Demonization of the Japanese in U.S. World War II Propaganda

Overview

Propaganda can be defined as the systematic propagation of information or ideas by an interested party in order to encourage or instill a particular attitude or response in an audience. The ideas and doctrines thus disseminated are also referred to as “propaganda.” There is no more blatant an example of this concept than wartime propaganda, in which the homeland is typically praised and uplifted and, the enemy, demonized.

Demonization consists of the portrayal of an enemy or party with opposing viewpoints as excessively cruel, threatening, and inhumane. In his 1927 post-World War I book, Propaganda Techniques in the World War, Communication theorist Harold Lasswell wrote the following on demonization of the enemy in wartime propaganda:

“So great are the psychological resistances to war in modern nations that every war must appear to be a war of defence against a menacing, murderous aggressor. There must be no ambiguity about whom the public is to hate. […] Guilt and guilelessness must be assessed geographically, and all the guilt must be on the other side of the frontier.”[1]

A marked example of enemy demonization in U.S. wartime propaganda history comes in the form of American anti-Japanese propaganda during World War II. On December 7, 1941, years of economic tensions between the Empire of Japan and the United States culminated in a devastating attack by the Japanese navy on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island, Hawaii. Over 2,000 American soldiers and sailors lost their lives, and more than 1,000 were wounded. 20 American naval vessels, including eight major battleships, were destroyed along with over 180 aircrafts. The very next day, the United States declared war on Japan.[2]

During the war, American mass media – newspapers, radio, film, and music – was ridden with war propaganda, glorifying those fighting for the country while depicting its enemies to the public as monstrous, inhuman, and savage. In the American public eye, the Japanese thus quickly rose in the ranks of ugliness and perceived threat as an opponent that had to be destroyed at all costs. America had been betrayed, and would now set things straight.

Core Concepts

American anti-Japanese propaganda focused on highlighting the foreign-ness of the Japanese enemy, emphasizing and mocking the latter’s physical characteristics, culture, and beliefs. In his 2001 paper, “Anti-Japanese Musical Propaganda in World War II Hollywood,” W. Anthony Sheppard, a professor of music at Williams College, notes that, in much of American anti-Japanese propaganda, the Japanese were derogatively referred to as “Japs” and depicted as violent apes or some form of vermin, referred to as “sneaky little yellow rats.”[3] According to Ithaca College professors Nancy Brcak and John R. Pavia’s paper, “Racism in Japanese and U.S. Wartime Propaganda,” in U.S. propaganda, the Japanese custom of respecting authority was demonstrated by American propaganda as a form of fanaticism, and Japanese immigrants in the United States were also labeled as people not to be trusted.

The American public was constantly reminded of the Pearl Harbor attacks, of the way the Japanese treated their prisoners of war, and the war atrocities they committed.[4] In propaganda posters, Brcak and Pavia write, common tropes included depicting the Japanese as monstrous apes threatening the honor of the United States and/or a white American woman. The words “sneaky,” “monster,” and “Japs” were painted in big, bold lettering. A cruiser called Honolulu is remembered to have had a sign on its bow that read, “Kill Japs. Kill Japs Kill More Japs.” Admiral William Frederick Halsey of the U.S. Navy is quoted as having publicly spoken of the Japanese as “bestial apes” and saying, “We are drowning and burning [them] all over the Pacific, and it is just as much pleasure to burn them as to drown them.”[5]

Devices used in American anti-Japanese songs and film included ridiculing the Japanese accent when speaking English, rhyming the derogatory term “Japs” with as many negative English words as possible, and drawing on stereotypical racist images for the depiction of Japanese people, including yellow-toned skin, round wire glasses, slanted eyes, wispy mustaches, and buck teeth. There were constant reminders of the Pearl Harbor attack, as well as war atrocities that the Japanese were said to have committed. In the rare occasions where U.S. propaganda referred to traditional Japanese music itself, the works were presented as an example of Japanese “fanaticism” and a highlight of the foreign-ness and otherness of the Japanese culture.[6] What follows is a closer look at American anti-Japanese wartime propaganda posters, music, and film.

Examples

Posters

Propaganda posters focused on monstrously emphasizing the foreign qualities of the Japanese, especially their physical characteristics, in a negative way. Derogatory terms such as “Japs,” “enemy,” “monster,” and “sneaky” accompanied these images of cruel demon-like creatures. The American public was constantly reminded of the Japanese alliance with the German Nazis, told atrocity stories of how Japanese officers tortured and killed American prisoners of war, and called to action in the name of patriotism and protection of homeland honor – this honor usually depicted as a white American woman in distress.

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A call to action for Americans at home (original image here).

This poster consists of a call to action for American citizens to continue their support of the war from home. Anyone who was not openly risking their life in the battlefield overseas had the civic responsibility of helping support the war. The call to action is supplemented with the image of an ugly, evil-looking, presumably Japanese soldier beating a Western man with the back of a rifle, along with what seems to be a newspaper headline describing Japanese war atrocities in their prisoner camps. The background of the image depicts what seems to be the “death march” spoken of in the newspaper clipping, and the derogatory term “Jap” is used both in the newspaper clipping image and the slogan. The poster implies that every one of these “Japs” is a murderer that needs to be “wiped out.”

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Dehumanization of the Japanese enemy to monstrous, ape-like creature (original image here).

This poster contains an ape-like creature wearing the Japanese military uniform and cap depicting the iconic “rising sun” of the Japanese flag. The creature has long, claw-like fingernails and is brandishing a knife aimed toward the back of a terrified Western woman. The creature is obviously a Japanese soldier, with stereotypical Japanese facial features grossly exaggerated and supplemented with a bestial expression and demonically long and sharp fingernails. The image evokes not only the “backstabbing” of the United States by Japan that occurred with the Pear Harbor attacks, but also the representation of the woman as the American every-woman, or even as the U.S. itself. The enemy, then, is not only stabbing the country in the back, but also threatening its honor, the way the ape in the poster is doing to the woman.

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Depiction of Nazi and Japanese allies as a two-headed monster threatening the iconic U.S. image of the Statue of Liberty (see original here).

This poster depicts another call to action for citizens in the homeland to continue their support of the war. A beast with two heads and mouths dripping blood is shown towering over a burning landscape. The left head of the beast sports a German military hat with the Nazi swastika on its front and has facial features reminiscent of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s (see the iconic mustache, thick brows, and side fringe). The right head of the beast is round and rat-like, sporting a Japanese military cap and stereotypical round glasses over slanted, squinting eyes, a stereotypical wispy mustache, and buck teeth. The beast brandishes a bloody knife on one hand and the Statue of Liberty on the other. This beast is a representation of the allied Germany and Japan, and is depicted to be disgracing the very core of American patriotic imagery: the Statue of Liberty itself and the very value of freedom that the country was built upon. To the left of the poster, a hand holds a large wrench labeled “production” as if poised to strike a blow. This image, along with the slogan, evokes the sentiment that production of war supplies is the main weapon for Americans at home to fight against their country’s bestial enemy. Americans are reminded that the entire country is fighting the war, and not just the soldiers abroad.

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A Japanese soldier depicted sneaking away from the battlefield to (presumably) rape a Western woman (original image here).

This poster depicts another, even stronger image of a threat to female honor. What is clearly a Japanese soldier, but with demonic and rat-like facial features and the stereotypical round glasses and wispy mustache, seems to be stealthily leaving a battlefield in the background with a naked, Western woman slung over his shoulder. There is the implication that the soldier is about to rape this woman, and is stealing away from the battlefield to do so – two unforgivable actions. The slogan reads, “This is the enemy,” implying that the Japanese enemy is demon-like, cunning, disloyal, and a threat to the honor of both the American woman and America itself.

Music

Music played a massive role in wartime propaganda. One of the most enduring Pearl Harbor songs, “Remember Pearl Harbor,” was written by Don Reid and Sammy Kaye, and recorded by American bandleader and vocalist Eddy Howard. The following is an excerpt of the lyrics, as found in Kathleen E. R. Smith’s 2003 book, God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War:

Let’s REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR
As we go to meet the foe.
Let’s REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR
As we did the Alamo.
We will always remember
How they died for liberty.
Let’s REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR
And go on to victory.
[7]

Sheppard notes in his work that popular, more overtly racist titles included the following:

“We’re Gonna Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap”

“Taps for Japs”

“We’ll Nip the Nipponese”

“We’re Gonna Change the Map of the Jap”

“We’re Gonna Play the Yankee Doodle in Tokyo”

“You’re a Sap, Mister Jap”[8]

The following is an excerpt from another popular song, “Goodbye Mama (I’m off to Yokohama),” written and composed by Fred J. Coots ten days after the Pearl Harbor attack:

Goodbye, Mamma,
I’m off to Yokohama,
For my red, white and blue,
My country and you.
Goodbye, Mamma,
I’m off to Yokohama,
Just to teach all those Japs,
That the Yanks are no Saps.
A million fightin’ sons of Uncle Sam,
if you please,
Will soon have all those Japs right down,
on their Jap-a-knees.
[9]

The 1944 song “A-Bombing We Will Go (Right over Tokio)” by Lu Earl featured the following lines:

Look out, you yellow Japs
You thought that we were saps,
We’re gonna blast you away up high.
Now you bombed Pearl Harbor in your mean and sneaky way,
So we’re gonna jar your little island night and day.
[10]

Note the repeated remembrance of Pearl Harbor and the usage of racist derogatory terms such as “Nipponese,” “Jap,” and “yellow.” Furthermore, this was all underlined by a sense of patriotism and duty towards one’s country and honor.

Film

Film was an extremely popular medium of entertainment during the 1940s, and was thus used for the purpose of wartime propaganda. Newsreels regarding the progress of the war and calls for contributions of scrap metal for the war effort and purchase of war bonds, along with other relevant announcements, would precede the film itself. Sheppard notes that around 25 anti-Japanese films were released in the United States in 1942 alone.[11] In these films, the Japanese would usually be depicted in the form of a plane in the sky, a ship in the horizon, or a mass of anonymous infantrymen, all approaching with danger-evoking music in the background. Individual Japanese soldiers were depicted as sadists who delighted in torturing American prisoners. The racist propaganda in these productions was accomplished through both the depictions of the Japanese characters’ villainy and extensive dialogue about it, as well as the repeated use of derogatory terms such as “Japs,” “yellow,” and “rats” to describe the Japanese people, all for the purpose of dehumanizing the group and cutting off any possibility of empathy in the American mind.[12]

Another strategy used in these films came in the form of motivating troops to fight by showing them footage from confiscated Japanese films[13], wrote American historian John W. Dower in his 1986 book, War Without Mercy (see PDF here). When the United States became involved in World War II, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall enlisted Hollywood director Frank Capra to prepare orientation films for new troops.[14] One of Capra’s focuses was to stress the importance of the war effort. To do this, Dower writes, Capra engaged in not only demonizing the enemy, but also depicting the enemy demonizing the Americans. The historian writes that Capra expressed, “Let the enemy prove to our soldiers the enormity of his cause – and the justness of ours. […] Let our boys hear the Nazis and the Japs shout their own claims of master-race crud, and our fighting men with know why they are in uniform.”[15] Capra thus collected as much enemy propaganda footage as possible and incorporated it into his own films, juxtaposing the enemy footage with American messages of encouragement.[16]

