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Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Gina and the Middle School Mentality

Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Gina Linetti has a middle-school approach to life. From her passion for dance to her fixation on gossip and drama, Gina resists what many would consider to be adulthood. But just when it might seem tempting to write her off as an immature, head-in-the-clouds slacker, Gina will surprise her colleagues with profound wisdom, an ingenious solution only she could devise, or the reveal that she’s been their secret puppet-master all along. So what if all of life really is just like middle school, and Gina’s the only one who’s switched on enough to see it? Here’s our Take on how Gina Linetti’s middle school mentality is her superpower, and what we can learn from regressing into her mindset.

TRANSCRIPT

Brooklyn 99’s Gina Linetti has a middle-school approach to life. She’s a queen of social media. Her main passion — and the basis of her entire self-image — is what most adults would call a hobby: dance. The kind of adult stresses that torture her colleagues pass her by, while social hierarchies and interpersonal drama cut straight to her core. And when she interacts with actual middle-school kids, she immediately grasps and invests in their problems.

But just when it might seem tempting to write her off as an immature, head-in-the-clouds slacker, Gina will surprise her colleagues with a moment of profound wisdom, an ingenious solution only she could devise, or the reveal that she’s been their secret puppet master all along. So this overgrown adolescent’s hidden talents lead us to ask: What if all of life really is just like middle school, and Gina’s the only one who’s switched on enough to see it?

Here’s our take on how Gina Linetti’s middle-school mentality is her superpower, and what we can learn from regressing into her mindset.

The Middle-School Adult

Pre-teens on the cusp of adolescence are typically testing boundaries, easily distracted, and more interested in social dynamics and extra-curricular activities than structured academic pursuits. Gina Linetti is the embodiment of this middle-school mentality. Her main interests are social media

and celebrity culture — she takes comfort in Oprah’s Legends Ball and sending out prayers to Beyonce, Rihanna, and Cardi B. The only authority she truly respects are psychics.

Gina Linetti: “Psychologists are just people who weren’t smart enough to be psychics.” - Brooklyn 99 1x11

And she’s obsessed with dance — not as a serious professional pursuit, but as a lens through which to understand the world.

Unlike Rosa, who was a classically trained ballerina in her youth, Gina doesn’t treat dance as a discipline

to be developed with hard work; she views it as a natural grace and state of being that’s been bestowed upon her by a higher force.

What most epitomizes Gina’s middle-school phase, though, is the value she places on social currency. The importance of popularity is at its peak during middle school.

Gina achieves her social currency in three main ways: through influence, mystery, and adaptability. While Gina’s job as the precinct’s civilian administrator would seem to put her low on the professional totem pole, she exercises an influence over the team that far exceeds her official rank. She understands that gaining authority over the boss, Captain Holt, heightens her standing within the 99. And Gina frequently gets his ear and becomes his advisor thanks to her confidence and unique situational insights — even acting as an unconventional teacher to him. With other colleagues, Gina asserts her status through a caustic tongue and withering put-downs. In Yiannis Gabriel’s paper, “An Introduction to the Social Psychology of Insults in Organizations,” he talks about how insults can help establish a pecking order within an organization. Most of all, she understands that projecting confidence is key to maintaining a dominant position of influence.

The second way Gina establishes her social currency is through mystery —Gina places such value on cultivating mystique that she even names her baby “Enigma.” Research shows that lying peaks in the early teen years as young people strive for autonomy. And when it comes to the story of Gina’s life (or the many lives of Gina Linetti), we never quite know which of the larger-than-life threads we hear to believe.

Was she really engaged eight times? Does she truly know the Papa John? The colorful mythology of Gina reminds us of the many legends the students in Mean Girls buy into about their queen bee, Regina George (who, though in high school, also utilizes many of these middle-school social tools to rule).

The third way that Gina gains social currency is through adaptability. Gina is a highly adept social butterfly, adjusting to fit the hierarchy of whatever room she enters. When Rosa can’t engage with the intellectuals at Captain Holt’s party, she brings in Gina, whose eccentricities immediately attract the fascination of these academics.

Party Guest: “Complete overlap of ego and id. It’s been theorized, but I never thought I’d see it.” - Brooklyn 99 1x16

When she leaves the 99, this middle-school genius for social currency pays off even more concretely in the world-at-large. Her talents for exercising influence, creating a cult of oneself, and transforming oneself to fit the audience turn Gina into a bonafide social media mogul, with millions of fans in her G-Hive.

Getting People

A major upside to Gina’s obsession with social currency is that it enables her to read people. She’s kind of a social genius. There is a common misconception that people become more perceptive as they get older, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In 2017, Ohio State University found that while adults were better at remembering information they were told to focus on, the kids picked up on a wider array of information. This apparent lack of focus may be what leads Gina’s colleagues to underestimate her, but it’s also a weapon she wields to great effect. It’s like Gina sees life through a wide-angle lens.

Gina sees environments like her workplace as collections of people responding to each other’s moods, temperaments, and goals. And this is exactly what all professional, social and familial situations are —

yet it’s striking how few people manage to keep this perspective in mind. Gina can instantly diagnose what’s going on beneath the surface, thanks to her powerful emotional intelligence.

