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"SMARTEN UP AND ACT DUMB, SISTER!" : REPRES E NTATIONS OF SEXUALITY AND GENDER IN CHILDREN'S TELEVISION MEDIA BY ZOE KENNEY A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Sociology/Gender Studies New Co llege of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for t he degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Emily Fairchild Sarasota, Florida May, 2011
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! "# "SMARTEN UP AND ACT DUMB, SISTER!": REPRESENTATIONS OF SEXUALITY AND GENDER IN CHILDREN'S TELEVISION PROGRAMMING Zoe Nicole Kenney New College of Florida, 2011 ABSTRACT ! $%&"'!()*&+,-.!,)%'-%&!()"/')"01!2*)!,3"0&)%4!/+.-!/%%-!.-'4&')&.!*2!',,%(-'5" 0"-1! -3'-!()%,0+&%!.%6+'0!,*4-%4-7!8*9%#%):!()%#"*+.!)%.%'),3!"4&",'-%.!-3'-! )%()%.%4-'-"*4.!*2!.%6+'0"-1 !"#$ !()%.%4-!"4!,3"0&)%4;.!/%&"'7! I examine this paradox through a content analysis of children's live action television shows, with attention to the h ighly normative nature of the sexuality that is present. !$1!.'/(0%!"4,0+&%.!<=!%(".*&%.! 2)*/! %&$!'()*$!+),$!-.!/$01 :!-3%!/*.-!(*(+0')!.3*9!'/*4>!? @ =A!1%')!*0&.!*4!B3%! C".4%1!D3'44%0!'.!*2!E()"4>!
! Chapter One: Introduction In contemporary American society, children and sexuality are separated by an array of taboos, authoritative figures and institutional regulations. As a result, media products created primarily for non adult consumers must meet standards of acceptability that pre clude overt sexual content. In this thesis however, I argue that representations of sexuality are present in children' s media that these portrayals of sexuality and gender are exclusively normative in their nature and f unction, and that due to the pervasive n ature of heteronormativity, the presence of normative sexuality is assumed to be innocuous and generally goes unremarked In their study of G rated Disney animated movies, Martin and Kazyak a rgue that "heterosexualit y is pervasive," in children's media and proceed to "examine how it makes its way into films that are by defini tion devoid of sexuality" (2007: 318). In a similar vein, I aim to explore representations of sexuality in children's media. However, while Martin and Kazyak examine the spectacular nature of heteroromanticism and heterosexiness in high grossing animated films, my analysis will focus on the content of children's live action television shows which, while embellished and scripted for entertainment pur poses, are constructed within familiar realms (i.e. the family, schoo l, youth peer groups) and recount common experien ces to which young viewers are likely to relate. Through this analysis, I will address how sexuality is represented within a television me dia subcategory that according to the federally standardized TV ratings and parental guidelines contains "little or no sexual dialogue or situations". I will discuss the extent to which these programs rely on normative understandings of sexuality, and how the inclusion of heterosexual replications and scenarios reinforce social constructions of
! # gender and sexuality. My content analysis will prompt a n exploration of the messages contained within these programs regarding the importance placed on romantic rela tionships in the lives of young people on normative sexuality and on desirable gendered characteristics, including both physical attributes and personality traits Children, Socialization, and the Media Considering the role of the media as a socializin g agent, it is of critical sociological importance to understand the content of media produced for youth audiences The contemporary A merican society is consuming unprecedented amounts of media products, and children serve as an increasingly targeted demog raphic. Media messages are intrinsically tied to our everyday lives and mass communication is of an inherently social nature These messages prove to be especially salient social forces for children, a s they are more likely to lack the critical skills that adult society members potentially develop. Since normative socialization requires uncritical subjects, this makes youth geared television shows, children's books, and G rated movies especially powerful tools for expressing a society's values. Television in particular is a prominent medium to which children generally have high levels of exposure A 2005 study of media engagement in the lives of children a nd teens found that, on average, children watch over 3 hours of television daily, with little variance between genders and across family inco me level demographics (Roberts et al. 2005 ). While movies, computer programs, internet access, video game technologies, print media, and the commercial advertising present in all of these have infiltrated the daily l ives of children, television clearly remains a staple in the canon of media to which
! $ children are exposed in our increasingly wired world. Therefore, it is important for sociologists to continue to deconstruct what moral and normative messages are prese nt in the television medium and analyze how socially relevant information is effectively communicated. Because of the inherently impressionable nature of the target audience, media products produced primarily for children face more stringent regulation than non children's programming. A majority of shows on cable channels specializing in children's programming, such as the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, receive either TV Y or TV G ratings, indicating shows that are either geared toward younger children or a re "appropriate for all ages," according to the FCC standards. While the TV G rating is not applied exclusively to children's programming (a cooking show may also have a rating of TV G, for example), the rating signifies a program's acceptability for child viewers. In order for a show to receive either rating, the FCC must deem the content of the program to be acceptable for children with little or no parental guidance. Society simultaneously regards sexuality as a topic inappropriate for children to be ex posed to and maintains heterosexuality's exceptional im portance within social dynamics. As a result, the presence of observable sexuality in children's television programming is inconsistently allowed for. With this thesis, I hope to explore the issues sur rounding sexual socialization through a content analysis of The Suite Life on Deck the highest rated program on The Disney Channel as of Spring 2011 By examining the nature of representations of s exuality and gender in this presumably innocuous program as well as an analysis of what identities and behaviors are being promoted or denied both implicitly and explicitly through these portrayals, I aim to deconstruct normative
! % assumptions regarding sexuality and gender. The Suite Life on Deck: An overview Th e Suite Life on Deck features 16 year old twin brothers Zack and Cody aboard the SS Tipton, the cruise ship where they live work, and go to high school Their classmates include Baile y, hailing from a farm in Idaho; Woody, Co dy's frequently teased roommat e; and hotel heiress London Tipton. Aside from the occasional cameo, Zack and Cody's divorced parents are largely absent from the show. Mr. Moseby, the cruise director, and Ms. Tutweiller, the children's teacher, are the primary adult characters in the pro gram. A spin off of the highly successful Disney Channel Original Program The Suite Life of Zack and Cody which premiered in 2005, The Suite Life on Deck has been on the air since Fall 2008, giving the franchise an overall run of over 6 years and produci ng the most episodes within any Disney Channel Original Program brand with 158 episodes produced to date. Within the demographic most relevant to this study, 9 14 year olds, The Suite Life on Deck has witnessed tremendous success. During its premiere seaso n, the show was the number one scripted television series among 9 14 year olds, in addition to ranking as the number one television series among 6 11 year olds ( Gorman 2008) In its first year on the air, The Suite Life on Deck improved its viewership 46% and 55% among 6 11 year olds and 9 14 year olds respectively ( Seidman 2009) Due to strong demand for the program, Disney Channel airs reruns of episodes throughout the week, in addition to premiering new episodes during the high profile 8pm Friday time sl ot.
! & The commercial success of The Suite Life on Deck is evident beyond the television medium alone. In 2009, two DVDs based off of the series made their way to stores, one featuring a compilation of the series' episodes, and the other featuring "crossover episodes" with characters from The Suite Life on Deck appearing on screen alongside popular characters from Hannah Montana and The Wizards of Waverly Place two other Disney Channel Original Programs. Additionally, magazines, sticker and activity books, a nd a party planner have been published featuring The Suite Life on Deck A Disney Channel Original Movie based on the series is expected to air in 2011. With this thesis, I will shed light on the nature of popular, contemporary children's media in regard to representations of sexuality and gender. In chapter two I situate my own work within the context of other research in this field; theoretical perspectives relevant to my project, as well the empirical findings of other scholars will be discussed. In cha pter three, I describe the sample and methods of my study. In chapter four, I present my data alongside analysis of the content of my sample. In chapter five, I conclude by discuss ing in greater detail the social implications of the content analyzed in cha pter four.
