Rise of Homosexuality in Media Thesis

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¶ … Rise of Homosexuality in Media and Its Social Effects

Gay and Lesbian Studies

This paper will look at the rise of homosexual portrayals in televised media, and whether or not the increase has helped inspire a greater social awareness and acceptance of homosexuality in America; one factor being that the stigma once associated with homosexuality has significantly lessened (Calzo, 2009). However, this paper will also look at how some research is biased towards heteronormativity (Lev, 2010) spurring media representations and viewer attitudes to maintain the sense that homosexuality is an aberrant behavior (Fisher, 2007). Included in these discussions will be the question of whether media portrayals are representative of homosexual culture or rather only homosexual stereotypes that serve to protract the heteronormativity bias -- and in some cases even encourage risky sexual behavior (Werner-Wilson, 2004). Television shows such as the L Word and Will & Grace provide context for both quantitative and qualitative research, while cultivation and social learning theories attempt to explain the attitudes of viewers. The conclusion of This paper is that the increase of homosexuality portrayed in American media has influenced a significant portion of American society to at least a level of indifference with regards to homosexual behavior as a norm (Bonds-Raacke, 2007), while heteronormativity still sets the standard in terms of relationships and child-rearing (Lev, 2010), for a portion of American society.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Thesis on Rise of Homosexuality in Media and Its Assignment

This survey, therefore, represents two conflicting points of media's influence upon societal attitudes towards homosexuality. Two recent episodes reported by journalists nationwide that exemplify the dichotomous nature of this study are: the Pentagon survey of 400,000 active and reserve military on attitudes regarding the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" policy, in which 70% of responders said they would have no problem with the repeal (O'Keefe, 2010); and the contrast to this poll, which is the protest by Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas to the homosexuality of fallen Marine Matthew Snyder outside his funeral. The Supreme Court ruling given in response to the protest states that "hurtful speech" is protected by the First Amendment, with Justice Samuel Alito, however, giving the dissenting opinion that the First Amendment does not have to tolerate a "vicious verbal assault" (AP, 2011). These two contradictory episodes in recent American history are indicative of the two diverging takes on homosexuality in modern America. While one culture is represented as being indifferent to homosexuality, another is viewed as considering it a gross and despicable behavior. The first question posed by various researchers is: Why do social groups have such attitudes? The first question posed by this paper is: How does televised media influence such groups?

Cultivation Theory and the Socialization Factor

As Jerel Calzo (2009) says, "Attitudes towards homosexuality have been shown to vary along different demographic dimensions such as gender or political orientation (e.g., Herek, 2002; Strand, 1998), but little is known about how these attitudes form." Calzo states that attitudes regarding homosexuality are learned through socialization, which can range from parents and friends to religious institutions. But the greatest contribution to the shaping of most Americans' attitudes towards homosexuality, according to Calzo, is none other than the American media. Indeed, Calzo argues that "media portrayals may be a primary source of information for the 40% of American adults who claim not to know a gay person personally."

Such at least serves as the thesis of Calzo's study. Employing cultivation theory, Calzo identifies media exposure as the cultivating factor of viewers' attitudes towards homosexuality. However, Calzo delves into a qualitative analysis of prime-time network programming to contend that homosexual portrayals, such as on Ellen or Will & Grace, stereotypically represent characters who lack "stable relationships…[are] laughable, one-dimensional figures…[and who] tend to be promiscuous, infected with HIV, or have unsatisfying sexual and romantic relationships." Calzo questions whether such representations can have a positive effect on viewers.

Before beginning such an analysis, one must regard the fact that most viewers' attitudes towards homosexuality have been formed by his or her own gender, ethnicity, and religion. The way Calzo tests for changes in attitude is by looking for signs of where diverging attitudes of separate social groups become similar. Claiming that most social groups will respond to material that reflects their own already formulated opinions -- Calzo explains that certain shows will resonate with certain groups. The method of analysis by which Calzo assesses the general usage of media is to tally the number of hours logged viewing television programs and other media, followed by the giving of a questionnaire concerning participants' attitudes towards homosexuality.

