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Media Portrayals

Richard Bursch’s writing: Five Decades and Three Hundred Sitcoms About Class and Gender had me thinking about what we are watching on television. He brought up amazing points saying that character’s depicting working class men are shown to be dumb, irresponsible, messy, and unreliable. Those in the middle class are shown as sensible, intelligent, and mature. One great example that comes to mind is the show Yes Dear. It has two sets of parents living together because one of them can’t afford rent (the working class family) The dad of the working class family is overweight. His wife constantly has to tell him how to take care of the kids. His children outsmart him and are shown to be out of control at times. Where as the middle class family has a calm, brilliant child. The father is very smart and calm. He constantly has to give the working class dad guidance in his day to day decision making. The working class dad is represented as a failure at life, at supporting his family, and the main element highlighted in his role is how stupid he is. The middle class dad is always the calmer one, he takes care of everything whenever a crisis arises, he teaches his kids manners, and is shown as a loving husband. I was trying to come up with an example of a middle class or upper class dad who’s unintelligent and is portrayed the way this working class dad is…I couldn’t come up with an example.The difference laid out in this show is exactly how Bursch describes in his writing.
Bursch’s piece talks about how inferior statuses are represented by using negative stereotypes of minorities, women, old, and young. These stereotypes are placed into character roles. The problem with this is that viewers aren’t consciously thinking about the negative images they are watching and the ways in which it affects their views of other members of the depicted groups. Think of children and teens watching shows with such inaccurate representations. They start believing and connecting these made up characters with how the real world works. If they see a dumb blonde and a dumb black person on television, that’s what they’ll assume all blondes and all black people are like.
Bursch also talks about how television can devalue higher status characters by making them have opposite characteristics. He gives example like men acting feminine and adults acting childish. They often will use this strategy when showing a person with contradicting status positions and the lower status characteristic will overshadow the high status characteristic. This is greatly degrading to both sides of the matter. For instance, a man in real life that is very feminine will be thought of as a less status for acting that way and women are thought of as being a lesser status because if men act like them, it is devaluing to them, so they are obviously a less status.
The whole reading is extremely interesting because you can think of numerous examples in our day to day life. It’s frightening how completely bias and discriminating these shows are.
-Rachel Ward


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I enjoyed the article and your analysis. I guess I never really thought about the entertainment industry's portrayal of working class white male, but now that It has been brought to my attention, I have been noticing it more and more, partially due to the article, and also due to the fact that we no longer have cable so I am forced to find entertainment in these types of sitcoms. One show in particular I forget what it is called, but the dad has two children and a responsible wife. While this show downplays the working class male, it also lifts up the females status in the household. Showing that woman can actually have some power in the home. She is always able to handle the situations and basically straightens out her husbands mistakes. While it empowers the women, it also has certain elements that downplay other issues though. I remember one episode, I saw when the son was having relationship problems and the dad asked him what was wrong and who she was. Then he said something along the lines of "your not gay are you?" and the son replied no making the father proud. This is downplaying those of homosexual nature, and may make it harder for them to come out to their parents if they see this show, and see how his father would have reacted had his son been a homosexual.

This article was defiantly an eye opener for me. I actually saw an ad in a rec center recently, where a little girl was displayed with a quote similar to being neat is important. I related back to this article and one of the readings in the Ore book, where it talked about the different treatment of boys and girls. The stereotype of a neat girl was portrayed in the sign, and the article discussed how girls were rewarded more on their neatness than their work. So I noticed how this sign reinforced the stereotype.

I also found this article very interesting. What really caught my attention was the roles black people took on television from the 1960's to the present moment. It seems like all the shows during the earlier periods portrayed many black people as being of the inferior status. Their weren't many black characters with major roles, they had roles like the butler, milkman, and gardener. But as we progressed to today's present shows, more black people have taken on major roles and roles that portray them as belonging to a higher status. For example, shows like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Bernie Mac, and One-on-One, portray African families belonging to the middle class and above. I agree with the blog entry that the characters that shows decide to portray does have a profound impact on society. If many people watched shows in the 60s, they would have the perception that black people are inferior to others, and then watch shows today, black characters are viewed as somewhat more equal to others.

I also found that article very eye opening as Ore does a great job explaining these issues that we often look at, but do not see. These instances within mass media are quite subtle in perpetuating said stereotypes, yet they have a profound effect on their viewers conceptions of race/ethnicity/sex. Moreover, the power of mass media is grossly underestimated in its ability to shape ideas of race and class as what it means to be "working class" or what it means to be "middle class" or at least what their perception of what these categories are representative of.

I believe the show The Office does an excellent job of addressing these issues with a humorous manner and at the same time respect and empathy. The show confronts these racial/sexual stereotypes head on, with no reservations instead of disseminating them with an insidious nature. In this way, it can be addressed up front and immediately without having to cower behind a shroud of deceit and misconceptions.

I was also struck by this article. In a consumer culture it is so easy to watch "numb-ly" if you will and let yourself be entertained. Since reading this article, I have found myself analyzing sitcoms that come on TV and it has been eye-opening. What a world we live in!

Yes, i do agree with your blog also because when you think about it the media's depictions on popular television shows has gotten more blunt in depicting working class males a certain way, and that way is negative. But also saying that we as Americans do not realize that these are implications that are representations for those that do not know about certain groups of people and this is the first thing that they will see. Sad.

I enjoyed reading your analysis because you touched on so many points. One point mentioned but not focused on was the depiction of minorities in media. I feel that minorities are often viewed as the goofy, uneducated character in sitcoms and in reality TV. I feel that the route of this persona is in historical depictions of blacks, such as in minstrel shows. The sambo, the mammy, the jump jim crow and many other characters still exist to some degree. A lot of these characters are still alive in current media.