In his 2011 article in the Journal of American Ethic and History, “Superman Goes to War: Teaching Japanese American Exile and Incarceration,” College Misericordia  History professor Allan W. Austin explains that U.S. World War II propaganda films always reminded the public that the Japanese were the ones who started the war, and the United States was responding to their betrayal. In the 1944 production The Purple Heart, directed by Lewis Milestone, American troop captain Harvey Ross (played by Dana Andrews) is depicted arguing in a Japanese court, saying, “You wanted it, you asked for it, you started it! And now you’re going to get it, and it won’t be finished until your dirty little empire is wiped off the face of the earth.”[17] The image of Japanese immigrants in the United States as being treacherous was also common in film as well. In The Purple Heart, a Japanese chief of army intelligence reveals that he had lived in California in the 1930s and spied on the United States. The 1942 film Little Tokyo, U.S.A. emphasized the idea that Japanese Americans posed a threat because “anyone of Japanese descent, whether alien or American citizen, was loyal to the emperor of Japan and a potential traitor to America.”[18]

Popular characters in media such as Superman and Dr. Seuss were also added to aid anti-Japanese propaganda. In a 1943 Superman cartoon called Japoteurs (which you can watch here), an exaggeratedly stereotypical Japanese man – featuring thick glasses, buck teeth, and extremely heavy accent – living in the United States is demonstrated feigning loyalty to the country by day, with a picture of the Statue of Liberty hung in his office, and engaging in treachery in the dark, when that picture is replaced by a portrait of the rising sun, to which the man bows deeply as ominous music plays in the background. The Japanese man turns out to be a traitor (obviously) and threatens not only the safety of the country but the honor of a white American woman as well. Naturally, Superman arrives just in time to save both the country and the damsel in distress.[19]

1
Japoteurs: a Japanese man in the U.S. feigns loyalty by having a picture of the Statue of Liberty on his office wall.
2
Japoteurs: when night falls, the Japanese man closes his office blinds, changes the picture of the Statue of Liberty to one of the Japanese rising sun, and bows deeply in reverence.

These screenshots from Japoteurs [20] depict the scene in which the Japanese-American man’s betrayal is revealed. He keeps a picture of the Statue of Liberty hung in his office by day but, when night comes, he closes the blinds and changes the picture to one of the iconic Japanese rising sun, to which he bows deeply, signaling the customary Japanese respect to authoritative figures and symbols that was stereotyped in the West as fanaticism.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, popularly known by his pen name, “Dr. Seuss,” was a widely popular American children’s book author, with renowned titles including “Green Eggs and Ham” and “The Cat in the Hat.”[21] Geisel was the Chief Editorial Cartoonist for the New York-based newspaper PM during World War II, and he himself supported the American war effort and engaged in anti-Japanese cartoon propaganda without reservation.[22] Richard Minear, a retired professor of History at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst contributes to University of California at San Diego’s website Dr. Seuss Went to War, which catalogs Geisel’s political cartoons during World War II (click here to visit the site). The following images are some of the many compiled in the site:

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Published in PM on October 12, 1942 [23]. Note the way that an annoying depiction of a Japanese man is used to fuel the American viewer’s anger and persuade them to contribute to the war effort (original image here).
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Published in PM on December 12, 1941 [24]. Note the attack on American patriotism and the honor of American soil and history (original image here).

Propaganda was also present in magazine covers. A striking example and embodiment of demonization is the following cover of Collier’s magazine in its December 1942 edition:[25]

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Colliers Magazine cover for December 1942 (original image here).

This picture, drawn by Arthur Szyk, depicts a demon with a bomb flying over what presumably (note the date at the bottom left corner of the image) is Pearl Harbor. The demon not only features Japanese-looking garments, but is also decorated with Nazi swastikas.

Conclusion

In the form of colorful, grotesquely memorable images in print, television, and film, and catchy, patriotic lyrics in music, American anti-Japanese propaganda successfully steered the sentiments of the U.S. population toward the hatred for the Japanese and the continuation of support towards the war effort. Japanese immigrants in the United States, as well as Japanese-Americans, were automatically suspected of being spies and put into internment camps. Viewing American action as retaliation for the betrayal of Pearl Harbor, Americans fought against Japan until the latter surrendered in late 1945, after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[26] World War II ended with approximately 418,500 military and civilian deaths for the United States, and around 2,600,000 to 3,100,000 for Japan.[27]

In the present day, we must keep in mind that, when confronted with emotionally charged imagery and wording, it is important to take a step back and assess what kind of reaction the material is attempting to elicit from the audience. In a globalized and technologically advanced society, where fake content posing as real news is strategically circulated in mass media, it is vital to research the truth behind the claims in political imagery and never take things at face value. Last, but definitely not least, demonization is never the answer to political or social problems. There is a big difference between simply fueling ignorant stereotypes and hatred against a threatening group and actually providing audiences with verifiable facts and reasonable calls to action.

In Michelle Obama’s words: “When they go low, we go high.”

Discussion Questions

  • Why is it so important to highlight the otherness of an enemy in demonization propaganda?
  • Why is the specific image of the ape used in demonization propaganda?
  • Why is the image of the damsel in distress so often used in propaganda?
  • What effect might this type of propaganda have on a contemporary American audience?

More Information:

Footnotes

[1] Lasswell, H. (1938). Chapter 3: War Guilt and War Aims. Propaganda Techniques in the World War. 47-76. Web: https://archive.org/details/PropagandaTechniqueInTheWorldWar

[2] From Encyclopedia Britannica: Pearl Harbor Attack: Japanese-United States history. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack

[3] Sheppard, W. (2001). Anti-Japanese Musical Propaganda in World War II Hollywood. Journal of the American Musicological Society, 54(2), 303-357. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/jams.2001.54.2.303

[4] Brcak, N., Pavia, J. (1994). Racism in Japanese and U.S. wartime propaganda. Historian, 56(4), 671 – 684. Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=a68ac817-6478-423d-b598-5a2e66bec407%40sessionmgr106&vid=2&hid=120

[5] Brcak & Pavia, p. 674

[6] Sheppard, p. 305

[7] Smith, K. (2003). God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War. p. 14.

[8] Sheppard, p. 306

[9] Smith, p. 14

[10] Sheppard, p. 306

[11] Sheppard, p. 307

[12] Sheppard, p. 307

[13] John W. Dower, War Without Mercy (1986). Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-5-JeCa2Z7hMllVU29Vc21PLVk/edit?pli=1. p. 16

[14] Dower, 15

[15] Dower, 16

[16] Dower, 16

[17] Austin, A. (2011). Superman Goes to War: Teaching Japanese American Exile and Incarceration with Film. Journal of American Ethnic History, 30(4). 51-56, Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=5000c738-67d8-4cd2-8494-4fcda605549d%40sessionmgr4007&vid=2&hid=4211

[18] Austin, p. 54

[19] Austin, p. 54

[20] Full video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E0ss_jeAeg

[21] Biography.com – Dr. Seuss: http://www.biography.com/people/dr-seuss-9479638#synopsis

[22] Minear, R. (2012). Introduction. In Dr. Seuss Went to War. Retrieved from http://library.ucsd.edu/speccoll/dswenttowar/index.html

[23]Minear, R. (2012). In Dr. Seuss Went to War. Retrieved from http://library.ucsd.edu/speccoll/dswenttowar/index.html#ark:bb6792686z

[24] Minear, R. (2012). In Dr. Seuss Went to War. Retrieved from http://library.ucsd.edu/speccoll/dswenttowar/index.html#ark:bb3618599q

[25] Brcak & Pavia, p. 682

[26] United States Holocaust Museum: World War II in the Pacific –  https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005155

[27] By the Numbers: World Wide Deaths. In The National WWII Museum. Retrieved from http://www.nationalww2museum.org/learn/education/for-students/ww2-history/ww2-by-the-numbers/world-wide-deaths.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

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Conspiracies surrounding the OKC bombing within the context of Waco and Ruby Ridge (revised)

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Figure 1. A before photo of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building. The bombing involved a rental truck directly in front of the building by the overhang.

On April 19, 1995 the face of domestic terrorism changed in the United States. Timothy McVeigh, along with his sole accomplice Terry Nichols, bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and causing an estimate of $652 million worth of damage. [1]

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Figure 2. An after photo of the building after the bombing. Most of the destructive damage was due in part to the proximity of the blast to the overhang.

McVeigh’s motivation for this brazen attack was his hatred of the federal government and belief that American liberties were under attack. This hatred began to spark when he read the incendiary novel The Turner Diaries, which details an uprising against the federal government that then leads to a race war. The catalysts for the attack, however, were two widely publicized siege/shootouts between the United States government and its citizens, the Ruby Ridge standoff and the Waco Siege.  Involved in both of these incidents was the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a federal law enforcement agency tasked with, among other things, investigating and preventing federal offenses that involve the use, manufacture or possession of firearms and explosives. Both incidences involved violations of federal gun laws and the subsequent handling of both cases lead to many hearings on the standing of the ATF as a federal organization. These three factors together made a volatile cocktail inside of McVeigh and lead him to carry out his attack. As such, it is important to now the basic facts surrounding these three factors.

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Figure 3. The Turner Diaries, a widely read novel among the far right. Often found among the paraphernalia of far right criminals.

The Turner Diaries is one of the founding books of far-right extremist Americans and has been called “the New Testament of the Nazi Bible”. [2] The Anti-Defamation League has described the tone of the book to be: lurid, violent, apocalyptic, misogynistic, racist and anti-Semitic. [3] The narrative of the book is structured around the recently recovered (and also fictitious) diaries of a man named Earl Turner who was one of the leading figures in a worldwide revolution. This revolution targeted Jews, gays, and non-whites leading to their extermination and a post-apocalyptic white utopia. While hardly a literary classic, the effect of this book cannot be marginalized as it is frequently found among paraphernalia owned by far-right extremists. The book was possessed by Timothy McVeigh and also found in related crimes of The Order, a real world terrorist group based on a group from the book, and the death of James Byrd, who was killed by John William King who hoped to incite the race war described in the novel. [4]

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Figure 4. A surveillance photo of Vicki Weaver taken on the Weaver property. Vicki was later shot and killed by a sniper.

Ruby Ridge was an incident of armed confrontation between members of the Weaver family and agents of the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). [5] Family patriarch Randy Weaver first appeared to federal agents based on alleged ties to Aryan Nations groups and supplying an ATF informant with illegally shortened shotguns. Through a series of miscommunications, Weaver missed a court date and was believed to be barricading himself on his property and would attack any trespassers. When agents went to investigate his land for a possible ambush spot in order to arrest him, they were discovered and in an ensuing gunfight Randy’s son Samuel, 14, and US Marshal Bill Degan were killed. As the siege continued, Vicky Weaver, Randy’s wife, was shot and killed by a government sniper, while holding her 10 month old baby Elishiba. Weaver eventually surrendered and was charged with several crimes relating to the incident. Of these charges, he was convicted and sentenced under only one, a charge for missing his original court date.

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Figure 5. The burning Branch Davidian compound. Footage of this incident was widely broadcast across the media and emphasized the failure of the FBI on this case.

The Waco Siege of the Branch Davidian Compound was an incident when a sect of the Seventh-day Adventist Church led by David Koresh was besieged at first by the ATF and then the FBI. [6] Like Ruby Ridge, the Branch Davidians were suspected of weapons violations by the federal government. A planned surprise raid by the ATF was bungled when the Branch Davidians were alerted to the coming raid. A shootout ensued with both sides claiming the other shot first and four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians were killed. The FBI took over the operation, which lead to a siege that lasted nearly two months. Despite attempts at negotiating a peaceful exodus, the FBI soon began to use increasingly drastic actions to drive the congregants out. At the end of the siege the Branch Davidians set fire to their compound resulting in the further deaths of seventy-six civilians.

