M e d i a ,
V i o l e n c e ,
A n d S o c i e t y
Yeah, that's us!
Media Journal #2:
Our Initial Observations
The West Wing
I have analyzed the last four episodes of The West Wing and been a long time watcher. Through my experience with the show I have seen it as a very liberal but realistic portrayal of life in a Democratic White House during Jeb Barlett's term. Although five of the eight actors named in the title credits are white males, the portrayal of minority groups and women are positive and in my opinion very well written. The other three people are the president's personal assistant, a young black man, the Press Secretary and one of the other character's secretary, both women. These minorities are intelligent, resourceful and important characters in the show. There are also many female recurring characters such as the president's wife Abby (played by Stockard Channing), his long-time friend and secretary Mrs. Langingham, and a black female in representative of the CIA, all powerful characters in both moral and political roles. Unfortunately however, many of the women on the show are secretaries to men and are continuously surrounded by men. But I will address that issue later. A description of what occurred in each of the episodes I have analyzed in relation to the four topics we are addressing in our media journal follows:
Episode from last year
Politics - One character, Toby discovers that a recently deceased homeless man is a veteran and arranges a military funeral. Leo, right hand to the president, is known to be a recovering alcoholic but the fact that he took Valium at the time is not known. Someone threatens to leak the story though so Sam and Josh, two other white house staff members talk to Sam's friend, a prostitute, who might be able to give them information that will shut up the leak. Leo says this is not their way of doing business. There is also a discussion of hate crime legislation as described in the next topic.
Violence - No violence is shown in this episode but a hate-crime is described. A homosexual high school senior was beaten, stripped, tied to a tree and had rocks and bottles thrown at him. He later died and the characters discuss their anger and the political consequences such as addressing hate crime legislation.
Gender - As I mentioned in my introduction there are more male characters than female and have more on screen time. Although the difference is noticeable there is no extreme different in the style in which women are portrayed (i.e. they are not scantily clad while the men all wear suits, except in the next topic)
Sexuality - CJ, the Press Secretary has an admirer whom she finally agrees to go to dinner with in this episode. The high class prostitute mentioned earlier is seen in a bathrobe during her only scene in this episode despite the non-sexual nature of the scene. Also the student who was killed was homosexual.
Special terrorist episode This was a very interesting episode in the way that it discussed the issues clearly and voices different opinions in a polite manner during the same time frame in which Bush has been calling Bin Laden evil and the attack an attack on freedom.
Politics - The entire show consists of the various White House staff members telling a group of high school student who are stuck in the White House who is attacking them, why and what should be done about it. Knowledge of the Sept. 11th attack is assumed but never named although those responsible are said to be Islamic extremists. In general the opinions of the staff are very liberal but many positions and opinions are discussed I believe in order to sit well with the politics of the real American audience.
Violence - Sept. 11th in indirectly implied but there is no violence on the screen about it. The interrogation of a White House worker with the same name as a terrorist alias is not physically violated but he is subjected to harsh questioning.
Gender - Three women characters of the White House, two main and one recurring, give their opinions. The group of students is diverse both in sex and race and those asking questions are also diverse.
Sexuality - no discussion or mention of sexuality
Last Season's Finale The president has just announced that he has MS and has known for years. There are many issues involved in this statement and there will be grand jury reviews and many legal issues to figure out if he has technically broken the law. He hid the whole truth while running for President the first time and people wonder if he will run again. He is also dealing with some sort of military problem in Haiti.
Politics - Pres. Barlett's Secretary and long time friend has died and throughout the show he flashes back to a story line of when they first met. She challenged him to stand up to his father, the schoolmaster, and talk to him about women being paid less than men at the school. Barlett also has an imaginary discussion with her and they mention many of the political issues he still wants to deal with as he decides whether or not to run for a second term.
Violence - the only mention of violence is the description of the drunk driver who killed Mrs. Landingham but only has a few scrapes and bruises.
