By Daniel L. Wilson
Peru State College
Culture Bias in the Media
Studying the trends in regards to portrayals of minorities in media, in television and programming in relation to the impact portrayals have on viewers' attitudes and beliefs, serves two main purposes: (1) it is important to understand the degree of how minorities are depicted so that changes, if needed, can occur; and (2) there is a need to determine if the portrayals of minorities on television exacerbate racial stereotypes (Mastro, 2000). Devine (1989) contended that the negative perceptions and stereotypes of racial minorities are widely held and culturally embedded intentionally and inadvertently within the American public. Continuing with stereotypes on television does nothing to help the situation. "Minimal representation, in conjunction with possible stereotyping, would accentuate the probable impact of television on racial perceptions" (Mastro, 2000, p. 698). The purpose of this paper is to review portrayals of minorities on television.
History of Minorities and TV
The history of minority exposure on television has been well documented. In the 1950's, members of the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters, "pledged racial or nationality types shall not be shown on television in such a manner as to ridicule the race or nationality" (MacDonald, 1992, p. 4).
NBC also launched a PR campaign to improve its relations with African-Americans. They published guidelines for the equal portrayal of minorities on TV (MacDonald, 1992). These guidelines included making a predominate lead character a minority, including a large mix of minorities in group shots and casting minorities as "friends."
During the 60's, stereotyping and exclusion was still prevalent in television. "Television that featured an African-American as a host or guest star, the show was cancelled due to politics, poor ratings and/or inconsistent sponsors" (MacDonald, 1992, p. 58). Many sponsors felt that blacks were being seen as too integrated, too assimilated, so their shows were ultimately dropped from programming.
The 70's and 80's were slightly more promising. "Situation comedies with entrenched racial tones dominated air waves" (Gunter, 1998, p. 685). In the late 1970's, more minorities wrote and starred in sitcoms, although there was no significant change in stereotyping since decision-making was made by white executives and producers. Even though more African-Americans and other ethnicities were getting more television airtime, the roles still reaffirmed negative stereotypes. Minorities often "appeared as lazy, untrustworthy and unintelligent" (Mastro, 2000, p. 692). Minorities also were shown in subordinate, low-class positions. Many minority writers felt they were in no position to change status quo. Many said they felt lucky to have a "white-man's desk job" and the prestige that went with the job.
In the 90's, an increasing body of research started to focus on a possible connection between minorities, television, violence and how stereotypical depictions of minorities could be detrimental to race relations (Oliver, 1994; Li-Vollmer, 2002; Mastro, 2000). Statistics illustrate a direct correlation with increased television watching to amount and degree of violence. Future research recommended an investigation into possible over representation/under representation of violence and minorities in television programming. Although more minority characters are appearing on television in increasing numbers, recent analysis indicates that subtle racial biases still seep through in the portrayals of these groups (Gray, 1995).
Television is a very powerful medium. For many, television is a main source of information. Van Dijk (1987) believes that, "most information about ethnic minority groups is formulated by or transmitted through mass media, primarily TV and...