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Bonds_Raacke_W_G - Remembering Gay/Lesbian Media Characters...

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Unformatted text preview: Remembering Gay/Lesbian Media Characters: Can Ellen and Will Improve Attitudes Toward Homosexuals? Jennifer M. Bonds—Reacke, PhD University of North Carolina at Pembroke Elizabeth '1'. Cady, MS Kansas State University and National. Academy of Engineering Rebecca Schlegel, BA University of Missouri-Columbia Richard J. Harris, PhD Kansas State University Lindsey Firebaugh, BA Washburn University ABSTRACT. The purpose of the current research was twofold. First, a pilot study was conducted in which participants were asked to recall any memorable gay or lesbian television or film character and complete a survey about their perceptions of the character. Results indicated that Jennifer M. Bonds-Raacke is Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Elizabeth '1'. Cady is affiliated with Kansas State University and the National Academy of Engineering. Rebecca Schlegel is affiliated with the Depart- ment of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia. Richard J. Harris is affiliated with the Department of Psychology, Kansas State University. Lindsey Firebaugh is affiliated with the Psychology DepartmenL Washbum University. Correspondence may be addressed: Jennifer M. Bonds-Raacke. University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Department of Psychology and Counseling. Pembroke, NC 28372. Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 53(3) 2007 Available online at http:Hjh.haw01thpress.com © 2007 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved. doile.1300/]082v53nfl3_03 19 20 JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY over two-thirds of heterosexual participants recalled either Ellen or Will, and evaluative ratings for these characters were generally positive. The second purpose of this research was to examine the priming ef- fects of remembering portrayals ol’ homosexual characters in the media. Therefore, an experiment was conducted to directly assess the effects of thinking about either a positive or negative homosexual character on general heterosexuals‘ attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Results indicated that those recalling a positive portrayal later showed a more positive attitude toward gay men than those recalling a negative por‘ trayal, and women had a more positive attitude overall than men toward gay men and lesbians. Such findings illustrate the importance of positive role models in entertainment media as potential primes of social atti— tudes. doi:10.1300/J082v53n03_03 [Article copies nvni'lablefcrajeefirom The Hm-vorrh Doermiem Delivery Service: 1—1900-de WORTH. E-nmil address: <[email protected]> Website: <hrtp:/Am-vw.HnwothPresS.com> © 2007 by The Hawaii]: Press, Inc. All rights reserved. ] KEYWORDS. Homosexual portrayals, attitudes toward homosexuality, gay and lesbian television portrayals, television portrayals of homosexu— ality, film portrayals and homosexuality, effect of media and attitudes to— ward homosexuality INTRODUCTION Although long nearly absent in the media, gay and lesbian characters have made their way into mainstream television and film in large num- bers in the last decade or so. Until recently, however, such characters were hardly ever depicted. The Production Code of 1934 formalized the voluntary exclusion of all gay and lesbian characters from Hollywood films (Russo, 1981), and such exclusion was adhered to when television emerged 15 years .later. Not until the 19605 and 19705 did television shows occasionally deal with some gay and lesbian themes, although net— works were still reluctant to introduce a regularly appearing homosex- ual character. Television and studio films have also struggled with de— picting homosexual characters. In spite of attempts to exclude gay and lesbian characters and difficul— ties with casting homosexual characters, gay and lesbian characters have continued to appear in television and film. Perhaps the most publi— cized homosexual character in the history of television was Ellen Mon gan, the lead character of the program Ellen, played by Ellen DeGeneres. Bonds—Ranch at at. 2] Although the episode featuring Ellen coming out set record ratings, the formerly highly rated sitcom was canceled shortly after. Following the path set by Ellen, a new sitcom, Will and Grace, soon appeared on prime time starring two gay characters played by Eric McCormack as Will Truman and Sean Hayes as Jack McFarland. Although we are now seeing gays and lesbians portrayed in the mass media with greater frequency than ever before, as yet we know little about the effect of these portrayals on the heterosexual majority with largely negative attitudes toward homosexuals. However, there are more general studies on the images of homosexuality in the media. For example, sexual minorities in the media have been discussed, especially with regards to sexual minority positions being ignored and discredited (Gross, 1991). Recent articles have discussed the portrayals of homo- sexual characters in popular shows such as Will and Grace (Battles & Hilton-Morrow, 2002; Capsuto, 2000; Shugart, 2003) and popular films such as My Best Friend ’5 Wedding (Shugart, 2003). These articles have generated discussion about current popular portrayals of homosexuality reinforcing heterosexism (Battles & HiltonnMorrow, 2002). Similarly, Dow (2001) discusses how the popular portrayal of the character Ellen Morgan in Ellen. may have made it easy for the audience to not taking her coming out seriously. One concern about the effect of homosexuality in the media is that the lack of role models sends a message to the homosexual youth of America (Kielwasser & Wolfe, 1994). There is also concem about what effects the portrayals that do exist have on audiences. Unfortunately, very few studies have examined this issue. However, those that have of— fer promising results for audiences viewing positive portrayals of ho— mosexual characters. For example, Riggle, Ellis, and Crawford (1996) had participants view a documentary film depicting events surround— ing the life and death of a prominent gay politician. Those participants viewing the film had a significant positive change in attitudes toward homosexuals. Similarly, Walters (1994) had two groups ofparticipants‘ complete measures of homophobia and empathy for homosexuals at the beginning and end of a school term. One group of participants was ex— posed to lectures on homophobia and homosexuality along with slides and video scenarios to demonstrate how gays and lesbians are stereo— typed in the media. At the end of the term, this group of participants showed an increase in empathy for homosexuals and a decrease in ho— mophobia, whereas the group without these experiences showed no changes in attitudes. The purpose. of the present study is to extend this line of research to effects of entertainment media. l\J [\J JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY Research investigating the influence of the media on heterosexuals’ at~ titudes toward homosexuals is important because gays and lesbians are the target of considerable prejudice manifested in a wide range of behav— iors from verbal attacks to violent physical attacks. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was founded in 1973 as an advocacy organization. Their research has consistently demonstrated this type of prejudice. For example in 1984, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that due to their sexuality: (1) 90% of gay men and 75% of lesbians had been verbally harassed, (2) almost 50% of gay men and more than 33% of lesbians had been threatened with physical violence, and (3) 20% of gay men and 10% of lesbians has been physically assaulted (in Herek, 1988). A publication from the task force this January of 2005 highlighted that now 47% of the US. population is protected from sexual orientation discrimination. However, this still leaves 156 million Americans living in a state where they can be discriminated against due to their actual or perceived sexual clientation. In addition to this task force, the FBI started to rack hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation in 1992. In 1995, the FBI reported that that 13% of all hate crimes were moti- vated by sexual orientation bias and number grew to l7% in 2002 (FBI, 2003). Even on college campuses, lesbian and gay male undergraduates report being verbally insulted, chased or followed, and physically as- saulted (D’Augelli, 1992). Purpose The purpose of the present study was two—fold. First, a pilot study was conducted to determine which gay and lesbian characters were most often thought of, indirectly testing the Drench Hypothesis (Greenberg, 1988). The Drench Hypothesis asserts that a small number of exemplars have a potentially disproportionate amount of influence, because of the large audiences they draw. For the pilot study, the Drench Hypothesis would prevail if the majority of participants recalled a few highly salient and popular portrayals. in addition, the pilot study assessed how participants viewed these characters on a variety of personality dimensions (e.g., hum morous, likeable). The second purpose of the research was to conduct an experiment to directly assess the priming effects of thinking about a positive or negative homosexual character on general attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Both the pilot study and the experiment had heterosexual partici- pants remember media—watching from their own lives. Previous re— search has used this sort of methodology to investigate memories for Bonds-Randy er a1. 