The close proximity of these two controversial incidents led to a connection by conspiracy theorists as the proof they needed for the nefarious intentions of the government. In addition these also served to “radicalize” many far right activists would saw the freedoms of their fellow Americans under attack and feared that they would be next. “If Ruby Ridge had been the spark that lit the fuse, six months later events in Texas would lead McVeigh directly to Oklahoma …”. [7] For certain people this was the proof they needed in order to promote the idea that as a federal organization the ATF was intending to take firearms away from all American citizens.

It was this idea that led Timothy McVeigh to plant a bomb in Oklahoma City with the intent to strike back against the government. While this is widely accepted as the basic truth of the case, there are those who question this narrative of events and believe in an alternative set of occurrences. The core belief of the Oklahoma City bombing conspiracy is that the government either had knowledge forehand of the attack or were directly responsible for the attack itself. While individual theories diverge from this point, this seems to be the one linking factor that unites these ideas.

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Figure 6. Alex Jones one of the most vocal and far reaching conspiracy theorists in America. Jones is a heavy critic of the US government and often promotes anti-establishment ideas.

One of the biggest proponents of the theory of government involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing is the radio host, Alex Jones. Jones is a noted conspiracy theorist and uses his show, The Alex Jones Show, to promote such beliefs. Among the beliefs that Jones’ promotes are: the moon landings were faked by the government, the US government perpetrating 9/11 and the Sandy Hook massacre being a conspiracy to take away guns from citizens. [8] In addition to presenting his theories on his radio show, Jones promotes his theories and products heavily on his website, InfoWars.com. As for his beliefs on the Oklahoma City bombing, Jones believes this was another attack perpetrated by the government against American citizens. Alex Jones specifically believes that the Oklahoma City bombing was a false flag operation perpetrated in part by the ATF. The goal of this operation was to cast Republicans and right-wing activists in a negative light in order benefit from the resulting fear and enact new legislation. [9] Jones was interviewed by James Lane for the documentary A Noble Lie and in turn promoted the documentary on his website, which endorsed the idea of the Oklahoma City Bombing being perpetrated by the US government. Although the documentary is still promoted on Jones’ website, links to purchase this DVD no longer function on the website. [10] The idea of a conspiracy behind the Oklahoma City Bombing is a frequent calling card of Jones and he uses it frequently to invoke the idea of a tyrannical government. In August 2016, Jones tried to discredit presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by once again claiming that Oklahoma City was a false flag operation. [11]

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Figure 7. Jayna Davis a former broadcast journalist who covered the bombing. Later became a heavy promoter of theories surrounding the bombing in a book she wrote.

When looking further in to promoters of this conspiracy, I came across the views of Jayna Davis. Davis is a former broadcast journalist and her article iterates the point that there was a second willing accomplice to McVeigh and a supposed cover-up by the FBI. This second accomplice was of Iraqi descent and Davis believes that this points to the involvement of the Iraqi government. Davis has a website registered under her named that promotes her viewpoint and a book authored by her The Third Terrorist: The Middle East Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing. [12] In addition to her own website, Davis also promotes her conspiracies concerning the OKC on the website American Thinker. This website published an article written by Davis that supports the idea of a John Doe #2, a second accomplice to McVeigh. Davis was a broadcast journalist at the time of the bombing and covered stories on “Middle-Eastern-looking” suspects wanted in conjunction with the bombing. The article begins with an uncited poll stating that 80% of Americans believe that additional conspirators escaped prosecution in the case. Davis describes a confession from Terry Nichols, the traditionally accepted accomplice to McVeigh, of an unnamed accomplice undiscovered by the FBI. The author treats this supposed accomplice as the true mastermind and as someone who has the power to bring harm to Terry Nichols and his family, with the former serving 161 life sentences with no parole for his role in the attack. According to Davis, the obvious real mastermind was Iraqi soldiers with the help from Saddam Hussein. [13]

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Figure 8. Lorraine Day in addition to promoting holistic medicine supports the conspiracy theories surrounding the bombing.

Lorraine Day is a medical doctor who promotes alternative medicines in addition to right wing conspiracies. On a website published by Day, she presents herself as a medical doctor who promotes alternative cancer treatments, claims the Holocaust was a lie and advocated the idea of testing surgery patients for AIDS. [14] Day has published her views on the website Good News About God in an article entitled, Tim McVeigh is Still Alive! To begin with her article interesting acts from a presumption that the readership knows of the supposed evidence that Timothy McVeigh did not detonate the Oklahoma City bomb. The author explains this reasoning as “We won’t go into the extensive evidence showing that Tim McVeigh did not blow up the building, and I’ll show who really did it.  …  The evidence is in many places on the internet, and eventually I will write about it on my website.  But it takes time to write these extensive exposes.” The article glosses over proving one of the main points to their argument and instead focuses on the “faked” execution of Timothy McVeigh. Among the facts cited to support the theory are: McVeigh choosing not to appeal his case and having his execution date moved up, prison visits from a psychiatrist, Dr. Louis Jollyon West, who she claims was in charge of the MK Ultra Mind Control program, the state not donating the executed prisoners organs, the sealing of the prisoners’ medical records for 25 years, McVeigh’s lawyers petitioning the court that an autopsy not be done, the placing of the IV tube used for the execution in McVeigh’s leg, and the claims of a witness that McVeigh has signs of life after he was ruled dead. [15]

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Figure 9. Mugshot of Timothy McVeigh. He remains the only terrorist executed by the United States.

By discussing these theories it is worth mentioning that they occasionally highlight strange facts. Jayna Davis is correct in that there was initial searching for additional suspects in addition to those already captured. However these searches were cancelled and official reports concluded the involvement of two suspects. In addition Lorraine Day is right in calling into question the practicality of executing someone in the leg. However, it is not impossible for this to work and the work of executing someone is often performed by untrained interns. The most recurring logical fallacy occurring in these theories is the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. All the theorists’ pick facts that support their viewpoint and then ignore any evidence that contradict or alter this perspective. The connection of Ruby Ridge and Waco and the fears behind these events represents the slippery slope fallacy. Individuals believed that these two incidents would be followed by the confiscation of all guns. The big question is, how could the government support, maintain and execute a program of this magnitude? This type of thinking also qualifies as false cause in that there is a presumed relation between these events. While both Ruby Ridge and Waco did in part lead to the Oklahoma City Bombing, it is the presumed relationship between Ruby Ridge and Waco as being intentional actions of a rogue government agency. Never did promoters of this idea ever try to definitively answer, how are these events connected and what is the proof? People believed that these events were along the path of a slippery slope and would lead to further problems and cause along the way. Evidently the people who promote these theories, Alex Jones in particular, profit from the ideology these theories collaborate. They create an us vs. them mentality of the public vs. the government and sell products that profit from this type of mentality. The entire theory relies on the belief that the United States government is malicious enough to bring harm against the American citizen and skilled enough to perpetrate such a crime without being caught. In addition, this theory also relies on the fact that the United States government had no clear goal in this plan and no way to benefit. All it leads to are more theories that never have a concrete standing and only rely on leaning on each other.

Looking back, the handling of Waco and Ruby Ridge could have been better and lessons can be learned. However these possible lessons are now muddled under the bombing that occurred in Oklahoma City and the aftermath. In regards to conspiracy theories, what can be learned from the Oklahoma City case is to question seemingly qualified sources; be they journalists or doctors. In addition, that people will distort facts and look for singular points to justify their own ideas and claims. While official accounts should never be taken for-granted, it is important to ideas that are harmful or created for entirely selfish purposes.

[1] n.a. “Oklahoma City Bombing.” History.com n.d. Web. 7 November 2016.

[2] Thomas, D. Paul. Nazi America: A Secret History. Online. Written by Greg DeHart. New York City: The History Channel, 2000.

[3] n.a. “Extremism in America: The Turner Diaries.” Anti-DefamationLeague.com n.d. Web. 10 December 2016.

[4] n.a. “The Turner Diaries.” Wikipedia.org n.d. Web. 10 December 2016.

[5] n.a. “Ruby Ridge.” Wikipedia.org n.d Web. 10 December 2016.

[6] n.a. “Waco Siege.” Wikipedia.org n.d Web. 10 December 2016.

[7] Blair, Jon. Zero Hour: One of America’s Own. Online. Directed by Jon Blair. London: 3BM Television, 2006.

[8] n.a. “Alex Jones (radio host).” Wikipedia.org n.d. Web. 7 November 2016.

[9] The Alex Jones Channel. “How OKC Bombing Was A False Flag To Blame Liberty Movement.” YouTube.com 19 April 2015. Web. 7 November 2016.

[10] Craig McKee “DOCUMENTARY A NOBLE LIE EXPOSES OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING AS GOVERNMENT BLACK-OP.” TruthAndShadows.com. 27 September 2012. Web. 7 November 2016.

[11] n.a. ‘Alex Jones Responds To Clinton Speech By Doubling Down On Conspiracy Theories: “We’re Covering Real Things”.’ MediaMatters.org. 25 August 2016. Web. 7 November 2016.

[12] Davis, Jayna. “The Third Terrorist.” JaynaDavis.com. n.d. Web. 10 December 2016.

[13] Davis, Jayna. “Confession of the Oklahoma City Bomber: John Doe 2 Exists.” AmericanThinker.com. 11 April 2016. Web. 7 November 2016.

[14] Day, Lorraine. “Lorraine Day, M.D. discusses … Natural, Alternative Therapies for all Diseases, including Cancer and AIDS.” DrDay.com. n.d. Web. 10 December 2016.

[15] Day, Lorraine. “Tim McVeigh is Still Alive!.” GoodNewsAboutGod.com. n.d. Web. 7 November 2016.

Goliaths of the Hallways: Demonization of Jocks in 80s and 90s Films

Adolescence is dramatic. Asking questions about identity, navigating friend groups, and searching for meaning are universal parts of these years. Unfortunately, stereotypes are a common part of adolescence, too, and range from the awkward nerd to the pretty cheerleader and the jerk jock. Students are not the only culprits. These stereotypes are favorites in Hollywood and can be seen in movies, comics, cartoons, and TV shows. In such media, stereotypes are popular because they act as character development shortcuts. But from a cynical perspective, they can also be seen as a type of propaganda.

Comparing movie characters to propaganda can seem like a jump, especially in the case of jocks. After all, the jerk jock (to borrow a name from “pop-culture wiki” and trope analyzing site TVTropes.org),[1] is a classic cliché in American culture. And really, what’s the harm if popular kids get a little unfair representation in the hallways or in media? Most importantly, what would be the point for movies to use this kind of propaganda? The term “propaganda” usually makes one think of North Korea or wartime posters. But in reality, it can be more broadly described as a systematic process purposefully enacted by a group with the aim of instilling a specific attitude or response. In the case of jock stereotypes, the characters do not represent the same direct propaganda. Instead, they reflect the ideology that wartime propaganda builds upon and applies it to entertainment. By applying this definition to stereotypes in movies, we can better understand their origins, causes, and dangers of how this cliché can hurt both professional and student athletes. This article will focus mostly on the jerk jock in movies from the 1980s-1990s.

