The New She is He: Profiling on Television

James Gavin
August 28, 2011

I see it in the school district where I work. Girls punching boys — punching them hard, sometimes out of meanness, sometimes for fun, but still packing a wallop.

It’s been increasing in recent times, with situation comedies either reflecting, or leading, the trend. How did these young people learn this? Has this nastiness come to be OK because boys are supposed to be able to take a punch without showing pain? Or do the boys get the whack because they’re such muttonheads and they have it coming?

My daughter watches a lot of teenage television programs. I did too when I was a kid. But, today, I’m noticing a change. TV laugh tracks go back to “Leave it to Beaver,” but today’s family situation comedies have become a little nasty in actions and attitude, and a lot more physical and prejudiced. Yes, I said “prejudiced.” Kind of like the ’50s, but not exactly because the bad guys have been switched around!

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XMiley Cyrus
Orefield
Groucho Marx
Charlie Chaplin Here’s the new paradigm. Instead of Amos and Andy stereotypes, and women staying at home, the new writers deal in myths about clueless white males malfunctioning in the modern world and bumbling in relationships. But is making fun of the former privileged class the right way to make up for that group’s past transgressions?

I don’t want to be overly serious. We’ve always deflated pompous figures or hapless simpletons, going back to Groucho Marx’s treatment of Margaret Dumont and Charlie Chaplin’s way of taking a rich banker down a few pegs. But with our modern consciousness, can’t we rise above those prejudices?

My daughter watches family situation comedies, so she and I sat down to look at some shows together, paying attention to their attitudes and watching the characters’ actions. We saw knocking down, hard pushing, hitting with hands and objects. You got the distinct impression that the girls in the shows were justified in laying the blame on the boy — “He should have known better than to disappoint and frustrate her with his incompetence! He deserved the blow.”

So the two of us sat in front of the TV and took data on four specific violent acts:

1) How many times during a half-hour episode did a girl character hit a boy?

2) How often did a girl hit another girl?

3) How often did a boy hit a boy?

4) And how often did a boy hit a girl?

We collected data for eight different shows, and for each show, anywhere from one to four episodes.

“Hannah Montana” led in violence, with four instances per episode of a girl hitting a boy, and one instance of a boy hitting another boy, but with no violence done to girls.

“The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” showed three examples of girl-on-boy violence, one of girl-on-girl and one of boy-on-boy.

The spinoff series, “Suite Life on Deck,” limited itself to one strike of girl at boy, one strike of girl against girl, two strikes of boy against boy.

“iCarly” (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) was more well-rounded in the violence department. It had all four versions: two strikes on boys by girls and one each of girl hitting girl, boy hitting boy and even one boy hitting a girl.

“True Jackson, VP” displayed two strikes by boy-against-boy.

Blessedly, there was no violence in “Wizards of Waverly Place,” “Even Stevens” and “Sonny With A Chance” (yes, they capitalize the “A”).

So the totals were: eight boys physically attacked by girls, seven boys hit by boys, three girls hit by other girls and one girl struck by a boy. So we’re being trained to get a laugh from girls striking and berating boys, and we’re being conditioned to believe that boys are sloppy and violent among themselves when they get together, but there’s nothing comedic about a girl being injured, whichever sex caused the harm.

What I’d like to know is how much of this is unconscious to the writers and producers of these programs, because as mean and dishonest as Eddie Haskell was, he never hit the Beaver.

Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/ct-perspec-0828-profile-20110828,0,4609312.story