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Document Type

Open Access

Degree Program

Communication

Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded

2012

Month Degree Awarded

September

Keywords

bullying, cyber bullying, teen television, media violence, types of aggression, online fandom

Abstract

The primary goal of this thesis was to provide a snapshot of the portrayal of bullying on teen television. Drawing from contextual factors studied in the National Television Violence Study (Smith et al., 1998), a content analysis of 82 episodes (representing 10 series) and 355 acts of bullying was conducted to examine portrayals of physical, verbal, indirect, and cyber bullying in terms of bully and victim social status, motivations, humor, punishments/rewards, character support for bullies, harm shown to victims, interventions by third parties, and anti-bullying episode themes.

The analysis revealed significant differences across bullying types for all variables except third party intervention, with portrayals of physical and verbal bullying identified as most “high-risk” (i.e. depicting bullying in ways that research suggests increase the likelihood of negative effects), and portrayals of cyber bullying identified as least “high-risk” for the majority of contextual elements. More generally, the analysis demonstrated that a substantial amount of bullying on teen television sends some concerning messages to young viewers, including the notion that bullying can be funny, harmless, and go without punishment.

Complementing the content analysis, an exploratory textual analysis of 294 online fan posts related to bullying portrayed on Glee was performed to capture a representation of potential audience interpretations and intertexts (consumed alongside the television text). The analysis pointed to four major themes across posts: categories of bullying, messages about bullying promoted by characters, contextual elements of bullying, and feelings about characters involved in bullying.

In terms of audience responses, the themes highlighted how some fans think critically about bullying portrayals and their implications, distinguish between different types of bullying, and identify with characters. In terms of intertexts, the trends suggested that fans might be exposed to a variety of messages that both criticize and support high-risk depictions of bullying, and defend and rebuke bullying behavior (depending on the characters involved).

Combined, the content analysis and textual analysis underlined the importance of media bullying as a topic of scholarly inquiry, revealing that teen bullying is a unique and complex media phenomenon that audiences respond to and interpret in a multitude of ways.

First Advisor

Erica Scharrer