First, what exactly is a jerk jock? In mass media, athletes have consistently been “stereotyped as drug abusers, scholastic cheaters, and anti-heroes who are interested in winning at any costs.”[2] TVTropes explains that in fiction, jocks “dominate the school or college environment through physical violence and threats of brutal relation.” They are “obnoxious, spiteful assholes with an out-of-control sense of entitlement” who “beat people up, get drunk, and destroy property.” In more extreme storylines, the jock may “also be an incorrigible rapist.[3]” Part of this stereotype may be connected to general stereotypes about teen boys. According to graduate communication researcher Jason Beck, of the “top grossing films from 1999-2001,” “70 of male teen characters…were portrayed as active substance users of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.” Even more specifically, jocks were shown to be concerned with “physical appearance, risk taking, alcohol consumption, and sexual prowess.”[4] This means that jocks, both real and imaginary, are also used to represent extreme masculinity.[5]

Basically, jerk jocks are portrayed as aggressive, violent, idiotic meatheads. In propaganda, representing one group as immoral, dangerous, and threatening is actually a common technique called “demonization.” David Welch, a historian and director for the Kent Center for the Study of War, Propaganda, and Society, says demonization is extremely effective propaganda. The technique uses simplified, black-and-white contrasts that “contain a greater emotional intensity,” “guide the audience’s sympathies,” and allow groups to be organized into “good and evil, beauty and the beast.”[6] One could argue that the jerk jock trope is just an innocent, modern-day David and Goliath or a classic underdog story. But it’s important to acknowledge that this technique was also used in harmful wartime propaganda.

When propaganda uses demonization to show this kind of David and Goliath struggle, it uses three tactics: 1) an “us vs. them” narrative that shows differences through 2) immorality and 3) weakness vs. great physical strength. Jerk jock stereotypes are built on the same tactics of demonization. This overlap can exist between two very different types of media because a student can experience similar types of emotions as a citizen whose country is at war. To be clear, adolescence cannot compare to the traumas of war. But war propaganda and teen movies use similar tactics because they’re appealing to similar base human emotions, just on a different scale. A teen with questions about identity and their place in the world is very similar to a confused nation at war. This means that the “us vs. them” dynamic in anti-enemy propaganda appeals to the same senses of community and defiance that are found in movies that show a small band of friends fighting the social hierarchy. Also, fear of not fitting in and physical abuse from jocks is a less extreme version of citizens’ fears of wartime attacks. The question of fear actually includes another propaganda technique: the fear appeal. Psychology professors Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aroson explain that propaganda can touch upon “dark, irrational fears” in order to get viewers to think emotionally, not rationally.[7] In war propaganda, that fear is also becoming attacked by the enemy. In films with jerk jocks, the stereotypes appeal to the audiences’ fear of being physically targeted by larger students and threatened with social isolation.

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Figure 1: A famous cartoon symbolizing the German invasion of Belgium. Belgium was represented as a little boy and Germany was symbolized by a bully. Punch. (12 August 1914). Bravo, Belgium! 

To understand how this works, we will look at a war propaganda case study. British propaganda of the German “Huns” during the first World War uses all three of these tactics. As the title “Bravo Belgium” suggests, the comic was drawn to encourage support for Belgium among the British. The viewer is encouraged to cheer Belgium on in their fight against German invasion in an “us vs. them” narrative. Britain wanted to support Belgium here because Germany is portrayed as stronger and immoral. In Figure 1, Belgium was shown as a “defenseless child” and Germany was drawn as a “threatening and overbearing bully.”[8] Other cartoons drew Belgium as a “woman ravaged by brutal Prussian militarism.”[9] In other words, Belgium is always represented as being small and weak but Germany as physically strong. Like with American jocks seventy years later, Germany was portrayed as violent and immoral. Even though he was larger, the German bully picked a fight with the little guy and used his unfair advantage to get what he wanted. Even the positions of the characters look a lot like the classic “jock-intimidating-a-nerd-by-his-locker” scene in Figure 2.

 

Royalty-Free Stock Photography by Rubberball
Figure 2: In this stock image, a jerk jock shoves a younger nerd into a locker. The bully’s stance and the position of the figures is very similar to Bravo, Belgium! Kemp, M. (n.d.). High school jock pushes nerd into locker. GettyImages.

This “us vs. them” narrative was successful in these war comics because the British ideology traditionally support the underdog.[10] American culture has a similar fondness for the downtrodden: it celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Civil Rights Movement, the American Revolution, and the American dream of poor immigrants who transform themselves into millionaires. Jock demonization also plays up the same love for the loser. We want the childish nerd to win and the bully to repeat history and face defeat. Demonization techniques used in the jerk jock stereotype have clear similarities with WWI European war propaganda. However, the jerk jock trope is also connected to other, unique pieces of American culture. To some extent, jocks represent the traditional all-American identity–and the conflicts that exist within that culture. First, part of the importance of American jocks has to do with the role of sports in American society as an institution or even a religion.[11] Sports fully took on this role after the nineteenth century after World War I and the Roaring Twenties.[12] In American culture, athletes represent the “basic values of society, such as teamwork, competition, discipline, and obedience to rules”–all highly regarded by Americans. As a result, the jock becomes a stand-in for these traditional values in media. This means an athlete can either represent the American ideal or a corruption of that role model. Second, domestic politics of the later 20th century also played a role. After the Vietnam and Korean wars, young generations of Americans were generally disillusioned with American society. Teenagers in the 1980s were similarly frustrated with new conservative president Ronald Reagan. American film scholar and professor Timothy Shary notes that Regan’s administration and “naive ‘just say no’ approach…gave youth a renewed sense of irritation for adult society.”[13]

Movies reflected these changes. Specifically, one study found that “in a random sample of sport films,” athletes were portrayed respectfully before the Vietnam War, while afterwards, they were “portrayed more negatively as violent, unintelligent substance abusers and cheaters.”[14] According to Texas State University Sociology Professor Toni Terling Watt, this evolved into themes of anti-authority rebellion in the 1980s and rejection of parental figures in the 1990s.[15] In the 80s, teens became “superior” to adults. In the 90s, teens were put “in charge.”[16] Instead of fighting with adult authority, films with demonized athletes focused on peer conflict where jocks represented the ultimate authority and hierarchy. As these Goliaths of the hallways, jocks represented not only the all-American culture and Reagan-esque authority teens were rebelling against, but also a corruption of these traditional values. Because they are popular, successful athletes, they are widely loved by parents, teachers, and authority figures alike. But the other children alone know the truth about their immorality and corruption–just like teens’ disillusionment with real-world all-American identity at the time.

But why would a mass media movie use an un-American theme as propaganda? The suggestion sounds like a conspiracy theory. The truth has more to do with the difference between ideology and propaganda. America has a built-in ideology that supports revolution and the underdog, perhaps because of the country’s own revolution. Propaganda—and movies—can’t be successful if they directly go against an ideology as beloved as this one. French philosopher and sociologist Jacques Ellul argued that propaganda had to touch upon a subconscious belief,[17] like ideology. Therefore, movies are more likely to resonate with viewers if they use this kind of ideological character stereotype, even if it also reflects current political dissatisfaction. When movies resonate more, movie production companies make more money. In the 1980s, the United States saw a huge increase in movie theater construction. Because theaters were more available, teens became an extremely important audience for the film industry. To appeal to these new markets, Hollywood realized that it would have to include more teenage characters in movies that their audiences could identify with. In the 1950s, teenage movie characters were often “homogenous.” Teens on screen in the 80s became more dramatic and diverse. Instead of experiencing a “narrow path between good and evil” like in the 1950s, movies in the 1980s showed “complex moral choices and personal options.”[18] Additionally, anxiety about peer relationships has been a timeless issue in film history, regardless of decade.[19] Therefore, pairing demonization with more targeted media products became extremely successful because everyone can—at some point—identify with the underdog, feelings of insecurity, unpopularity, and questions of identity. If the industry marketed movies to the “popular” kids and did not represent these universal struggles, their consumer audiences and profits would have been much smaller. In traditional enemy-based propaganda, the goal is easy to see: buying bonds, joining the army, and aligning loyalties. In teen film “propaganda,” the motivation is just as simple: advertisers and film executives wanted teens to feel heard so they would spend more money at the theaters.

Like traditional propaganda, films made use of symbols and signifiers, or special visual codes within a society,[20] to clearly communicate this group demonization to audiences. Visual tropes for jocks usually include letterman jackets, muscles and physical size, and roaming in large groups. Typically, these characters are white. If a character of color is included in the jock’s posse, he is usually portrayed as a sidekick rather than the quarterback or “leader.” In addition to this racial privilege, jerk jocks also act as the picture of characteristics that American society values. First, they are socially powerful. Despite being cruel and violent, they are still popular, never punished, and well-liked. Jerk jocks still succeed, even if it takes cheating to get there, but are somehow never caught. Second, they have physical privilege by being taller, stronger, and more powerful than other and using that privilege to get what they want. Because jocks seem to have it all but use those qualities to pursue their own selfish goals, audiences are supposed to dislike them and feel jealous.

Therefore, the demonization of this group is a product of both psychological processes like fear and jealousy and a political reaction against Americana identity and authority figures. To sum it up, propagandists and scriptwriters alike have used jocks as representations of immoral aggressors picking on the little guy, trying to encourage audiences to dislike those bullies. Second, by representing all-American authority, jocks may have triggered a knee-jerk, rebellious, and negative reaction among 20th century teenage viewers. Third, as embodiments of cultural privilege with evil intentions, audiences were likely to respond with hatred and jealousy to jock characters. Overall, demonization of jocks has many similarities to WWI anti-German propaganda tactics. It may have stemmed from teen frustration with authority in the 80s and 90s because of political dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War and Ronald Reagan. Whether intentional or not, targeting teen consumers in this way would have been a smart strategy to target teen audiences and their spending money. The trope gains power from American sport culture, preexisting teenage social anxieties and high school drama, jealousy, and by using visual tropes that symbolize all-American, heteronormative masculinity. Looking at five examples from 1984-1999, we see support for a range of these causes, motives, and tactics.

The first example, Revenge of the Nerds (Kanew 1984) is built completely around demonization of jocks. The plot focuses on two friends who try to take revenge on the athletes for their unending abuse and the jock caricatures do not disappoint. They are portrayed as white, physically powerful, aggressive, cruel, and stupid. In the movie, the jocks “get the girl,” torment the geeks, and accidentally burn down their own frat house. As far as propaganda goes, putting jockstraps on another student’s head in Figure 3 might be the 80s equivalent of the Prussian bully threatening a Belgian child.

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Figure 3: A nerd being targeted in the locker room by jocks in Revenge of the Nerds (Kanew 1984). Screenshot from the above YouTube link.

As another movie that thrives on extreme stereotypes, it is no surprise that Heathers (Lehmann 1988) includes almost all of these demonization tactics. Senior jocks Ram (Patrick Labyorteaux) and Kurt (Lance Fenton) are idiotic, immature, aggressive bullies who drink too much. They’re also extremely obsessed with sex. They are tall, strong white teenagers who beat up younger geeks, even at a funeral, as seen in Figure 4, and are typically seen wearing their letter jackets. Because Heathers is a darkly cynical movie, it can be an example of the 80s counter to all-American standards and naïve authority figures. The film is also a good example of the industry’s attempts to appeal to a wider range of niche audiences. However, while Ram and Kurt are clearly categorized as jerk jocks, they are not the true villains of Heathers. Instead, they act as a comedic statement on the absurdity of high school and its clichés. But even though they mostly serve a comedic relief function, Ram and Kurt are extremely unlikeable characters and can still be considered demonization propaganda.

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Figure 4: A “geek” being attacked by Ram and Kurt at a funeral in Heathers after he flipped the jocks off (Lehmann 1988). Screenshot from above YouTube clip.