! Chapter Two: Literature Review In this chapter, I discuss the theoretical and empirical foundations from previous scholarly work on which my study is based. The following sections on social psychology, theories of sexuality, and emp irical research regarding children and the media provide a framework through which my study can be understood in an academic context. Social psychology and socialization Sociologists have long explore d media as a socializing force, with m any researchers f ocused specifically on the relationship between the media and sex and gender role socialization (Witt 2000; Galician 2004; Kim et al. 2007; Wright 2009). Analyzing the content of the media products children consume provides insight into the values and role s they are being socialized into understanding, the very values and roles that are generally assumed to develop naturally from characteristics inherently bound up in sex and essential gender difference s Socialization is a dynamic process, influenced by co untless factors building upon and negotiating one another within a n individual's social reality. Through this proces s, children acquire information from many sources -what they observe directly, what is portrayed in fiction and media, and wha t they are told" (Huston 1985:1 0). Arguably the range of information provided through the first and last of these channels varies significantly based on a child's given socia l environment. In regard to media and fictio n, however, the content that children are exposed to is likely to prove far more diverse to include references to people, places, or practices that might differ significantly from th ose with which they have firsthand experience While this diversity may not accurately reflect the heterogeneity of the r eal world, it does expand their worldview to a mediated
! ( extent. Through exposure to the media, viewers are exposed to symbolic social interactions. It is this form of symbolic interaction (via exposure to media representations ) combined with lived interact ions ( via experiential knowledge ) that socially construct one's reality (Adoni and Mane 1984 ). Among the myriad forms of media to which one may be exposed, television stands out as one of the most prominent communication mediums of the 20 th and 21 st centur ies. While internet access video games, and cell phone applications have gained a significant foothold among generations of media engaged youth, the consumption of television programs still occurs at profound rates. American children, on average, view ove r 3 hours of television a day, with little variance across family income level demographics (Roberts et al. 2005). These statistics indicate that children are consistent consumers of television media, and that television viewing remains, for many American children, a daily activity. Gerbner, et al. (1985) assert that "the mass ritual" of consuming television products plays a significant role in the everyday life of many individuals, as well as in society as a whole. Television, the authors argue, remains mo re homogenous in its production than other media (i.e. movies, print media) through its "centralized mass production and ritualistic use of a coherent set of images and messages produced for total populations" (Gerber et al. 1985: 19). Despite their otherwi se heterogeneous composition, t he "total populations" for whom television med ia is produced for inherit shared symbols and tools of intelligibility "which serve to define the world and legitim ize their social order" (Gerber et al. 1985 : 18). While a n ation of t elevision viewers certainly varies in terms of cultural tendencies, norms and values, and political ideologies, television
! ) programs remain viable through appeal that is far reaching. Gerbner, et al. refer to t he process through which differences in th e beliefs and experiences of a heterogeneous viewership are overcome through television viewership as mainstreaming (1985 : 31). Mainstreaming limits the diversity of representations and messages contained within television media, targeting the largest possi ble viewership and disseminating unified cultural products across a range of demographics. Through mechanisms of mainstreaming, television products simultaneously adhere to and reinforce the dominant ideal of what defines appropriate (and profitable) enter tainment. While alternative television media has steadily increased in popularity over the past few decades (Boddy 1990; Jones 2005), relatively norm challenging or socio critical programs, such as those found on Logo, the MTV network's LGBT oriented offs hoot, or Current TV, an innovative and collaborative multiplatform network, are accessible only through special cable or satellite television packages requiring deliberate subscription, as well as greater financial resources. Basic cable and network televi sion remain significantly more accessible to a much wider base of consumers and, as a result, are more strictly regulated. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an agency of the United States government whose commissioners are appointed by the Pres ident, provides ratings to all television programs (excluding news, commercials, sports, and unedited movies on premium cable channels ) that reflect the presence or absence of "obscenity, indecency, and profanity" ( FCC 2011 ) 1 According to the FCC regulati ons, broadcasters are !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *+!,-!./0+1!2/+,23!+14+!.1,56!4!-,32,7, 842+!49/:2+!/7!06-64081!6;,-+-!<60+4,2,23!+/!+16!0654+,/2-1,<! =6+.662!<:=5,8!5,8>?!<0/3049!8/2+62+?!42@!A,6.60-1,<!49/23!81,5@062?!-:81!-+:@,6-!406!/7+62! 8/286026@!<0,940,5>!.,+1!A,/56286!/2!+656A,-,/2!B C62+,56!42@!D45669!#EE(F!G49,5+/2!"HH)F !I:004>! "HH( JK
! H prohibited from airing "obscene" content at any time of day and "profane" or "indecent" content are restricted, during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience," between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m ( FCC 2011 ). Ratings indicating that shows are suited for children audiences are TV Y, TV Y7, and TV G. While TV Y and TV Y7 are the only ratings applied exclusively to children's shows, a rating of TV G is often found on shows aired on children's network s and denotes that the program is suitable for all ages. All programs on the Disney Channel, the channel from which the sample used in this study is derived, receive one of these three ratings. In addition to being highly regulated, children's media is hi ghly profitable. Children are frequently targeted as a key commercial demographic creating strong potential for high grossing media products geared toward a growing market of young consumers (Pecora 1998; Mart ens et al. 2004; Schor 2004). Of course, t o be deemed appropriate for youth consumption, certain ratings standards must be met. Ultimately, a majority of media produced for children is mainstr eam, highly regulated, commercially viable, and, therefore, exclusively normative. This normativity presents issues when considered in terms of difference. When the content included in children's media is regulated through the filter of federally mandated ratings and geared toward a market of young, mainstream consumers, the issue of accurate representations pres ents itself. If exclusively normative representations are permitted in children's media, then there is a significant range of identities that are excluded entirely. These exclusive representations of sexual identities rely on the assumptions of compulsory hetero sexuality
! "E Theories of sexuality and difference Over the last half century, sex and gender have received increasing attention in academia. Theories of sexuality, as well as the emergence of queer theory, have gained visibility, and the discur siv e developments such theories have had profound implications for how sociologists understand the ordering of society around sex, gender, and difference. Applications of such theoretical ideas to sociological inquiry regarding youth in society provide a crit ically important intersection at which to explore the construction of sexual difference and gender identity. The following concepts will provide the theoretical basis of my empirical study of highly normat ive media products that target youth demographic s Queer theory, in particular, has informed a significant portion of the literature on which I have developed this study. Through its emphasis on identity politics and focus on the debate surrounding either essential or socially constructed sexual and gender categories, queer theory has informed deeper analyti cal interrogations of how sexuality and gender function, are perceived, and are replicated in society (Namaste 1996) Contr ibutions of queer theory to the field of sociology shape the perspective from w hich normative sexuality and gender will be analyzed in my thesis. While queer theory did not originate within the realm of sociology, its applications within the field have proven valuable and have certainly increased with time. Queer theory, in its effor ts to explore and deconstruct categorizations of sexuality and gender, provides a critical perspective from which sociologists can explore issues pertaining to these issues. As Epstein (1996) discusses, many questions raised by queer theory can be address ed effectively from the sociological perspective. Questions like "What is the role
