Racial representations and “whiteness” on America’s favorite TV show, NCIS.

This final research paper was originally intended to examine only the representation of criminals in the hit TV show NCIS. However as my research progressed it became evident that there was a pattern emerging more evident than that of criminal stereotypes alone. I quickly began to notice a whiteness in the show that was never apparent to me before, this led me to shift my research towards investigating the racial representations of all characters in NCIS rather than criminals alone.  I now intend to examine the representation of race in the popular American crime drama NCIS. NCIS was named America’s favorite television show in 2011 after airing on CBS in September of 2003 to over 11 million viewers, and subsequently enjoying nine successful and wildly popular seasons (The Harris Poll, 2011). The show is a fictional American crime drama television series, revolving around a team of special agents who are forced to work together under high stress situations in effort to solve crimes involving the Navy, Marine Corps, and their families.

 

All the main and recurring characters in NCIS season two were white. These characters include team leader and former marine Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Gibbs is portrayed as a man of few words whose skills as an investigator are unparalleled. The team also includes Senior Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, accompanied by Special Agent Caitlin Todd, and Special Agent Timothy McGee. Medical examiner Dr. Donald Mallard, and forensic specialist Abby Sciuto round out the main cast members in season two of NCIS. From murder and kidnapping to terrorism and espionage, this team of special agents travels all around the world to investigate crime involving the Navy or Marine Corps.

The main goal of my research was to find out if NCIS is biased in the representation of race in their show. More specifically if the show tends to cast characters of one race, thus failing to have diversity amongst the characters. It is important to uncover any biases the show might be presenting because, according to Armstrong and Oliver (1995) there is a potential for crime dramas to cultivate attitudes and beliefs about important social issues, such as race. Popular shows such as NCIS can have far reaching effects on their millions of loyal followers beyond just simple entertainment, rather they have the power to influence how viewers see and perceive the world around them.

I argue that NCIS heavily under represents all minorities; the show portrays a society heavily dominated by whites and fails to include characters of other races into its episodes. This is important because the attitudes and perceptions of the show’s viewers can be affected by this lack of diversity. The show NCIS is a fictional take on the United States’ real NCIS, or Naval Criminal Investigative Service, so then it is reasonable to argue that the show’s viewers may make judgments and form attitudes about the real NCIS based on what they see in the show’s portrayal. In that case a lack of diversity in the show could influence the audience’s attitudes and perceptions regarding the races of real life NCIS agents. It also can be said that NCIS does not portray non-whites in a negative light, however this is only true because non-whites are not represented in the show at all, so then no real progress is made towards equality in racial representation and perception.

Racial stereotypes are a reality in society today. Whether intentional or not, people often hold certain predispositions toward those of another race by which they might pass judgments on others (MacLin & Vivian, 2006). What we watch in the media and on popular sources can feed into these dominant race ideologies (Sturken & Cartwright, 2011). The current research pertaining to race and crime dramas holds that in general whites are overrepresented. However, when non-whites appear in shows they more often than not play the role of a criminal (Dominick, 2001).

For my research I watched and performed a character analysis on ten episodes from NCIS season two. I began with season two episode one, and then subsequently watched every other episode up to the 19th. In watching these episodes I looked for the race of all characters, focusing on characters that were vital in the advancement of the plot of each episode. I took particular note of all the investigators, victims, criminals, suspects, and witnesses present in each episode, and based my race classification on each character’s physical appearance. In my analysis I looked for patterns that showed NCIS characters tended to be of one race more so than another, such a pattern would be present if, for example most or all of the characters in a particular episode were white. In my analysis I also wanted to see if one type of character, for instance a criminal or victim is more likely to be of any certain race or if non-whites were more likely to be portrayed as criminals.

