Though not as prevalently as in earlier decades, some television programs of today are evident of stereotyping—whether deliberately or not. The mass media, especially the television, plays a very crucial role in molding the image of one group or individual as how they portrayed or presented in the shows that are aired and of course watched by a massive audience. A single television program can make or break the image of an individual or a certain group.
Among the shows that television network stations are bringing us, some are disappointingly guilty of showing stereotyping—whether in race, religion, gender, occupation or even age. Some say it is inevitable given our cultural differences, while some say stereotyping could be avoided if we choose to.
“Stereotypes” can be defined as morals or characteristics that are used to tag a particular member of a certain group as the whole group as well. Stereotyping can either be positive and negative. An example of a good stereotype is tagging the Americans as good dancers; while an example of a negative stereotype is looking at the women as those who are weak and tend to be irrational because of their emotions.
As stated earlier, the modern television programs are guilty of presenting or depicting stereotypes.
Aired every Sunday, under the major television network, ABC, Desperate Housewives ironically displays stereotypes. The popularity of the Desperate Housewives reached a 24 million a week viewership, according to a survey conducted by Nielsen Media Research.
The show is basically intended to cater its audience issues about gender. It is a primetime soap packed in a hilarious story featuring five housewives who have different stories to tell.
The desperate housewives include: Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), the divorced single mom who will do strange things just for love; Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman), who tries to balance the balancing the difficulties in both work and family; Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross) – “Martha Stewart on steroids” — who clashes with her being a widow, addiction to alcohol and her resentful children; Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria), the former model who has everything she could ask for – a wealthy husband, a big house – except an ideal or even a good marriage; and “sequential” divorcee Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan), the carefree lady who is into real estate with her love life everyone is talking about.
We intently watched how Susan Mayer, Lynette Scavo, Martha Stewart, Bree Van De Kamp, and Edie Britt dealt every circumstance that they faced while we are given entertainment that we, viewers, look for in a television show. But then, we failed to scrutinize each scene that consciously or unconsciously displayed cases of stereotyping.
In a season of Desperate Housewives, the Applewhites, the only Black family in the series was keeping a mentally retarded son name Caleb. Caleb was a violent guy which pushed his family to keep him in the basement of their house. It was later in the show that we found out that the Applewhites’ “good son” name Matthew is actually a rapist and murderer.
It was when Betty Applewhite (mother of Matthew and Caleb) was playing the piano when she heard Matthew and her former girlfriend arguing in the other room. Caleb heard about their fight and decided to see Melanie at the yard that same night. While at the yard, much to Melanie’s annoyance, Caleb attempted to kiss her. Melanie then hit Caleb using a stick. Then Caleb hit Melanie back causing her to be severely wounded.
Then Melanie was found dead. Caleb was then suspected who killed Melanie.
When Betty was into custody where she saw a photo of Melanie’s dead body, she noticed that the jacket on Melanie’s body is his son’s property—it was Matthew’s. It was then revealed that Matthew was the one who killed Melanie. Matthew killed Melanie by hitting her with a stick which killed her instantly.
When Betty confronted Matthew about her knowing of what really happened, Matthew told her that he was jealous because Betty loved Caleb more than she love Matthew. Betty answered that it was only her who can love Caleb that way so there is no point to get jealous. Because Caleb needed that kind of love. Matthew then angrily left to get his present girlfriend, Danielle before Betty could call the police.
In the duration of the series, Matthew was portrayed as someone who can do no harm. The shocking part came when he killed his former girlfriend Melanie while everyone thought that it was Caleb, his brother who killed Melanie. Matthew also died as he has shot by a police.
Right after the shocking revelation, the Applewhites left the village which also left the viewers hanging as the reason why they left was not explicitly stated. Whether deliberately or not, the program showed portrayed the Black American characters as violent individuals.
On a brighter side, the Applewhites, the sole Black American family who are included in the “center stage” was depicted as a family who has a strong religious belief, especially Betty Applewhite.
The producers could have come up with a race-sensitive television program if the negative and violent characters were not concentrated to the sole Black family in the television series. Also noticeable with the television program was that it only featured a little chance for the Black Americans to be in the scene. Sure, they were given roles—but what kind of characters do they portray? A mentally-retarded guy? A rapist and an addict?
The television series, Desperate Housewives has been receiving negative criticisms based on its content. Other critics claimed that the series is indeed guilty of portraying a string of
stereotyping on gender, occupation, race, among others.
Examples of the other stereotypes showed in the television series include: If a Chinese woman would be deported in China, they will be automatically become slaves; retarded Black men are maniac; those who are addicted to alcohol have the tendency to be sex addicts
The issue on stereotyping on races has been there for a long time. Stories have told and television programs have been aired about stereotyping.
Cognizant of the fact that the television networks, more often than not, offers programs which contains negative stereotypes of individuals or members belonging to a certain ethnic group or race. This has a negative effect dubbed as stereotype threat among those who belong to the same ethnic group or race. As a person is continually exposed to off-putting representations of his/her own racial or ethnic group, the person would begin to absorb the characteristics of these representations.
Desperate Housewives could have been better if it presented a captivating journey of marriage and motherhood while casting away insulting stereotypes.
Without compromising its content to commercial value, the Desperate Housewives could have revolved around the struggles of the modern women. The modern women’s survival and their ability to cope with the situation—all in its profundity and complexity could be highlighted by the producer or writer of the series. The Desperate Housewives could be transformed into a comedy with social relevance uplifting and empowering women—void of discriminations and negative stereotypes.
Desperate Housewives could have mean Dazzling Housewives—and not Dangerous Housewives as some critics said. It could have turned out into a television program which combined comical scenes and respect to the race and gender of each viewer.