The George Lopez Show: The Same Old Hispano?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The George Lopez Show is the first successful television show with a Latino in a leading role that features Hispanic material since Freddie Prinze's thirty-year-old sitcom, Chico and the Man. This study seeks to assess how Latinos are presented on The George Lopez Show. A content analysis reveals that the show perpetuates some of the stereotypes about Hispanics that are prevalent in the wider society. The stereotypes, however, are relatively subtle. Because the stereotypes are not overtly demeaning, the 14 percent of the Latinos who watch the show may not be offended by the negative representation. At the same time, The George Lopez Show challenges some of the stereotypes held by the wider society, prompting Anglos to view Hispanics differently and promoting pride among Latino viewers. Added depth to this conclusion was provided by focus group responses by Latinos and Anglos/blacks. This study finds that the show both perpetuates certain stereotypes while at the same time challenging them. This paper examines how the show manages to do both. In the end, however, The George Lopez Show fosters a positive image of Latinos substantially more than a negative one. The paper concludes by appraising the affect the conflicting images found on the show may have for regular viewers.

KEY WORDS: The George Lopez Show, Hispanics on television, Latino stereotypes on television, popular images of Latinos, prime-time television content

Television has been likened to a window on the world because television's reality is often interpreted by regular viewers as reality (Gallagher, 2003; Stark, 1997; Gitlin, 2001; Kellner, 1992; Croteau and Hoynes, 2000: 175-179; Postman, 1986). Television news has come under particular scrutiny because it purports to inform the viewer about what is actually going on in the world. Violence is just one of the many aspects of the news that have been scrutinized and found to affect people's perceptions. Because violence is a mainstay of nightly news programs, people tend to believe it is much more widespread than it actually is and that minorities are the primary, if not the exclusive, perpetrator of violent criminal activity (Kelly, 1997; Fowles, 1999; National Television Violence Study, 1997; Buckingham, 2000). Entertainment television has been found to have a similarly pronounced effect on perceptions (Lester, 1996; Allen, 1992; Bryant, 2001; see also Van Evra, 2004; Comstock, 1999). Two areas that have received particular attention in this regard are depictions of gender (Lowe, 1999; Smith-Shomade, 2002; Parenti, 1992: 167; Fejes, 1992; Jhally, 1991) and race (Jhally and Lewis, 1992; Cosby, 1994; Entman, 1992; Dates and Barlow, 1993) as they affect the self-perception of people in the group and the way others view these groups.

Much of the attention toward race on television has been on African Americans. This attention has been justified because of the size (and influence) of this minority group (see Blalock, 1967, 1989). Once relegated to stereotypical roles and underrepresented on television, African Americans today are more positively portrayed than in the past (see MacDonald, 1992; Lafky, 1993; Bogle, 2000) (1) and are certainly well-represented on television: 15 percent of the prime-time characters on television are of African-American descent (Morales, 2002), which is 2 percent higher than their actual size. This is not the case with other minorities who remain disproportionately absent on prime-time television (Morales, 2002; Schneider, 2003; Hamamoto, 1994). The present study examines the representation of Hispanics on prime-time television to determine how they are portrayed. The focus on this group is justified insofar as it is now the largest minority group in the United States, but despite its sizable presence in the overall population, it continues to be largely ignored on American television, though they have garnered a fair amount of attention in film. …