It was strikingly evident to me after watching just the opening credits of each episode from season two, that whites were dominant in the show. I believe that whites are portrayed as dominant both in the sense that there were just so many more than non-whites, and also dominant in the sense that all positions of power in the show were held by a white character. From watching the opening credits, which highlight each main character, primarily the team of NCIS investigators, you can see that each main, recurring character is white. Not one person shown in the credits is of any race other than white, indicating the prevalence of white characters over those of any other race in the show.

Findings of my research include that in the ten episodes I viewed, 100% of all central characters were white. In each episode, every investigator, criminal, victim, suspect, and witness was white. Six of the ten episodes were completely devoid of any character, even in a minor role that was of a non-white race. Four of the episodes did include characters of non-white races, however these characters held extremely minor or insignificant roles, that were not vital to any substantial advancement of the plot. One of the four episodes including a non-white character was episode nine, entitled “Forced Entry”.

In this episode a Marine’s wife shoots an intruder in self-defense when he enters her home over night and attempts to rape her. While both the wife, and her intruder were white, the Marine who was a first responder to the scene was an African-American. His only role in the episode was to arrive at the scene, secure the scene, and then hand over the investigation to Gibbs and NCIS once they arrived. The African-American Marine was unnamed, had very few lines, and overall did little to influence the plot of the episode. This role is comparable to the roles of the different non-white characters in the three other episodes that had such a character. They are insignificant and very much under represented in comparison to whites in the show.

Another component of my analysis included the viewership of each of the episodes I analyzed. In order for the show to significantly affect its audience, it must have a large enough audience to make a difference. I found that the viewership for the episodes I analyzed ranged from 12.74 million (episode 13 “The Meat Puzzle”) to 15.4 million (episode 11 “Black Water”). The average number of viewers of all the episodes I watched was 14.26 million. While these numbers reflect viewership of each episode’s premiere, there are not figures that take into account the millions of additional viewers who watch the show when it re-runs on different networks such as USA. When you take into account the high numbers of initial viewers, plus the re-runs, it is obvious that a very large number of people may be affected by the show’s representation of race.

These results support my argument by clearly indicating the over representation of whites in NCIS. The show presents a world dominated almost completely by whites, failing to include any significant characters of other races.  When the show did choose to include non-white characters, they held minor roles, with no main or recurring characters being of a non-white race. Another example of a non-white in a minor role was in episode 13, “The Meat Puzzle”. In this episode three bodies are identified after being stuffed in barrels and reassembled. A deliveryman was hired by an unknown suspect to deliver the barrels to Bethesda Naval Hospital, the NCIS team tracks down the deliveryman. He was an African American male who was paid cash and knew nothing of the contents of the barrels, he had a short interview with Agent Gibbs in which no pertinent information was given, and then he never returned in the episode. The inclusion of non-white characters in such unimportant roles could speak to underlying racial ideologies that reflect negatively on non-whites. This impact can be seen in the millions of people that watch this show; crime dramas such as NCIS have the power to influence the ideas and attitudes of their viewers towards important issues. Even unconsciously, a viewer’s perceptions of non-whites as insignificant could be forming in response to racial representations on the show (Armstrong & Oliver, 1995).

Although I myself have watched this show for many years, I never really took notice to the whiteness that the show portrayed until I decided to take this closer look. This pattern often goes unnoticed yet still influences audiences even if unintentionally. These findings could be projecting a false picture of parts of the world onto the show’s millions loyal viewers.

The complete lack of diversity in NCIS could lend itself to implications on people’s views towards the armed forces and governmental organizations such as NCIS. Although NCIS may not claim to portray a representation of the entire world, the depiction of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is certainly a reflection on the armed forces and governmental agencies in the United States. Americans rely so heavily on our armed forces for safety, peace of mind, and security. We hail members of the armed forces as heroes and depend on their commitment to protect and serve our country. The show’s failure to include any diversity, especially in the investigative team could imply to viewers that whites are to be more trusted in such power positions. The whiteness depicted in NCIS, a governmental agency, could suggest to the audience likelihood to more heavily rely on whites more so than minorities for important power positions in government and the armed forces. This is certainly furthering negative racial ideologies because in reality, a white or nonwhite person earns a high ranking position in such governmental agencies based on experience and merit regardless of race. Yet a complete lack of characters of any non-white race in a show embodying a governmental agency can affect the views people have on parallel real life agencies and those associated with these agencies, including the armed forces.

