Children are also represented in television commercials in ways that socialize them to become active consumers with defined needs for various consumer products at an early age:
New York Times lesson: Annissa Hambouz and Javaid Khan, “Media Babies: Considering the Effects of Electronic Media on Infants and Toddlers”
Adolescents are also represented as members of prototypical groups—jocks, nerds, druggie, brains, underdogs, athletes, etc. Students could identify the nature of these groups in films and television programs and note the limitations of representations of these groups. For example, the trailer for the film, The Goonies, contains a number of stereotypical group representations:
Film Education unit: Representations of Youth
The elderly. At the other end of the spectrum, the elderly are often represented in equally limited ways. A study sponsored by Children Now of prime time television programs in the Fall of 2000
found that only 3% of the characters were 70 and older, and only 13% were fell between the ages of 50 and 69, in contrast to the reality that 9% of the American population is over 70 and 28% are over 50. There was also a gender bias; only 19% of women were over age 40.
In contrast, as the study found, web sites for AARP http://www.aarp.org/index.html
and for the National Council on Aging http://www.ncoa.org/ present the elderly in a very different, more positive light.
Sandy Landis conducted an analysis of media representations of the elderly in her CI5472 paper in Spring, 2002:
- In the May 21, 2002 issue of Family Circle, of the approximately 185 identifiable faces in illustrations, 15, or 8%, were conceivably over 55 years of age. Of fifteen representations, four were part of the same story, and seven, nearly half, were connected with products or services to help with the “problems” of aging: arthritis, anemia, incontinence, and wrinkles.
- Of the approximately 177 identifiable faces in the June, 2002, issue of Better Homes and Gardens, 22, or 12% were feasibly over 55. Of these 22 “old” faces, three appeared in a single movie ad, and five were advertising health products for the elderly.
- In the June 2002 issue of Good Housekeeping, of the approximately 159 identifiable faces, only ten, or 6% were likely to be over 55. Of these ten older faces, three appeared in one advertisement for an upcoming film release and four were advertising health remedies for the aged.
- In the June 4, 2002 edition of Woman’s Day, 24 of 229 identifiable faces, or 10%, were possibly over 55. Of these 24 older faces, ten appeared in a single photograph and five were advertising health products for the elderly.
Landis analyzed the representations of the elderly in film and television and found that they were highly one-dimensional in that any complexity of these characters were limited to one or two particularly makers of aging:
- “Grumpy old man.” (Grumpy Old Men, Grumpier Old Men ,The Sunshine Boys, It’s a Wonderful Life, On Golden Pond, King of the Hill, The Simpsons)
- “Feisty old woman.” (Tea with Mussolini, The Golden Girls)
- “Sickly old person.” (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Key Largo, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Big Sleep, The Sunshine Boys)
- “Mentally deficient.” (The Simpsons. On Golden Pond, The Golden Girls, The Whales of August)
- “Depressed or lonely.” (Fried Green Tomatoes, Enchanted April)
- “Having wisdom.” (Murder, She Wrote, the Miss Marple mysteries, Harold and Maude)
- “Busy body.” (Everybody Loves Raymond, Murder, She Wrote)
- “Having a second childhood.” (Cocoon, On Golden Pond, Arsenic and Old Lace)
One study by Meredith Tupper (1995) of the representation of the elderly in prime time advertising http://www.geocities.com/lightgrrrrrl/
found that advertisers avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes of the sick, weak old person stereotype, but elderly characters are still underrepresented relative to their percentages in the population, particularly elderly characters of color:
No clear cut, definitive negative stereotypes of elderly people emerged from this study; in fact, elderly characters did not appear in the anticipated commercial categories. For example, elderly characters did not appear in roles for products such as arthritis medication, denture care products, or skin wrinkle creams, nor did they appear in sick, weak, fragile, or absent-minded roles.
It appears that the image of elderly people in prime time television commercials is less negative than previously thought. Advertisers may have taken the cue from published research and made an obvious effort to avoid perpetuating the sick, weak old person stereotype. However, the effect of this has been to reduce the overall opportunities for visibility of elderly characters.
For instance, Madison Avenue won't break the stereotype by routinely showing older characters in positive situations, but it will make certain that older characters do not appear in negative, stereotyped situations, either. As illustrated in the data from this and other studies, elders are still significantly underrepresented in proportion to their true occurrence within the U.S. population.
