Cool to Be Cruel: Mean-spiritedness in 21st Century Children's TV Sitcoms
Much has been written about the proven negative effects viewing television violence has on children and yet there is another kind of violent role-modeling embedded in an unlikely place: children’s television sitcoms. This content analysis investigated live-action children’s half-hour sitcoms and discovered the presence of relational aggression and superiority humor, both of which rely on brutally treating other humans as inferior. The television characters seek revenge on each other, intentionally make others look bad or stupid, humiliate peers and parents, and are rarely punished for their mean-spiritedness and cruelty. The children’s sitcoms are behavioral blueprints of lies and deceit, as the characters unashamedly cheat others, defraud parents and other adults, and attempt to make peers and teachers look stupid and in the vernacular of the culture, “clueless.” Further, stereotypes are not only presented as acceptable, but are reinforced by frequent inclusion into the action. This study discovered myriad examples of mean-spiritedness and cruelty on the part of characters in the programs, ranging in frequency from 7 to 31.25 per half-hour episode, averaging 33.75 per hour for programs viewed. The study includes recommendations for parents and educators to help offset the possible negative effects of these programs.
Keywords: Behavioral Blueprints of Lies and Deceit, Children's Television, Television, Children's, Children's Sitcoms, Behavioral Violence, TV and Mean-spirited Behavior, Mean-spirited Behavior
Dr. Melle Starsen
Assistant Professor, Communication, Liberal Arts Division, Upper Iowa University