So much has been written about the proven negative effects viewing television violence has on children (Black and Newman, 1995; DeGaetano, 2009; Derksen and Strasburger,1996; Lehman, 2004; and Murray, 2001), and yet there is another kind of “violence” embedded in an unlikely place: children’s television sitcoms. This content analysis investigated 19 live-action children’s half-hour sitcoms and discovered the presence of relational aggression and superiority humor, both of which rely on treating other humans as inferior for the sake of a canned laugh track. The television characters in this study seek revenge on each other, intentionally make others look bad or stupid, humiliate peers and parents, and are rarely punished for their mean-spiritedness and cruelty. The children’s sitcoms are behavioral blueprints of lies and deceit, as the characters unashamedly cheat others, defraud parents and other adults, and attempt to make peers and teachers look stupid and in the vernacular of the culture, “clueless.” Further, stereotypes are not only presented as acceptable, but are reinforced by frequent inclusion into the action. Stereotypes include: the brilliant but socially awkward geek (male or female), the blonde bimbo who isn’t very intelligent, the unwanted nerdy girlfriend or boyfriend, and the rich teenager who is often female and is uncaring, cold and aloof. This study discovered myriad examples of mean-spiritedness and cruelty on the part of characters in the programs, ranging in frequency from seven to 31.25 per half-hour episode, averaging 33.75 per hour for all programs viewed. This study includes recommendations for parents and educators to help offset the possible negative effects of these programs.
|Keywords:||Children, Television, Sitcoms, Violence, TV, Mean-spirited|
Assistant Professor, Communication, Liberal Arts Division, Upper Iowa University, Fayette, Iowa, USA