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Tortoise Tuesday: How Netflix’s Bridgerton Highlights the Importance of Conventions

As I relax and enjoy the remaining days of winter break, I have admittedly fallen into the trap of binge-watching Netflix shows. I’ve watched The Queen’s Gambit, New Girl, The Great British Baking Show, and Derry Girls, but one has stood out from the rest — Bridgerton. The show can be described as an early-19th century version of Gossip Girl that follows the lives of the eight children of the elite Bridgerton family. An anonymous writer under the pseudonym “Lady Whistledown” releases pamphlets divulging the gossip of London’s high society during the social season and reports the highs and lows of its many balls, promenades, and afternoon teas.

As someone who has taken on the pandemic uniform of sweatpants, slippers, and unwashed hair, Bridgerton is the perfect escapist show. The beautiful, sparkling gowns and carefully constructed hairstyles remind me of the fun of dressing up for social events and meeting new people. The show’s 19th century setting is particularly entertaining and convincing because of its adherence to 19th century social conventions (as far as I’m aware of them).

            From the costumes to the dialogue to the social rules that control the lives of the characters, these conventions provide some structure and consistency to the show. For example, the young women in the show carry “dance cards” to the balls, which their potential partners must write their names on to secure a dance that night. The suitors come to the women’s homes, bringing flowers and gifts to express their interest. The whole process of proposals, engagements, and weddings also follow 19th century customs and are organized by the couples’ parents. These customs, while antiquated and often sexist, create opportunities for drama — who is dancing with whom, what gifts do the suitors bring and whom are they visiting, how and when are the weddings arranged? In this way, the conventions in Bridgerton are the template upon which the excitement of the show builds. They might not be the most obviously important part of Bridgerton, but the conventions of the social season guide the events of the characters’ lives.

            Similarly, the conventions of a paper play an important role in guiding the writer, although they might not seem as vital as thesis, evidence, or analysis. Just as the different social events, customary language, clothing, and backdrops in Bridgerton must be historically accurate, the sections of a paper, the tone and voice, the formatting, and citation style must follow the discipline-specific conventions. A history paper that used APA citations or a scientific article without a detailed methods section would stick out like a scene in Bridgerton in which the costumes suddenly became skinny jeans and tank tops or the characters decided to meet each other on dating apps instead of in ballrooms. The conventions of a certain field might seem tedious or unnecessary, but a well-crafted paper and a well-crafted period piece must both be consistent in their customs.

            The next time you find yourself cursing the process of checking citations, confirming that you’re using the correct voice, or redoing your paper’s format, try thinking of yourself as the director of a period piece like Bridgerton, where the details make a difference. Ultimately, adherence to proper conventions make your paper consistent and ensure that all the important information gets to your reader.

— Annabelle Duval ’23