NCIS exhibits a complete lack of diversity amongst characters in its shows, portraying a predominant whiteness, with minor at best non-white characters appearing few and far between. Each week an audience of millions gather somewhere around a TV to watch America’s Favorite TV Show, most of these people as I was are probably entirely unaware of the whiteness the show portrays. Given the great popularity and availability of crime dramas on television in the United States, and the ability these shows have to unconsciously affect racial attitudes it is important to identify instances that could be affecting such a large audience (Armstrong & Oliver, 1995).

My research varied from a study done by Dominick (2001) that found that non-whites in crime dramas are more likely to be a criminal than any other type of character; rather I found that non-whites in NCIS were unlikely to be any type of main character. This difference is important to note not only because of the implications I have discussed that it may have on the audience’s racial perceptions, but also in moving forward this information could prove to be valuable to the shows writers and producers. If these people become aware of their failure to diversify the characters in NCIS it is possible that moving forward they may be able to make a more conscience effort to include non-white characters in more significant ways, including positive, powerful characters.

Overall my research highlights an important issue facing the makers of popular dramas on television today. The importance of including diversity in the cast of shows is not to be overlooked. It would be interesting for me to do a similar analysis on a more recent season of NCIS to see if the show has made progress towards including more diversity in a positive way into its episodes. The millions of people that watch are influenced by what shows like NCIS are choosing to put in their episodes. Issues such as race play such a vital role in society today, and it is vital that popular media work towards accurate representations of race in order to reduce the formulation of negative racial attitudes in their viewers.

Works Cited

Oliver M.B. and G.B. Armstrong. 1995. Predictors of viewing and enjoyment of reality-based and fictional crime shows. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 72(3), 559-570.

MacLin, M. and H. Vivian. 2006. The Criminal Stereotype. North American Journal of Psychology, 8(2), 197-207

Dominick, J.  2001. Crime and Law Enforcement on Prime-Time Television. Public Opinion Quarterly, 37(2), 241-250.

Sturken, M. and L. Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture (2nd ed.). Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Coroso, R. A. 2011, May 4. NCIS is America’s Favorite TV Show. Harris Interactive. Retrieved from <http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/mid/1508/ArticleId/768/Default.aspx>>

NCIS Season 2 Opening Credits [Television series]. Retrieved from <<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8YNZYZFE-w>>

NCIS, season 2(2004)

-See No Evil, Episode 1

-Vanished, Episode 3

-The Bone Yard, Episode 5

-Call of Silence, Episode 7

-Forced Entry, Episode 9

-Black Water, Episode 11

-The Meat Puzzle, Episode 13

-Caught on Tape, Episode 15

-An Eye for an Eye, Episode 17

-Conspiracy Theory, Episode 19

 

“Die Hard” movie review

“Die Hard” is an action packed thriller featuring Bruce Willis as a hero cop who through a series of awe-inspiring stunts manages to save many hostages, one of whom happen to be his estranged wife, from a group of highly skilled terrorists. The movie has all the makings of a box office hit, and in most ways I think it delivers. I give “Die Hard” three and a half out of four stars for it’s impressive stunts, special effects, and entertaining storyline. I think this movie deserves high marks for more than just it’s special effects and impressive stunts. Despite the striking dramatics I think “Die Hard” did a good job in providing a deeper story through the relationships centered around hero John McClane. The rekindling of the bond between John and his wife provided a emotional appeal however I think the most heartwarming relationship was that between John and Sargent Al Powell who remained in contact throughout the entire course of the hostage crisis, Sargent Powell was a voice that John was able to draw strength from in times of desperation. Another strength in the film was Alan Rickman who played Hans Gruber, leader of the terrorists. Rickman did a great job as an actor in embodying the intelligent and over confident villain who in the end failed to come through on his plot to steal millions in bonds.

