Research Proposal on the Portrayal of African- Americans in popular sitcoms and their Reinforcement of Racist discourse on Professionalism and Morality
Research Proposal on the Portrayal of African-Americans in popular sitcoms and their reinforcement of racial discourse on Professionalism and Morality
Introduction to Research
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The media plays a very important role today as it has the power to bring about certain opinions and creating a particular viewpoint in the society. Recognizing the importance of the television as a major source of information and a popular way to formulate sentiments towards certain topics, we have seen a shift in recent times of all advertisements and public messages being aired via this medium. The most recent example we have seen of the television being the forerunner in creating a mass opinion is the recent presidential elections and the role that they played in making history by having Barack Obama, a relatively unknown African-American candidate become the President of the United States of America.
The purpose of my research is to study the portrayal of African-Americans in the currently airing popular sitcoms and compare them with the sitcoms of the past and see how the representation of the African-Americans in the sitcoms has affected their social standing in society and see the change in living standards which they have brought about.
In the light of Antonio Gramsci’s Theory of Cultural Hegemony (Stillo), which states that in a cultural diverse society (such as the United States of America) society can be ruled over by a specific social class, I plan to investigate whether the theory stays valid. The research may provide contradicting findings to the Theory as we have witnessed that the cultural minority has been able to place their candidate as the head of the state against one of the majority wielding candidate.
Questions in Research
The questions I plan to ask with regard to the research would answer two different perspectives. The first type of questions would be directed at the African-American population and it would concentrate in finding out how the sitcoms being aired affect their own personalities. The purpose of these questions would be to determine how effective the sitcoms are in formulating the behavioral and social tendencies of the specific group of the community. The second type of questions would be directed towards all the population which does not fall under the first category’s requirement (African-Americans). They would be asked questions about their perception of various popular African-American sitcom characters, how they perceive them and on a general note whether they actually correctly portray the African-American community in general.
The type of questions would be qualitative and would be open-ended. The questions would try to find out the most popular African-American sitcom characters, the different sitcoms which people remember which had African-Americans playing the lead characters, and whether they can agree with the portrayal as being accurate to the real group of people.
People will be required to answer these questions and provided references by name when they are stating any character or show. This would show the popularity of certain shows over the others and the increasing recall rates of different shows in the minds of the respondents.
Interest in Research
The research in this specific topic was of particular interest to me because it is very relevant to our current world setting. The television is the absolute word regarding most topics and people follow images and concepts shown on the television blindly without doubt. The television has proven to the world its strength in dictating people’s choices and preferences and in lieu of recent developments I would like to study how strong their influence is (Project for Excellence in Journalism ). We can note however that aside from sitcoms as well, other political dramas, shows and programs have been very influential by turning their content into reality. Popular thriller show “24” depicted a African-American president whereas “Prison Break” showed a female president. Both candidates from the Democratic Party were African-American and a female.
To conduct this research, the methods which I will adopt would concentrate on analysis of secondary sources and focus groups. There is vast research on African-Americans in media and other related topics done by organizations such as the African Women’s Media Centre and other sources (Tonella). The sources I will consult will reflect on popularity of African-American sitcoms, their timings of broadcast, the channels on which they are aired and the number of viewers that these shows are able to gather.
The purpose of introducing focus groups in my research methodology is because it would provide me with first hand information and it would provide me some new recent points to ponder as most secondary researches serve some other purpose. In light of some shows being cited I would aim to watch atleast a couple of episodes to get practical knowledge of the show’s content and be able to structure my latter focus groups to adjust to the shows content and portrayal.
Michael Foucault advocated the relationship of power, knowledge and discourse (O Farrell, 1997). In the research I would take some inspiration from the power of the media and the discourse of the material to form opinions. This is a very broad inspiration of Foucault’s theories but they are relevant for the purpose of understanding the media as the authoratative power in disseminating information and creating biases in our society.
Contribution of Research to American Studies
The contribution that this research will make towards American Studies is that it will be very beneficial for understanding how the media can affectively change perceptions and how different portrayals negatively or positively affect the society’s opinion of certain groups of people. In the past African-Americans were portrayed in a negative light but in recent times with the growing popularity of influential African-American personalities, such as Oprah Winfrey and Chris Rock in the television medium, we have seen improvement in the conditions of the community. The research will benefit in future groups as well, as they can see how sitcoms and regular television shows can mold people’s leniency towards certain topics and social groups.
The research would shed light on the recent political success of the new President during his election campaign and would also help us to understand that our times are dictated by the types of shows we portray. If we show a certain group in a positive light on television, then the general public may see them in that light whereas a certain group shown negatively would probably find a harder time surviving.
On an intellectual level, the television is a source of power. We must realize that and learn to foster its power to bring about the certain changes which we’d want to exist in our society.
O Farrell, C. (1997, January). michael-foucault.com. Retrieved May 18, 2009, from Michael-Foucault.com: http://www.michel-foucault.com/
Project for Excellence in Journalism . (n.d.). African American Media . Retrieved May 18, 2009, from Journalism.org: http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2009/narrative_ethnic_africanamerican.php?media=11&cat=3
Stillo, M. (n.d.). Antonio Gramsci. Retrieved May 18, 2009, from theory.org.uk: http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-gram.htm
Tonella, K. (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2009, from Gender, Race and Ethnicity in Medi; African Americans in Media: http://www.uiowa.edu/~commstud/resources/GenderMedia/african.html