Although diversity and acceptance have become increasingly common in modern America, stereotyping is still existent and races are still profiled. In his article “Cops”: Television Policing as Policing Reality, Aaron Doyle explains how shows like Cops cause its viewers to have false perceptions of law and of society. These shows make the audience believe in a law and order ideology, in which crime has caused society to be declining, but he says that this problem can be solved with tougher crime control. He explains how shows like Cops use naturalization, making everything on the show appear to be happening in “real time” without any editing or other production factors. Lastly, he details how these types of shows also move the audience towards a hyperreality, blurring the line between factual news and entertainment. Because of the reasons given by Doyle, I can say that media outlets such as newspapers and television are definite contributors to the frequently held, yet misguided, dominant racial ideologies people have today, as the media will often restate and reinforce stereotypical beliefs, and cause the audience to believe the falsities presented.
A simple coding technique on the show Cops, of which will be explained later on, is used to analyze the extent to which minority races are usually portrayed either positively or negatively in comparison to whites in the media. Cops is a popular documentary reality-based crime television show that is entirely unscripted, and is filmed following police officers fulfilling their everyday duties. Created by John Langley and Malcom Barbour in March 1989, it is currently on its twenty-fifth season and “is one of the longest-running television programs in the United States and the second longest-running show on Fox.” It has also been filmed in 140 United States cities, as well as in Hong Kong, London, and the former Soviet Union (“Cops-About Us”).
As stated by scholars Mary Beth Oliver, Bradley Gorham, and Travis Dixon, non-whites are typically presented by television media in a negative way, as suspects or dangerous threats, while whites are usually shown in a more positive manner, as heroes or innocent bystanders. I will be supporting the findings made by Oliver, Gorham, and Dixon in their studies, in my own study, in which I will code and analyze the show Cops. I will prove that non-whites are undeniably overrepresented negatively while whites are consistently shown in a more positive fashion, first by explaining the methods I have used for my study, and subsequently by explaining my findings. It is important to realize that there is a varying portrayal of people in the media, that depending on their race some people will regularly be presented in a certain way compared to the other, because the repetitive portrayal of non-whites in a negative way causes false, for example, can cause negative stereotypes of non-whites to continuously be reinforced.
In order to assist me in my investigation, I read about other points of view on the topic of race in television media. I found Portrayals of Crime, Race, and Aggression in “Reality-Based” Police Shows: A Content Analysis written by Mary Beth Oliver, News Media’s relationship with Stereotyping: The Linguistic Intergroup Bias in Response to Crime News by Bradley W. Gorham, and Travis L. Dixon’s Crime News and Racialized Beliefs: Understanding the Relationship Between Local News Viewing and Perceptions of African Americans and Crime, through the University of Richmond’s EBSCO Host Communication and Mass Media Complete search engine, using the search terms “race,” “violence,” and “television” to find Oliver’s article, and “race,” crime,” and “mass media” to find Gorham’s and Dixon’s articles. Each of the three articles provided me with similar information on the topic of race and the media.
Although the conclusions made by Oliver, Gorham, and Dixon, were all equivalent, each scholar used a different method to find what they found.
Oliver performed a content analysis of “reality-based” police shows, using a coding method to analyze the portrayal of different ethnicities. Oliver attempts to assess whether or not the way in which police officers and criminal suspects are portrayed on reality-based police television shows, affects how viewers may look at certain types of people. Her study shows that police officers on these shows are almost always white, underrepresenting ethnic minorities as police officers in comparison to what government statistics indicate, while criminal suspects are overrepresented as black or Hispanic, according to FBI statistics (Oliver, 1994, p.7).
Gorham recorded reactions from the audience in his study, to four versions of a manipulated television news tape: two versions each containing different white men, and the other two with different African American men. He analyzed the language used by the audience to describe what they saw in the tape and explained that according to the linguistic intergroup bias (LIB), when more abstract or generalized language is used to describe an observation, it “implies much more about the disposition of the person involved that is independent of what has been observed” (Gorham, 2006, p.294). This means that the person is using opinions they already hold, to form their “observations”. The results of Gorham’s study displayed racial inclinations among the Caucasian audience, as they used highly generalized observations to give their thoughts on the African American men, but concrete language to describe the white men.
To assure that his study focused on the effects of news viewing on the perception of race, independent from any prior racial inclinations a person may have, Dixon used control factors including respondent race, gender and age, education level, conservatism, income, overall television and newspaper exposure, neighborhood diversity, and community crime rate. He surveyed Los Angeles residents via the telephone, in an attempt to find a relationship between local news viewing and people’s perception on African Americans. After performing a number of statistical tests on the data he collected, he reaffirmed the conclusion previously made by both Oliver and Gorham, that television media exposure and attention to crime news does indeed affect how much one is concerned about crime.
All three scholars found that police officers are more likely to be white, while criminals or suspects are generally a racial minority. They also found that television tends to display white police officers as heroes, and the ethnic minorities as villains or criminal suspects, and because of this, it can be determined that reality-based crime shows will likely cause frequent viewers to tend to associate ethnic minorities as more dangerous and threatening, and more likely to be criminals, than whites. I am hoping to support these findings, through my own study, in order to maintain that media does portray different races in their typical stereotypical manners, and to show that it is still an issue.
