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Background on Media Stereotypes


The use of stereotypes in the media is a common historical trend that can be traced back several decades. The timeline illustrates the two most recent stereotypes in the media: the roles of Women and African Americans in society.

WOMEN. Throughout the 50s, 60s and early 70s women characters were primarily housewives who supported their husbands and took care of their families. This was also the primary role of women in America; however this trend began to change during the 60s. Women began to pursue careers and prime-time television began to air shows that portrayed independent, successful, career women. Mary Tyler Moore is a good example of these changing attitudes. She played a happy homemaker in the 60s on The Dick Van Dyke Show and in the 70s she was the star of her own show portraying a career woman in The Mary Tyler Moore Show . The role of women has taken a more dramatic change with shows like Sex and the City , portraying successful women who cannot find love.

AFRICAN AMERICANS. African Americans underwent a more progressive change in their portrayal by the media. The early 70s brought us the very politically incorrect character Archie Bunker in All in the Family . But even through his bigotry he allowed his black neighbors to enter his house and carry on conversation, a big step for many Americans at that time. Two seasons later we were introduced to Sanford and Son, where the two main characters were uneducated and ran a junk trade. The Jeffersons followed portraying an out-of-place black couple that got rich quick through their investment in a dry cleaning business. They too were fairly uneducated and Mr. Jefferson often displayed similar bigotry toward whites as Archie showed towards blacks. And finally The Cosby Show aired in the mid-80s portraying a well to do, well educated black family.

ATTITUDES. These changes in character portrayal correspond with the changing attitudes in American society at the given time. Annie Paul states in Where bias begins , “Much of what enters our consciousness comes from the culture around us. And like the culture, it seems that our minds are split on the subjects of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. ‘We not only mirror the ambivalence we see in society, but also mirror it in precisely the same way.' Our society talks out loud about justice and equality, and most Americans accept these values as their own. At the same time, such equality exists only as an ideal, and that fact is not lost on our unconscious. Images of women as sex objects, footage of African-American criminals on the six o'clock news cannot be escaped. ‘We didn't choose to know it, but it still affects our behavior'." This consciousness is fueled and mirrored by media portrayals of our culture. {more}

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