Gender - The CIA women I mentioned in the intro is an important person in this episode and runs the room in which military operation in Haiti is being examined. The deceased Mrs. Landingham plays a major role is her assistance to Pres. Barlett in his flashbacks.
Sexuality - Again there is nothing noticeable.
Season premiere Barlett decided to run for a second term and the staff as to clean up the mess and prepare for the re-election campaign and the legal hassles.
Politics - The legal and political issues of the President's admission of MS is the most prominent topic of this episode. As well as military operations in Haiti and their political consequences, especially since involvement in Haiti could be seen as a way of avoiding attention on the president's hiding of his MS.
Violence - the military operation in Haiti is not shown except through a digital map of where the planes are, a radio transmission when the planes are fired on, and a brief live feed of the cockpit of the plane which does not show anything happening.
Gender - 3 women are now included in the credits rather than just two. Again the CIA official is a major figure in the episode. CJ, as Press Secretary has to deal with the press and the pressure causes her to make a very big mistake by saying the she thought the president would be relieved to be thinking about something that mattered. This could be interpreted to mean he would be relieved to send military troops into Haiti to shift focus from his lies.
Sexuality - The only two minor instances of sexuality mentioned in the show are a small comment on the existence of a relationship between Charlie and the president's daughter and that the marriage of the Barletts is not typical because he is the President.
By Tawny Lane
For more information on The West Wing click here
Spin City is a very progressive comedy. The make up of the characters do at some level follow the stereotypical norms we expect, like the mayor is a white male, but the characters are also very forward thinking. Spin City is not afraid to address the issues common in our society. Like issue of race, sexual orientation, and gender.
Spin City is a comedy that takes place in the mayors office of New York. The make up of characters is interesting to see. The Mayor is a white male. His second in command is also a white male. Below the second in command their are two characters who play important roles in the decision making process. One of these characters is a white male and one is a white female. Then there are a group of characters who all seem to play similar roles. These characters are made up of 2 white males, a black gay male, and a white women.
Spin city does a very good job of dealing with the issues of today. In one episode the show addressed the issue of gender. It brought to light some of the small ways we do business that makes it harder for women to succeed. For example, the idea that business deals are closed over a beer and a football game. This historically has not been a situation women could thrive in, and although not necessarily purposeful, closing deals over beer and a football game works against women and keeps them down.
Without specifically bringing up the issue, Spin City does a very good job of dealing with the issue of sexual orientation. Spin City presents to the audience an atmosphere where being a homosexual is not seen any differently than being a heterosexual. The same gossip stories and problem stories are talked about by both the heterosexuals and the homosexual.
The environment shown by Spin City is very forward thinking and handles many very tough situations in our society with the importance they should be addressed, but also with the humor to make it easier on the audience. Spin City uses comedy to approach issues and uses it in a way that it doesn't undermine the point being made, but allows it to be seen by the audience in a way that isn't over critical and doesn't put the audience on the defensive.
By Natalie Lehman
For more information on Spin City click here
Sexuality in ER
At the end of last season, one of the main characters came out as a lesbian to the chief of the hospital. The beginning of this year finds her trying to reconcile her feelings and dealing with the aftermath of her decision to make her sexuality known. One of the opening scenes shows the character, Dr. Weaver, in her car listening to a radio caller present a diatribe as to why homosexuals should not be allowed in jobs where they have to interact with people. One of the very interesting constructions of homosexuality in this show is that it presents the general public as having a very negative opinion towards homosexuals. Dr. Weaver is uncertain how she will be received at the hospital and develops a near paranoia towards the staff even as she attempts to avoid dealing with the issue. Her anxiousness is increased when a patient in the hospital goes on a tirade, using very violent language, against homosexuals. While the patient's attack is directed at someone else and entirely not at her, the patient's reaction frightens her. Thus, while homosexuality itself is not presented negatively, the overall opinion of other people towards it, at least in terms of the 'public,' is negatively. However, the main characters within the hospital seem to accept her sexuality. Only one does it get used against her. After one of the characters is fired, unjustly in his eyes, he hurls the term "dyke" at her. Overall, her sexuality seems to be a factor only in her mind, rather than in the actions or voiced opinions of the other main characters.