Teachers. Shannon and Crawford (1998) identify a number of different representations of teachers as “caretakers,” “jailer,” “savior,” “drillmaster,” “keepers of wisdom,” “facilitator/guide-on-the-side,” “technician,” “agent of social change,” or “underpaid unionist,” arguing that each of these representations portray only a limited, partial perspective on the complex nature of teaching. For example, in the films—The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, To Sir, With Love, Up the Down Staircase, Dead Poet’s Society, Dangerous Minds, and Good Will Hunting, teachers are portrayed as totally dedicated, loner saviors of students who fight against the often repressive school to help their students. One limitation of this representation is that it “ultimately robs teachers of a life outside and inside their work and separates them from the rest of us who are charged with educating and socializing children” (Shannon & Crawford, 1998, p. 256).
For a unit on “Images of Learning” for studying representations of secondary teachers:
This lesson sites an article by Gavin Hainsworth (1998)
who identified a number of features of teachers in the following films:
Good-bye, Mr. Chips (1939), Blackboard Jungle (1955), To Sir, with Love (1967), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), Teachers (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), The Principal (1987), Stand and Deliver (1988), Lean on Me (1989), Dead Poets Society (1989), Kindergarten Cop (1990), Dangerous Minds (1995), Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), The Substitute (1996), In & Out (1997), 187 (1997), Music of the Heart (2000), Pay it Forward (2000), Finding Forrester (2001):
Screen teachers begin as youthful and idealistic. Most teacher films are variations on the same story—beginning teachers launched feet first into the harsh reality of the new school. They are naive, idealistic and completely unprepared for what faces them. As Rick Dadier (Glenn Ford, Blackboard Jungle) states: “I want to teach. Most of us want to do something creative—a painter, writer, or engineer. But I thought if I could help to shape young minds, sort of sculpt young lives, that would be something.” After being hired on the spot to teach a class of academy kids that had already dispatched five substitutes, Dangerous Minds’ Michelle Pfeiffer’s character states, “I guess Ms. Shephard’s lesson plans will be in her desk.” Their dreams may even include innocent ambitions like Mr Chips’. “It means everything to be here, headmaster at Brookwood. That's something to work for.” They believe that “students will raise to our expectations and desire,” Jaime Escalante (Edward Olmos, Stand and Deliver).
Screen teachers get cynical advice instead of professional mentorship from their colleagues. This fact is revealed in the staff room or first staff meeting scene. Mr. Chips is told that “the boys are excited by fresh blood—mustn’t let them rag you—look out for drawing pins and tacks on your desk,” and he is asked if he is athletically inclined, “not that they ever become violent with weapons or anything.” A good model for the stateroom cynic is Jim Murdock (Blackboard Jungle). He is introduced working out on a punching bag, “getting into shape to defend myself for the fall term,” because his school is “the garbage can of the education system. You take the worst kids of most of the other schools, put them together here, and you get one big overflowing garbage can.” “You can't teach logarithms to illiterates,” says one teacher in Stand and Deliver.
Screen teachers always get the worst class. This truism is timeless, from the balls of paper flying (Good-bye, Mr. Chips, 1939), through leather-jacket boppers (Blackboard Jungle, 1955), twisters and swingers (To Sir, with Love, 1967), to gangster rappers (Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, The Substitute, The Principal)—all long after the bell has rung. The desks are broken and vandalized, and the students are completely out of control. They are going through the file cabinets and the teacher's desk (The Substitute). There aren't enough seats (Stand and Deliver), which only partially explains why couples are sharing desks (Blackboard Jungle, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Teachers, The Principal). Any attempt to teach the first class is shouted down by the students who throw baseballs (Blackboard Jungle), beer cans (The Substitute), or books (To Sir, with Love, Stand and Deliver, 187). The bell to end classes always rings a few minutes after the one to begin, leaving classroom and lesson in tatters.
Screen teachers can count on little or no support from the principal. If anyone is of less help to the screen teacher than his/ her class or colleagues, it is the screen principal. Principals are insulated within their office from the reality of the classroom and are incompetent, indifferent, or intimidating. Principal Eugene Horne (Teachers) runs back into his office when he sees two teachers fighting over the mimeograph machine, and he knows neither who does the schools filing nor where the files are kept. Principal Warneke (Blackboard Jungle) is more concerned with the softness of teacher Dadier’s voice than with the false allegations of teacher racism in his class or the repeated weapons infractions or the attempted rape of a staff member. “There is no discipline problem here, Mr. Dadier, not as long as I am principal here,” he says. A death threat against a teacher is swept under the carpet by Principal Claude Rolle (The Substitute) because without proof of a direct threat, he'd “have a lawsuit on his hands.” Where screen principals use discipline, they go to sociopathic extremes. Principals Joe Clark (Lean on Me), and Rick Latimer (James Belushi, The Principal) patrol their hallways with baseball bats (that they are often called upon to use) as well as other management tools like verbal intimidation and threats used on students and staff alike. It is no accident that Rick Latimer is promoted to principal of his inner-city school after taking a baseball bat to his ex-wife’s sports car—he has what it takes to turn a school around
Screen teachers face an increasingly violent school environment in which they themselves must become violent to succeed. Mr. Dadier (Blackboard Jungle, 1955) fights attacks by his students in the alley and in his classroom, and he prevents a teacher rape in the library. Principal Rick Latimer (The Principal, 1987) not only has to fight an attack by five students in his library (whom he throws out the window), but breaks up a teacher rape by riding his Harley (labeled El Principal) to the rescue down the hallway. With bike and bat, he takes down the crack dealers around his school and engages in a battle to the death. The Substitute (1996) takes on KOD (The Kings of Destruction), Miami's top gang, to avenge the intimidation of his teacher girlfriend, but to do so requires all of his mercenary training and the members of his paramilitary squad. The KOD are led by the schools principal, Mr. Rolle, who is using the school for a drug transit point. Principal Rolle shoots down students and teachers alike, saying to one young teacher, “I'm just doing you a favour” as he shoots him in the back. A final showdown with automatic weapons, grenades and bazookas is needed at the school to clean it up. The two remaining mercenaries resolve never to work at a school again.