Calzo's finding is that media does have a mainstreaming effect on the general population, citing that women, whom Calzo assesses as most tolerant of homosexuality prior to media exposure, after media exposure become less tolerant; while men, whom Calzo assesses as least tolerant, following media exposure become more tolerant. Calzo explains the shift in attitude by referencing shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which present a homosexual group that "continuously pokes fun at the gay stereotypes they represent…revealing that gay men are not a threat to straight men or women."

Calzo's study begins by noting that there is not sufficient evidence to prove that direct contact with media representations of homosexual characters alters viewers' sentiments: "To date no studies have documented whether everyday media exposure is associated with attitudes toward homosexuality." But by employing cultivation theory, Calzo suggests that negative stereotypes will likely have a negative impact on society's view of homosexuality, while positive stereotypes are likely to form positive opinions.

Contextual Factors and Viewers' Attitudes

Roger Cooper and Tang (2009) assert that the problem with analyzing viewers' participation in the medium of television will always boil down to "epistemological and theoretical debates about whether potential viewers are 'active' or 'passive' in their decision to use the medium." Cooper and Tang's research is based on two methodologies: "uses and gratifications" and focus on "structural and contextual" factors. They contend that whereas some viewers actively seek content to watch whether on television or the Internet, other viewers are constrained by time and location to watching whatever programs are available. Thus, their thesis is that researchers cannot fully explain why some shows are watched rather than others. Therefore, Cooper and Tang inject the discussion of homosexual portrayals affecting audience's attitudes with a degree of uncertainty. How culpable is media in influencing what is watched and what is learned from watching by viewers who may be either active or passive in their deportment?

The question may be answered by Deborah Fisher et al. (2007) when she reports that according to social cognitive theory television offers a vicarious-type of existence for audiences, who have no real-life model for behaviors and beliefs. Citing a nearly twenty-year-old study which found one out of five teenagers identifying television as the major source of sexual information, Fisher inadvertently raises the question: how many teenagers rely on media for information now? Nonetheless, Fisher points out that "most lesbians and gay men grow up in a straight community with few gay role models; thus, they are particularly vulnerable to the portrayals of gay people in the mass media." What this means is that media such as television, Internet and film are almost certainly having an affect on viewer's attitudes regarding gender -- whether those viewers are "active" or "passive" as Cooper and Tang propose.

Content Analyses

While Fisher relies on content analyses to provide empirical data of homosexual activity on television, the results of her quantitative research suggest that substantial homosexual content is largely limited to films and television comedy genres, and is almost non-existent on prime-time television. Most examples of homosexuality occur on cable networks and premium channels. Such a point serves to raise the question: are cable networks and premium channels giving fair and realistic portrayals of homosexuality, or are they purveying stereotypes, with -- because they are not on prime-time -- more erotically-charged scenes to attract viewers? If so, how does this affect viewers' attitudes towards homosexuality?

According to Fisher, "television viewers may be more likely to believe that nonheterosexual behavior is extremely unusual or deviant…Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth still have few examples of nonheterosexual characters, especially if they do not have access to cable or satellite television." However, a study by Jennifer Bonds-Raacke suggests that perhaps such is not the case. Bonds-Raacke's (2007) survey of people asked to recall memorable homosexual characters from television "indicated that over two-thirds of heterosexual participants recalled either Ellen or Will, and evaluative ratings for these characters were generally positive." Further investigation by Bonds-Raacke led her to conclude that "those recalling a positive portrayal later showed a more positive attitude toward gay men than those recalling a negative portrayal, and women had a more positive attitude overall than men toward gay men and lesbians." As Bonds-Raacke observes, positively portrayed homosexuals do affect a viewer's attitude on homosexuality in a positive way.

Such an observation concurs with Calzo's, which is that positivity produces positivity -- even among groups of diverging opinions.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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