Social Media and Television

Social media is a huge part of our culture today that allows people to participate in an active dialogue about multicultural issues. Often times, users find like-minded people on the sites who share their point of view. In this way, we start to see the creation of counter-public spheres on social media sites.

The public sphere is the space in which individuals can discuss problems within a community and work towards social change. Counter-publics are groups of marginalized people formed by their conflict with the norms and values of the dominant culture. Therefore, a counter-public sphere is the venue for marginalized populations to examine problems that are unique to them away from the dominant group.

Counter-publics can emerge in two different situations: enclaves and satellites (Squires, 2004). Enclaves are formed when a group has been forcefully removed from the normalized culture, and must bond together for safety. Satellites are a form of counter-public sphere where marginalized groups want to create the space to freely discuss societal issues without the dominant group. We often see satellites emerge in social media in the form of multiscreening.

When someone uses more than one type of media at the same time, he or she is multiscreening. Live tweeting is an example. When someone uses twitter to talk with others while watching television, they’re engaging in a community discussion about the show, award ceremony, or any other kind of media with like-minded people. According to “Digital Diversity” by IPSOS Media, 49% of African Americans use social media while watching TV, which is much higher than the percentage of White viewers. Social media offers this marginalized group the space for community discussions and ways to communicate with others who share similar values. An example of this is the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite during the 87th Academy Awards.

In 2015, social media users showed their anger at the complete lack of non-white actors nominated in the four main acting categories. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending before the ceremony even began. Twitter users announced their decision to Boycott and called for African American actors/celebrities to do the same. People tweeted facts about how seldom black and nonwhite actors are recognized in award shows like The Oscars.

Here are some tweets:

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 2.11.30 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-22 at 2.11.09 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-22 at 2.10.20 PM

Viewers united and shared their disappointment and outrage for a system that fails to recognize the achievements of marginalized groups using #OscarsSoWhite. This is just one example of a counter-public sphere on social media. Subordinate groups are able to use social media platforms and multiscreening to meet away from the dominant group and discuss issues with like-minded people.

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: Intercultural and Social Justice PR

Multiculturalism is a huge consideration in the world of public relations. Strategic communication is the effort to create mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and it’s publics. Therefore, it’s crucial that public relations professionals understand the complexity and diversity of it’s clients public. Intercultural relations refer to any interaction among people of diverse backgrounds and who possess different cultural views.

We see intercultural communication in social justice PR. This brand of public relations creates publicity campaigns on behalf of traditional civil rights and social justice organizations.

The efforts of social justice public relations are more than commendable. These organizations promote the voices and ideas of those who advocate for a more just social policy. This in turn advances positive social changes and supports marginalized groups.

There are many PSAs that are created from the efforts of social justice organizations. A public service announcement is an ad that is sponsored by non-profit organizations and/governmental agencies. These campaigns address multiple issues, but often times the work toward positive social change. Take for example this series of commercials about the derogatory use of the word gay.

This commercial questioned the use of the word gay to mean stupid, laughable, and disgusting. Using celebrities like Hillary Duff is one was to gain attention of the audience. This advertisement promotes fair treatment of the LGBTQQA community and denounces the offensive use of the word gay.

Here’s another example of a PSA that comments on domestic violence.

This chilling public service announcement was created for No More, an umbrella organization working to combat domestic violence and sexual assault. It aired during coverage of the 2015 Super Bowl. Many found this chilling advertisement to be very affective. It spoke to an issue that affects many women on a night that many people were watching television.

Television allows a great platform to advocate for the voiceless populations in society. Intercultural communications and social justice public relations take advantage of the venue to advance equality. This is just another example of multicultural representations in television.

How do we make fun of society? Satire in television.

Satire is a literary or mediated work that diminishes a subject (i.e. an individual, a group, an idea, etc.) by making it ridiculous. These works evoke a sense of amusement, contempt, or scorn for the subject in order to shame it or reform it. Satire is used to make a comment or criticism on some aspect of society. Therefore, simply mocking a subject is not considered satire.

Examples of satirical media use four techniques to ridicule their targeted subject. The four techniques are:

Exaggeration: When exaggeration is used, one aspect is enlarged or overstated so that the flaws in it are obvious. The subject is presented far beyond normal bounds in order to render it ridiculous. This is where we’d find Scream Queens.

Fox’s hit show Scream Queens is creating all kinds of hype, and a little bit of controversy. Some think the show goes too far and think that questionable remarks and language are over-used. Others have leaned into the satirical nature of Scream Queens.Regardless, the show has many examples of exaggeration as a technique. In this clip, we see four white women using violence against men to express their anger with being catcalled.

Incongruity: These works present things that are out of place in their surroundings. The aspects look absurd and preposterous in this setting. For example, Rick and Morty, a show on Adult Swim, combines the human world and the alien world to comment on certain aspects of our society. One way to make fun of life on Earth is to juxtapose it with other life forms.


