Stereotypes in Television
In late September of 2009, viewers on NBC were introduced to a new show called Community. This new and innovated series documents the daily activities of a group of fictional friends who study at the same community college. The show takes place in the fictional locale of Greendale, Colorado and implements intertexual elements and parodies to create humor in the show.
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At the time, NBC primarily featured news and television series focused mainly on men and women between the ages of 18 and 49 (Gray, 2012); this new series was a chance to diversify the networks audience. After he first 3 years of being aired on television, the series has won several awards for comedy and diversity, including the 36th People’s Choice Awards and the 2010 Teen’s Choice Awards. While Community may not be an authentic “reality show’, the main premise for the series is that it correctly signifies the diversity found in American colleges and universities.
By doing so, Community attempts to reinvent the restrictive coding used in todays television. For the audience of the television series, the cast selection is not only diverse, but incredibly intriguing as well. The show focuses on an nsemble group of characters that belong to a study group in Greendale Community College, along with other faculty members including professors and even the dean.
The study group consists of: Jeff Winger, a lawyer who lost his Job once he was discovered to have a falsified bachelor’s degree; Britta Perry, a high school drop-out who was a former anarchist activist and is attempting to get her life back together; Abed Nadir, an aspiring movie director with Palestinian ties; Shirley Bennett, a single African-American Christian mother who wants to finish school to start a brownie- aking business; Annie Edison, a former Ivy League prospect who is recovering from a Adderall addiction; Pierce Hawthorne, the oldest member (and also a senior citizen) of the group who happens to be a millionaire and is getting a degree for entertainment; lastly there is Troy Barnes, a formerly coveted high school quarterback who lost his sscholarship to a prestigious university after a career-ending injury during his senior year. While Community seems to be very inclusive and diverse, this program does at times play onto and even reinforce dominant social ealities of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, and religion for a comedic effect.
For instance, Shirley Bennett is the stereotypical “sassy’ black woman. She is portrayed in the show as incredibly stubborn and struggles to be tolerant of other religions. In some instances, Shirley attempted to convert the other members of the study group to the Christian faith (i. e. she had attempted to secretly baptize Abed and Annie, who are Muslim and Jewish respectively) ["Comparative Religion”]. There were often times when she argued with the other members in the group when she ried to impose her beliefs (and not Just religion) on them. If an individual in the group disagreed with her actions/beliefs, she would completely ignore them (“The Art of Discourse”).
Another example of stereotypes being portrayed in the series is those referring to sexual orientation. Craig Pelton, also known as Dean by the Greendale student body, is the college dean. In the series, he is portrayed as a flaming homosexual (although his actual sexual orientation is never actually revealed), who conforms to the social standards of gay men in todays society. Some illustrations of nls gay cooing Dy our soclety Include nls limp nana gestures wnen speaKlng, nls relatively high pitched voice, his interest in fashion, and his enthusiasm for other males. In the beginning of virtually every episode in the series, Dean wears a different outfit/costume when he greets the group in their study room.
Some of these ridiculous outfits include anything from dresses to simply a brassier and panties. In addition, the dress code Dean imposes on the school (especially for physical education courses) includes very short shorts (which resemble Speedos) for billiards. Lastly, Dean is shown to have a massive man crush towards Jeff and tends to faints when around him, especially if Jeff happens to be shirtless (“Physical Education”). Even though Community seems to portray some of its cast in a stereotypically way as in the case with Shirley and Dean, it does seem to break this trend with the other members of the cast. In Constructions of Reality on MTVs The Real World: An Analysis of the Restrictive Coding of Black Masculinity, Mark P.
Orbe analyzes how black males are portrayed on MTVs hit reality show The Real World and the effects of such egative portrayals on the general audience. Orbe originally states that the black men in the Real World and other ssimilar pprogramming follow the so-called stereotypes that maintain that these particular individuals are “inherently angry, potentially violent, and sexually aggressive” (Orbe, 2004, p. 313). In the first season of the series, Troy, who is African American, was originally an arrogant, selfish Jock who only seemed to care about his popularity with others. As the series continues, he is later portrayed in the series in the opposite light and shows his true character.
He begins to show his more feminine side and has many mental bbreakdowns where he cries on numerous occasions. In Community, Troy is portrayed as a caring friend to the study group and a complete gentleman to the ladies, even though he seems to have several insecurities. In the end, Troy does not seem to be inherently angry, potentially violent, and sexually aggressive as other black males are portrayed in other television shows. Community initially uses standard stereotypes to portray its cast to the audience. While this is done in a humorous way to get the attention of the udience, there is a clear meaning that not everyone will conform to the accepted norms in society.
As the series goes on, each group member learns to become more accepting and tolerant of others (including age, religion, and ethnicity). Pierce, who at the start of Community is incredibly racist, learns to become more open minded. In one instance, Troy tells Shirley (after she asked the group to stop teasing Troy) that “you are not my mother,” and Pierce irresponsibly replies “she’s not? ” Tired of Pierce’s intolerance, the study group decides to kick him out of the group until he changes his ersonality (“Introduction to Film”). Other examples where the cultural norms do not seem to apply in Greendale can be found again and again. In the first season, the group’s Spanish class is taught by a Chinese professor known as Senor Chang.