222782 Supervisor but no super genius: Gender, race, and ratiocination in American television

Monday, November 8, 2010

Leigh E. Rich, PhD , Department of Health Sciences, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah, GA
American television has made strides in its portrayals of gender and ethnicity since the beginning of the medium. Increasingly women and minorities play characters imbued with supervisory and decision-making power. Unfortunately, these characters (1) often still do not drive the narrative of programs and/or (2) rarely exhibit as a character trait the ability to reason that Edgar Allen Poe termed “ratiocination.” This grounded theory research project uses a purposive sample of American television dramas from 1948 to the present featuring characters that exhibit a “super genius” ability to solve mysteries. With few exceptions, results demonstrate that these television dramas rarely allow the “super genius” to be female and/or a minority. When they do, moreover, the female and/or minority characters often must discard personality traits that are typically related to being female and/or a minority. Thus, in spite of advances made in mass media portrayals of women and minorities, these changes in American television dramas are superficial and reify an underlying stereotype about who is — and who is not — capable of engaging in reason. This presentation will present examples from television dramas and link the discussion to the Western philosophical concept of reason and the literary concept of ratiocination.

Learning Areas:
Communication and informatics
Diversity and culture
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1. Explain how Western philosophy champions the masculinized concept of reason. 2. Define ratiocination and discuss its role in 19th- and 20th-century literature. 3. Discuss how American television dramas generally prohibit women and minorities from possessing the ability to reason.

Keywords: Media Literacy, Marginalization

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an assistant professor of public health (and a former journalist) with a research focus on the media’s influence on health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.