I used my video essay to explore a topic I never really considered before this year, because it is so seldom acknowledged in TV shows or in films. Homeless representation in the media suffers primarily because of the driving force on our screens: consumerism. Homeless people aren’t usually portrayed on television unless they function as a threat in the news or the butt of a joke in comedy, because homeless people aren’t looking to buy anything because they don’t have extra income to spend. Additionally, content creators and producers might stray away from showing a relatable homeless character because it might encourage Americans in our capitalist environment to stray away from spending. The idea of having nothing might make people want to give their stuff away, rather than buy more. The majority of literature on this topic doesn’t address the issue of homeless representation directly, but instead turns to the idea of class division and advertisement. However, a few theories are still helpful in discussing the general neglect of homeless people, including Jason Mittell’s the commodity audience, which he explains in TV & American Culture, framing as discussed by Diane Kendall in Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America, and framing and the gap of wealth between the elite, middle, and lower income classes as discussed in Class Divisions in Serial Television by Sieglinde Lemke and Wibke Schniedermann.
According to Mittell, one “crucial facet of the industrial creation of audiences is that not all groups are created equal” (76). The purpose of television is to sell. Some audiences watch more television than others, and some are considered “more valued consumers” with “more money, more consumerist tendencies, and less hardened habits- a group deemed the commodity audience” (76). Product placement in television, either hidden in the show or obviously advertised in commercial breaks, is meant to target the commodity audience. In doing so, it leaves out a lot of other groups. Because the commodity audience is considered white and moderately wealthy, TV shows and films tend to showcase white and either moderately wealthy or very wealthy main characters, because the content creators think viewers identify with these stars more. Additionally, the choice to portray extremely rich characters, like those in Crazy Rich Asians or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, is made in the hopes it will establish a longing for the wealth to afford certain products. “(…) luxury cars are advertised to teenagers not because BMW believes a sixteen-year-old will buy their car, but to forge a long-term desire for the career as a symbol of success in adulthood” 76). The biggest issue with the commodity audience is that it neglects those who fall outside of it, like the homeless, and when it does acknowledge them, it besmirches their character as a whole.
Gelsey Plaza: Children spend a considerable amount of time watching TV shows, be it on television, Netflix, Amazon or Youtube. Thus, it is important that there are empowering, valuable and educational programs out there for youth. Edutainment provides entertainment with an educational or learning aspect. Through the lens of edutainment, I analyzed how the original Amazon Prime show Just Add Magic can be not only entertaining, but educational, too. With an overriding message of love, respect, kindness, and bonds between family and friends, Just Add Magic can teach youth valuable life lessons and important social and emotional behaviors. However, my project recognizes both the valuable messages that the show contains as well as the limits and limitations of these messages. Another important aspect I analyzed was for whom does media tell its stories? Is a show like Just Add Magic universally relatable to every kid or family? Just Add Magic offers both positive messages for youth, but at the same time embodies social and televisual norms, including a mostly white cast, a suburban setting, and nuclear families. All three of the principal girls are white and come from well-off, middle-class families. They live in a pleasurable town, attend a good school, and have nice family relations. Given the storyline and casting details, this show might not be universally relatable to every kid out there. Perhaps kids could even feel alienated by certain messages in the show. For example, although the show portrays great scenes of the main characters getting along with their families and being considerate and kind to their parents, not every child comes from a loving family with caring parents. Some kids may grow up in aggressive households. Some kids may not have access or money to a quality education. Therefore, Just Add Magic may only evoke positive messages to certain audience members while potentially excluding others. Furthermore, Just Add Magic, even if it was not the intent of the showrunners, may be interweaving certain normative ideologies in its storylines. A main feature of the show’s plot is the girls cooking, therefore paralleling a woman’s domestic role of cooking for her family. On the other hand, the show Sesame Street integrates puppets and humans of a wide array of races. Furthermore, its integrated inner-city locale has reached out to poor, urban children while also appealing to kids from a range of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds around the world. Just Add Magic, in contrast, may reach a more limited audience, as it features a relatively wealthy suburbia and a less diverse cast. Sesame Street’s multicultural mix of adults and children speaking both English and Spanish also enhances the show’s inclusivity and diversity. Throughout its history, Sesame Street seems to have always embraced diversity and inclusion by having its Muppets and their human friends discuss important issues (like bullying and divorce) and reflect people kids actually see day to day (like children whose parents are in the military). Despite its lack of diversity and its embodiment of social and televisual norms, Just Add Magic is still a nice example of how TV shows have the potential to teach kids valuable lessons and important social and emotional behaviors. For example, Just Add Magic teaches kids how to establish and maintain healthy relationships, make responsible decisions while solving challenging situations, and set and achieve positive goals. Edutainment can come in many different forms. We can teach kids about responsibility, problem-solving, strong bonds between family and friends, kindness and compassion. But if we don’t show them diversity and the value of different cultures, races and ethnicities, what message does this send out to our youth?