To perform my study of Cops, I analyzed a total of ten episodes from season nineteen, filmed in 2006-2007. Each episode is approximately twenty-two minutes, and consists of three vignettes, each containing one to two police incidents. I analyzed each episode using a coding technique based similarly to Oliver’s in her study on the portrayal of race in reality-based crime television shows. While viewing each episode of Cops, I recorded the location and crime of every individual vignette, I recorded each character within each vignette’s race, whether they were a police officer, suspect, victim, or other, if each character was portrayed in a positive, negative, or neutral way, and lastly, I made note of the outcome of any given suspect in each vignette.
I recorded the location, crime, and outcome of the suspect, to remind myself which vignette I was referring to in each particular round of coding. When coding each episode, I could easily separate police officers from the other characters because police officers always wear their uniforms in Cops. I separated race into two categories, white and non-white. Although there is no simple way to determine a person’s race just by watching them on television, I determined the races of the characters on Cops by examining each person’s visual appearance, their name (if given), and the language the person spoke. For example, if a character was speaking Spanish and they had a Hispanic last name, I would likely code them to be non-white. Determining if a character was a suspect, victim, or “other” was generally apparent in each case. The suspect was the person questioned by the police officer about committing a crime. The victims, of whom I did not end up including in my final analysis because there were so few of them, were the persons in need of the police officer’s assistance. The “others” included any suspect or victim’s family members, friends, neighbors, etc. I did not include “others” in my final analysis either, as there were not enough characters in the category to lead me to any significant conclusions about them.
Coding characters to be positively, negatively, or neutrally portrayed involved analyzing the actions of each character given the circumstance they are in. Positively portrayed characters tended to have characteristics such as respectful, understanding, and sometimes heroic, while negatively portrayed characters had threatening, deceitful, manipulative, or conniving personas. Positively and negatively portrayed characters are important to notice, as the difference between these types of characters can tell us a lot about how media portrays different types of people. I did not include neutrally portrayed characters in my final analysis because they ended up being such a small category that no noteworthy conclusion could be formed around them, but they were the more minor, background characters who did have speaking lines and made physical contact with the suspect, but from what was shown of them, there still lacked enough substance to their character, for me to state that the character was positively or negatively portrayed. There were also extremely minor characters including any officers not directly involved in any physical contact with the suspect or involved in the arrest or questioning of the suspect. Additionally, characters possibly associated with the suspect but not questioned were considered to be “extremely minor.” I found that these characters had such an insignificant role that it would not be possible to code them as positive, negative, or neutral, so I also did not include them in my analysis.
Here is a video clip from a season twenty-one episode of Cops, which may be a useful example in further demonstrating how I coded and performed the research on Cops.
In this particular clip, there are four characters: three police officers and one suspect. The clip is from a vignette in which deputies in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, are attempting to question the suspect, but the suspect tries to flee but is immediately captured and restrained by the three officers. I would code the suspect as non-white, by his visual appearance. The main police officer is introduced in the vignette (not shown in this clip) as Brian Lopez, so taking his name and appearance into account, I coded him as non-white as well. The other two officers appear to be white, so that is what I coded them as. The suspect is obviously negatively portrayed, as he tried to run away from the officers and lied about having drugs on him. The main officer I coded positively, as he was calm and tried to be understanding when dealing with the suspect, until the suspect attempted to flee, in which case he got more aggressive, and rightfully so. The officer shown talking to the suspect after they restrain him, I also coded positively, because when the suspect sees that his nose was bleeding, the officer tells him, that “it’s all right man, we’ll take care of you,” (copstv, 2012, 1:28) when he could have easily told the suspect that he brought the injury upon himself. The final officer, I did not code as positive, negative, or neutral, since he was barely shown in the vignette, so it would be impossible to conclude that he is portrayed in a certain way from what is shown of him in this particular incident. Instead of coding him as positive, negative, or neutral, I just marked him with an “X” meaning that he did not have any apparent portrayal.
Below is a collection of my findings from the clip shown similar to a spreadsheet I created using the data I collected from the ten episodes of Cops that I watched for my study.
|COPS Season 21|
|11||1||Rancho Cucamonga, CA||Suspicious Person||Police Officer||Non-White||Positive|
After coding the total of thirty vignettes from the ten episodes of Cops that I watched, I have strong evidence to prove my argument to be true. Here are the numbers I came up with, after coding the ten episodes.
I found that of the positively portrayed characters, 72.41% were white and 32.75% were non-white. Of the negatively portrayed characters, 59.38% were white while 40.63% were non-white. Although the percentage of whites in both categories are higher than those of non-whites, this is the case only because there are more white characters in the show overall. When examining the numbers further, we can see that of white characters, a greater ratio of them were positively portrayed than were negatively portrayed (72.41% positive versus 59.38% negative), whereas of the non-white characters, a greater percentage of them were negatively portrayed than were positively portrayed (40.63% negative versus 32.75% positive). These findings support those of Oliver, Gorham, and Dixon, showing that one can consistently notice that non-whites in the media are portrayed in a much different light than are whites.