The fact that Gina is so perceptive reveals the world around her is a lot more like middle-school than we like to acknowledge. Take a look at her co-workers: all of their essences can be understood through familiar youth types. You’ve got Amy Santiago, the straight-A student desperate for approval, Jake Peralta, the cool kid whose actual life is a mess, Rosa Diaz, the bully with a heart of gold, and Boyle, the weird, overly sensitive kid — all of whom circle around the adults in the room: the stern, disciplined Captain Holt and the kind, encouraging, “proud mama Hen” Sergeant Jeffords. Gina gets this and uses it to act as a kind of effortless puppetmaster. Gina shows how honestly stripping people down to their psychological cores allows you to thrive in social spheres. She’s revealed to have been the driver of elaborate plots all along, like a secret mastermind who’s always a few steps ahead.

But despite her cold-hearted, “mean girl” front, Gina frequently uses her powers of social intelligence for good, showing that she’s a genuine people person who cares for others. She knows exactly what to say

to get people out of bad moods, can figure out what’s bothering them, and comes up with the most thoughtful gifts. When her colleagues are in trouble and nothing else is working, she swoops in and solves their problems.

The Perils of the Middle School Mentality

It’s not all plain sailing for Gina, though. Middle school is a particularly challenging time, and there are plenty of moments when Gina acts exactly like the negative cliché of how you’d expect a middle-schooler to act.

Gina Linetti: “How was I supposed to know there’d be consequences for my actions?” - Brooklyn 99 4x7

There is very little in her life that she takes seriously. She’s selfish. She goofs off. She’s directionless, bordering on nihilistic. And for all that she’s perceptive, intuitive, and socially skilled, she can also be stuck, defensive, and unsure how to harness her full potential to be the success she knows she can be.

Gina has the classic middle-schooler’s insecurity and hypersensitivity to others’ opinions. Her swaggering bravado can mask something of an inferiority complex. She can’t stand the idea of blows to her status, which is why she hates herself for getting involved with Charles, whom she sees as a clear social inferior. Gina’s intense shame over this fling is way out of proportion to the situation, as no one else in the 99 even really sees the hierarchy that’s so important in her mind. Likewise, she places too much importance on protecting her reputation.

Gina Linetti: “Nobody can ever know that we had sex, alright? I have spent years cultivating a reputation as someone who sleeps with bike messengers or better.” - Brooklyn 99 2x1

Instead of seeking help when she’s struggling, she hides any weakness or vulnerability that she fears could make her appear as less than a superwoman.

Her habitual lying and her clear narcissism are tendencies which often compensate for low self-esteem, feelings of inferiority, or lack of confidence in who you truly are. Preston Ni writes in Psychology Today that, “Since, deep down, [narcissists] don’t believe their real selves are worthy scheming and manipulation are resorted to in order to succeed.” It’s typical of teens to rapidly change interests and behaviors like they’re trying personalities on for size. And sometimes it feels like Gina’s still window-shopping for her identity. She may be bold and brash, but this shape-shifter would also rather create exciting stories around herself than risk exposing her full, authentic self.

Crucially, becoming a mother is a key turning point that helps Gina graduate from some of these adolescent hang-ups. The new Gina learns to open up and share her real-life struggles. She takes work more seriously, helping her colleagues on cases, match-making for Rosa, and coaching Captain Holt in his bid to become police commissioner. She starts thinking about long-term decisions and considering her future. And when she leaves the 99, she blossoms into the extremely successful, in-demand professional queen she was born to be.

The thing about the middle-school mentality is that much of it shouldn’t end with middle school. Middle school was designed as a bridge. It’s a window of time when personal growth, spiritual development, and social interactions are paramount, before those periods when the long-term, concrete concerns of young adulthood start to dominate. Where depictions of high school may focus on relationships, puberty, or the increasingly adult stresses of adolescence, and those of earlier childhood may focus on world-building, early friendships, or chaotic play, middle school on-screen is often more existential — a window into characters’ interior lives. The middle schooler isn’t focused on achievement, but development. They’re not thinking about the long-term future, but about their essential identity — who they’re trying to be now and what their philosophy of life is.

Gina Linetti gets that these priorities — focusing on the now, being yourself, and understanding the social organism — don’t have to disappear just because you get older. And she proves that this mentality can help you win in a lot of very adult endeavors. Gina’s doing pretty well for herself — and she clearly feels very satisfied with her life (and herself). So it makes perfect sense that Gina should be the first main character to leave the precinct. This exceptional individual who exists on her own plane knows she has to spread her wings and find a bigger world for herself.

SOURCES

Arnold, Rory. “Children Pick Up on Things That Adults Don’t Catch.” Earth.com, 11 Apr. 2017.

https://www.earth.com/news/children-notice-adults-dont/

Ni, Preston. “8 Common Narcissist Lies.” Psychology Today, 14 Aug. 2016.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/communication-success/201608/8-common-narcissist-lies