! "" of the mass media in the dissemination of sexual meanings?" are, in fact, sociol ogical questions (Epstein 1996: 158). Just as Epstein calls for the inclusion of soc iology in queer studies, Stein and Plummer focus on the inclusion of queer discourse within sociology, calling for a paradigm shift within the social science. The approach to queer theory that Stein and Plummer calls for "place[s] sexual difference at the center of intellectual inquiry," (178) problematizing binary oppositions and inherent power dynamics of sexual difference, an approach that the authors see as a well suited and necessary addition to sociology's co ncept of constructionism (1994 ). From this perspectiv e, sociologists can discuss and analyze relationships of difference with awareness that they are constructed in and impacted by a social structure that privileges those of a certain status (in this case, sex or gender). Understanding the socially construc ted dynamics of sexual power relations allows for more accurate and critical interrogations of the lived manifestations such hierarchies provide (i.e. wage differences, sexual violence, the struggle for gay rights). It is from this queer theore tical persp ective that Rich (1982) challenges "the ideology that demands heterosexuality" [emphasis is the author's] in her essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience (1982: 228). It is this ideology that upholds the belief that heterosexuality is a natur al, normal preference. In effect, Rich argues, this presumption of heterosexual identity limits and oppresses women, lesbian and heterosexual alike. In society, heterosexuality is compulsory in that it seemingly requires no explicit sexual identification, but is assumed of all people, and is strongly (and often exclusively) reinforced in social institutions (i.e. religious institutions, law, the media). Social scientist Johnson similarly critiques the overwhelmingly normative
! "# functions of heterosexuality, a rguing that while it is assumed to be the dominant identity and is manifest in social relations and institutions, it ultimately remains unquestioned and goes unremarked (2005). Within society, heterosexuality functions as the "default" sexuality is assume d of all people unless otherwise signified, and due to its highly normative nature stands apart from other categorical sexualities as natural and correct. Rich (1986) calls into question contemporary feminist works that, while critical of problematic gende r hierarchies, fail to call into question "the idea of preference' or innate orientation'" (1986: 229). Had they done so, Rich indicates that their interrogations of "mothering, sex roles, relationships, and societal prescriptions for women," would have b een far stronger and accurate in their critical analyses (1986: 229). Deconstructing such social realities allows for sociologists to more deeply understand their roots, however entrenched or obfuscated they might otherwise be, and discuss more powerfully m echanisms for their dislodgement. When oppressive practices or relations that are believed to be innate or naturally ordained are revealed as being socially constructed, the potential for change presents itself. Rubin (1992) calls for a radical theory of sex to expand upon feminist discourse, one that critiques not only the gender hierarchy, but the sources and implications of sexual oppression, as well, including compulsory heterosexuality. In Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Se xuality Rubin explores sexual norms from a political perspective and, like Rich, critiques feminist approaches that discuss gender inequalities while stopping short of exploring oppression based on sexual difference. Rubin focuses, in part, on the normati ve relationship (or, perhaps more accurately, dissociation) between youth and sex in society, arguing that, "the notion that sex per se is
! "$ harmful to the young has been chiseled into extensive social and legal structures designed to insulate minors from se xual k nowledge and experience" (1992: 4). In the same way that sex is seen as harmful to young people, young people who are interested in sex are label ed as deviant in a society that "punishes erotic interest and activity by anyone under the loc al age of co nsent" (Rubin 1992: 20). Through this type of punishment as a means of policing social norms, children and sex are reified as highly socially separate. The rati ngs applied to children's media in an attempt to restrict the presence of explicitly sexual conte nt can be seen as another political mechanism through which sexuality is regulated and normatively reinforced. Like Rich, Rubin discusses the ever present manifestations of heteronormative privilege in society. Due to its compulsory nature and deeply situ ated position in society, heterosexuality cannot be solely understood in the context of sexual relations. In their discussion of Rubin's work, sociologists Martin and Kazyak (2007) explore this complex reality, indicating that, "while heteronormativity reg ulates people's sexualities bodies, and sexual relationships  it regulates nonsexual aspects of life as well" ( 2007: 3). Heteronormativity effects not only arenas of sexual power, but also has far reaching impact over the way society is structured. For e xample, those most privileged within the heteron ormative paradigm are those who are "married, monogamous, and procre ative" (Martin and Kazyak 2007: 3). This privilege is manifest in social institutions, such as marriage laws, as well as normative assumption s commonly perpetuated, such as the idea of what the ideal family unit looks like. In this sense, the perpetuation of a dominant sexuality is both deeply political and social, and can be observed throughout various contexts.
! "% To this extent, not only does heteronormativity function on a highly privileged and unchallenged level, it effectively, "makes it difficult for people to imagine other ways of life" (Martin and Kazyak 2007: 2). This reality is especially pertinent to those who are literally presented wi th no alternative to dominant heterose xuality in this case, children While it is certainly not the case that all children have no exposure to nonheterosexual possibilities, the mainstream media produced for their consumption exclusively includes heteros exuality (Dubow et al. 2007) This singular representation of sexual identity entirely eradicates the true spectrum of sexual difference, an eradication that stands in conflict to the reality of the world they are growing up into. Finally, a note on one o f the most challenging aspects of discourse involving issues of sex, sexuality, and gender: the issue of semantics. As Rubin (1992) discusses, "sex" meaning gender identity and "sex" meaning sexual intercourse are inaccurately compounded. "This semantic me rging," Rubin claims, "reflects a cultural assumption that sexuality is reducible to sexual intercourse and that it is a function between men and women" (1992: 32). The intersections of gender, sex, and sexuality remain incredibly complicated and are often difficult to disentangle from one another in relevant discourse In many ways, "the cultural fusion of gender with sexuality has given rise to the idea that a theory of sexuality may be derived directly out of a theory of gender" (Rubin 1992: 32). At the s ame time, constructions of gender and sexuality are often so bound up in one another that one cannot be fully evaluated without simultaneous consideration of the other. Therefore, while this thesis will focus primarily on representations of sexuality, and will aim not to merge gender and sexuality inaccurately, discussions of gender will
! "& play a significant part in addressing the construction and communication of normative sexualities in children's television media Children's Media and Sexuality: Empirical Findings Existing social psychology literature explores the relationship between media products and the youth that consume them. Countless sociological and psychological inquiries reveal the ways in which children and teenagers incorporate media represen tations into their own attitudes and behaviors. In addition to the theoretical bases on which my study is established, existing empirical works play a significant role in informing my content analysis. The following sources regarding children, sexuality, a nd media proved particularly relevant as I considered and constructed my own empirical focus and methodology. Previous research indicates that the media ranks third in influencing the sexual education of young people following the family (primarily paren ts) and same sex peers (Ward 2003 ), and, as previously discussed, the socialization of youth is in no small way impacted by the media products they consume. A significant amount of media contains sexually explicit content, and social psychologists have est ablished consistent links between exposure to such content, which is not likely to have been produced for an intended youth viewership, and children's own sexual attitudes and be haviors (Dubow et al. 2007 ). Kelley, et al. (1 991) discuss h ow children constr uct their identities as children through their relationship with the sexual knowledge they gather from viewing television programs. In interviews with the study's authors the children discuss the sexual behaviors they are exposed to in mainstream televisi on (not in children's shows, but
