Viewing fifteen minutes of an episode of Weeds while trying to interpret nonverbal cues seemed simple. After all, I’m familiar with the characters and the storyline—what could I possibly miss? It turns out that while I was right some of the time, I was wrong others, and on more than one occasion, I even failed to take a character’s traits into account when making decisions regarding the nonverbal cues I observed. The good news is that my roommate saw the same things I did, so I don’t feel as bad.
I watched in silence as the white housewife and her African-American partner in drug crime entered a music studio. The African-American man slammed a baggie of weed in front of a man at the mixing console—he too was African-American. The two men exchanged handshakes and hugs—the cool “man” kind, and both eyed the white woman who had been placed in the background and was slightly out of camera focus. (Almost as an after thought, she sat on the edge of another mixing console, intentionally looking away from the men.)
The males talked between themselves, but they made regular shoulder hitches, head nods, and eye motions toward the woman. It seemed obvious they were talking less about the marijuana as a product and more about the potential “products” the woman might offer (“MILF Money”). (While watching, I made a note that the participation by the white woman’s partner was annoyingly out of character, and turned him into a person that he’s never before been on the show. In all other circumstances, he’s been respectful and protective of the white woman.
) Once the two men had had their “bonding” time, the mixer moved over to the white woman. He made contact with his eyes first: beginning at her waist and working his way up her body; as he did so, his head nodded slowly as if in appreciation, and when he finally met her eyes, he crossed his arms and smiled—approvingly it seemed. It was only then he spoke. The audience sees the woman only after the mixer has met her eyes, and the look on her face is part smile, part knowing—as if to say that she deals with men like this all the time.
It doesn’t seem that their conversation will be productive unless the mixing guy focuses on the one product that is for sale: the weed, but the woman does say something to the mixer with a broad smile on her face and a nod. Maybe her business will come before her pride, after all. As the camera angles change, the audience sees that the mixer half-leaned half-sat on the console next to the woman, but once the woman finished her first statement to the mixer, she stood, leaving the mixer sitting (“MILF Money”).
This same scenes with the sound on revealed that only one of the two African-American men was focused on what the white woman had to offer beyond the marijuana. The mixer says to the woman’s business partner, “Hey, man. . . you bring me a tall, creamy present? ” (“MILF Money”). During this, the mixer’s shoulder hitches, head nods, and eye contact turn out to be what they initially appeared: attempts to assess and attract the woman. The same is not the case with the partner who responds to the mixer’s comment with, “Dude, cream puff got two kids, and a new husband, and I brought you something better.
Check this out” (“MILF Money”). The African-American partner’s gestures are punctuating the unavailability of the white woman which is not at all as it appeared while watching this exchange silently. The non-verbal body language clues that I had initially attributed to the partner’s agreeing with the mixer were actually attempts to dissuade him from pursuing the woman. This was indeed in-character. The initial conversation between the mixer and the white woman went like this: “Excuse me. My Name is Vernon, and I’m a Scorpio. ” “Lacy. Me too. ”
[Mixer lets out a triumphant ‘uh-huh’ type of laugh as he crosses his arms and sits on the console next to the white woman]. “I’d like to get you high. ” [This is the comment made by the white woman as she smiles broadly and nods at the mixer. ] “All right. ” “Because Conrad and I have come up with a new strain, and we’re really proud of it” (“MILF Money”). At this point, the woman stands up, and the shift in power seems concluded: she is now in control, and the mixer is simply sitting and listening. She has literally taken herself off of the table.
It was intriguing spending time “guessing” what was going on in the show while watching it soundlessly. Most shocking for me was the fact that while I have followed the series since its beginning, and I know the dynamics that exist between the main characters, I was still wrong about several of the interactions I saw. Having done this, it now makes far more sense that even people who know one another can misinterpret a look or a gesture—even when the interpretation runs contrary to what is known about the individual.
“MILF Money. ” Weeds. SHOWTIME. SHOw. 02 Oct. 2006.