Demonization of jocks continued from the 80s into the 90s with films like Warriors of Virtue (Yu 1997,) Can’t Hardly Wait (Elfont and Kaplan 1998), and She’s All That (Iscove 1999). Of all the examples, Warriors introduces a particularly evil jock with Brad (Michael Dubrow). Brad is a high school quarterback and the villain of the movie, as seen in Figure 5. He is a popular, handsome, all-American sports star with a beautiful girlfriend. In contrast, the protagonist Ryan (Mario Yedidia) is the team’s young, disabled waterboy who loves comics. As the jerk jock, Brad taunts Ryan, steals his winning football strategies, and puts him in dangerous situations to take advantage of Ryan’s hopes to fit in and make fun of his disability. Though the film is aimed at a younger audience, Brad actually reflects some of the revolts against Americana that Shary describes. Instead of being kind and upstanding like an all-American jock should be, Brad is cruel and delinquent. An interesting detail is that the football team is called the “Eagles”—an American symbol—and dressed in patriotic red and white. Additionally, the solution to Ryan’s problems comes from an ancient Chinese manuscript and karate lessons, not traditional American authority.

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Figure 5: Jock Brad spits water on the protagonist’s shoes after being given winning football advice in Warriors of Virtue (Yu 1997). Screenshot from the above YouTube link.

In contrast, Can’t Hardly Wait and She’s All That are more typical teen comedies that reflect 90s clashes with peers instead of adults. The jock of Can’t Hardly Wait, Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli), is a partying, sex-focused bully who encourages his friends to break up with their girlfriends so they can sleep with more women in college. Like all the other examples, Mike is also white, physically strong and handsome. But because these 90s movies portray peer clashes, they start to allow the jocks some variety. Instead of being purely evil like Brad, Mike protects a nerd form the police when they are found drinking. However, he is so demonized that this is not enough to fundamentally change him as a nicer jerk jock. As Figure 6 shows, Mike is still an incorrigible jerk who fails out of college because of his drinking problems.

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Figure 6: Though Mike is a popular jock in high school, his future is less bright in Can’t Hardly Wait (Elfont and Kaplan 1998). Screenshot from the above YouTube clip.

Finally, She’s All That includes the most nuanced demonization of jocks in the two main characters Zack (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) and Dean (Paul Walker). Both look like standard jocks. They are white, athletic, attractive, and muscular, though Dean looks more all-American thanks to his bigger build and blonde hair. Both are popular and date popular girls in school. As Figure 7 shows, sex is also an important priority, as Dean teases Zack about not having had sex recently, which turns into a fight. The movie’s plot centers around their cruel bet to turn an unpopular girl, Laney, into the prom queen. While Zack acts as a counter-example to the stereotype by starting to like Laney and care for her, Dean still represents more of the genuine, all-American jock identity. As a true jerk jock, Dean consistently tries to sabotage his friend and trick Laney into sleeping with him. These actions sound very similar to old British accusations of Prussian rapist bullies. However, the jocks don’t act as blanket caricatures like they did in Warriors.

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-2-48-44-am
Figure 7: Dean teases Zack about his sex life in She’s All That (Iscove 1999). Screenshot from the above YouTube clip.

Ultimately, while the examples show some range in demonization of jocks from the 80s to the 90s, classic tactics of visual tropes (in muscular build, clothing, and large friend groups) and characteristics of immorality and aggression mostly stay the same. However, one major difference is that films from the 80s may use political propaganda themes while the 90s tended to be more about emotions like jealousy. Second, the redeemable jerk jock was more common in the 90s. Though there are some counter-examples from the 80s, like Andrew (Emilio Estevez) in The Breakfast Club (Hughes 1985), that decade was more likely to rely on the uniformly demonized group.

The jerk jock trop did not end in the 90s and is still prevalent today, from cartoons to cable crime shows. While we still see evil, demonized jocks, the current trend still includes a lot of counter-examples, such as Troy and Chad from High School Musical (Ortega 2006) and Steve from Stranger Things (Duffer and Duffer 2016). Sports movies as a genre themselves also offer good counter-examples, as seen in movies like Remember the Titans (Yakin 2000). When considering similar images in the future, it may help to keep some questions in mind: Why are these jocks being visually portrayed in this way? How is the film trying to use demonization and stereotypes to connect to film’s audiences? Are jocks being portrayed in homogenous, oversimplified stereotypes or are they shown with diversity in their personalities and values?

Though demonization of jocks seems more lighthearted than most propaganda, it still has real-world implications. Pay attention to the portrayal of professional athletes in mass media sports coverage. During scandals, they are usually described in simplistic terms as “bad guys.” Additionally, these tropes may also negatively impact male student athletes, as well. A study at an “elite academic institution” measured faculty members’ opinions of male athletes, resulting in a few positive adjectives, but at least one of the following words in each professor’s response: “dumb, violent, rapist, or drug abuser.”[21] Of these faculty members, 45% believed that these athletes were less intelligent than non-athletes and 44% believed they were more likely to cheat.[22] Studies of actual male athletes have found these stereotypes to be false.[23] While these assumptions cannot simply be the result of movie stereotypes, these studies introduce the dangers of group demonization, even if the result may just be a biased grade.

Ultimately, demonization of jocks in films can be effective. It acts as a storytelling shortcut, evokes empathy from audiences, and builds on classic themes. Most of the films cited as examples were extremely popular, even withstanding the test of time. Of course, these movies weren’t only successful because of their use of jerk jocks. However, it is extremely ironic that the cynical teens of the 80s and 90s responded so well to anti-establishment demonization of jocks that was created for them by that same establishment they hated. These can serve as a warning to think more carefully about what messages media offers you and why.

Most importantly, jock demonization makes the case for better media literacy and better understanding of the prevalence of propaganda in everyday life. Though it is undeniably successful, these cases raise a crucial question: is selling more movies good enough to justify group demonization? Maybe this is a trend best left in the last century.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is demonization of a group more acceptable if that group is typically not discriminated against in terms of race or gender?
  2. Based on your own experiences, how fair would you consider the representation of jocks in these films?
  3. Do you think the demonization of jocks in modern films can be considered propaganda?
  4. Does the tendency to demonize jocks continue in films today? How is it different?

Future Resources

Annie Murphy Hall, “The dumb jock stereotype can be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” New York Times, April 24, 2014.

In this New York Times article, Annie Murphy Hall explores the potential of “dumb jock” stereotypes to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Aubree DuBlois, “Dumb jock stereotypes in children’s media. Huskies’ Adventures in Wonderland: Children’s Literature, Spring 2013, March 2, 2013. 

This blog post written by student Aubree DuBlois for a literature course at the University of Connecticut at Storrs lists examples of dumb jock stereotypes found in popular children’s media.

Longo, Gabrielle, “Scoring a Goal against the “Dumb Jock” Stereotype” (2015). Academic Symposium of Undergraduate Scholarship. Paper 29

Longo’s undergraduate thesis examining the prevalence of the “dumb jock” stereotype and uncovering its inaccuracy.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “Athletes Aren’t Dumb Jocks: We’re the Face of Change.” Time. July 14, 2016. 

In this opinion article, famous basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar explains that the dumb jock stereotype has partially kept athletes from speaking out on social issues. He says athletes are important role models and need to help make America a better place.

Teaching Tolerance. “Culture in the Classroom.” The Southern Poverty Law Center. 2016. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center provides this resource to teachers as a guide for dealing with stereotypes in the classroom. The page includes videos, activities for teachers, and other resources.

 

[1] TV Tropes. (n.d.). Jerk jock. Retrieved from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/JerkJock.

[2] Marie Pease Lewis is a sociology doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona. . Lewis, M. P. (1988). Fair or foul? An investigation into the common stereotypes of athletes (Doctoral dissertation). p. 94. Retrieved from The University of Arizona University Libraries.

[3] Tropes.

[4] Beck is a Masters of Communication candidate at Bringham Young University. Beck, J. M. (2011). A comparison of male athletes with teenage peers in popular teen movies (Masters thesis). Retrieved from BYU Scholars Archive.

[5] Adelman and Taylor created this resource as part of the Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA. The report was intended to be used improve policy and research in schools.

Adelman, H. and Taylor, L. (n.d.). About jocks as a youth subculture. Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA. Page 2. Retrieved from http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/youth/jocks.pdf.

 

[6] Welch, D. (2014). Propaganda, power, and persuasion: from world war I to Wikileaks. London: I.B. Tauris.

[7] Pratkanis, A . & Aronson, E. (1991). Emotional Appeals. Excerpt from A. Pratkanis and E. Aronson (Eds.), Age of Propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion (p. 161-178. New York: WH Freeman and Company. p. 162.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Lewis, 1988, p. 14-18

[12] Ibid 18

[13] Shary, T. (2005). Teen movies; American youth on screen. London; New York: Wallflower, 2005.

[14] Beck, 2011, p.6

[15] Watt, T. T. (2006). From american graffiti to american pie: The portrayal of adolescents in teen movies. Conference Papers–American Sociological Association, 1.

[16] Ibid

[17] Elul, J. (1973). Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes. The characteristics of propaganda. United States: Vintage Books, p. 27-29.

[18] Shary 2005

[19] Watt 2006

[20] Grossberg, L., Wartella, E., Whitney, D., and Wise, J. (2006): Mass media in a popular culture. 2nd ed. United States: Sage Publications, Inc. p. 150.

[21] Beck, 2011, p.8

[22] Ibid

[23] Lewis, 1988, p. 94

Are We Living in the 18th Century? An Exploration of the Phantom Time Hypothesis (Revised)

How would your life change if the year we live in is actually 1719? No, not the 1719 you learned about in the history books. The short (and unexpected) answer to that question is, life would not change that much. The internet would still exist, the current political climate would still exist, and Starbucks Coffee holiday cups would somehow still cause a new controversy every year. Then how is this possible you ask? Again, the answer is short: that 297 years of history known as the Early Dark Ages never existed. Or at least that’s what non-traditional historians Dr. Heribert Illig and the late Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz want you to believe. In this module I will examine their Phantom Time Hypothesis critically with the hope of showing common mistakes and misconceptions that conspiracy theorists make. This is not a typical conspiracy theory, rather this is argued, examined, and discussed in primarily academic settings. This conspiracy asks questions about time and how we define historical evidence, particularly in reference to a past conspiracy. At the end of this module and through analysis of this non-traditional conspiracy, you, the reader, should feel more confident understanding the tactics certain conspiracy theories use to gain traction and how to critically analyze conspiracies when confronted in the future.  Read more

Stereotypes of Hispanic Women in Popular Culture

Overview:

Propaganda is a term with a negative connotation often associated with fascism. An example of this is the Nazis’ usage of propaganda to create an image of the Jewish people in an attempt to gather support for their elimination. Additionally, propaganda can have a more gentle tone, where it is not attempting to justify genocide. According to Merriam Webster, propaganda is defined as ‘spreading ideas and facts, often false, in order to provoke a certain response.’[1] This is present throughout modern-day media platforms, such as the stories being spread about ‘Pizzagate’ and how Hillary Clinton was involved in a children sex ring, discussed on online news sources such as Breitbart and television news sources such as Fox News.[2] Read more

Freemasons: Satanism and the New World Order (Revised)

Secret meetings, rituals that can be traced back hundreds of years, and mysterious symbols that seem to pop up all over the place are just a few of the components of Freemasonry that lead many to believe that the members of this organization are up to something nefarious.

While the group originated in Europe, many of the claims of conspiracy focus on the Freemasons in North America. This analysis focuses primarily on the conspiracy theory that Freemasons in the United States are a group of elites working in secret to establish a New World Order, in which these elites will rule through an authoritarian world government. To understand how this conspiracy theory came to be and how it has spread over the years, several logical fallacies and propaganda techniques will also be introduced and explained.

