Media Images in the Disney Show. Stereotype Essay Example

The Disney show, Jessie, is about a Texan teen named Jessie, who’s an idealistic girl from a military base in Fort Hood, Texas. As a recent high school graduate rebelling against her strict father who wanted her to join the army, Jessie moved to New York City to pursue her dreams and become a star, but ends up becoming a nanny to the four Ross children, Emma, Ravi, Luke and Zuri. In this American comedy show there are six main characters, Jessie, Emma, Ravi, Luke, Zuri and Bertram, the butler. The Ross family is a high status family that resides in a penthouse located on the Upper West Side of New York City. Emma Ross is a wealthy, somewhat ditsy, cynical girl. Emma is the oldest child of the Ross family, and the only biological child. Ravi is a very intelligent boy, born and raised for ten and a half years in West Bengal, India, and the newest addition of the Ross family. His lizard Mr. Kipling is his companion throughout the show, which he brought from India. Luke is a laid back and flirty boy who was born in Detroit and likes to cause mischief around the penthouse while also being sarcastic at times. He considers himself a "ladies' man", crushing on Jessie in particular. Zuri is a sassy, witty and talkative girl who was brought to NYC from her birth country of Uganda. She is the youngest child in the Ross family. Bertram is the Ross’ heavy set butler in their Upper East Side penthouse who the kids usually joke with throughout the show.
Through close analyzation of the Disney television show Jessie and children’s media research there will be a discussion of the possible psychological influences and effects that stereotypes presented in the show may have on children ages 9 to 13. According to Common Sense Media the target audience of Jessie is ages 7 and up. According to the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs during the ages of 9 to 13 are known as the early stages of adolescence. Based on this research there are many developmental stages that a child can experience both mentally and physically. “A central task of adolescence is to develop a sense of oneself as an autonomous individual” (Eccles 1999, p.37). Stereotypes are typically within “social psychology” where stereotypes re considered to be “pictures in the head” that people compare to their own social worlds. These characteristics are usually general assessments of the groups involved that began to be passed along (Stangor & Schaller 1996, p. 3). Some people do embody the traits of their stereotype; however, they do not necessarily represent all people within that group.
Children have become increasingly attached to certain characters that they see on television. This could mean that children’s media may have a major influence on children today. “Young children’s learning from television indicates that the likelihood that children will learn from screen media is influenced by their developing social relationships with on-screen characters” (Richert,Robb & Smith, 2011 p.82). Based on this research television shows like Jessie can develop a strong influence on children. Once these social relationships are developed between children and the characters they can learn certain messages from the show. This leads to the question of what exactly are children learning from Jessie? A child’s connection to a show is based on the growing prevalence of screen media in their lives, which can have an influence on their development (Richert,Robb & Smith, 2011 p.82). With that being said television can be impressionable on the lives of children and their development so what does this say for the content they are consuming.
In season 3, episode 23, “The Runaway Bride of Frankenstein” Jessie, the small-town girl who’s depicted as the damsel in distress, a stereotypical role often betrayed by a female (Lievrouw & Livingstone, 2006, p. 82) gets proposed to. The butler, Bertram uses the phrase “the perfect guy” when talking to Jessie about her new fiancé. This is something that young children could take literally due to parasocial interaction. Children can become more easily influenced by television based on their attachment to a specific character (Hoffner, 1996, p. 399). If children become attached to Jessie, they may also want to resemble Jessie’s life in search of “the perfect guy”, replicating that female stereotype. A child’s emotional connection to the show could make children interpret this media message as a reality; that there is a “perfect guy” in the world if they lack background information on the specific topic (Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan, 2014). This perspective could cause children to grow up and carry this memory of the perfect man with them, based on what they see in Jessie, the character they have become attached to.
“However, the growing prevalence of screen media in young children’s lives suggests technology itself may function as a more advanced partner scaffolding children’s developing abilities and facilitating learning” (Richert, Robb & Smith, 2011 p.82). Based on the social development theory and the Media as Social Partners study” (Richert, Robb & Smith, 2011), television can be seen as a “more knowledgeable other” (MKO), which might result in a child looking to Jessie to understand certain ideas. A “more knowledgeable other is an individual who is more knowledgeable or experienced with a particular idea, task or practice (Vygotsky, 1978). Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky developed this theory in order to evaluate the way in which people learn with the help of social interaction developing the concept of the “more knowledgeable other”(Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2016). According to Vygotsky’s theory people learn through their surrounding cultural environment as well as their zone of proximal development. According to the article, On Media, Children and their Parents (2011) children seek television as an outlet not only to entertain, but to inform them as well. In that way, television can be perceived as the more knowledgeable other there to provide assistance. If children are seeking television, specifically Jessie to provide them with information that they can then understand does that give media the platform to educate children on anything? This could be observed as both a negative and positive in the learning environment for children depending on what they learn. Media images that children are consuming from television can change and alter their perceptions of the world (Strasburger, 2004).

