Culture and representation on television We can all agree that mass media have some effects on culture, from trends and language to representations of and attitudes about other people. Cultural studies research involves investigating and understanding

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Culture and representation on television

We can all agree that mass media have some effects on culture, from trends and language to representations of and attitudes about other people. Cultural studies research involves investigating and understanding daily experience, especially on issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality, as well as unequal arrangements of power and status in contemporary society. Taking the cultural studies theoretical perspective of communication as culture(communication is a ritual or symbolic process, whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed) you will write a textual analysis of one sitcom or drama on television, analyzing the cultural narratives of three episodes. Structure the paper to address representation/casting, narrative/storytelling, and audience effects and reactions.

Watch three consecutive episodes of one of the following modern TV shows. Qualifying shows are comedies or dramas, and not allowed are studio sitcoms, animation, or sci-fi/fantasyThese are available on Hulu, Netflix, or their home network’s website:

  • Modern Family
  • Jane the Virgin
  • Fresh Off the Boat
  • Scandal
  • Black-ish
  • Grown-ish
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Atlanta

Consider the following questions and categories to help you take notes and structure your paper. You are not required to answer every question in your paper. Answering one or two from each section will be sufficient:

Representation/casting:

  • What ethnic groups, genders, and sexualities are represented on the show? Why do you think particular casting decisions were made for each type of character?
  • Regarding characters, what stereotypes do you find about women, men, gender nonconformity, sexual orientation, people of color, people of age (such as elders), disabled people, or people from different socio-economic classes?

Narrative/storytelling:

  • Does the narrative acknowledge and/or subvert any stereotypes or tropes? How? Is it obvious or more subtextual?
  • How do the stories told on the show reinforce cultural ideology and hegemony? (i.e., “dominant culture” or “mainstream culture” or even what we call “normal”)
  • How are cultural power relationships revealed through interactions between characters? Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal interactions.

Audience effects:

  • For this part, interpret the patterns from your own critical perspective, but also use outside sources to help support your points (see list below).
  • In what ways might patterns of representation and narrative influence public discourse (agenda-setting effects), including traditional media and social media?
  • How do you think the patterns of representation and narrative affect audience perceptions of reality (cultivation effects)? Do they reinforce or challenge stereotypes?

Process (this is a more “meta” application of the 5-step Critical Process – not the structure of the paper):

  1. Take detailed notes about representation and narrative for each of the three episodes. This activity is your “describe” step of the 5-step process. Along with your paper, submit (typed) notes you made as you watched the program.
  2. Analyze your notes to identify patterns and themes about representation, narrative, and audience effects.
  3. Think about and interpret the meanings of these patterns and themes. Why do you think producers made these decisions? Research other perspectives.
  4. Evaluate the effects that these patterns of representation and narrative have on audiences, other media, and the broader cultural discourse in the U.S.
  5. Engage with the TV show by writing a 1,200-1,500 word essay that explains your analyses and conclusions about representation and narrative on television.

Required research materials:

  • Three consecutive episodes from one TV show (see list above)
  • Two professional, mainstream reviews (text)
  • Two peer-reviewed, academic journal articles (full text) directly or broadly related to the topic.

Optional research materials:

  • professional interviews with cast or crew
  • blog or social media posts

General Requirements checklist:

  • 1,200-1,500 words
  • double-spaced; 12 pt. font
  • submit paper to Canvas as a .doc or .pdf
  • use in-text citations where needed
  • include a Works Cited List (MLA) or References page (APA). Also attach the PDF files of your chosen academic journal articles.
  • insert your typed notes after the Works Cited List.

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