Television and Media - Stereotypes, Stereotyping and the Media

Television and Media - Stereotypes, Stereotyping and the Media

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Stereotypes and the Media


“Hey isn’t that Reverend Camden's daughter? I thought she was a Christian!”

“Isn’t her dad a policeman?”

“What! The President's daughters were arrested for drinking?”



These are statements that are frequently made by people like myself. I expect more from my peers whose fathers have jobs as prominent moral leaders because of the way the media portrays them. Our society places higher standards on pastors of Christian church, a policemen, and the President of the United States of America, because of their positions. These fathers are expected to be upstanding, moral citizens of their community, and are expected to have children that conduct themselves in the same manner. As college students we have learned from the media how to judge our peers' social actions based solely on their fathers' jobs. The nightly news broadcast, newspapers, and television sitcoms such as the The Cosby Show, 7th Heaven, and Dawson’s Creek are all examples of where we learn to judge based on these stereotypes.



Imagine you are at a party having a great time listening to a Marilyn Manson CD playing in the background, “Sweet dreams are made of these, who am I to disbelieve?” While filling up your glass of beer you spring a conversation with the person standing next to you. The music is loud so you both venture out to the porch to talk. Names, where you live, and your major are all exchanged in the beginning of your conversation. The two of you quit talking for a moment to take a sip of the beer you had both just filled up a few minutes ago. As the conversation gets deeper, the issue of your fathers' careers is brought up. Your dad is a real estate agent who sells homes for a living. The person standing across from you informs you that her father is a pastor of a Christian church. Your mouth drops, then your stomach. You quickly look down at your glass of beer, and then you look at her glass. A surprised eyebrow is raised, confused as to why this person is drinking, or why she is even at this party. Automatically, without any reason, you have already stereotyped this person and placed a higher standard of social prestige on her because of her fathers’ job.

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The Bush family is a prime example of a family that we hold to a different standard. There is George W. Bush, the President of the United States, his loving and supporting wife Laura, and their two beautiful and obedient twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara. They are supposed to be an example of the picture perfect American family, because, after all, they are the “First Family.” They attend church on a regular basis, their religious beliefs are strongly rooted in Christianity, and they portray the image that their family is a standard that other families should strive to emulate. But in May of 2001, these supposedly perfect daughters got in trouble with the law at a Mexican restaurant in Austin, Texas. Jenna was cited for using a fake I.D., while Barbara was cited for underage drinking. The reaction of the media and other college-aged kids was shamefully judgmental. Jenna and Barbara Bush’s story was plastered over several newspapers and magazines across the nation. We were so incredibly shocked that, of all people, the President's daughters were caught drinking while underage. What made it so news worthy? It certainly wasn’t that two girls were caught drinking or that one was using a fake I.D., but that they were the President's daughters. Even though we have this idea of how the Bush twins should act, they too are human and make mistakes just like any other teenager growing up in a family.



Another example comes from an experience I had in junior high. I had a friend, Niccole, whose best friend Brandy was an acquaintance of mine. Brandy’s father is a policeman for the city of Arvada, Colorado. Niccole would always tell me stories of how Brandy would go out drinking and sneaking out of her house to go party with older boys. Every time Niccole would tell me these stories, which happened many times, I would always think to myself, “but her dad is a cop!” I automatically thought that because her dad was a policeman, she should be a good kid, and not do behave as she did. The irony is that she is the type of person a policeman, like her father, would arrest. So, I too fell into my peer group who stereotype these high profile families. This just goes to show how we think children with fathers in an authority or leadership position should not cause the problems their dads are trying to fix. We automatically think that the children’s actions are a direct reflection of their father because they are saying one thing, and their kids are doing the opposite.



The sitcom 7th Heaven on the Warner Brothers network is about a family of nine (formerly seven). The father, Eric Camden, is a Christian pastor of the local community church in the city of Glen Oak, California. They live in a typical white suburbia neighborhood where everyone walks to church and everything looks perfectly quiet and normal from the outside. Whenever any one of the Camden children do something even slightly wrong, he or she becomes the gossip of the town. There are five children: Matt, Mary, Lucy, Simon, Ruthie, and two twin baby boys. They all bring a different personality and aspect to the show. The Camdens religiously attend their father's church sermon every Sunday and have a very close and loving relationship with each other. In every episode, the show deals with a handful of problems; in each case, the children are encouraged to talk through these problems either with their siblings or with their parents.