! "' rather in other genres, like soap operas) in terms of relative appropriateness. Through these interviews, the authors find that the children gather (hetero)sexual scripts from said television viewership, and that the applic ation of these scripts and the attitudes that they embody play a significant role both in the perpetuation of sex and gender difference ( Kelley et al. 1991 ). This study, among others, indicates the profound influence of media products in shaping both the i dentities and interactions of the children who view them. While it is important to understand the ways in which children are informed by the media products they consume, consum ption is not the primary focus of my study Rather, my analyses will concern its elf with the content of children's television media in order to gain a deeper u nderstanding of what representations of sexuality and gender are present. The following empirical studies share this content based focus. In their analysis of high grossing chil dren's G ra ted films from 1990 2005, Martin and Kazyak (2007) examine the presence of heterosexuality in such media, particularly examples of hetero romanticism and heterosexiness and how these contribute to the construction of heteronormativity. While the authors acknowledge that children certainly incorporate media messages into the attitudes and behaviors that structure their daily lives and interactions, their focus is on the content, rather than the consumption and implications of, children's media. Th e authors found that in all but two of the twenty films analyzed, there was a decidedly hetero romantic story line, and that in eight of these, hetero romantic love was the primary narrative focus (Martin and Kazyak 2007 ). Often in children's media, Martin and Kazyak argue, hetero romantic love is portrayed as a life changing and spectacular experience. The transformative power of love between two characters on either side of the gender binary can be observed through pl otlines that
! "( involve characters "defyi ng their parents, their culture, or their very selves to embrace hetero romantic love that is transformative, powerful, and (lit erally) magical" (2007: 10). The authors observe the spectacular emphasis placed on the power of hetero love in these films throu gh devices such as the creation and resolution of tension involving cross gender romance in the plotline, as well as visual and auditory indicators, such as the dramatic l ighting or orchestration (2007: 11). The nature of hetero romantic love is contrasted with an analysis of other relationships (i.e. parent child or friendship relationships), which are often shown as being "restrictive," "tedious," or "comical" (2007:12 13). As Martin and Kazyak's analyses indicate, heterosexuality in children's G rated fil ms is portrayed uniquely as a very special, privileged, and highly desired identity that rewards greatly those who engage in the lifestyle it provides. The portrayal of love and sexuality in children's m edia is also the focus of Junn's (1997) content anal ysis of Disney animated movies However, rather than analyze twenty of the most recent children's blockbusters as Martin and Kazyak do, Junn's sample includes eleven films from different decades that achieved varying levels of commercial success. Junn indi cates that over the second half of the 20 th century, "both love and sexually related depictions have increase d," accompanied specifically by "an increased sexualization of females in the media" (1997: 5). However, any increase in "love and sexually related depictions" is an increase specifically in the presence of hetero romanticism and heterosexual relationships. Ju nn's analysis also reveals the roles women play in the narratives of the films studied. Among these, women are likely to be wedded by the time t he credits roll, and are only featured as lead characters when the plot is primarily concerned with ro mance or sexuality (Junn 1997 ). Like Martin and Kazyak,
! ") Junn notes the increasing marketability of contemporary media created for children, arguing that t he ubiquity of certain products may have a significant impact on the development of children's attitudes, specifically toward sexuality and gendered relations (1997 ). While much of my analysis will focus on the subtle and implicit representations of norm s, values, and deviance regarding sexuality, it is worth noting the absolute absence of non heterosexual content that blankets the children's genre on the most basic level. Despite relative increases in non heterosexual content appearing on television (alt hough predominantly on networks included in premium cable packages), children's shows stand apart as a genre in which no non heterosexual content or behavior was present (Fisher 2007). Here we observe, once again, the exclusively heterosexual nature of the television to which many children are exposed. This absence of non heterosexual representations, specifically in children's media, is alarming to certain media scholars. In a reflection of Michel Foucault's claim in The History of Sexuality that silence "is less the absolute limit of discourse  than an element that functions alongside the things said, with them and in relation to them (1990: 27), Kielwasser and Wolf discuss the "significant silence" that permeates mainstream television in regard to non normative sexualities, marginalizing the experiences of homosexual adolescents and limiting them in access to positive role models to whom they can relate (1992). Therefore, while the content analysis conducted in this thesis will analyze the existing con tent of children's media, it is crucial to note the power of what is absent from it.
! "H Grounded in sociological literature regarding socializing influences, theories of sexuality, and empirical findings regarding children and media products, my content analy sis of The Suite Life on Deck will incorporate relevant theories and methods to explore representations of sexuality and gender in children's media.
! #E Chapter Three: Methods This chapter includes information defining and justifyin g my study's sample, as well as an overview of my data collection and analysis procedures. Sample The sample of this study consists of 21 episodes from season three of The Suite Life on Deck While the full season contains 23 episodes, I excluded episod e 22, The Suite Life Movie because, unlike the typical episode averaging 23 24 minutes, this episode is a full length made for TV movie possessing a different structure and function from the rest of my sample. Episode 23 had not aired by the time this stu dy was completed. I chose season three as the sample for this study as it is the most recent season to air and due to its extreme popularity in television ratings among children's programming. The commercial success of season three of The Suite Life on De ck is consistent with the success of the series' first two seasons. According to a January 2011 Disney Channel press release, the three part "Twister" saga (episodes 17, 18, and 19 of season 3) earned The Suite Life on Deck the highest ratings in cable tel evision on each of their respective airing dates. Episode 3.19, "Twister, Part 3," earned the highest ratings among total viewers of any episode in the history of The Suite Life on Deck series, w ith 7.11 million total viewers Overall, season 3 averaged 3. 64 million total viewers per episode, primarily within the 6 14 year old age range ( Gorman 2011).
! #" Method The method of my study is content analysis, a methodology used in analyzing the content of communications media. Through the process of coding and analyzing my sample, t his methodological approach allows for me to focus on what is contai ned within the media -what concepts and messages are presen t. My research will involve analyzing the content of The Suite Life on Deck in regard to sexuality and ge nder using both quantitative and qualitative data. I began by viewing a random sample of episodes from within my sample During these initial viewings, I took note of 1) the basic format of the program, including editing and the use of soundtracks (i.e. l augh tracks, musical orchestration), 2) the roles of the show's primary characters, and 3) recurring themes that I found relevant to the focus of my study. From the relevant themes, I formed rudimentary categories based on recurring themes, behaviors, and dialogue that I observed. These categories (which ultimately evolved over the course of my full data collection into my main coding categories ) were 1) the prevalence of heterosexuality as primary focuses of the episodes, 2) the enactment of normative sexu ality (i.e. physical, behavioral, and dialogue based manifestations of normative sexuality), and 3) what is being represented as attractive or unattractive to members of the opposite sex. Through this process, I identified a series of the most salient th emes that I aimed to address and created a rough list of coding categories. At this time, I viewed all 21 episodes in order to assess their accuracy, as well as identify any gaps, overlaps, or inconsistencies in what I had thus defined. After my initial ca tegories were formed, they were merged, redefined and modified along the w ay to most accurately reflect the content
! ## of my sample. Upon completing this first full viewing of the season of episodes, I established my permanent coding categories and initiated a final complete viewing in order to thoroughly code the content. For this f inal phase of my coding process, e ach episode of season three of The Suite Life on Deck was viewed in its entirety and coded for instances indicating the content of the followin g categories: 1) social pressure to date, 2) the enactment of heterosexuality (heterosexual roles and scripts), and 3) gender differences and attraction. I also recorded the number of episodes in which heterosexual romantic interactions were the primary na rrative focus. Within each coding category specific scenes have been identified that typify the theme that is represented. In Chapter 4, scenes that I found particularly representative of my analytic categories will be discussed in greater detail. Analy sis After completing my coding process and collecting relevant quantitative data, I considered their implications within the context of the theories this study is based upon. I also recorded and analyzed certain scenes that I found particularly representa tive of my larger analytical categories. The details of this analysis are the subject of the following chapter.
