Exceptions to the Stereotype Rule On Television
Television is forever known for imitating stereotypes and neglecting minorities. When and if we see minorities on TV, rarely do we see accurate reflections of them. The majority of television programs and movies cater to the well-known stereotypes we all recognize. Are there exceptions to this unwritten rule? In examining the TV shows I have watched in recent years, I believe there are some TV shows that do not cater to the commonly held stereotypes of minorities.
Native Americans are just one ethnic minority that is constantly misrepresented. Westerns tend to characterize Native Americans as savage and ignorant. I can’t count the number of times I have seen Native Americans portrayed as ruthless savages who have no just cause for attacking white men, scalping settlers, and raping women. However, one show, The Young Riders, has broken the mold and depicts not only the side of the white settlers but that of the Native Americans. The Young Riders is a program about the lives of six young Pony Express riders. One of the riders, Buck, is half Kiowa and half white. Several episodes concentrate on his loyalty to his Indian heritage. In one particular episode, the Kiowa Indians attack the Pony Express riders. Buck is seen discussing the matter with his Indian brother. His brother explains that the Kiowa attack the riders because they carry the white man’s word. Furthermore, he explains that as the word of the white man grows so does he, and thus he becomes a larger threat to the Indians. Consequently, in many episodes, Buck is often harassed because of his Indian blood. However, the other riders always come to bat for him and defend their friend no matter what his ethnic origin may be. The Young Riders was canceled about four years ago but while it was on, it served as an accurate reflection of the crisis between the white settlers and the Indians.
African-Americans are another minority that is usually misrepresented by television. African-Americans are most often portrayed as poor, uneducated, and very often as criminals. The Cosby Show is one program that moved beyond this unfair stereotype. The sitcom is based on a seven-member African-American household in which the father is a doctor and the mother is a lawyer. The Cosby Show was a sitcom and it did not focus primarily on the aspect of two African-Americans as affluent professionals. However, it did aid in disputing the stereotypes that African-Americans are either poor or criminals. When it first began, The Cosby Show was among only a few shows based on the lives of African-Americans. Today we see more and more shows centered around the lives of African-Americans. Many of these shows are sitcoms and do not always portray African-Americans accurately. We still need more shows about African-Americans that are more serious-minded and paint a true picture of their lives.
Although not an ethnic minority, the blue-collar working class is often a minority in today’s TV programs. Most shows focus on the professional elite, believing that the blue-collar working class is dull and boring. However, there are a few shows that dispute this theory. Roseanne, which has been on for more than seven years, is about a working class family that often has to struggle to make ends meet. There is nothing really extraordinary about Roseanne or her family. The show concentrates on real issues that blue-collar employees wrestle with every day. Grace Under Fire is a program that depicts the plight of a single mother who has to work in an oil refinery to pay the bills. She has overcome her problems with an abusive husband and alcoholism to come out on top. Both of these shows scrutinize the issues associated with blue-collar employees that are usually cast aside. Furthermore, both of these shows are about women, another minority in the television industry. It is infrequent to see a woman in the leading role. These two women have surpassed the stereotype that women are unfit for leading roles. These two shows promote not only the need for more blue-collar shows, but for more women to be cast in leading roles.
Television adheres to many of the popular stereotypes we have today. However, these selected shows are the exceptions to the rule. They all cast the stereotypes aside and reflect a true picture of the situation. Do we recognize these exceptions? If not, we need to start. They all deserve a standing ovation for their willingness to break with the ties that formerly bound them to the well-known stereotypes. We need to be more aware of what we are watching on television instead of blindly accepting what we see on TV as the absolute truth.
NOTE – This paper was written during my freshman year at University of Lynchburg in February of 1996. It has been modified from the original version (modified in November 1997). The modifications only involved correcting grammar and changing wording in several places. As far as structure and organization are concerned, no changes have been made.
Created by Sheri Baber