23 other media experiences (Harrison & Cantor, 1999; Hoekstra, Harris, & Helmich, l999; Cantor, Mares, 8:; Hyde, 2003; Harris, Hoeksu‘a, Scott, Sanborn, Karafa, & Brandenburg, 2000; Harris, Hoekstra, Scott, Sanborn, Dodds, & Brandenburg, 2004; Harris, Bonds—Raacke, & Cady, 2005; Bonds-Raacke & Harris, 2006). This methodology was useful in the current research for several reasons including that it allowed partici- pants to recall a character that was memorable to them and not just a character picked by the experimenter. Another advantage of this meth- odology was increased ecological validity. Because participants selected the character, it is presumed they have watched the character on their own time and with their realistic attention level in contrast to being shown a pre-selected film clip where previous exposure and attention level in the laboratory would be difficult to control. PILOT STUDY Methods Participants were 269 Midwestern US. college students enrolled in a General Psychology course at a large public university. They were given partial course credit for their participation during the fall semester of 2001. Participants in the pilot study and subsequent study were not asked their own sexual orientation. Other research at the university has done so and reported a very small percentage of individuals identifying themselves to be homosexuals. Participants were first asked to think of a memorable gay/lesbian character in a TV show/movie. Participants then wrote down the name of the character and the TV program or movie in which the character appeared. Next, participants rated their perceptions of this character using 7—point Liked—scales for the dimensions of: Serious/humorous, likeable/not likeable, mentally ill/mentally stable, safe/dangerous, moral! unmoral, honest/dishonest, responsible/irresponsible, kind/cruel, violent] nonviolent, and bad role model/good .role model. These dimensions have been used in studies in our lab looking at portrayals of other minorities in the media and were developed to assess commonly held stereotypes. Finally, participants responded to attitudinal statements assessing the extent to which they believed: (l) real—life gays/lesbians were like the character, (2) they would enjoy having this character as a friend, (3) the character’s family accepted their homosexuality well, and (4) the character’s friends accepted their homosexuality well. 24 JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY Results Over two—thirds of participants listed Ellen (47%) from Ellen and The Ellen Show or Will (20%) from Will. and Grace as the most mem» orable gay or lesbian character. See Table 1 for a complete listing of recalled characters. Participants also indicated these characters were re- latively humorous, lilteable, mentally stable, safe, honest, kind, respon— sible, and nonviolent. These characters were judged in the middle of the scale for moral/immoral and good role model/bad role model (see Ta- ble 2). Participants agreed that that the character’s friends accepted their homosexuality well. and were ambivalent about whether (1) real gay and lesbian people were like the character, (2) they would enjoy having this character as a friend or acquaintance, and (3) if the character’s parents accepted their homosexuality well (see Table 3). Discussion Considering the slow start that gay men and lesbian characters faced entering into media, it was impressive to find that all participants in the study could recall a homosexual media character. It was also inter« eating to note that the majority of participants recalled either Ellen or Will. These results are consistent with Greenberg’s Drench Hypothesis (1988) which states that a small number of exemplars have a potentially disproportionate amount of influence; due to the large audiences they draw. When asked to rate their perceptions of the character, ratings given by participants were generally positive. This was a little surprising given the prevalence of negative attitudes toward homosexuals in this TABLE 1 . Percentage of Participants Recalling Gay or Lesbian Media Characters Character Show/Movie % Recalling Ellen Ellen 470 Will Will and Grace 20.0 Jack Will and Grace 0.0 Andrew Philadelphia 40 Carol Friends 3.0 George My Best Friend’s Wedding 3.0 Simon As Good As ll Gels 2.0 Alyssa Chasing Amy 2.0 Carter Spin City 1.0 Bortds-Rocrckc at (it. 25 TABLE 2. Means for Likert Scale Ratings for Portrayals of Gayi’Lesbian Char— acters Perceptions Pilot Study Experiment Mean“ Positive'J Negativec Serious (tli‘Humorous (7) 5.46 5.53 4.451W Likeable (1)1'Not leeable (7) 2.82 2.47 4.04“” Mentally ill (1 )i‘Stable (7) 5.77 5.77 4.72“ Safe (1)1Dangerous (7) 2.25 2.16 3.45‘“ More! (1 )llmmora] (7) 3.43 2.94 4.39"" Honest (1 )iDisi'lonest (7) 2.46 2.38 4.00'“ Responsible (1 )llrresponsibie (7) 2.55 2.63 3.57” Kind (1 )lCruel (7) 2.04 2.07 3.43'“ Nonviolent (iiNiolent (7) 1.79 1.84 3.00m Bad Role Model (1 )lGood Ftole Model (7) 4.40 5.03 4.41 glottal aFrom Study 1. Those recalling a positive portrayal. cThose recalling a negative portrayal. '"p < .001 iordiiierences in ratings between recalling a positive and negative portrayal. TABLE 3. Comparison of Mean Likert Ratings on Attitudinal Statements from Pilot Study and Experiment (1 = Strongly Agree, 5 = Strongly Disagree) Mean Hating Fieai homosexuais are like character Pilot study 2.79 Experiment: Positive portrayal recall 3.00 Experiment: Negative portrayal recall 3.13 Would enjoy having character as friend Pilot study 2.73 Experiment: Positive portrayal recall 2.38‘ Experiment: Negative portrayal recall 3.48’ Characters friends accepted homosexuality Pilot study 1.8? Experiment: Positive portrayal recall 1.78‘ Experiment: Negative portrayal recall 2.?6“ Characters parents accepted homosexuality Pilot study 2.93 Experiment: Positive portrayal recall 2.85 Experiment: Negative portrayal recall 2.94 ‘Significant difference between positive and negative conditions at p < .001. 