! #$ Chapter Four: Data and Analysis In this chapter, I will provide an overview of the data I collected during my coding of 21 episodes from t he third season of The Suite Life on Deck This data includes quantitative measurements of thematic trends physical interactions reinforcing normative sexuality, and indicators of gendered attractiveness, as well as qualitative analyse s of relevant aspect s of the show and its content. In the following chapter I will discuss the sociological implications of these findings. Emphasis on romantic heterosexual relationships My first section of coding involved analyzing individual epis odes with regard to the ir primary narrati ve themes. 14 out of 21 total episodes featured primary themes directly pertaining to heterosexual romantic relationships. While these 14 episodes h ave plots focused on romantic heterosexual relationships, the manifestation of these theme s and their respective emphases on such relationships vary. Eight episodes emphasize the pursuit of or desire to obtain a heterosexual romantic partner; two episodes emphasize the emotional pain characters experience in the face of a past re lationship or unrequited love; two episodes emphasize the challenges characters face due to being in a commit ted heterosexual relationship; one emphasizes the difficulties with attempt ing to end a relationship; and one emphasizes antagonism between past romantic partner s. Following is a breakdown of a sample of episodes with themes primarily involving the importance of heterosexual relationships in the personal and social lives of the show's primary teenage characters, broken down by the context in which this importance in manifest:
! #% E mphasizing the pursuit of or desire to obtain a heterosexual romantic partner Episode 3.03, "So You Think You Can Date": Bailey and Cody face pressure to find da tes for the upcoming dance. T hey are told by their friends that they should not g o alone following their break up, as this would make them seem like "losers" who hadn't moved on. Episode 3.04, "My Oh Maya": Zack falls for the new girl aboard the ship, May a, and makes many efforts in pursuit of her However, he struggles with her feelin gs of indifference as he begins to feel more strongly for her than he'd anticipated. Episode 3.18, "Twister, Part 2": Cody leaves the ship and flies to Bailey's home town in order to win her back. Once in Kettlecorn, he finds he must go to great lengths to convince his former girlfriend (and her family) that she should choose him over her ex boyfriend Moose, who is also trying to get her back. These episodes place heterosexual romantic relationships in a position of heightened importance in the personal and social lives of the show's characters. Each centers on the complicated efforts put forth toward the ultimate goal of securing a romantic partner, often through achieving certain attractive or desirable characteristics in the process. Emphasizing emotiona l pain from former relationships and/or unrequited love Episode 3.01, "Silent Treatment": Cody is so emotionally wrecked over his break up with Bailey that he leaves his life on the ship and commits himself to a silent, ascetic existence at a monastery. E pisode 3.16, "The Play's the Thing": Cody writes a play based on his break up with Bailey. Ms. Tutweiller is so impressed with Cody's emotionally tragic work that she has the class perform it live, bringing an uncomfortable amount of attention to the murky details of the couple's dissolution. Episode 3.07, "Computer Date": Cody falls for his dream girl, Cali, despite the fact that she is a robot. However, his interest in Cali diminishes as she becomes too "clingy". When Cody tries to end the relationship, C ali becomes emotional, defiant, and threatening. These episodes indic ate that while relationships and romance are generally desirable, they can also bring pain. This pain, stemming from the dissolution of a relationship or having one's romantic efforts re jected or ignored, frames the importance placed on heterosexual
! #& romance and reinforces that, inversely, happiness can be found in cross sexual romantic relationships. Emphasizing the challenges of being in committed heterosexual relationships Episode 3.0 9, "Love and War": Zack is confronted with sacrificing time with and being taunted by his male friends now that he is officially in a relationship with Maya. Episode 3.20, "Snakes on a Boat": Maya is upset when she finds out how many girls Zack has dated a nd Cody battles insecurity when he learns that Ba iley does not think he is funny. These episodes highlight tensions arising in the context of romantic relationships. T rust issues or insecurity arise and are invariably resolved by the end of the episode wi th one romantic partner reassuring the other that they are happy and intend to stay committed. Overall, while some of the episodes with primary themes regarding heterosexual romantic relationships frame cross sexual interactions in positive scenarios and o thers focus on the negative aspects of dating (i.e. break ups, unrequited emot ions), all of the episodes that have heterosexuality as the narrative and thematic foundation affirm the heightened attent ion given to romantic relationships in the lives of youn g people. The ongoing sagas of the show's most visible couples, Bailey/Cody and Maya/Zack, propel the show along its narrative trajectory, illustrating the cycle of ups and downs in the ongoing quest for romantic fulfillment. Outside of the episodes identi fied as consisting of heterosexual themes as primary foci, all but one contained otherwise significant normative romantic content. While the remaining seven episodes did not focus on some aspect of heterosexual romantic relationships with in the main theme, each episode include s significant instances of dialogue or situations addressing heterosexual romantic relationships or interactions.
! #' Only one of the 21 episodes contained fewer than two scenes (of an average 13 scenes per episode) centered on heterosexua l romantic relationships. The majority of this episode, "Frozen" (3.14), takes place at an Antarctic research base with only Zack, Cody, Woody, and a male scientist present. In keeping with the heteronormative framework of this show, it seems obvious that there would be limited romantic behavior or dialogue in an episode with exclusively male characters. In the other 20 episodes, however, when both males and females were present, there is ample romantic, heterosexual interaction. Therefore, I conclude that 20 of the 21 episodes coded indicate that heterosexuality is pervasive and highly important in the representations of the lives of The Suite Life on Deck 's characters. Normative sexuality and physical contact In addition to the centrality of heterosexual relationships to the lives of The Suite Life on Deck 's characters, sexuality is reinforced normatively through instances of physical contact. Overall, physical contact in The Suite Life on Deck is infrequent. This is due to the nature of children's telev ision programming, which, according to ratings standards and in keeping with social norms regarding children and sexuality, contain little or no sexual content, and subsequently minimal meaningful touching (i.e. embracing or kissing). However, analyses of the instances that are included indicate touching behaviors that are normative in regard to gender and sexuality. O f the 10 instances in which significant physical contact takes place between a female and a male character, nine are portrayed in romantic contexts, while only one is
! #( marked as humorous by being followed with a laugh track. The romantic nature of these physical interactions is evidenced in the television medium directly through dialogue and plot, and implicitly through the use of editing and audience recordings (i.e. "aw" tracks, "ooh" tracks, cheering, and applause). The instances of female male physical contact often occur during the climax of an episode's plot as is the case when Bailey agrees to go out with Cody again after he follows her back to her hometown (episode 3.19, "Twister, Part 3"). These scenes may also involve the resolution of a previous tension or accomplishment of an ongoing goal. F or example, after numerous failed efforts to get Maya over the course of multiple episodes, Z ack finally gets Maya to agree to date him and the couple share a brief, romantic embrace (episode 3.08, "Party On") The sole scenario in which female male physical contact is portrayed as being humorous is in a fantasy sequence involving Ms. Tutweiller the children's social stu dies teacher. When the scene opens, Ms. Tutweiller is sitting behind her desk in an empty classroom, reading a romance novel. As she enters a daydream fantasy (indicated by the typical swirling effect on screen leading into it), the viewer is taken to the deck of an old ship, where Ms. Tutweiller is met with iconic male model Fabio and the sounds of an audience cheering and whistling. As Fabio proceeds to seduce Ms. Tutweiller (in what I found to be the most sexually explicit cont ent of the episodes I viewed) with lines such as, "can that man hold you likes this, and caress you like this [rubbing his hand down the side of her torso and leg], and kiss you like this?" a laugh track indicates that the fantasy imaginings of a middle ag ed teacher are laughable. While any kissing or embracing between younger heterosexual couples are represented as special, significant, and serious, Ms. Tutweiller's physical fantasy is portrayed as being ridiculous and comical. Every
