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Generic Confusion

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Television stereotypes

Tom Ehrich quoted a study of stereotypes in television in a column last month. When hearing him describe television stereotypes of whites as "intelligent, egotistical, and pleasant," I wondered just what kind of television he was watching. Think: Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Tim Taylor, Joey Tribbiani, etc.

With some searching, I was able to find the study, by Moon J. Lee, and I've linked to it above. Ehrich makes a serious error in his article. Compare this from the article:

By the time they reach adulthood, the typical TV-watching child will have seen 1 million advertisements, 200,000 violent acts and been fed the following stereotypes: African-Americans portrayed as ''inferior, lazy, dumb, dishonest, comical, unethical and crooked,'' according to a Washington State University study....

to the study:

Existing Stereotypes of Different Ethnicities
Several studies identify existing stereotypes (Dates, 1990; Fisher, 1994; Mendez-Morse, 2000; McAneny, 1993; Niemann, Jennings, Rozelle, Baxter, and Sullivan, 1994; Smith, 1991; Tan, et al., 1997; Taylor & Stern, 1997). The following attributes have been identified regarding different ethic groups. Identified stereotypes of African Americans include, but are not limited to, inferior, lazy, dumb, dishonest, comical, unethical, and crooked (United States Commission for the study of Civil Rights, 1977).

In other words, the study didn't attribute these stereotypes to television; they were previously identified by a study nearly 30 years old.

It's clear, especially from watching sitcoms, that white men are hardly portrayed positively. From what I've seen, people of all races are portrayed very evenly. All the investigators in a CSI-style series are good at their job. All the members of a sitcom family have their foibles (though men get treated worse, in my opinion).

And if you want to find people who aren't represented in television, how about average-looking people? The attractiveness quotient in a television series is magnitudes higher than reality.


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