Police officers are typically seen in a positive way by society, thanks to media often showing them as heroic beings (Oliver, 1994, p.2), while suspects are typically viewed in a negative way. I wanted to see whether or not whites, who I found in my analysis to be represented more often positively than negatively, were overrepresented as police officers and if non-whites were underrepresented as police officers. I also wanted to see if whites were underrepresented as suspects while non-whites were overrepresented as suspects. From the ten episodes I viewed, I found 82.61% of police officers were white, while 17.39% were non-white. 51.22% of suspects were white and 48.78% were non-white. Again, the only reason the percentages of whites in both categories was higher, is because there were more whites shown overall, but when comparing how whites and non-whites were represented, there was a far greater number of white police officers than there were suspects (82.61% police officers, 51.22% suspects), and a far greater number of non-white suspects than there were police officers (48.78% suspects, 17.39% police officers). Surprisingly however, I found that non-whites were not underrepresented as police officers in Cops, as the statistics of non-white and white police officers according to the Department of Labor, are 83% of officers are white and 17% are non-white (Oliver, 1994, p.7). According to FBI statistics however, of suspects arrested, 70% are white and 30% are non-white (Oliver, 1994, p.7). Comparing these statistics to the numbers I found in my own content analysis of the show Cops, Cops does greatly underrepresents the percentage of white suspects, and overrepresents the number of non-white suspects, which likely hints to the audience that non-whites are typically more threatening and dangerous than whites.
The clip I embedded earlier, shows how suspects are typically shown, as a minority race and they act in a threatening, non-cooperative way. When realizing how common it is for suspects to be represented like this in the media, it becomes easier to see how media can contribute to the audience normally viewing non-whites in a negative way. This is obviously not a good influence the media has on its audience, as it creates false beliefs in the audience, allowing them to maintain stereotypical images of race, and reinforcing any predjudice or discrimination against race, that a person may already hold, particularly towards non-whites (Gorham, 2006, p.289).
Race has been a controversial topic throughout history. There have been movements for equality and peace among all races, and today, people in general are much more accepting of all different races. However, inequality amidst races is still extremely prevalent and even when we do not realize it, it still surrounds us. In the media, including on television news as shown by the studies done by Gorham and Dixon, and on television’s reality-based crime shows as demonstrated by Oliver, racial differences are still very prevalent.
Based on the coding methods I used and the analysis of the ten episodes of Cops that I watched, I found that what Oliver, Gorham, and Dixon found in their studies, that non-whites are presented negatively while whites are typically shown positively, held to be true in my study of the show Cops as well. Oliver, Gorham and Dixon each state in their given article, that the viewing of television news or reality-based crime shows, may likely cause viewers’ opinions of non-whites and whites to be skewed, because of the common portrayal of non-white’s as more dangerous, threatening, and deceitful than whites. Because of this, the more one is exposed to these racially stereotypical media portrayals, the more embedded the stereotypes will become in their minds, which Gorham proves can affect how the audience continues to watch and react to media.
The steps society that has been taking throughout the years towards establishing greater equality amongst all, in this case specifically amongst race, is quite possibly being hindered by television media, as media seems to continuously put out false views. This would definitely be a negative reality of television and the media, that it can seemingly easily influence and skew people’s views, and make them hold false beliefs and possibly hold on to negative racial inclinations.
About Us. Retrieved from http://www.cops.com/about-us/
Doyle, A. (1998). “Cops”: Television policing as policing reality. In Entertaining Crime.Television Reality Programs. Eds. M. Fishman and G. Cavender. New York: Aldine De Gruyter: 79-94.
Oliver, M. (1994). Portrayals of crime, race, and aggression in `reality-based’ police shows: A content analysis. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 38(2), 179.
Gorham, B. W. (2006). News Media’s Relationship With Stereotyping: The Linguistic Intergroup Bias in Response to Crime News. Journal Of Communication, 56(2), 289-308. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00020.x
Dixon, T. L. (2008). Crime News and Racialized Beliefs: Understanding the Relationship Between Local News Viewing and Perceptions of African Americans and Crime. Journal Of Communication, 58(1), 106-125. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00376.x
Copstv (Poster) (2012, February 10). COPS TV Show, Not My Pants, Rancho Cucamonga Police Department [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD-ICpNZpZ4&feature=plcp
Cops, Season Nineteen. (2006-2007). John Langley (Creator).
-“Coast to Coast (Series Premiere)”, Episode 1
-“Coast to Coast #2,” Episode 2
-“Coast to Coast #3,” Episode 3
-“Coast to Coast #4,” Episode 4
-“Coast to Coast #5,” Episode 5
-|”Bad Girls #10 Special Edition,” Episode 9
-“Ho! Ho! Ho! Special Edition #4,” Episode 12
-“Tough Takedowns Special Edition,” Episode 18
-“Liar Liar,” Episode 19
-“High Crimes Special Edition #2,” Episode 27