Content Analysis: How I Met Your Mother

*NOTE: This analysis was done as a project for my Race, Gender and the Media class this fall. It ends abruptly because I wanted to cover the topic thoroughly and didn’t have much room in four pages for a solid conclusion. 

I created an entire spreadsheet on the girls Ted Mosby has dated, including their length of relationship, # of episode appearances, hair and eye color, and profession. If you’d like this data, shoot me an email at hollycnorris@icloud.com*

HIMYMHow I Met Your Mother, one of CBS’ most popular sitcoms in recent years, ran for nearly nine years before its series finale in March 2014. Centered around die-hard romantic Ted Mosby and his four friends’ exploits in New York City, How I Met Your Mother (or HIMYM, as it’s often abbreviated) was nominated for 28 Emmy Awards during its’ run, and the finale episode had over 12.9 viewers (Hibbard).

While HIMYM is praised as being a time capsule of American culture, documenting the lifestyle, clothing and technology of the mid 2000s to early 2010s, in the same way Saved By The Bell iconized the 1980s, it’s safe to say that the show does a fairly poor job of representing the true cultural demographics of the time, especially in a city as diverse as New York. Over nine seasons, the show does show a good cross section of different races and sexualities. However, as a whole, HIMYM is fairly white washed from every aspect, and goes to extremes to stereotype characters, including the five protagonists.

Ted, our main character, is a white, middle-class, Ohio native (meant to represent the “every man”) and architect turned professor in later seasons, who is incredibly naïve and goes through a hero’s journey of sorts, spending most every episode looking for the future mother of his children while never really encountering many large-scale problems that aren’t romance related.

Ted’s best friend since college, Marshall, a lawyer, is a complete stereotype of the white Midwestern male, hailing from Minnesota with a large family (both in number and size) who all talk primarily about the Vikings. While Marshall does encounter some adversity throughout the show, it’s more due to his family and romance with Lilly than his actual identity.

Lilly, Marshall’s long time girlfriend-turned-wife is another characterization of the born-and-bred New Yorker. She is a kindergarten teacher, and is terrified of living outside of the city, having real problems when she does so in later seasons. However, Lilly is one of the only five to really branch out from her stereotype with sexually ambiguous tendencies, often making remarks about Robin, the second female in the group, along with other females as they come along. While it does add to the humor, it plays into the stereotype that Lily, like many girls who stay with their college sweetheart, long too “experiment” before settling down.

Barney, the third and final male of the Barney-how-i-met-your-mother-33067021-750-595group is the epitome of a womanizer (see – hot vs. crazy scale, right). We’re never really clear what is actual occupation is, though he works for a large financial institution in an executive position. Midway through the show, he has slept with over 200 women, most of whom were one night stands he tricked into sleeping with him using his “Playbook,” which he later discards after deciding to marry Robin. His mother was promiscuous and therefore he and his brother, who is black and gay, have two different dads.

Robin is the last to join the group, having moved to New York shortly before the show began. She is a broadcast journalist originally from Canada, and as the stereotype would hold, loves guns, cigars, maple syrup and uses lots of Canadian phrases and talks about locations the rest of the group doesn’t understand as if it’s every day jargon. In severe contrast to Lilly, Robin is the female of the group that doesn’t want to get married, doesn’t want to have kids, and in later seasons, when she finds out she can’t have kids at all, is devastated.

While none of the five primary characters were multicultural in appearance – though both Robin and Barney shared Canadian ancestry – the few characters they did bring in of other races, such as Barney’s brother, James, an African American, or Ted’s one time date, Janet, also African American, they are either incredibly accomplished, incredibly annoying, and/or never seen again. James and his Hispanic husband, Tom, are some of the only recurring characters that aren’t white or straight, in a city where, according to 2014 US census data, only 56.5% of the population reports being white (non-Lispanic/Latino). This is with the exception of Bangladeshi taxi driver Ranjit, who is often used as comedic relief and has appeared in more episodes than “The Mother.”

UntitledAside from the five primary characters and their interactions, the stories that get the most screen time tend to be those surrounding Ted’s love life. While the show is formatted around future Ted, telling the story of “how I met your mother” to his two children in the year 2030, he spares no detail in describing sexual exploits with no less than 35 women who were actually named and appeared on screen, and at least five more who were never shown/named.

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s easy to see why critics have also claimed that the show is white washed outside of the main cast. Of the 35 women Ted dated on screen, 30 of them appeared to be Caucasian, American in nationality and only one was sexually ambiguous, Rachel, having (presumably) participated in a threesome with Ted and her college friend Trudy. Trudy was the one love interest who appeared Hispanic, and the actress who portrays her is actually primarily of European descent.

And of all the love interests Ted had, only two weren’t from the U.S. One was a Canadian named Robyn, a setup by Barney to get over the real Robin, and the other was a Russian woman looking to get married so she could stay in the country – another stereotype not only sitcoms, but most shows today love to play on. Some of this could be blamed on Ted having a “type,” but it could be a casting choice as well. While the appearance of the girls in the show may not be incredibly diverse, the professions of Ted’s love interests vary widely. Of the 35 on screen romances, 15 of the women’s occupations are unknown. Of the 20 that are known, two are journalists, two are chefs, two are full-time activists and one is a marine biologist.

How I Met Your Mother has seen its fare share of criticism for not accurately depicting a racially diverse nation, and some of that criticism is completely founded. However, looking at the women Ted has dated and some of the professionals they hold, as well as the tertiary characters that round out the show’s family aspect, How I Met Your Mother does have its redeeming qualities.

ANDDDDD In case you forgot this happened:

References:

(2014). How I Met Your Mother and the ideology of sexism in the media. Media and Cultural Analysis, Spring 2014 (Blog). Retrieved from: http://www.karanovic.org/courses/mca008/archives/1073

U.S. Census Bureau. (September 30, 2015). Quickfacts beta: New York. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36000.html

Sunrider, V. (September 4, 2012). How I Met Your Mother season 8 promo spot. Filmofilia. Retrieved from: http://www.filmofilia.com/how-i-met-your-mother-season-8-promo-spot-114334/

Hibbard, J. (April 1, 2014). ‘How I Met Your Mother’ series finale sets ratings record. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from: http://www.ew.com/article/2014/04/01/how-i-met-your-mother-series-finale-sets-ratings-record

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