For further reading on media representations of teachers:
Dalton, M. (2004). The Hollywood curriculum: Teachers in the movies. New York: Peter Lang.
Giroux, H. & Simon, R. (1989). Popular culture, schooling, and everyday life. New York: Bergin & Garvey.
Joseph, P., & Burnaford, G. (Eds.). (1993). Images of school teachers in twentieth-century America: Paragons, polarities, complexities. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Keroes, J. (1999). Tales out of school: Longing, and the teacher in fiction and film. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Weber, S., & Mitchell, C. (1995). That's funny, You don't look like a teacher!: Interrogating images and identity in popular culture. New York: Routledge.
Students. Students are also represented in often stereotypical ways in either pro-or anti-school.
And, news coverage of issues such as testing and accountability often represent teachers and students as “failing” or lacking motivation in schools, representations that do not account for a range of different aspects influencing student performance. For example, a study of media coverage of testing in North Carolina found that issues of testing were portrayed in one-dimensional ways:
Coaches. Coaches, as is the case with teachers, are often represented in films such as Hoosiers, Rocky/Rocky II, The Karate Kid, Cutting Edge, The Mighty Ducks, Hoop Dreams, or Vision Quest, as a driven, hard-line, authoritarian, who tries to discipline players, and is obsessed with winning at all costs, or as a compassionate, caring mentor (Crowe, 1998).
Lawyers. Lawyers are frequently portrayed in films http://mentalsoup.net/jelkins/coursefilms.shtml
such as A Civil Action, A Few Good Men, Amistad, Before and After, Class Action,
Erin Brockovich, Guilty as Sin, Music Box, My Cousin Vinny, Philadelphia, Primal Fear,
Snow Falling on Cedars, The Castle, The Client, The Devil's Advocate, The Rainmaker,
The Sweet Hereafter, The Winslow Boy, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Time to Kill, Body Heat,
Bonfire of the Vanities, Presumed Innocent, The Firm, Dead Man Walking, Ghosts of Mississippi, Rules of Engagement, The Shawshank Redemption as using the law to fight the traditional establishment or status quo in ways that serve clients whose rights or civil liberties have been violated or denied. However, in other cases, lawyers are portrayed as representing corporate interests against such clients.
Women lawyers are less frequent than male lawyers, but they are portrayed as assuming important roles in defending women’s rights and civil liberties:
Portrayals of television lawyers on Law & Order, Ally McBeal, The Practice, This Life often dramatize the role of lawyers as engaged in dramatic criminal court room practices, a representation that does not capture some of the less dramatic roles involved in practicing the law.
Police/criminals . Police and criminals have populated many prime-time detective/crime television programs such as Law & Order, Blue Heelers, NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, Blue Murder, or Silent Witness. Criminal are often portrayed in films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Heat, The Godfather, Chopper, Bonnie and Clyde, Sexy Beast or on television in The Sopranos, as engaged in practices that violate social norms in ways that are appealing to viewers, but still represent illegal practices. Similarly, there is a fascination with portrayals of serial killers in films such as Silence of the Lambs; Natural Born Killers; Summer of Sam; Manhunter; Seven; American Psycho; The Talented Mr Ripley; Copycat; Hannibal.
Students could examine the ways in which the roles of the law enforcer and the law violator are often dramatized in ways that blur the distinction between the two. The police may resort to the same violent means to stop a criminal and the criminal may employ detective work to allude the police. Both may subscribe to the same cynical attitude regarding the level of institutional corruption.
