From the Simpsons to the Bundys: A critical analysis of disrespectful discourse in television narratives

Tony Russell DeMars

Abstract

Television programs today reveal an apparently increasing quantity of instances in which individuals interact without showing respect for authority or general respect for others. Television critics often attempt to tie declining moral values in modern society to television content. This study critically analyzes the acculturation and socialization potential of television narratives to create a preferred meaning to the television audience and, in particular, to the child viewer. Quantitative research has demonstrated how certain variables in the television viewing experience may be manipulated in order to prove particular effects of television. The current study recognizes the contribution made by quantitative research to the discussion of television as a cultural agent, but questions the ability of quantitative research to reach any consensus on the effects of television. In doing so, this study illustrates how television, along with many other socializing influences in a society, may create, nurture, and support certain ideological positions. The critical analysis examines a range of television programs to reveal preferred meanings within the texts and notes prevalent ideologies by interpreting the narrative, semiotic, and political economy realities which are a part of the television production process. Although many instances are uncovered to demonstrate dominant cultural values within the television texts, television narratives themselves are not judged to be uniquely capable of affecting society. The study concludes that disrespectful discourse is depicted as the preferred meaning in some television narratives and that analysis of the role of the media in rewarding the behavior helps members of the society understand how media content embodies modern culture.