If an interviewer was to go up to random people on the street and ask, “what do you think is the best show on television right now?” What shows do you think people would offer up as the best? Game of Thrones? The Good Place? Something else on HBO, Netflix or Hulu? According to Rolling Stone’s list of the top 20 shows of 2018, the best two are The Americans and Atlanta. Both shows are produced by FX, a network owned by Disney/ 20th Century Fox that is known for creating “premium” content akin to HBO or Showtime. This was not always the case, when the network first launched, the goal of FOX was to go after a female demographic, “When FOX executives decided to launch FX in 1994, the plan for the new cable network was to go after women and go after them during daytime hours” (Schlosser 2018). Their planned failed because advertising revenue was minimal for non-primetime programming. So the network pivoted towards a male demographic with primetime shows. Former FX president, Peter Liguori described the programming strategy as bringing men to a network with primarily female viewership, “When you look at our prime time demos, it's a 50-50 audience. Off-network series like NYPD Blue and The X-Files, along with shows like Ally McBeal and The Practice, skew heavily towards women. So what we have done with baseball, NASCAR and Toughman is try and make a conscious effort to bring men to the network, too" (Schlosser 2018). Although the network claimed to be trying to move towards a 50/50 demographic, their programming choices said otherwise, “It would seem that with shows that feature scantily clad women in bathing suits, a late-night talk show addressing male issues and sports like NASCAR and Toughman, FX's target audience would surely be young men” (Schlosser 2018). The last decade has seen this shift towards a wider range of programming, including movies and sports, cement FX as a ‘quality’ network.
Real Housewives of Atlanta is produced by the network Bravo!. In the early 2000s, Bravo was transformed into a pop culture centered network after being absorbed into NBC Universal, with programming such as fashion, makeover, and celebrity shows (Himberg 2014). Bravo has set different goals for the niche branding of its network that are vastly different from FX. With appeals to a particularly upscale, material, and techy demographic, Bravo has approached marketing with unique campaigns, “ With a separate website dedicated to the “affluencer” campaign, Bravo is transparent about its brand, unabashedly flaunting the network’s desire for wealthy, high-tech consumers hungry for the latest trends” (Himberg 292). Former Bravo president, Lauren Zalzanick emphasized Bravo’s focus on digital engagement with fans and providing spaces for fans to interact and express opinions, “This emphasis on digital aspects of programming is part of the network’s appeal to affluent, educated, and tech-savvy adults with high levels of disposable income, who Zalaznick calls “affluencers.” In a 2007 interview, she described “affluencers” as “consumers who spend just as much time blogging about their favorite shows as they do watching them” (Himberg 292). The critical reception of shows produced by FX and Bravo is as disparate as the branding strategies employed by the two networks. As previously mentioned, some of FX’s content is lauded as the best of television while Bravo programs don’t really receive positive review. So what has led to FX and Atlanta being so critically legitimated while Bravo and Real Housewives of Atlanta are delegitimated?
In adult animation television, specifically series situated around the suburban, white, American family, there are distinct trends among representational structures. By using the same ‘traditional’ structure to signify a normative, American family, recurring themes permeate across different shows, networks, and even decades. The location of the most salient commonalities is found within the family structure itself: the portrayal of marriage, motherhood, and fatherhood.