Representations of crime or criminals are often constituted by discourses of race in which criminals are often shown as African American males. Crime is often associated with racial stereotypes, assuming that, for example, black males are continually perpetuating crime. The following video clip from Framing an Execution explores issues around Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist on Pennsylvania's death row in connection with the death of a police office:
Doctors/health issues. Doctors have also frequently appeared in prime-time medical drama shows such as Casualty, Chicago Hope, City of Angels, Crossing Jordan, Diagnosis Murder, Doc, Dr. Quinn - Medicine Woman, Emergency!, ER, Gideon's Crossing, Holby City, L. A. Doctors, Peak Practice, St. Elsewhere, and Strong Medicine. On these shows, they are often represented as, similar to the representations of teachers, as saviors or miracle workers who pull through in the end to cure a patient. As the same time, their own emotional or personal lives become involved in their work, adding to the dramatic elements of these programs.
Doctors or reporters posing as “medical experts” are also represented on television news are providing medical advice or summaries of current medical research. These representations, which have received increased attention on television news, reflect an increased attention to health issues by the viewing public. In some cases, however, the information provided may be superficial, or, as in the case with some Internet sites, misleading or inaccurate. For example, one study of the media representation of breast and bottle feeding (Henderson, Kitzinger, & Green, 2000), found that breastfeeding was often portrayed as embarrassing, difficult or funny, while bottle feeding is presented as the normal and socially acceptable.
Students could examine how a particular medical or health issue is represented on dramas or the news in terms of the complexity or accuracy of the representation.
The media also represents various institutions such as the family or governments in ways that reflect certain cultural and ideological perspectives.
Families. Television families have been represented in different ways across different decades since World War II. While television families of the 1950s were portrayed as patriarchic institutions guided by a omniscient, wise father, programs in the 1990s such as The Simpsons, Home Improvement, Brother’s Keeper, and King of the Hill portrayed fathers as bungling and ineffectual. There is also a shift in the role of the mother to someone who is more independent and assertive.
Some “reality television” shows such as the 1900 House, Frontier House, and Colonial House on PBS, and The Osbournes on MTV http://www.mtv.com/onair/osbournes/
portray conflicts and experiences of families in unusual contexts that challenge family unity.
One key aspect of media representations of the family has been the representations of the breakdown of the family as due to factors such as unmarried couples or dependency on government support systems. These representations could be examined in light of alternative perspectives such as that provided by the Council on Contemporary Families
in a report, Marriage, Poverty, and Public Policy, by Stephanie Coontz and Nancy Folbre, that critiques the promotion of marriage as a requirement for receiving support:
- Although poor families are just as likely as others to consider marriage an ideal arrangement for raising children, economic hardships such as unemployment, low wages and poverty make it less likely that the hope of marriage can be realized. Economic stability, and not pre-marital counseling, would play a critical role in allowing for healthy marriages for families in these circumstances.
- Despite significant increases in their hours of work, single parents have not experienced an improvement in economic conditions, in part because of the high cost of child care. Much of non-marital childbirth cohort is comprised of cohabiting couples, not single women living without a partner. Welfare reform itself has encouraged this trend, increasing economic stress on parents and creating a need to share financial resources, often with partners who are unwilling or unlikely to marry.
- Hypothetical notions of reducing poverty by promoting the marriage of poor women so that parents can combine incomes are unlikely to be borne out. Employed men and women are much more likely to marry partners who themselves have good employment prospects. Individuals with the most economic barriers such as low educational attainment, a history of incarceration, or substance abuse, are the least likely to marry. Marriage stability is also difficult to attain under the stresses of poverty.
- The effect of creating a marriage bonus under TANF would be to impose a "non-marriage" penalty that would disproportionately impact African-Americans. Programs designed to encourage marriage should be directed at all families and not just the poor. They would more appropriately be built into public and private health insurance coverage, for example, and should focus on a range of family relationships and not just marriage.
Urban, suburban, rural communities. Urban, suburban, rural communities are often represented in the media in ways that fail to portray the complexities of these communities. For example, urban communities or neighborhoods are often portrayed, particularly in television news or crime shows, as crime-ridden or poverty-stricken, without providing addition contextual information about the causes of these phenomenon: high unemployment, lack of government support, or lack of affordable housing. Students could contrast these representations with more realistic portrayals of contemporary urban worlds in films like Do the Right Thing or Boyz N The Hood, or documentaries portraying urban worlds:
Urban worlds are often very much in transition, particularly in terms of the influx of new immigrant populations who attempt to settle in urban areas. While television news often portrays stereotyped perspectives of these immigrants, the Soul of Los Angeles Project sponsored by the Center for Religion and Civic Education used images to portray a different portrayal of these immigrants in Los Angeles:
Betti-Sue Hertz and Lydia Yee Urban Mythologies: The Bronx Represented Since the 1960