Doctors' reactions to violence
Because ER is set in Chicago, many depictions of violent acts occur. In once instance, a group of teenagers severely beat an older man in the middle of a public plaza. While this was a brutal and senseless act of violence, the doctors and nurses react, not to the fact that the act was committed, but the fact that nobody did anything to stop it. As one nurse says "I can't believe people would just stand by and watch." Thus, the voyeuristic apathy garnered more disgust and censorship than the actual act of violence itself. Another act of violence occurred at the end of the previous season, but still has repercussions now. A man went on a shooting rampage because the hospital took away his son. He killed several people and then went after the family of a major character in the show, Dr. Greene. Because he was so upset and personally involved Dr. Greene, who is accidentally shut in an elevator with the patient/shooter, lets him die by firing the resuscitation paddles without actually shocking the patient. Thus, the act of violence by the shooter is met with an act of violence by the doctor.
Media in ER
An interesting plot line occurred in one of the initial shows of the season centering on talk shows and 'reality' TV. A group of patients are treated at the hospital after a brawl broke out at a local talk show. The doctors and nurses treat the incident with humor. However, later in the show a young girl, just learning she is pregnant by her boyfriend who her mother has informed her is her half brother, commits suicide by jumping off the roof of the hospital. Eventually, it comes out that the producers asked the mother to lie about the boy being her half brother and to tell her daughter on screen because "it would be more real." Thus, the media's strive for reality, entertainment, and audience appeal leads to an act of violence.
By Nora Gluch
For more information on ER click here
My analysis of this show cannot be very in-depth yet because it only premiered this week, so there isn't that much available to analyze. Scrubs is about recent medical school graduates learning their way around a hospital. The main character is JD. He is accompanied by best friend, Chris, and possible love interest, Elliot. Elliot is a zealous student desperately trying to get ahead. JD is supervised by two main doctors, Dr. Kelso and Dr. Cox, and a nurse, Carla Espinosa. Carla has no problems telling someone just out of medical school how to do things. The cast seems to have been created with token minority roles (Chris is African American and Carla is latina). The only nurse is still female, and all but one of the doctors are male and the female doctor is in a lower position of power.
This show suggests that doctors are fallible. Society tends to have an omniscient notion of doctors, but that common idea is missing in this sitcom. Another interesting deviation from societal values is that the main nurse is a mentor and teacher to these young doctors. Given our conceptions of nurses as being subordinate to doctors, this is an interesting image. Even if this is explained away by the doctors being recently out of medical school, it is nice to see that the nurse is not portrayed as being less intelligent and having less knowledge than doctors who have never practiced medicine before.
Ultimately, I think the two interesting deviations from standard societal images exist in part because this is a sitcom. We would expect sitcom doctors to be imperfect for comic value, so the image of doctor as unknowing is not disturbing to us. In real life, a doctor not knowing something is much more unsettling; we put our lives in their hands and expect them to know what they are doing. But in a sitcom, we make fewer judgments when the characters do not comply with what we see as being normal.
The admittedly few observations I have made of this sitcom suggest that sitcoms exist in a world that is less real for us than dramas. We are willing to suspend more disbelief for a sitcom because it is there just to make us laugh, not necessarily to approximate real life (which is more the case in primetime dramas).
It will be interesting to see if I continue to notice trends along these lines, as well as to see what else I notice. Later reports will most likely have a much better reflection of trends within this sitcom because I will have many episodes to compare with this one and each other to see if the trend I observed continues.
By Eve Obert
For more information on Scrubs click here
Visit our main page at Our home page