So who exactly are these devious elites and how concerned should we be about them?

Read more

Sleeper Cell: The Demonization of Arabs and Muslims in Post-9/11 Films (Revised)

There has been a long precedent for anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. Events within the past few decades have only worsened the level of discrimination against these groups, and American media has contributed significantly to this. Demonization, according to the Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies, is a process carried by the media and state against groups perceived to be dangerous or subversive[1]. It often frames the enemy as an evil “Other”, entirely barbaric and foreign[2]. Film, especially, has been a tool to promote negative stereotypes and demonize enemy groups. Demonization fits within a larger discussion of propaganda, which A Dictionary of Media and Communication describes as persuasive mass communication that frames issues in a way that strongly favors a particular perspective[3]. Propaganda often has political motivation; it is important to situate recent film portrayals of Arabs and Muslims within their historical context. In 1980, the Iranian hostage crisis ignited a wave of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim news coverage in the United States[4]. Images of flag burnings and crowds shouting “Death to America” became associated with Arabs in their portrayals in media, including and especially Hollywood films. The crisis has been described by Time magazine as resulting in “the American people more united than they have been on any issue in two decades.”[5] This feeling of unity is worth noting- specifically, the surge of nationalism that occurs after a national crisis. The creation of a strong American identity was revived following the attacks of 9/11. This module will examine post-9/11 films centered on terrorism and their use of specific stereotypes and propaganda techniques.

On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center was targeted by a group of Islamic extremists associated with al-Qaeda. This resulted in the death of roughly 3,000 people, and many more were injured in the attack.[6] This terrorist attack left an irreversible impact on the American people. Similarly, the attitudes and priorities of filmmakers also changed; films produced in the years following 9/11 have focused on themes of Islamic extremism and terrorism. As surveillance and discrimination against Arabs and Muslims within the United States became more accepted, blatant stereotypes were revived for the entertainment of Americans. Several key stereotypes and visual tropes stand out in the portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in post-9/11 action films. We will also explore the representation of Arab and Muslim men in films such as American Sniper (Eastwood, 2014), the Iron Man franchise, and Traitor (Nachmanoff, 2008)

Read more

The Demonization of African Americans in Television during the 1950s

 

Overview

When the nominees for the 2016 Oscar Awards were released, the choices were immediately criticized for their lack of diversity. Several prominent African Americans in the film industry such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee opted to boycott the award ceremony as a response, and the hashtag “#oscarssowhite” began to trend on Twitter as discussion of the nominees gained momentum. African American racial inequality can be found in most if not all forms of entertainment, but this module will specifically cover the racist portrayals of African Americans propagated during 1950s television. These stereotypes include but are not limited to the use of blackface characterizations as well as the portrayal of African American characters as uneducated and subservient to their white counterparts. Read more

A Tale of Isolation and Blame Enlaced in Text: The Demonization of Gay Men in Newspaper Articles about the AIDS Crisis During the 1980s (MODULE REVISION)

OVERVIEW

Disease, death, and terror. These are all part of an epidemic. Epidemics are absolutely terrifying because oftentimes we don’t know where they came from, how they spread, and whom they infect. The AIDS epidemic in the 1980s was frightening time for many people, from politicians who did not know how to address the issue to scientists frantically searched for a cure to the mysterious illness, a cure which still remains unknown. The disease, which bore several names, breaks down the immune system of the person infected, leaving them vulnerable to death by even the common cold. Unfortunately, the first cases of the first cases of AIDS, or auto immunodeficiency syndrome were found in the gay community of the United States (at least at first). The New York Times first brought AIDS into the public’s knowledge in 1981, when they published an article about forty-one gay men who died from a then unknown illness[1]. The newspaper focused on gay men, rather than the disease itself and people started to believe that these men were the cause of the epidemic. When the human race faces obstacles, such as the horror of the AIDS virus, people will want to blame a specific group. Why? So that they can diminish their own fears. People do not like ‘unknown’, they want security. If they blame a specific group or say that the disease only affects that group, then perhaps they do not have to be scared anymore. This fear and blame lead to serious demonization of gay men during the AIDS crisis. What is demonization? Well, The Oxford English Dictionary defines demonization as “the act of portraying a person or thing as wicked and threatening, esp. in an inaccurate or misrepresentative way”[2].

Gay men were demonized by means of propaganda. Propaganda is the systematic (continual and strategic) sending of self-interested messages (messages favoring the party sending them) in order to alter the attitude of their audience, as defined by the site “Propaganda Critic”[3]. Propaganda can have many masks, such as offensive images, falsifying newspaper articles, and advertising campaigns; one image that many people can relate to is the images of the Jewish people spread throughout Nazi Germany. In the case of the AIDS crisis, propaganda took its form in newspaper articles. Essentially, one group keeps sending messages about another group and they’re trying to change the way people think and behave towards the group they are targeting. These articles sent the message that gay men were responsible for the AIDS crisis; they sent this message to a mostly straight (heterosexual) audience. How were the messages ‘self-interested’? Well, by targeting gay men, it reduced the mostly straight press’ fears, and it puts the blame on someone other than them- they can just say it only affects gay people, and therefore they don’t need to live in fear. This is a self-interested move. It is important to note that at the time, gay men were not accepted into society the way they are today. The lack of acceptance probably made them an easier target.

At first, the press sent the message that AIDS was called a ‘gay disease’, as if a disease could be ‘gay’ (a ridiculous assertion). This message calmed the public; if AIDS is a gay disease, the heterosexual portion of the population (aka the majority) has nothing to fear. However, the messages slandered gay men. AIDS was called ‘gay plague’. Craig Rimmerman, a political science professor, writes in his book The Lesbian and Gay Movements: Assimilation or Liberation? that some newspapers referred to AIDS as GRID, or “gay-related immunodeficiency”[4]. Giving AIDS this name completely and totally focuses the disease on one specific group and leaves everyone else ‘immune’. As a result, many ideas about the nature of gay men were propagated, from messages of hatred to the idea that gay men were promiscuous and diseased. Whether this demonization was intentional or not, we cannot know. The likelihood is that some of it may have been unconscious- just authors spitting out editorials and articles putting gay men as the center without knowing. This is more ‘ideology’. What is ideology? Ideology is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a systematic scheme of ideas… a set of beliefs”, so essentially a set of ideas in society that many people believe. Other articles specifically targeted gay people because they did not like them nor their way of life and wanted other people to feel the same way.

Before the disease received much attention, it was basically ignored by the press. According to Chomsky and Barclay, in an article in the Journal of Homosexuality, they explain that only 11 front-page articles had been written about gays or lesbians in 1981 and only 13 were written in 1982 and none of them discussed AIDS- only one front page article mentioned AIDS in 1983[5]. Why was it ignored? It is true that AIDS mostly affected gay men, and since gay men were since as less human by some people and definitely seen as less important by most people, the fact that they were getting sick probably was not concerning to the general public. When the illness finally attention, it often implied or explicitly stated that gay men were the cause of the disease, and that AIDS was a punishment for being gay. This is an example of scapegoating and blame, the main propaganda techniques used in the news coverage of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s.

CORE CONCEPTS

Scapegoating and Glittering Generalities

From the very beginning of the disease’s incorporation into mainstream media, it was immediately associated with gay men. In fact, as stated previously, the very first article about the illness was specifically about forty-one gay men who died from a “rare cancer”[6], as Craig Rimmerman explains it in his book. The news stories were framed around the idea that it mainly affected the gay community, instead of focusing mostly on the medical aspects of the illness. According to Castañeda and Campbell in their book on the relationship between sexuality and the news, the media made a strategic effort to isolate the disease to the gay community, and portray the straight population as safe from harm[7]. This was an epidemic, meaning that it spreads to a lot of people within a short period of time, and AIDS is deadly, so it would have been useful for people to have known what the disease was, how it was transmitted, etc. but instead they got information on the fact that it was affecting gay people and they suggested that gay men were the cause. This an example of both scapegoating and “glittering generalities”. The informative site Propaganda Critic defines explains that “Glittering Generality device seeks to make us approve and accept without examining the evidence”[8]. In the case of the AIDS crisis, we ‘approved’ the idea that gay men caused the disease to spread and people did not examine the evidence. The evidence was the scientific information which illustrated that AIDS could affect anyone. Diseases do not discriminate based on sexual orientation. Authors Castañeda and Campbell stated that the press “framed [AIDS] as a universal problem perpetuated by gay men”7, which is an extremely serious accusation, because AIDS is so scary and deadly. But by blaming the gay men, the public does not have to blame the public cannot blame politicians, the CDC, hospitals, doctors, or immigration control for having let the disease loose among America’s citizens.

Logical Fallacy- False Cause

In addition to framing the disease as ‘gay plague’, the mainstream media press also implied or even specifically said that contracting AIDS could be a punishment for a person’s homosexuality, which does not make any logical sense. Diseases cannot punish, because they are not living beings with motivations and desires. The LGBT community was not largely accepted in the United States in the 1980s, since it’s barely gaining acceptance today, twenty years later. The idea that AIDS was a punishment could be considered a logical fallacy. Amherst College defines a logical fallacy as “errors– sometimes inadvertent, sometimes deliberate, that skew the logic of an argument.”[9] There are many logical fallacies that we’ve seen in arguments we hear or read, even if we can’t name the fallacy specifically or we don’t really even know what a logical fallacy is. The logical fallacy in the case of calling AIDS a punishment would be “false cause”. The website your logical fallacy is defines false cause as “a real or perceived relationship between things means that one is the cause of the other”, aka making something the cause of event which really has nothing to do with it. The fact that gay men had AIDS has nothing to with punishment or some divine action or their lifestyle, just being openly gay. Many saw AIDS as a punishment for being gay, and this opinion was propagated in the media. It was a consequence for ‘transgressive’ behavior5, in the opinion of Castañeda and Campbell and the first reports on the illness was plagued by stories meant ‘moralize’ their audience[10] (see figure 1), as told by Gould in his book about the AIDS crisis and the movements that arose from it, Moving Politics: Emotion and Act Up’s Fight Against AIDS.

They were teaching their readers that being gay is wrong, and furthermore, that it could have deadly consequences. An article in the Observer-Reporter, which describes a clergyman who blames gay men for having AIDS because of their sexuality (see figure 1); the article does not outright disclaim this argument and publishing articles such as this places more blame on victims of AIDS.

fig1
Figure 1.  Article from the Observer-Reporter, January 18, 1986. The article given attention to a priest who claims that “AIDS is god dictating his displeasure” with gay men and that “God is taking action”, and he clearly is looking for a scapegoat for this disease which everyone is afraid of. 

More scapegoating

The press articles on AIDS focused mostly on gay men and they were making these men their scapegoats for an illness which likely frightened them. The Oxford English Dictionary defines scapegoating as “the action or practice of making a scapegoat of someone[11] and a scapegoat is defined as “one who is blamed or punished for the sins of others[12]. The gay community was blamed for the AIDS epidemic and it spreading in the United States. Although there is no ‘sin of others’ when there is an epidemic, so we really don’t know what is happening, they were definitely punished and maltreated. For example, an article in the Australian magazine Quadrant blamed gay men for the spread of the disease outright and argued this point deliberately[13]. This blame hurt the gay community, there is no doubt. Magazines such as Life made gay men into villains- they regularly associated gay men with the AIDS epidemic[14], as described by Streitmatter in his book From “Perverts” to “Fab Five”: The Media’s Changing Depiction of Gay Men and Lesbians. In addition, newspapers suggested that gay men were promiscuous8. Another example is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in the 1980s wrote about publicized the view that people who donated blood and later tested positive for AIDS face capital punishment[15], clearly people were scared and willing to any and everything to prevent the spread of the disease, which they had absolutely no control over or even an understanding of what AIDS was[16]. An article featured in The Daily Gazette is a prime example (see figure 2). The article describes a man who was nearly evicted from his home; no doubt, media portrayals of people with AIDS did not help him. Although this article may illustrate some of the discrimination that AIDS victims had to contend with, his eviction in and of itself could be a result of the consensus about the gay community and the AIDS epidemic mirrored in the newspapers of the day.

fig2
Figure 2. Article from The Daily Gazette, July 19, 1990. The article explains that “Rev. Daniel Ritchie testified… over his complaints that his landlord is trying to evict him”.