26 JOURNAL OF H OM OSEX UALITY country. While these results are promising in illustrating that homosex— ual media characters can be viewed positively, future research is needed to determine if recalling such characters actually serve as a prime to in— fluence attitudes positively. Also, investigating the influence of nega— tive portrayals on participants’ ratings will aid in explaining how media portrayals affect individuals' attitudes toward gays and lesbians. EXPERIMENT Methods Two groups of participants were used for this experiment, conducted in fall of 2002. Group 1 (N z 65) recalled a “positive portrayal" of a ho— mosexual media character, while Group 2 (N = 49) recalled a “negative portrayal.” Specifically, Group 1 was instructed to think about a very memorable character in a TV show or movie that they remember who was portrayed very positively and who was clearly identified as gay or lesbian. Participants were instructed that “by positive we mean some" one who is presented in such a way that many people would tend to ad— mire and or like this person.” Finally, participants were told that they did not have to like everything about the character, but the overall im— pression was to be positive. Group 2 was also asked to think about a very memorable character who was clearly identified as gay or lesbian, but one who was portrayed very negatively. Participants were instructed that “by negative we mean someone who is presented is such a way that many people would dislike and or have little respect for this person.” Again, participants were in- structed that they did not have to dislike everything about the character, but their overall impression must be negative. Next, participants completed a two—part survey. Part one was iden~ tical to the survey used in the pilot study in which participants rated their perceptions of the character on various dimensions using Likert— scales and responded to four attitudinal statements. In part two of the survey, participants completed one of the versions of the Attitudes Toward Lesbian and Gay Men (ATLG) Scale (Herek, 1988). The par— ticular version used consisted of 40 statements, 20 statements about gay men (ATG subscale) and 20 about lesbians (ATL subscale), in which participants indicated their level of agreement or disagreement with the statements on a Likert—scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree). The subscales contained identical statements Bands—Rand’s at m'. 27 (only varying in the reference to gay men or lesbians) to allow for a direct comparison of scores. Scores for each subscale could range from. 20 to 140, with higher scores indicating a more negative attiw tude. Sample statements included: “female/male homosexuality is an inferior form of sexuality” and “female/male homosexuality is a per" vers1on.” Results The list of characters recalled for the positive and negative conditions is illustrated in Table 4. A two—way MANOVA was conducted to deter— mine the effects of gender and character evaluation (i.e., positive portray— als and negative portrayals) on the two dependent variables of attitudes toward gay men (ATG scale) and attitudes toward lesbians (ATL scale). MANOVA results indicated that character evaluation [Pillai’s Trace = .086, F (2, 109) = 5.12, p < .01] significantly affected attitudes toward gay men, and gender [Pillai’s Trace = .219, F (2, 109) = l5.26, p < .001] sig— nificantly affected attitudes toward both gays and lesbians (see Table 5). Univariate AN OVAs were conducted as follow—up analyses. ANOVA results indicated that attitudes toward gay men [F (1, 11.0) m 5.43, p < .05, n3 = .047, power 2 .637] significantly differed by character evalua— tion. Specifically, those recalling a positive portrayal later showed a more positive attitude toward gay men than those recalling a negative portrayal. ANOVA results also indicated that attitudes toward gay men [F (l , 110) = 19.50, p < .001, n3 m .151, power = .992] and attitudes to— ward lesbians [F (l, 110): 4.88, p < .05, n1 = .042, power = .591] sig~ nificantly differed by gender. Specifically, women’s attitudes toward both lesbians and gay men were more positive than men’s (see Table 5). TABLE 4. Characters Recalled: Experiment Condition Characters Recalled Percentage Positive Will Truman 2B ElEen DeGeneres 18 Jack McFarland 9 Others (each < 2%} 45 Negative Ellen DeGeneres 9 Jack McFarland 7 Rosie O'Donnell 7 Others (each < 2%) 77 28 JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXIMLITY TABLE 5. Mean Scores (Range 2...
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