! #) other instance of male female physical contact is romantic in nature, yet much less explicit than that between Ms. Tutweiller and Fabio, composed either of a modest kiss (sometimes obscured from the viewer's vision) or a prolonged embrace. Within the heteronormative context of the show, all instances involving significant physical contact between two male characters are represented as comical, enforcing the idea that such interactions are markedly non normative. Many of these physical situations are accidental, such as Woody fal ling off of a treadmill and pinning Mr. Mosby awkwardly to the floor (episode 3.07, "Computer Date"), and all are followed by laugh tracks, even in relatively serious situations, such as when the boys huddle together for warmth while trapped in Antarctica (episode 3.14, "Frozen"). By making comedy of any physical touching or embracing between two or more boys or men, the notion is reinforced that same sex physical contact is not to be taken seriously, but rather to be viewed as folly or an incidental last r esort. It is worth noting that while numerous instances of male male contact occur, there are zero comparable instances between two female characters; despite the comic potential latent in the physical contact between two male characters, comparable female female interactions are non existent. This absence reflects the gender differentiation in same sex interactions. Male male physical interactions in the context of children's television are more easily framed as comical, whereas female female physical cont act might be perceived as either too normal to be amusing (reflecting the assumption that girls are generally more affectionate with one another than boys), or too overtly sexualized (if the contact were more significant, it might run the risk of being per ceived as too explicit for children's television, reflecting the fetishization and sexualization of lesbianism in society). Either of these possibilities
! #H might explain the absence of female female physical contact in both comedic and serious scenarios. In dicators of attractiveness/unattractiveness E very instance in which an attractive or unattractive quality was acknowledged by any character was recorded. These instances are considered "indicators," effectively indicating to the viewer what qualities are to be viewed as positive or negative in the context of cross sexual attraction. Indicators were recorded within four categories: 1) attractive feminine; 2) unattractive feminine; 3) attractive masculine; and 4) unattractive masculine. Each of the 98 obser ved indicators are included in the following table. Attractive Unattractive Attractive Unattractive Beautiful (6) Obese (4) Smart (2) Obese (6) Good hair (2) Hairy (3) Sensitive (1) Girly (4) Scantily clad (2) Pimples (2) Hunky (1) Scrawny (3) Hot (2) Masculine (2) Funny (1) Feminine attire (2) Funny (1) Bodily functions (2) Tall (1) Smells bad (2) Smart (1) Intelligent (3) Manly (1) Gap in teeth (1) Attentive (1) Talks too much (2) Charming (1) Yellow teeth (1) Understanding (1) Geeky (2) Kind (1) Too short (1) Hot genes (1) Unibro w (2) Generous (1) Pre pubescent (1) Young (1) Ugly face (1) Wants kids (1) Sweaty (1) Good skin (1) Old (1) No muscles (1) Cute (1) Glasses (1) Funny looking (1) Charming (1) Bad teeth (1) Nerdy (1) Sm art (1) Creepy (1) Feminist (1) Pompous (1) Clingy (1) Obsessive (1) Boring (1) Controlling (1) Mousy (1) Too short (1) Lisp (1) Lonely (1) "Cankles" (1) Impulsive (1) Irresponsible (1) Total = 21 Total = 3 7 Total = 1 1 Total = 29
! $E All of these qualities were indicated as being either clearly attractive or unattractive, either implicitly or explicitly. For example, talking too much is implicitly indicated as being an undesirable behavior for girls because when Bailey does s o, it makes her crush run away, and i s accompanied by a laugh track (episode 3.01, "So You Think You Can Date"). Similarly, a boy wearing feminine attire is implicitly enforced as undesirable. When Cody appears in drag in episode 3.16, "The Play's t he Thing," as a part of his play chronicling his breakup with Bailey (he has cast himself as Bailey), there is an immediate uproar of audience lau ghter as he steps on stage and his brother Zack visibly upset, remarks that, I knew this day would come, but I didn't expect it so soon." The audience laughter, an immediate rejection of Cody's behavior, as well as Zack's comments implying his standing assumption about his brother's sexuality, establish that Cody's cross dressing behavior is comical, upsetting, and ultimately unattractive. Explicit references to attractive or unattractive qualities are also prevalent throughout the show. Zack's girlfriend Maya showers him with compliments and reasons for why she is dating him on multiple occasions (episodes 3.08, 3.09, 3.20). When Zack passes a date onto Cody, he does so under the pretenses that the girl is a "boring, mousy, little geek" (episode 3.07, "Computer Date"). These qualities are clearly undesirable and lead to Zack not wanting to spend time with her in the romantic context of the date. Together, the implicit and explicit indicators of qualities that are signified as being either attractive or unattractive establish a matrix in which the characters are defined along the gender binary in terms of their res pective desirability. Of the recorded indicators, the mention of both undesirable feminine and masculine traits exceeded the mention of desirable feminine and masculine traits. Often,
! $" the unattractive qualities are presented in comedic contexts and are fol lowed with the sounds of audience laughter. By reinforcing certain personal traits or presentations of gender as being comical, these representations are rendered undesirable. Viewers who identify with a given indicator of unattractiveness may internalize that they might be laughed at themselves, and therefore feel the need to possess those qualities that are represented in a positive light. However, as Table 1.1 shows, there are significantly fewer indicators of attractiveness included in the show, with 2 1 positive feminine indicators and only 11 positive masculine indicators. For each gender, viewers are presented with more examples on unattractiveness than with qualities that might render them attractive to the opposite sex. This inconsistency between the frequency of identifying physical or personality traits that are attractive versus those that are unattractive indicates that to be attractive according to social norms relies heavily on what you are not not just on what you are. For example, while be ing smart is an indicator of attractiveness for both girls and boys referenced during the show, there are indicators of unattractiveness that qualify just what type of "smart" they must not be if she wants to be seen as desirable While being smart is okay they must not be geeky or "nerdy," and the girls are specifically proscribed to not talking too much. Among the positive feminine indicators, qualities synonymous with beauty are the most frequently occurring (i.e. "gorgeous," "hot," "pretty"). While r elatively vague compared to other attractive qualities, such as having good skin, nice hair, or "hot genes,"
! $# these indicators of physical beauty emphasize the priority placed on physical appearance in rendering a girl or woman attractive. The only shared indicators in any two categories are intelligence and obesity. Intelligence is indicated as being both an attractive and an unattractive quality on different occasions across genders. Cody and Bailey are both identified as intelligent and unattractive by v arious other characters throughout the show. In episode 3.03, "So You Think You Can Date," for example, both Cody and Bailey find they must repress their identities as intelligent individuals in order to obtain dates. However, to one another, their respect ive intelligences render them attractive. This quality of intelligence is shared between the two characters, therefore representing them as being compatible with one another. Other, more popular characters, such as Zack and London, however, mock the t wo fo r being "nerdy" and "geeky Zack in particular is represented as the distinctively unintelligent twin (his ignorance often providing comedic fodder), yet he is also portrayed as the more attractive twin to the opposite sex, with qualities like his charm a nd sense of humor rendering him highly desirable, despite his lack of intelligence. Through these representations, the viewer is presented with conflicting evaluations of intelligence. Most of the time, displays of intelligence are laughable and lead to te asing, yet there is the possibility of two intelligent individuals being attracted to and initiating a romantic relationship with one another. A relationship between one intelligent person and one seemingly unintelligent individual, however, is not portray ed as a plausible option within the context of the show. The second indicator that falls into two of the four total categories is obesity, which is identified as an unattractive quality across genders. Obesity is the only quality to
! $$ be included in both gen der categories, and furthermore, it is the most frequently indicated quality of unattractiveness in each. While the instances in which obesity is indicated as being an unattractive feminine qu ality vary in their application -both to different characte rs and in more ambiguous usage -a majority of the times obesity is indicated as an unattractive masculine quality are in reference to one character, Woody. Throughout the episodes, Woody is frequently taunted for his body size. While the character represent s many stereotypes for comedic effect (he is also mocked for enjoying "nerdy" card games, being a teacher's pet, etc.), he is most consistently utilized in comedic physical situations or referred to in comedic dialogue addressing his being overweight. In o ne scene during episode 3.07, "Computer Date," Zack, who is Woody's roommate aboard the ship, is training London and Woody in the fitness center so that they might pass gym class. When he observes that Woody is unabl e to complete a sit up, he asks: Zack : How do you get up in the morning? Woody : A series of pulleys. [Laugh track as Woody writhes on the floor] Zack (to London, who has fallen asleep): Alright London, your turn. London (waking up): I had this weird dream that I fell asleep in the gym next to a walrus. [Laugh track as Woody continues to roll around on the floor. London looks at Woody and screams.] To London, Woody's body size and movements as a result of it are not only unattractive, they are frightening to the point of making her shriek upon v iewing him. This sort of situational humor exploiting the physical appearance of a character for comedic value is present throughout the episodes. In fact, there are comparable scenes involving physical humor or dialogue pertaining to Woody's body size in every episode.