Media outlets could have made people see gay men negatively. They were demonized into criminals, when they were actually victims infected by a horrifying illness. Their behavior likely deferred research on the epidemic, which could have helped a cure to have been found sooner.

In addition to deflecting blame for the disease, naming gay people as those who had the disease and deflected the fear of readers. AIDS is extremely serious and life-threatening, so suggesting that it could affect any and every one would understandably strike a great deal of fear in the hearts and minds of readers. It is likely that the press was trying to avoid a public panic. The (straight) press isolated themselves away from the gay community. In the book News and Sexuality- Media Portraits of Diversity, the authors explain that “the us versus them dichotomy was prevalent, which set the stage for AIDS to be depicted as ‘gay plague’”[17](100). This way, they further separated themselves from the disease, and from any responsibility for it. This strategy of avoiding a public panic provided a false sense of security to the heterosexual public, who likely believed that they could not be affected by AIDS3; this is an extremely dangerous assumption, considering how seriously detrimental AIDS is to a person’s health.

EXAMPLES

Printed press was a crucial source of information in the 1980s. Newspapers were the main if not the only source of ‘credible’ news information, since the internet was not as accessible or huge as it is today. Writing on the AIDS epidemic is indicative the homophobic themes and scapegoating strategies.

One example of this blaming is clearly present in an article which is discussed a great deal in literature about the news reporting of the AIDS crisis, and that is one of the first articles about AIDS published in the New York Times (see figure 3). The article is titled “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals”, a title which immediately points to the gay community exclusively in conjunction with the illness, unknown at the time[18]. In the article, it says “Cancer is not believed to be contagious, but conditions that precipitate it… might account for an outbreak among a single group”9, meaning that it is only present in the gay community. The author seems to be looking for a way to hone the disease to one specific group of people. They don’t actually quote any of the patients, so they are not looking for the input of anyone with AIDS, they’re just putting their opinion out there.

fig3
Figure 3. First article in The New York Times referencing what would later be known as AIDS. The article here clearly refers to gay men. The title alone immediately associates gay men with the sickness. The article says discusses “an outbreak among a single group”

On April 25th of 1986, The National Review published an article titled “Gay Rage”[19] which describes a law passed in the city of New York providing protections for gay individuals against discrimination and the article also discusses the AIDS crisis; the author’s name is not included in the article. The article openly and aggressively attacks gay people, describing them as ‘bizarre’. The author states that “you need not know that a person is gay unless he, or she, tells you so, or indulges in bizarre behavior that calls attention to gayness”. This is plainly discrimination in and of itself. If audiences see articles like this, they are going to form an idea of gay people or it could even change their view of them, from neutral to negative, positive to negative, or even negative to hateful. The article discusses the AIDS crisis, but the wording of the article unmistakably points to gay men as the reason for the epidemic. The author states that that “the magnitude of the AIDS problem is now enormous… The gay populations of New York, San Francisco, and Houston are saturated with AIDS exposure… the AIDS epidemic shows signs of breaking out into the straight population”10, implying that gay men are the source of the epidemic. The author utilizes blame to demonize the innocent victims of AIDS.

fig4
Figure 4. Article from The National Review titled “Gay Rage”. The author states that gay right legistlation “legitimizes the thrusting of obviously gay behavior at the straight population” and that gay people are not being villified enough. The author says that “AIDS shows signs of breaking into the straight population”, as if gay people are pushing AIDS onto people.

In propaganda they use little bits of truth and then lots of exaggeration. In this case, it is true that AIDS was affecting mostly gay people, however they weren’t only affecting gay people, even though the press made it seem this way. Propaganda does not really use many facts, because if they did, people would have to dismiss what the propaganda is saying. This is similar to the Life magazine article titled “Now No One is Safe from AIDS” (see figure 5)[22], which implies that the disease was isolated and then suddenly is affecting the straight population[21]. They are just trying to scare people and they say that the disease was isolated and then suddenly is affecting the straight population.

fig5
Figure 5. Life Magazine cover about the AIDS crisis. The magazine is using fear tactics to try to grab the attention of readers. The title implies that before AIDS was widespread, only certain groups could contract the illness.

 

CONCLUSION

Demonization is scary. It leads to discrimination and people getting false information. This is what happened during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Gay men were scapegoats as the cause of AIDS and this discrimination could have an effect on their community. Why were they scapegoats? Why were they stereotyped as promiscuous and diseased? Perhaps as a way to demonize their way of life because it represented a new way of living. Men who were openly gay may have represented a liberation and break from traditional American values and way of life which could have been scary. People are afraid of things they don’t know and being openly gay was probably unfamiliar for them. As a result, AIDS wasn’t seen seriously enough and not enough research was done at the beginning of the outbreak and many people died. There is still no cure for AIDS. The entire experience of the crisis probably hurt a lot of people- the victims were not treated well, by the press or the general public, they received a lot of negative attention. This demonization does not help anyone or anything, it only hurts people and slows progress in society.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

The following questions could be used a follow-up to the previous writing:

  1. How are the articles about AIDS a form of propaganda? What were newspapers trying to do? How effective do you think they were at getting their message out there?
  2. There were several newspaper articles included in the writing above- what type of reaction did you have to these titles? Do you think they were trying to evoke a certain response at the time?
  3. How could newspaper articles that referred specifically to gay men in association with AIDS could have affected people’s opinions of gay men in general?
  4. Do you think that newspapers were targeting gay men for a specific reason? Why would they target this group? Do you think this group was more vulnerable to attacks?
  5. Oftentimes, when there is an outbreak of disease, people immediately look for a certain group to blame as a fear reaction. Do you think that the newspapers were using articles about gay men to try to handle fears? Is this a form of propaganda?

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information on demonization and the AIDS crisis, there are articles you can read and experiences to hear about. There was an article written in the magazine titled The Atlantic which talks about what reporting was like during the AIDS crisis and what reporters did. Time magazine wrote a similar article, but they talk more about the first few articles about AIDS. A website with an article titled “Here’s 35 Years of Headlines on the AIDS Epidemic” has a lot of examples of different articles that were published about the crisis. There is a documentary about the AIDS crisis and they talk about the press and they even have clips from live news, which really gives you a picture of how people saw the illness. The film is titled How to Survive a Plague. The New York Times has a website listing a number of articles written on the AIDS crisis, all from the 1980s, specifically from 1981 to 1987.

[1] Rimmerman, C.A. (2014). The Lesbian and Gay Movements: Assimilation or Liberation?. New York: Westview Press. Page=37

[2] Demonization. (2014). In Oxford English dictionary online (2nd ed.), Retrieved from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/49819?redirectedFrom=demonization#eid

[3] Delwiche, A. (February 28, 2011). Propaganda Critic Retrieved from http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/index.html

[4] Rimmerman, C.A. (2014). The Lesbian and Gay Movements: Assimilation or Liberation?. New York: Westview Press. Page=37

[5] Chomsky, D. & Barlcay, S. (2013). The Editor, the Publisher, and His Mother: The Representation of Lesbians and Gays in the New York Times. Journal of Homosexuality, 60(10), 1389. doi: 10.1080/00918369.2013.819196

[6] Rimmerman, C.A. (2014). The Lesbian and Gay Movements: Assimilation or Liberation?. New York: Westview Press. Page=37

[7] Castañeda, L., & Campbell, S. (Eds.). (2006). News and Sexuality- Media Portraits of Diversity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

[8] Delwiche, A. “Common Techniques- Word Games- Glittering Generalities” (February 28, 2011) Propaganda Critic. Retrieved from http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/ct.wg.gg.html

[9] “Logic and Logical Fallacies”. Amherst College- Online Resources for Writers. Retrieved from https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/support/writingcenter/resourcesforwriters/logical

[10] Gould, D. B. (2009). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[11] Scapegoating. (1982). In Oxford English dictionary online (2nd ed.), Retrieved from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/171948?redirectedFrom=scapegoating#eid.

[12] Scapegoat. (1982). In Oxford English dictionary online (2nd ed.), Retrieved from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/171946?rskey=hQGdWQ&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid

[13] (1986, January 18). Observer-Reporter. Cleric Says AIDS Shows God Unhappy With Gays. Retrieved from https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2519&dat=19860118&id=RTdiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1XYNAAAAIBAJ&pg=5996,2178280&hl=en

[14] Streitmatter, R. (2009). From “Perverts” to “Fab Five”: The Media’s Changing Depiction of Gay Men and Lesbians. New York, NY: Routledge. Page=60

[15] Robinson, P., & Geldens, P. (2014). Stories from two generations of gay men living in the midst of HIV-AIDS. Journal of Australian Studies 38(2), 233-245.

[16] Robinson, P., & Geldens, P. (2014). Stories from two generations of gay men living in the midst of HIV-AIDS. Journal of Australian Studies 38(2), 233-245.

[17] Castañeda, L., & Campbell, S. (Eds.). (2006). News and Sexuality- Media Portraits of Diversity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

[18] Altman, L. K. (1981, July 3). Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1981/07/03/us/rare-cancer-seen-in-41-homosexuals.html

[19] Gay Rage. (1986). National Review, 3818.

[20] Gay Rage. (1986). National Review, 3818.

[21] Greene, B. (1985, June 30). The Incubation of a National Tragedy. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-06-30/features/8502120247_1_aids-dilemma-aids-crisis-homosexual-men

[22] Frascino, R. (June 30, 2011) “Three Decades of HIV/AIDS, Part Two. The Body- The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource. Retrieved from http://www.thebody.com/content/62791/three-decades-of-hivaids-part-two.html

Demonization of Indians on American TV sitcoms

 

Overview

Typically, Indians cast within the realm of American television have been represented as hardworking people whose identity is based on their heritage. Their identity is tied to a cultural heritage and not necessarily who they are individually. Situational comedies, also known as sitcoms, have a history of encouraging this stereotype. Sitcoms airing in the mid-2000s to present day have Indian-cast parts involved with customer relations who also work under or alongside a Caucasian boss. This view of Indians as a subservient race is clear within the confines of their popularized role. The view is constrained by preexisting beliefs and values, shown as propaganda in its biased nature of story that promotes a particular point of view[1]. Elluls writes that any modern propaganda will “address itself at one and the same time to the individual and to the masses,” precisely what is being done with the Indian culture through it’s representation in one individual.

For this module, propaganda will be defined as a systematic propagation of information or ideas by an interested party in order to encourage or instill a particular attitude or response. These images of Indians on television are intended to encourage the notion that Indian immigrants or their descendants are less valued people within the American work place. The contemporary television landscape will be assessed.

According to Nina Rastogi, a former reporter for Slate and the Washington Post, “Immigration from the subcontinent of Asia didn’t begin until the late 1960s. So the U.S.-born Indians who comprise a small population of the South Asian performers are starting to gain mass appeal.”[2] They are appearing more in TV sitcoms, especially within the last two decades, because sitcoms have found a niche role for Indians.