In response to the review by Roger Ebert, I agree to some extent with his assertions that the consistently wrong deputy police chief was an unnecessary addition to the cast. While I agree that the police chief did little to enhance the overall level of the film I do not think that he had such a negative impact either. I feel that despite the deputy’s needless addition to the movie I do not think that we can go so far as to say, “he undermines the entire second half of the film.” As far as Ebert’s assessment that the film displayed “superior special effects, impressive stunt work and good performances, especially by Rickman as the terrorist” I would have to agree completely.

Overall I think that “Die Hard” was a very good movie, with a strong plot that kept my attention, while not being over complicated or predictable. I have always liked action thrillers and this film is no exception, despite minor criticisms, the movie lived up to its expectations and excelled in many areas.

Reaction to “Why Most Mass Murders are Privileged White Men” by Hugo Schwyzer

The article by Hugo Schwyzer entitled “Why Most Mass Murders are Privileged White Men” took a very interesting viewpoint on how white, middle-class men are more prone to taking their anger and frustrations out by shooting up public places then are many other races. In his argument I think that Schwyzer makes some valid points. I think it is interesting how Schwyzer points out that when a man of color is responsible for a mass shooting, it is commonplace procedure to immediately look for connections between his race or religion and the reasons for his behavior. When a white man commits a mass murder however, the reasons for his actions are assumed to be a psychological problem or sickness. I found this to be striking because of how unreasonable it is to assume that a person’s race would be a reason they commit a crime. Yet it is something I see in the media and never before thought to question. I think this is an example of what Stuart Hall would define as inferential racism because this practice is unquestioned, and these statements are made without even being aware of the racism underlying these assumptions. Further I believe that this is an example of inferential racism because Schwyzer indicated that when men of color murder it is natural for the first thought to be that it may partially relate to their race, this furthers the ideology that “blacks are the source of the problem”

Schwyzer makes an argument throughout the article that the white middle-class male is accustomed to being welcomed and heard in all public spaces. He asserts that when this innate sense of entitlement gets frustrated it is these men that are the most likely to react with violence, and to act in public spaces because they see these spaces as their own. I disagree with Schwyzer’s view in this case because while I think that it is very possible for middle to upper class white men to have a sense of entitlement in public spaces, I cannot see how simply this sense of entitlement can make them so much more likely to react with such high levels of violence. Rather, I think that regardless of race or socio-economic background mental illness must be at the core of any mass murder.  However I do agree that it is possible that due to their comfort level and confidence in public spaces white, privileged men may be more likely to choose a public space as the setting for their acts of violence, yet they are no more likely to commit an act than members of any other race or ethnicity.

This article deals with many ideologies concerning race, and socioeconomic standing; it exemplifies how the media can be used as a powerful source of racial ideologies through the ways in which news events are related to the general public. Overall while I think that while Hugo Schwyzer makes some valid arguments, he is unjustified in his assumptions that a heightened sense of entitlement is responsible for the majority of mass murderers being privliged white men.  I think it takes a lot more than confidence and comfort in public to motivate any man to commit such extreme acts of violence.

 

Swenson, “Rodney King, Reginald Denny and TV news”

 

In the article entitled Rodney King, Reginald Denny, and TV News: Cultural (Re)Construction of Racism the author, Jill Dianne Swenson employs the theories of Hall and Baudrillard together to provide a mechanism through which she looks at the video news narratives depicting the beatings of Rodney King and Reginald Denny. Alone these two theories are inadequate to provide a comprehensive explanation, but together they provide stereoscopic lenses to look at the videos of Rodney King and Reginald Denny. Baudrillard’s concept of the hyperreal is exemplified by the repetitious playing of the videos in order. TV news’ attempt to play the two videos of the beatings in order creates the illusion that they happened in sequential order. Baudrillard argues that the real is no longer real; rather a hyperreality is created in reality’s place. Hall’s theory suggests that the production of these videos invite the audience to “read racism.” The hyperreal mode of signification and preferred readings of these videos as stories of “racism”, in the case of King, and “reverse-racism” in the case of Denny, gave them a high sense of historical significance.  Thus both videos were encoded in a way as to limit the number of possible readings and encourage the preferred readings of racism.  TV coverage of these two events serves to explain how TV restores racial inequality and social order.