Reversal: This technique employs role reversal to satirize social standings. An example can be seen in The Office. Steve Carroll plays Michael Scott, an idiotic manager of a branch who is seemingly incapable of running the office. In early seasons, Michael’s superior is Jan Levinson, a woman who is much smarter, more mature, and a better leader than Michael. In this clip, Michael accidentally starts a union in the warehouse that Jan is forced to shut down.

This is an example of a reverse satire because it shows a woman in an authoritative position fixing the mistakes of her male subordinate.

Parody: Parodies imitate the style and technique of something/someone else in order to comment on it. Think SNL’s “The Weekend Update.” The segment uses traditional news settings and techniques to make fun of news events.

Satire is a popular technique to making social commentary in television. It’s effective and well-received. It’s important to understand the uses of satire before unknowingly criticizing a work that employs satire.

Acculturation and Ethnicity in Television.

Why are ethnic representations so different than racial representations? To answer this question, we need to have a clear definition of race and how it differs from ethnicity. Race is the physical makeup of DNA; however, this is not how we judge race in our society. Race is often perceived as a difference in skin color or physical appearance. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is defined as a group of people that have the same descent with a common culture and heritage. Race is a classification given to people. Ethnicity, however, can be chosen or accepted to some extent.

So when examining ethnic representations in television, we have to look past the physical differences and take a look at how one’s culture is presented.

When two cultures come into contact, behaviors and attitudes are modified. This modification is known as the acculturation process. Normally, the result of conflicting cultures is the absorption of a minority group into the dominant group, or assimilation. In a new ABC sitcom, “Fresh off the Boat,” we watch the acculturation process of Huang family.

Fresh Off the Boat is the first portrayal of an Asian-American family since 1994, when Margaret Cho’s All American Girl aired for one season. The show is told from the perspective of Eddie Huang, the eldest son in a Taiwanese family. Eddie finds it hard to assimilate, so he continually rejects Chinese culture. His character contrasts with Jessica Huang, Eddie’s mother. Jessica feels a strong connection to her Chinese heritage and she wants her children to carry it on.

Fresh Off the Boat is a major mark of progress in ethnic representation on television. Rather than using “Asian-American” as a blanket term to encompass a variety of cultures, the show consistently focuses on Chinese heritage and the story of a Chinese family. Many were relieved to finally see their experiences shared in network television. Robert Lloyd praises Fresh Off the Boat in his article for the Los Angeles Times. He says the show “does what few television shows do now, which is to make race not beside the point. It sits inside a minority culture and looks with bewilderment and bemusement at the dominant one.”

So is the show a leap in the right direction? Yes. But that does not that mean there aren’t problems. Some Asian-American viewers complained that they could not relate to the family on screen. In this way, the media creates a dichotomy between representing a wide variety of ethnic groups, and simply expressing one’s own story.

Ethnicity is a difficult concept to accurately convey in television shows. When watching shows that feature, or comment on, an ethnic group outside the majority, it’s important to watch for broad generalizations, the lack of different cultural aspects, and inaccuracies. In my opinion, the next step forward in ethnic representations is a more inclusive narrative that allows for unique stories and plots. Until then, it’s up to us to think critically when watching tv.

Representation in Sitcoms

It’s important to study sitcoms and their portrayals when discussing depictions of racial characters in television.

‘Sitcom’ is short for situational comedy, and these types of shows are characterized by 30-minute episode featuring recurring places and characters. In one episode of a sitcom, characters are introduced with a problem, deal with this problem and move on. It’s rare for an episode to not end well; these individuals/families always find a way to come together and restore peace. In this regard, sitcoms are problematic, because they simplify complex problems and emotions.

Sitcoms may seem short and expendable, but they have a profound impact on our understanding of the world and our idea of normalcy. Writers reproduce our everyday experiences in which the actors act like us, thus perpetuating a hegemonic state. We become invested in sitcoms because we watch beloved characters encounter familiar situations; we cry with them, we laugh with them, we grow with them.

Our connection to actors in sitcoms can be beneficial. Maanvi Singh describes the impact of our ‘relationship’ with television characters in his article for NPR. These parasocial friendships with fictional characters can actual change our worldviews for the better. Singh states “as we grow emotionally attached to characters who are part of a minority group, our prejudices tend to recede.” Members of society grow fond of characters that represent a minority and begin to dispel previous bigoted ideas.

will smithA common example of this phenomenon is Will Smith’s character in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Will plays a troubled teenager who moves in with his upper-middle class family to find a better life. Viewers loved his kooky antics, supported him through his hardships, and stuck with him until the end.

Kurt-GleeOr what about Glee? Many viewers watched Kurt, an openly gay teen, get bullied and harassed throughout his time at McKinley High School. The sympathy and attachment some people have to Kurt result in a broader acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

These connections to Will and Kurt helped diminish racism, intolerance, and misunderstandings. Therefore, elements of sitcoms can have a positive impact on their viewers.

