Media, Technology, and Education
Freaks and GeeksStorytelling

Crowd Sourcing the Analysis of Character Gestures

I haven’t had a chance to work on my Freaks and Geeks project for a couple of weeks because of the pre-semester festivities on campus. But today my writing colleagues and I are back, each working on our projects. I found it relatively easy to jump back into the writing because I had left off at a pretty good place.


I’m working on the chapter about verisimilitude, which I’ve written about before. I’m currently writing about the authenticity of the characters that the writers and cast created. I’m using a framework developed by David Bordwell in his book The Classical Hollywood Cinema. In that book, Bordwell takes a formalist perspective and says that characters are constituted by 5 things: embodiment, dialog, gestures, recurrent motifs, and traits. I’m easily able to identify 4 of the 5 elements of character creation in the show. For example, the fact that John Francis Daley was a prepubescent, very little boy during the filming of the one season of the show is a huge element to the character development of Sam. Daley’s embodiment of the character helps us understand Sam as a character and actually drives some of the narrative of the season forward.

The element that I’m struggling with, however, is gesture. There are lots of places in the show where an actor uses a gesture to communicate. For example, Kim slaps Daniel across the face repeatedly in the episode “Kim Kelly is My Friend” because she sees him flirting with her friend, Karen. I think it’s pretty clear what she was trying to communicate with that gesture.

But are there gestures that any of the actors repeat over and over to demonstrate some aspect of their character? For example, Rebecca Pearson in her excellent article “Kings of Infinite Space: Cult Television Characters and Narrative Possibilities” describes Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation as using a downward motion of his hand every time he says “Engage.” This gesture partially defines his character. I can’t think of any such gestures being used over and over by the characters in F&G. So I’m crowd-sourcing this. Can you think of any? Please comment!

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I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.

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