 

CSI and moral authority: The police and science

In this episode of CSI:NY Mac and the team investigated the murder of a successful businessman who never forgot the neighborhood that he came from. He was murdered in the vestibule of his sister-in-law’s apartment building, the same building in which he grew up. Through scientific exploration and the use of physical evidence the story told by the victim’s wife of how her loving husband was murdered in an attempted robbery was discredited. Eventually the cause of the murder was connected back to his wife and sister-in-law getting mixed up in a cocaine drug ring under threats from two brothers living across the hall. However this still did not account for who the murderer was. It was a mystery as to who else could’ve known when and where the sisters would be exchanging the drugs. The thin walls of the apartment building explained how the seemingly kind, safe, and hard-working neighbor was able to eavesdrop on the sisters’ phone call and get the information he needed to steal the drugs. However in his attempt to get the drugs he killed a good man in cold blood. The team was able to work together to solve the crime and bring peace to the sisters while bringing the guilty to justice.

In the article CSI and moral authority: The police and science the authors analyzed episodes of CSI and it’s spin offs CSI:NY and CSI:Miami.  In their analysis they focused on how CSI presents the moral authority of the police and science. They demonstrate based on viewing seasons of CSI how the show portrays a forensic realism to assert the moral superiority of science and the idea that science and the evidence doesn’t lie. CSI is different from many other crime dramas in it’s focus on forensics. The crimes depicted by the show are more often then not violent crimes, usually murder. The show hooks the audience’s emotions with how they portray the pain felt by the victim’s family. They also endear the team members to viewers when they connect emotionally with families of the victims. The team works together to solve violent crimes and no matter what have each other’s backs, they consider each other family which works to normalize law enforcement who are like our own family.

The authors also speak to how gender, race, and criminal stereotypes are portrayed in the show. In CSI the way gender is presented helps to maintain the notion of the investigators as the “good guys” and as moral authorities. Men are often shown in positions of power, however females are equal in their abilities and duties. As far as race is concerned in CSI the authors of the article note that characters of different races are important to the show, however race is rarely a relevant plot issue. The way criminals are depicted in the show is that they are generally unsympathetic and devoid of moral values. The offenders rarely show remorse, this reinforces stereotypes of who is or is not deserving of our moral sympathies. Overall the authors note that CSI perpetuates the mantra of police as moral authority against crime and criminals. The show works to validate scientific evidence and science itself, continually insisting that physical evidence cannot lie. CSI employs visual tools such as character attire, real looking crime scenes and fully stocked scientific laboratories to portray a “reality” to audiences. Lastly the authors remind us that this production is just TV, far from true reality.

The episode of CSI I viewed very much reinforces the observations put forth by the article. The police and science were depicted as a strong moral authority. Science without a doubt was relied on to find the truth that the story told to police by the victim’s wife was a lie. In the episode Mac even said, “We know that science doesn’t lie and people do.” This quote clearly speaks to the idea that when investigating crimes, law enforcement must rely on science to reveal the truth when they cannot rely on people or witnesses to do the same. Also in the episode Mac and his team members were portrayed as a close knit group who cared for one another beyond just the job. For example when one team member was greatly disturbed by the crime scene another suggested she take another job rather than be upset by the scene. These caring gestures help to endear the characters to the audience, thus endearing law enforcement to the audience as well. It was clear that the show depicts police and science as moral authorities just as was observed by the authors of the article.