! $% According to these representations of body size, obesity is not only unattractive, it is hilarious, pathetic, and alarming. In addition to providing comedic opportu nities regarding body size Woody's character serves as a vessel for numerous other instances of teasing and degradation. The premise of episode 3.13, "My Sister's Keeper," involves Cody being set up on a date with Woody's sister, Willa, who is temporarily visiting him aboard the ship. Assuming that Willa will be similar in appeara nce to her brother (that is to say, conventionally unattractive by the terms reinforced throughout the series), Zack refers to Cody's accepting the blind date as heroical ly accepting a, "tour of duty Zack prepares his twin by providing him with two brown paper bags: "one for putting over Willa's head so she doesn't scare little children," and one, "to put over your head in c ase hers falls off" ( a laugh track ensues fol lowing these remarks). Zack and Cody (as well as the audience, potentially) are shocked when Willa is not a "hideous troll," but rather a "gorgeous" brunette with a slim figu re, curly hair, and a big smile. As Willa and a noticeably thrilled Cody leave for their date, Zack punches Woody in the arm once, "for having a pretty sister," and again for "not telling [him] about her." Later in this same episode, however, physically attractive Willa proves herself to be an undesirable romantic partner to Cody after all. On a subsequent date with Willa, Cody urges her to feel comfortable around him, su ggesting that the two, "move past that awkward stage of dating when you're pretending you're perf ect," and, "let it all hang out Pleased by this earnest suggestion, Willa smiles as she loudly passes gas. This action (followed by a laugh track) clears the dining room the two are sitting in and leads to noticeable discomfort on Cody's face. As their date progresses, Willa discusses other
! $& bodily functions and fluids, messily eats a plate full of ribs, and produces a loud, unusual laugh. As each action elicit s more visible disgust from Cody (as well as multiple laugh tracks), it becomes clear to the viewer that Willa, once attractive in Cody's eyes, is now a blatant representation of quite the opposite. While her physical appearance won Cody over initially, it becomes clear that her looks are compromised by other distinctly un feminine behaviors. Perhaps the most troubling intentional employment of attributes by a character in order attract a romantic partner occurs in episode 3 .03, "So You Think You Can Date Discouraged by failed efforts to get a date for the dance simply by being herself (i .e. touting her knowledge of sci en c e and "comparative feminist literature"), Bailey takes the advice of London, who encourages her to "s m arten up and act dumb, sister!" B ailey accepts coaching from London as she approaches another boy who finds her new approach attractive: London: Oh! There's a cute guy! Now bat your eyes and flip your hair. Good, good! He noticed you! Now, look away, and when you look back, have a vacant look in your eye. [Laugh track] Boy: [walking over to Bailey] You know, Bailey, I never noticed, but when you're not busy "blah blah blah ing," you're kind of cute. Wanna go to the dance tonight? London: Quick! Flip [your hair] twice for yes! Boy: Great. See you at seven. [Walks away]. Bailey: [to London] Yay! I have a date! Your dumb lessons worked. London: See? You should spend more time with me and less time with whoever's been giving you the ugly lessons. [Laugh track] Eventually, the boy tires of Bai ley's forced, incessant giggling, criticizing her for being unable to carry on a conversation. Sim ilarly, Cody's date dumps him, c iting that he is "an even bigger jerk than his brother and takes off with Bailey's former date However, rather than conclud e with Bailey and Cody reconciling with one another, as it
! $' appears might happen when they find themselves dateless once again, the two maintain a platonic distance and are called out by the DJ for being the only two dancing alone during the slow song ("Awk ward!" he shouts through his microphone). In keeping with the idea enforced in my previous findings, that romantic heterosexual relationships are promoted and reinforced as crucial elements of social life among teenagers, the ability to attract a boyfriend or girlfriend is of elevated importance. Throughout multiple episodes, the viewer is presented with characters going to extreme lengths to attract a desired mate. At times the mate is specified, as is the case in the series of episodes in which Zack is co urting Maya. Other times, characters identified as being markedly "desperate," such as Cody following his break up, are portrayed as willing to take whatever they can get. Either way, the characters are equipped with an "anything goes" mentality when it co mes to their efforts to find a romantic partner manipulation, deceit, and the denial of one's true identity are all potential (and usually successful) options. My findings across all three analytical categories combine to illustrate the pervasive hetero normative messages contained within mainstream children's television media, as witnessed in the current most popular program among pre teen and early teen demographics. The frequent interactions between characters pertaining to cross sexual attraction and relations indicate that the pursuit of romantic partners is an integral aspect of the social experience, one that, despite the emotional pain that might be involved, is essential. The sexuality promoted is exclusively normative, with monogamous heterosexua lity being included as the sole option in regard to sexual identity. The
! $( instances of physical contact throughout the episodes viewed for this study confirm the value of heterosexual romantic relationships while denying alternatives by rendering them comic al or nonexistent. Gender is also reinforced normatively through proscriptions for appropriate attractive qualities defined in terms of either femininity or masculinity. The intersections of normative gender and heterosexuality in The Suite Life on Deck p resent a limited and normalized idea of sexuality to the show's millions of viewers. The commercial success of The Suite Life on Deck indicates that mainstream youth audiences readily consume these normative representations
! $) Chapt er Five: Discussion As discussed in previous chapters, media is a significant force of socialization for youth. Children, whose worldviews are relatively limited in regard to experiential information, have their social knowledge augmented by what they are exposed to in the media. Previous literature suggests that children internalize what they see and hear on television using this information to make sense of their own environments and experiences. Working toward diversity and acceptance in children's me dia In regard to sexuality, attempts are made to limit the exposure children have to content through institutionalized ratings or parental/adult discretion, both of which reflect social norms regarding sexual content and age appropriateness As my data in dicates, however, there is a significant amount of sexuality present in The Suite Life on Deck but due to heterosexuality's privileged and deeply embedded position in society, it is valued and promoted in these programs not as one representation of sexual identity, but as the representation of appropriate sexual identity. Since socialization into what are deemed appropriate sex and gender roles can be seen as a normative function of children's media, the depiction of a male female relationship goes unquest ioned, whereas a same sex relationship would be inappropriate in terms of explicit and offensive sexuality. If two same sex characters were to engage in any sexual behavior or dialogue, even if it were no more physically explicit than that engaged in by he terosexual couples on The Suite Life on Deck the TV G or TV Y ratings would not be granted. However, comparable behavior and dialogue taking place within a
! $H heterosexual dynamic are not questioned or rejected as inappropriate. As my findings indicate, ther e is a prevalence of significant heterosexual interactions in popular, mainstream children's media. While certain parents' associations may object to the appropriateness of these shows (usually from an acutely religious perspective), such programs are gene rally accepted within society, enthusiastically consumed by their target audiences, and comm ercially successful. Through it s unquestioned and normative inclusion within television programs created for youth audiences, heterosexuality is represented as the primary and sole normative possibility for romantic and/or physical relationships and therefore receives a highly valued (and, for the most part, exclusive) status in the production of children's media. Therefore, when considering the content of children 's media, we must not only take into consideration what is present, but what is absent as well. The denial of non normative sexuality in children's mainstream media alongside the continual reification of heterosexuality as the only acceptable way of struct uring the social world does not reflect the true range of identities and practices that compose the social world. Surely there are many arguments used to justify the exclusion of non normative sexuality from children's media. This universal promotion of he terosexuality alongside the stigmatization of non heterosexual identities and behaviors is not only inaccurate, it can prove damaging to children who struggle to make sense of a world that does not appear to accept others or, potentially, themselves. A sim ple online search for "children and homosexuality" reveals countless sights urging parents, schools, and politicians to "protect" children from exposure to homosexuality. Conservative groups and individuals blame homosexual teachers, bad
! %E parenting, and the media for disrupting patterns of heterosexuality in society. Undoubtedly, if any mainstream children's television program were to include any non heterosexual content, the backlash would be enormous (that is, if such a program would get to air at all). In the late 1990s, a costumed creature from the popular 90s preschoolers program Teletubbies was rumored to be gay because he was purple and carried a purse like bag This rumor gained media visibility ranging from a Salon.com article discu ssing the phenomen on (Salon.com 1998) to admonition from religious right figu rehead Jerry Falwell (BBC News 1999). More recently, a comment published on the Sesame Street twitter page hinted at the fictional character Bert's homosexuality. While discussing the sexual identit y of a puppet might sound completely ridiculous, the controversial tweet gained a fair amount of visibility, even spurring an article being published in the LA Times about Sesame Street's "gay friendly vibe" (Los Angeles Times 2010). In a reactionary socie ty, how can the overwhelming presence of normative representations of sexuality be challenged? A major factor in the production of media that provide alternatives to mainstream narratives and representations has to do with the medium itself. Children's lit erature, for example, has a far wider range of representations than one might find flipping through channels on television 2 This is, in part, because of the FCC ratings that filter what makes it on to the small screens in peoples' homes. The publication o f literature, however, is far !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! # L16!C4>?!M6-=,42?!42@!D+04,31+!N@:84+,/2!O6+./0P!BCMDNOJ?!,-!42!/0342,Q4+,/2!+14+! <0/9/+6-!4886<+4286!/7!455!<6/<56?!06340@56--!/7!-6;:45!/0,62+4+,/2!/0!362@60! ,@62+,+>!,2!1/<6-!/7!8064+,23!-476!62A,0/2962+-!,2!.1,81!81,5@062!842!56402!42@! -/8,45,Q6K! R9/23!+16!06-/:086-!/2!+16!CMDNO!.6=-,+6!,-!42!422/+4+6@!=,=5,/304<1>! /7!81,5@062S-!=//P-!.,+1!MCTL!814048+60-K!