Sitcoms from the early 2000s to the present day will be included in this post, specifically those that contain Indian actors as recurring characters. Sitcoms of this nature are The Office (2005 – 2013)The Big Bang Theory (2007 – present)Rules of Engagement (2007 – 2013)Parks and Recreation (2009 – 2015),  and New Girl (2011 – present). These sitcoms are some of the most watched and well received of our time. However, the shows have characters that represent the stereotypes of Indian culture and could be said to dehumanize an entire genre of people. If true, it is unfair representation of a culture through the lens of television media, and could wrongly shape the public’s perceptions of Indian culture in reality.

Core Concepts

Because there is a lack of diversity in television casts, the few ethnicities that are represented onscreen must then encapsulate the wholeness of one race, resulting in stereotyping. This occurs as the cast cannot delve into subtleties of ethnicities, because multiple characters of the same minority are rarely present, and thus must focus on stereotypes to convey meaning on a specific race.[3] According to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative the “characters coded for race/ethnicity across 100 top films of 2014, 73.1 percent were White, 4.9 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 12.5 percent were Black, 5.3 percent were Asian, 2.9 percent were Middle Eastern, less than one percent were American Indian/Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 1.2 percent were from ‘other’ racial and/or ethnic groups.” [4] The result of this stereotypes the minority characters in sitcoms.

Because of this, Indians are marginalized on television based on some criteria. If they are men, then their accents, facial hair, or love life play a large part of their character role. Aziz Ansari, an Indian-American actor, points this out in his new show ‘Master of Nothing.’ His character can only get work as an Indian actor based on his acquired accent.[5]

The Indian females are categorized as either the beautiful vixen or the IT girl, according to shows such as The Office or New Girl. There is no middle ground. The result is an Indian female character who has roles as two extremes. This strategy is divisive and serves to alienate the population of Indians as a whole. Instead of covering the entire spectrum, these characters are stereotypes built to keep Indians in categories.

The motivations of the demonization is based on ignorance of a culture. In an attempt to diversify a cast, a token minority character might appear on a situational comedy. This cast member will then fulfill duties that diversify the humor, but by doing so, cultural stereotypes are used to differentiate the character from other characters. The demonization takes place by lack of resources, because a sole character identifies as Indian, the weight of the culture is put on one character.

In ‘Master of Nothing’ Aziz Ansari comments that “they just don’t want to see two Indian dudes starring in a sitcom. Indians just aren’t at that level yet…we’re like set decoration.”[6] And he couldn’t be more right.

Although the study cites minority representation within film and not television the disparity between racial castings is alarming.

Despite the crudely characterized illustrations of Indians, there are reasons why this comes about. Breakdown Services has a lot to do with castings and have since the 1970s.[7]
Casting directors send out their criteria, and the Breakdown Services will post this document online with the ethnicity tag for each role. Often, a “breakdown begins with a character’s name and then lists any age, gender, or ethnic designations before filling in more details about the character’s personality or plotlines”.[8] This method calls for an open casting that’s dependent on looks and set criteria, made by the director. It leads to discrimination within the show and contributes to an Indian Image.

This takes place through stereotypes associated with Indian heritage. Visual tropes of this include men wearing traditional Indian garb, the acquired use of an Indian accent in broadcast media, and the questioning of spicy Indian cuisine. These Indian characters are usually young and heterosexual.

  Examples:

The Office

kelly-1
Figure 1. In the first season of The Office, boss Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) harasses Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling) during a diversity training. (Source: “Diversity Day,” The Office, Season 1, Episode 2, 2005).

The scene of “Diversity Day” where Michael Scott embarrasses Kelly Kapoor

The banality of a paper company gains some edge with the character Kelly Kapoor of The Office. In the earlier seasons of the show Kapoor was written is as quiet customer service employee who was subject to stereotypical abuse from her Caucasian boss, Michael Scott. In the second episode of the first season, Michael Scott addresses her Indian heritage by mentioning convenience stores and speaking in an Indian accent.[9] Kapoor slaps him after he repeatedly says she should “try his cookie cookie,” referring to Indian food.  As the series progresses, so does Kelly Kapoor’s character. She wears less conservative clothes and turns into an attention seeking individual who longs for romance and cannot find a long term companion.

New Girl

cece-and-jess
Figure 2. Jess played by Zoe Deschannel (left) and Cece played by Hannah Simone (right).

Kelly Kapoor’s counter character can be seen in Hannah Simone of ‘New Girl.’Simone plays CeCe, best friend of quirky and aloof Jessica Day, played by Zoe Deschannel. Hannah Simone acts as the sexy, exotic foil to the All American Girl. The relationship Cece has with her best friend Jess is divided. Jess is the quirky, cute individual in the relationship and Cece serves as the sexual, worldly counterpart. Jess is a school teacher and Cece is a model. Cece is often the voice of reason in the situation and levels out Jess’ antics.

 

cece-and-schmidt
Figure 3. Cece (Hannah Simone) and her love interest Schmidt (Max Greenfield). Source: Vulture.com

Cece is even referred to as “brown angel” by her Caucasian love interest Schmidt. Schmidt routinely makes racial remarks to her. These remarks are exaggerated in a way that allows her heritage to seem comical. For example Schmidt remarks that Cece is similar to a Hindu temple because she is Indian and is his muse.[10],[11],[12]

The Big Bang Theory

raj-and-howard
Figure 4. Raj played by Kunal Nayyar (right) and Howard (left) played by Simon Helberg.

The scene of “The Dumpling Paradox” where Wollowitz is identified as Raj by impersonating Raj’s accent. (Season 1, Episode 7).

Raj of The Big Bang Theory is also ridiculed for his ancestry. Raj works in the science sector and has inept social skills. His character on the show is an astrophysicist who has selective mutism, a condition that prohibits him from conversing to women without an aid of alcohol. His best friend, a Caucasian male named Howard Wollowitz, routinely criticizes and bemuses Raj’s lack of love life. Wollowitz is an effeminate male, categorizing himself as a ladies man, but lacks finesse for the majority of the show. Wollowitz is also known for his impression of Indians. In one episode he uses his Indian accent to impersonate Raj because Raj is scared to talk on the phone to a girl. In another episode Wollowitz does his best Indian impersonation by saying “I can’t sit on that elephant, my butt is on fire from eating all of this curry.”[13] The elephant in Wollowitz’s impression is a Hindu sacred symbol. Here, it is put into the demeaning context of transportation and it’s associated with spicy Indian cuisine.

Rules of Engagement

timir-and-russel
Figure 4. Timir played by Adhir Kalyhan (left) and Russell played by David Spade (right)

A compilation of moments between Stewart and Timmy

In Rules of Engagement, Adhir Kalyan plays Timir “Timmy” Dunbar-Patel, assistant to Russel, a Caucasian male. He is referred to as Timmy in the show because the pronunciation is American-friendly.[14] He is forced to do menial work under the oversight of his boss instead of using his MBA from Oxford to his advantage. His boss routinely criticizes him and uses him as a sounding board for his own amusement. Russell’s ridicule and lack of compassion for his assistant, who is more educated than him but isn’t American, shows how little respect he has for his employee and fellow man.

Parks and Recreation

tom-and-leslie
Figure 5. Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford (left) and Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope (right) (Source: “Article Two,” Parks and Recreation, Season 5, Episode 19.)

Aziz Ansari of Parks and Recreation plays the role of assistant to Amy Poehler. His character is a charismatic, happy guy who falls into the trap of Indian counterpart to a white lead. Tom Haverford, is less well-mannered than that of the previous examples, but he does play into the role of a minority sidekick. Similar to Timmy in Rules of Engagement, Tom also changes his birth name. His name changes from Darwish Sabir Ismael Gani to Tom Haverford. His ethnic identification does not mesh well with the American nominal standards, so Darwish changed his name to Tom, something more English, in an effort to draw less attention to his heritage. This name change indicates two identities these characters have, a private, cultural one in which the name they are given as children represents their heritage and family; and a more English sounding name to make their presence in American culture and professionalism more seamless.

Conclusion

As of recently, portrayal of Indians within television has become more commonplace. Diversity amongst casts has been an issue for some time, but casting concentrations seem to be changing for the better. Mindy Kaling who played Kelly Kapoor in The Office now has her own show. On ‘The Mindy Project’ she stars as the only Indian female gynecologist working alongside primarily Caucasian male gynecologists. Her life is a whirlwind of baby deliveries, romance and professional work as a modern single woman working as a doctor.

In Aziz Ansari’s ‘Master of None,’ He plays Dev, an Indian guy who is trying to make it in New York City. The show documents his heritage, his love life and his job pursuits. The show manages to depict life as a modern Indian well, by bringing attention to the racism Indians experience within the media, but also breaking away from what is represented and what is reality. ‘Master of None’ shows a modern Indian man living in the bustling city of New York.

With Mindy Kaling’s ‘The Mindy Project’ and Aziz Ansari’s ‘Master of None,’ Indians are becoming the stars of their own shows, and they are able to shape the stereotype as they wish. Kaling and Ansari are able to construct their images on television through the shows they are producing and writing.

This is truly a feat considering the stereotypes their former characters and race has been subject to through television representation, as mentioned through the examples of this post. However, despite this progress, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari and other Indian actors are continuously working against the stereotypes propagated by the television industry. There is still a long way to go for fair representation of Indian minorities –devoid of references to heavy accents, facial hair, IT, and food selection—but the eventual integration of Indian culture is on the rise.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How has minority casting shaped your view of television sitcoms, specifically those with Indians?
  2. Can you find examples of Indian stereotyping within other forms of media?
  3. Do you believe that American television has a difficult time diversifying Indian characters?
  4. Do you feel that an audience is manipulated to buy into a stereotype with propaganda messages like this floating around?

 

For More Information:

Please consider these outlets and articles for further findings on Indian dehumanization in popular culture:

 

[1] Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes. The characteristics of propaganda (p. 6)

 

[2] Rastogi, Nina. “Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and the Sudden Rise of Indians on Television.” Slate Magazine. The Slate Group, 09 June 2010. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

[3] Smith, Stacy L., Dr., Marc Choueiti, and Katherine Pieper, Dr. “Inclusion or Invisibility.” Npr.org. USCAnnenberg, p. 16. 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

[4]  Mehta, Maitri. “Aziz Ansari’s ‘Master of None’ Episode “Indians on TV” Gets Representation Painfully Right.” Bustle.com. Bustle, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

 

[5]  Mehta, Maitri. “Aziz Ansari’s ‘Master of None’ Episode “Indians on TV” Gets Representation Painfully Right.” Bustle.com. Bustle, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

 

 

[6]  Riley, Charles. “Indian Actors on American TV: It’s Happening.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

 

[7] Rastogi, Nina. “Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and the Sudden Rise of Indians on Television.” Slate Magazine. The Slate Group, 09 June 2010. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

 

[8] Rastogi, Nina. “Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and the Sudden Rise of Indians on Television.” Slate Magazine. The Slate Group, 09 June 2010. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

 

[9] “The Office Episode List: Diversity Day.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

 

[10]Price-Wright, Heather. “‘New Girl’ Gets Away With Racism – And We Can’t Let That Slide in 2013.” Mic. Mic Network Inc, 25 Oct. 2015. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

 

[11] “TV: New Girl 1.19 “Secrets” Best Lines.” Mrsubjective. WordPress, 03 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Sept. 2016

 

[12] “New Girl: Episode List, Secrets.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

[13] “The Big Bang Theory: Episode List, The Extract Oblideration.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

 

[14] “Rules of Engagement: Episode List.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.