Lucy, the third oldest in the family, both reinforces and challenges our belief that a child of a pastor should act morally and ethically only because society thinks her father should act this way. She is a straight “A” student and does not cause many problems for the family. She is the most popular girl in her school and was voted prom queen by her classmates. Lucy has many friends and is always the talk of the boys at the cafeteria table. She does community service, loves to help out her fellow friends in need, and is always there for her brothers or sisters. Whenever she has a problem she goes directly to her parents for advice and wisdom. She is an example of what we think a child of a Christian pastor should act like.



In an older episode, Lucy has a paper due for her English class. At this time in her life Lucy is trying to juggle her school, family, church, her boyfriend, and cheerleading. She becomes stressed out and decides to put her paper on the back burner. When the time comes and the paper is due, she does not have anything written. The night before it is due, she finds her older sister Mary’s paper that had been written for the same class a few years before. Feeling pressured for time, she makes the decision to copy her sister’s paper and turn it in as her own. She receives a “B” on the paper and is initially relieved and happy with the grade. Soon after, though, feeling guilty about cheating and receiving such a good grade, she decides to tell her teacher what she did. Her teacher is naturally surprised that Lucy, of all people, has done something like this. Being well aware of who Lucy’s father is, the teacher did not expect a pastor's daughter to be the child who cheated.



This action of cheating is not something that a pastor’s child should be doing. Why not? Is it something that any child should be doing? Or is it more shocking that a child of a Christian pastor is cheating? This is the cultural belief that we as peers have of one another with fathers in an authoritative or leadership type of role. 7th Heaven takes on this cultural belief by using Lucy’s cheating as an example to show its audience (in this case students) that taking someone’s paper is not acceptable. In order to use Lucy’s cheating as an example, the show has to both reinforce and challenge this belief that a pastor's daughter should not cheat in order to effectively get the point across.



Mary, the second oldest in the family, also reinforces and challenges this common belief. In earlier episodes, Mary plays the role of a good kid who is a tomboy and the star player on her basketball team. She is a good female role model for her younger sisters Lucy and Ruthie. Lucy looks up to Mary and comes to her often for advice about boys and school situations.



Yet Mary begins to take a turn for the worse in an episode where she meets Carrie, the new girl in school. Carrie, who has a previous reputation of being “wild," befriends Mary and asks her to go to the mall with her that afternoon. While at the mall, Carrie asks Mary if she wants to go to a fraternity party with her later that night. Mary says no at first because she knows her parents will not allow her to go out on a school night. Carrie convinces her that it will be fun and encourages Mary to sneak out and not tell her parents. Mary has to make a decision about whether she wants to disobey her parents, or call it a day and stay home. Mary decides to disobey her parents and sneak out with Carrie. When the two arrive at the party, Mary and Carrie are offered beers upon their entrance. Mary declines politely, while Carrie gladly takes the beer from one of the frat boys who is hosting the party.



While inside the party, one of the girls inside recognizes Mary and says, “Isn’t that Reverend Camden’s daughter?” The group of girls huddle up and start discussing how shocked they are to see Mary at the party. The girls are shocked because it isn’t typical to see a Christian pastor's daughter at a fraternity party. The girls who are talking about Mary only reinforce the idea that people think kids of pastors, or policemen, or the President, don’t make bad choices. 7th Heaven must address this issue of partying in order to make the show seem more like the realistic situations high school and college students are faced with every day. By putting Mary in this situation, the show reinforces the belief that a pastor’s daughter does not make decisions like the one Mary made about sneaking out. This belief is prevalent in the reality that we live in because the television media makes it so evident by showing us how we should act when situations like these arise.



Judgment is a problem among young adults because too often we do not look past their family ties before we pin a personality on them. In our minds, if a person is the daughter of a prominent moral leader then she must not stray from acting justly at all times. We think that because of who her father is, social decisions are already made for her. As her peers, we must find a way to minimize this judgment and common belief. We can do this by treating each person on an individual and personal basis. By doing so, we will not let a person's father’s occupation define his or her personality or, let it define how that person should act in a social environment. Having an open mind can be one way in which we can help decrease this type of social judgment.
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