! %" more liberal, as one makes an intentional decision to borrow or purchase a particular book, rather than purchase an all inclusive cable package. What can be learned from the progress toward inclusiveness and acceptance in chi ldren's literature? Since a sociocultural revolution is not likely overnight and we should not expect to see open minded, inclusive children's media on basic cable any time soon, alternative sources are crucial. The internet is a valuable source in providi ng visibility and access to alternative media that might otherwise be unable to sustain production. An added bonus to viewing conscientious media online lies in avoiding the highly gender differentiated advertisements riddling children's programming on cab le networks such as Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, and Cartoon Network. Call for future research My study has discussed normative representations of sexuality and gender in children's television media through an analysis of one highly popular, commercia lly successful, contemporary children's sitcom. Similar studies of shows with different age demographics (i.e. preschool age audiences or older teenage audiences), from less conventional or less mainstream sources (i.e. alternative children's programming), would flesh out a greater range of deconstructed media influences. Similarly, research pertaining directly to the consumption and its effects on c hildren viewers (see the 1991 Kelley et al. study discussed in Chapter 2) would shed light on another aspect of the sexual socialization of youth via exposure to mainstream media products. Research regarding the gender identity/ie s of a program's main character s would also contribute to better understanding the content and consumption of children's media.
! %# The S uite Life on Deck of course, has two male identified main characters, and the show appeals to both boys and girls. However, a program like Hannah Montana is targeted specifically at girls (this difference can be observed, in part, in the commercial advert isements scheduled during each program, with a mix of ads geared toward girls and boys taking place during The Suite Life on Deck and ads marketing primarily toward girls during episodes of Hannah Montana ). The appeal across gender of The Suite Life on Dec k indicates the neutrality of the masculine, while Hannah Montan a 's appeal primarily to young girls illustrates the limited appeal of the feminine. It would be interesting to explore further this dichotomy and its effects.
! %$ Chapter Six: C onclusion While assigned ratings indicate that children's tel evision programming should not possess significant sexual content, this systemized approach to accounting for media content takes for granted that heterosexuality is a sexual identity that is actively constructed and reinforced through the content of these shows. Heterosexuality in and of itself is not taboo, but rather is understood to be socially valuable as it functions as an integral part in the normative structure of the family. Therefore, heterosexual content, so long as it is not graphic in dialogue or gesture, escapes being identified as sexual, and is not only allowed in children's media but is privileged within its content. In children's media, as well as through other mechanisms of so cialization, heterosexuality is normatively presented to children as the sole possible sexuality, rather than a possible sexuality. This is evidenced in the content of The Suite Life on Deck The characters and plotlines of this show reinforce the notion that romantic heterosexual relationships are a primary source of social and personal fulfillment, and that to pursue such interactions is a natural and i ntegral part of the everyday lives of young people. At the same time, allusions to non normative sexua l identities or behaviors (such as Zack's references to his own questioning of his brother's sexuality) as well as undesirable gendered qualities (as seen in the table of attractive/unattractive qualities ) are represented as comical or shameful, reinforc ing the exclusive priority placed on sexual and gender normativity. Therefore, while physically sexually explicit content is not present in shows such as The Suite Life on Deck I would argue that these shows are not free from sexuality. Instead, I argue that due to heteronormativity's pervasive nature, the inclusion of
! %% heterosexual identities and behaviors is not interpreted as being inappropriate within the context of children's media; rather heterosexuality is posited for effortless digestion as an una ssuming given, a n immutable fact of life. Since socialization into what are deemed appropriate sex and gender roles can be seen as a normative function of children's media, the depiction of a male female relationship goes unquestioned, whereas it is likel y that inclusion of an otherwise comparable same sex relationship would be deemed inappropriate, explicit, and, quite possibly, offensive. The sole inclusion and frequent promotion of heterosexual identities in children's mainstream media is problematic o n two levels. First, it indicates that to be a normal, fulfilled young person, one must pursue or be in a heterosexual romantic relationship. Other aspects of the social lives of children and teenagers are pushed aside and their worlds are structured large ly around their significant others (or the pursuit of one) This denies the importance of other relationships (i.e. friendships, family relationships), and emphasizes a strict matrix of gendered qualities that one must adhere to in order to be perceived as desirable to the opposite sex Second, exclusively heteronormative representations of sexual identity in children's television marginalize the experiences of those who might not identify with the images and messages being circulated in the media that is r eadily available to them These representations inaccurately portray the real diversity that exists in the world, artificially limiting the information provided to young viewers as they formulate worldviews and come to make sense of their own identities, i n part, through the media they consume. I beli eve that a move toward pluralistic media is essential to ensuring that processes of socialization and identity formation are healthy and truly inclusive
! %& Ultimately, I would argue that children need media so urces that represent honestly the range of sexual and gender identities that compose our society. Rather than learn to mock those who are different or do not meet the criteria for "normal," young consumers of media should learn to expect and accept differe nce.
! %' Works Cited Adoni, Hanna, and Sherrill Mane. 1984. Media and the Social Construction of Reality: Toward an Integration of Theory and Research ." Communication Research 11: 323 40. "Annotated Bibliography of Children' s Books With Gay and Lesbian Characters Resources for Early Childhood Educators and Parents." 1999. GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network: Home. Retrieved 25 Mar. 2011.
! %( Junn, Ellen N. 1997. Media Portrayals of Love, Marriage & Sexuality for Child A udiences. P aper presented at the Biennial Meeting, Society for Research in Child Development, Washington, DC. Kelley, et al. 1999. "Talking Dirty: Children, Sexual Knowledge, and Tel evision." Childhood 6.2: 221. Kielwasser, A. P., Michelle Andrea Wolf. 1992 "Mains tream Television, Adolescent H omosexuality, and t he Significant S ilence. Critica l Studies in Mass Communication 9: 350 373. Kim, J. L., C. L. Sorsoll, K. Collins, and B. A. Zylbergold. 2007. "From Sex to Sexuality: Exposing the Heterosexual Script on Prim etime Network T elevision. Journal of Sex Research 44: 145. Maerz, Melissa. 2010. "Sesame Street Twitter Some 'Sesame Street' Viewers Sense a Gay friendly Vibe Los Angeles Times." Featured Articles From The Los Angeles Times Retrieved 25 Mar. 2011.
! %) Rich, Adrienne. 1986. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution Norton: New York. Roberts, D. F., et al. 2005. "G eneration M: Media in the L ives of 8 18 Year Olds". Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Rubin, Gayle. 1984. "Thinking Sex: Not es for a Radical Theory of the Politics of S exuality. Pleasure and Danger Boston: Routledge. Schor, Juliet B. 2004. Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer C ulture New York: Scribner. Seidman, Robert. 2009. "Disney Channel Orders M ore The Suite Life on Deck." TV Ratings, TV Nielsen Ratings, Television Show Ratings | TVbytheNumbers.com. Retrieved 25 Mar. 2011.