But racial representations, or the lack there of, in sitcoms is problematic. Because sitcoms guide our idea of normalcy, the historical lack of minority characters in sitcoms is harmful. Our image of a normal family is two straight, white parents who find themselves and their children in the upper-middle class. Marginalized populations appear occasionally, and they rarely encounter problems of racism, poverty, or violence. These issues, and these characters, don’t have a place in the perfect, happy-family lifestyle of sitcoms.

It’s crucial that we as viewers take sitcoms with a grain of salt. Even though sometimes we feel an attachment to characters in these types of shows, it’s crucial that we examine broader representations of various cultural and ethnic groups. This portrayal of everyday life seems normal, but it’s far from realistic.

How do we perceive reality? An introduction to framing theory

It is clear that when an audience is presented with media content, their understanding and attitudes of society are impacted. Scholars attempt to explain this impact in a multitude of ways. Last week’s post discussed the Agenda Setting Theory, which states that media gatekeepers filter and shape the news to create the public agenda. According to this theory, the media does not affect our responses to content; it simply creates a dialogue on certain issues while ignoring others. But how do media influence our perception of the content? This influence is explained by another theory referred to as framing.

Television programming, both entertainment and news, contains contextual cues that facilitate understanding and influence our decision-making ability. The embedded cues are known as frames. By casting a story within a frame, journalists select a few aspects of a story and make them more noticeable to an audience. The truth is not altered in anyway; however, some facets of the story are highlighted more thoroughly than others. In order to influence our interpretation and opinion of content, media gatekeepers often uses frames.

When watching television news, we are attempting to evaluate and comprehend the situations on the screen. The visual and rhetorical elements of a story that are highlighted in television news function to ease our understanding of the event. Therefore, our interpretation of a presented problem and its cause are heavily impacted by the use of these visual and rhetorical frames. Framing may also shape our moral evaluation and therefore our approach to solve the problem. We perceive a problem in a certain light, cast blame on a particular party, judge the cause, and attempt to fix the problem all because of the way the story is presented. In this regard, frames determine the way we make sense of the world.

An example of a rhetorical frame is the word thug. News anchors and reporters often tell stories of crime by describing the alleged as a thug. When an audience hears this word, they conjure an image of a young, violent, and most likely poor African American man.

In a segment from msnbc’s The Last Call, Lawrence O’Donnell comments on the problematic use of the word thug.

He calls upon the media to stop using the word thug because of it’s racist connotation. He begs his colleagues in television news to think before they racially characterize a crime by calling criminals thugs.With just one word, media gatekeepers have attributed the problem to a Black man, and the crime reported is immediately reduced to race.

Journalists use rhetorical frames in order to facilitate our understanding. Our preexisting knowledge of the word thug makes it easier for us to comprehend the story. As O’Donnell says in the clip above, if you’re using the word thug, “it’s not because you’re trying to add to our understanding of the story.” In using this frame, journalists simplify the narrative thus impacting our view of the issue.

Visual and rhetorical frames are common in televised and written journalism. We must look out for over-simplifications, questionable material, and seemingly small indications of gender/race/sexuality/etc used in news content if we want to more-fully understand the reality of a story.

How are we influenced by television? Media effects and agenda setting

Throughout history, scholars have speculated the effects that media have on society. Theorists began to examine how media-use impacts public knowledge and attitudes in 1920 in order to explain the profound success of Nazi propaganda. Now, almost 100 years later, media still has the ability to shape our lives, seeing as we are more exposed to media than ever before. There’s no doubt that television influences the thoughts and behaviors of an audience, but how exactly are we affected by what we see on the small screen?

With thousands of newsworthy events happening around the world every day, media gatekeepers are charged with the responsibly of choosing what to publish and what not to publish. In this regard, the media does not reflect the real world. Instead, our information and news in filtered and shaped to fit our interests. Media effect theorists call this the agenda setting function of the press. Agenda setting has a large impact on how we see and understand our world. The public agenda is shaped by which issues are covered and how often they are covered.

This is not to say that the media tells us WHAT to think. According to agenda setting theorists, the media simply brings certain stories to our attention, they don’t tell us what stance to take. While public opinion varies on each issue, everyone can agree which of these issues are the most important and relevant.

Take for example last year’s Ebola outbreak. The virus ravaged Western Africa, but as of January 2015, only ten cases of Ebola have been treated in America. So why did Americans feel that Ebola was such an important topic? Whether you felt that the virus was something to worry about or not, it’s indisputable that it was an issue on the public agenda. As the death toll rose, media gatekeepers covered Ebola cases more and more. The frequent coverage resulted in public anxiety and panic, which in turn resulted in more coverage.

Breaking news stories kept us up to date with the state of the outbreak. Here’s a clip of just few stories

The frequent coverage of the outbreak influenced public perception, but not public opinion. And this is a prime example of agenda setting. News stations did not tell us to panic or take any action, they simply informed us that the epidemic was more important than other events at the time.

The salience of certain topics over others is the result of the agenda setting function of the press. The public agenda is set by media, and we as consumers ought to be aware of the effects our news consumption has on our understanding of the world.