July 7, 2012

Assumptions about Communication

For this week's assignment, we were asked to record a television program that we do not normally view. I chose the ABC sitcom "Suburgatory." I have to admit, this is not usually even a network I watch for primetime television. When I watched the first 15 minutes with sound-off, I became annoyed with the facial expressions of one of the rich girls in the school and community. At that point, I stopped it and played it again with the sound on. I made several wrong assumptions in the first viewing.

The characters relationships with the sound off were hard to judge and I assumed that the main characters were boyfriend and girlfriend living together in suburbs.
During breakfast, the daughter looks worried. She runs outside to see panic  among the members of this community. I noticed this by the worried looks on the neighbors and victims faces. The next assumption I made was when the main male character meets a male acquaintance for lunch, his wife was also joining them. In the next scene, the show cuts to a school cafeteria, high school or college aged students attend. It is clear there is a "popular" girl who gets up to speak to the student body. I couldn't tell what it was about because her expressions showed no emotion whatsoever. In the next scene, the father/daughter are having dinner when the "popular girl" and her mother show up at the father and daughter's house. Without sound, I assumed the mother in this relationship was leaving her husband and needed a place to stay. The girl and her mother start moving their things into the space where the father/daughter duo keep their belongings. It was clear that both the father and his daughter were annoyed with this by the expressions on their faces as well as gestures. This is where I stopped watching to turn on the sound.

Once I turned on the sound, I realized the following:
The duo at breakfast is a father (George) and daughter, Tessa  (this explains the lack of communication between the two of them at breakfast, as teens and their parents generally don't get along in the teenage years). In the lunch scene, I realized that all 3 adults present were only acquaintances. The woman that appeared that sat with George and his friend explained that she was concerned for her safety due to the break-in that occurred in the community and her husband went out of town. Once in the school cafeteria scene, I assumed correctly about Dallas (the popular, rich girl) but had no idea she was accusing Tessa of stealing the expensive dolls that were taken in the break-in. That to me stood out as a microagression of classism because Tessa came to the suburbs from New York City. In the next scene, where the Dallas and her mother Dalia show up at George & Tessa's, the two make the home theirs. They are shown moving their belongings into George and Tessa's rooms. This makes both characters feel uneasy. Dalia explains that she just wants somewhere to stay so she can feel safe while her husband is out of town. Tessa is very upset that these two women have barged into her home and has to follow Dalia's rules.

I think had I known the background of the characters better, I would have been less judgmental just based on what I saw in the first viewing. Once you follow a show for a while, you understand the characters' mannerisms, body language, gestures, and speech. I definitely could have done better in my first viewing if I knew even the plot and background of the show. It's interesting to see how the spoken word can make gestures, mannerisms, and facial expressions mean something different.


  1. Clara, too found myself confident in knowing what was actually being said because of the facial expressions. I was able to pinpoint two of them, but that third attempt left me completely out in left field. I was not even close with the third attempt. I enjoyed this assignment and like doing it.

  2. Hi Clara,

    Participating in this activity for this blog, reminds of high school how individuals would assume that the other person is talking about someone all because of the facial expressions and body language. I have since learned that people's body language and facial expressions can be misleading.