In this Halloween themed episode of Jessie the Indian character Ravi dresses up as Dr. Frankenstein, while the blonde Caucasian character, Emma dresses up as Cinderella, and the more heavy weight butler dresses up as the burgermeister. In this episode characters are portrayed by their stereotypical racial or physical identities. The “dumb blonde” stereotype that has been a prominent stereotype throughout American popular culture (Shifman & Lemish, 2010) surrounds Emma through several episodes of Jessie. Throughout the episode Emma is focused on being crowned pumpkin princess, while the African American character Zuri is cooking up her next mischievous scheme. “Media has the power to influence how viewers perceive events or individuals” (Lester, Ross, 2003, p. 11). Based on this evidence the messages presented in Jessie could be misinterpreted.

The media images may imply that all Indian characters fall into the category of doctors, scientist and other professionals, while all Caucasian and blonde characters fit the image of a Disney princess. These images could be misconstrued as something more than just parody because it is not just the Halloween episode that embodies these images. These misconceptions of certain body images, gender stereotypes and racial stereotypes could become part of the real-world perceptions for some. Depending on the amount of time children spend watching television determines how it may affect them (Paeditr Child Health, 2003). Another method of analyzing the influence of these messages is through cultivation theory. “Both children and adolescents tend to believe that the media are depicting the “real world,” the so-called cultivation hypothesis” (Strasburger, 2004). If these media messages are interpreted negatively from Jessie then later this could result in children developing misunderstandings and negative perceptions on people of a different race or body weight. If children as young as two to three-year old’s can distinguish the differences between their gender to the other than as they become older they could possibly be able to distinguish stereotypical perspectives from one race to another (Martins, Harrison, 2011, p. 342).

“Piaget's (1936) cognitive development theory explains how a child constructs a mental model of the world" (McLeod, 2010). Based on the concrete operational stage children seven to eleven years old they develop an understanding of more than one dimension or perspective. This stage is the third developmental stage in Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory, which marks the beginning of logical and operational thought (McLeod, 2010). This stage could be crucial to determining a child’s perception of certain races and or images and representations. There is logical or operational thought being applied to certain objects for children in this stage (McLeod, 2010). Children at the end of this stage rearing towards ages nine, ten and eleven and progressing towards the formal operational stage could show that children in this age frame are impressionable. If children from 11 to 13 years old are heading towards Piaget’s last stage of development (Ahmad & Ch, 2016), which is abstract logic and reasoning then a connection to shows like Jessie could be crucial in their understandings and perceptions of the real world. Based on the cognitive development theory in formal operational stage, children encounter deductive reasoning, where they can fall upon the words of it and then, which would lead to them formulating certain opinions. These two stages explain the two developmental stages of the age range from 9 to 13 years old.

According to research presented in The Howard Journal of Communications, over time the images of African American roles have become increasingly less negative (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008). In Jessie, Zuri who is presented as part of a rich upper-class family living in New York City. Although she is presented as sassy and mischievous at times overall her character could be understood as having some positive characteristics. Zuri’s character has created its own catch phrase of “mmmhm” indicating the sassy aspect that her character contains. This could also be interpreted as a negative stereotype within the show. “What is increasingly worrisome is the fact that racial stereotyping manifests itself in less apparent and subtle forms that are more difficult to detect and therefore to confront” (Lester, Ross, 2003, p. 90). Zuri’s character identifies with this evidence, where she is subtly being stereotyped negatively in this series. Her character’s popular catch phrase may imply that she is a very sassy person, which could be interpreted as an inappropriate racial identity. Why was the one African-American character selected to play this sassy role in the Disney show? If the roles were switched, would Zuri’s character be as popular? Zuri’s staple in the show is being the sassy girl who is always up to something and always has something sarcastic to say. A media message like this could be transcended and grouped as one representation for all African-American girls in the eyes of a 9 to 13-year-old. “Television’s messages may encourage a narrow-minded view of the self, because the time demands of a heavy television diet limit adolescents’ opportunity to take part in the real-world experiences that would otherwise broaden and add complexity to their self-definition” (Martins, Harrison, 2011, p. 341). This research argues that children who have a large consumption of television could end up being immersed in the unrealistic views of themselves and others based on what they see on television. During early adolescence a child experiences changes of maturity and gains a basic understanding of who they are. This ear the target audience of Disney’s Jessie, an age group that is going through a process of perception, which can mean they are at an impressionable stage in their lives. Early adolescence is where children start to make the distinction between real and hypothetical situations where they learn to reflect on themselves and other “complicated problems” (Eccles 1999, p.38). If children are at an impressionable stage of early cognition and reflection of oneself and they are consuming a television show like Jessie this could lead to several different interpretations of oneself. There could be some misrepresentations of a character like Zuri being linked to all African-American girls being sassy or having attitudes. On the other hand, Zuri being in the same financial class as a Caucasian character like Emma could create a positive connotation, where African-American women could be viewed as equals. What kind of message is that sending to children?

Stereotypes, media images and messaging in children’s media can conclude that there are both positive and negative influences in Jessie. Television can be regarded as the “more knowledgeable other” for some children and this can allow television to shape their opinions and perceptions of certain races and genders. The representations presented in Jessie affect the perceptions of the 9 to 13 audience. Through the influence of media, children can form certain opinions based off of what they see on the televisions shows like Jessie. “The media represent some of the most under recognized and most potent influences on normal child and adolescent development in modern society” (Strasburger, 2004). Television has a platform that can impact children in different ways. This could be a resourceful outlet to send accurate messages regarding race and gender through children’s television shows.


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