling, “What happened to you?…You didn’t used to be like this, Schmidt!” when Schmidt insists on wearing this kimono:
Image Credit: Lifehack
The costume, then, dramatizes Schmidt’s deteriorated morality and his self-image. Similarly, the Douchebag Jar hints that Schmidt lost weight and sensitivity at the same time. This, too, is a sort of strange system of morality. Does the Douchebag jar make us think that his casually racist-misogynist-classist behavior is acceptable, because he can afford the “toll”? Or is this behavior excused by the show (and by Jess, the show’s moral compass) because of his previously-fat past? In a cultural backdrop all too aware of fat shaming, body image issues, and materialism, how are we meant to deal with Schmidt’s transition? We don’t quite love to hate him, since most fans find him endearing. Still, we can’t deny that the lines he spouts to earn himself more Douchebag Jar deposits have more than earned some censure. "I just found a Groupon for hypnosis lessons!” he says to Jess. "Think about what you could do with that...sex stuff!” (s01e10). Or, upon Winston’s failure at a trivia night: "Don't worry about it, man, it's your public school education - you'll catch up!” (s01e17). The show suggests that a fat Schmidt would never say such terrible things. What is it about thinness that has corrupted him? How are we meant to view Schmidt’s excessive performance of masculinity?
I have no answer to this kind of question, so I’ll just leave this here:
Image Credit: Walk in Beauty
"Your caveman ideas about manhood are so over. Manhood today is about exfoliation, cheese courses, emotional honesty, and Paxil. And yes, cutting peppers in teh classic style de Julienne. You may have bested me in a competition of pre-Clinton manhood, but I am Schmidt, a refined and enlightened pescatarian, 90% of the time." (s02e08).