Tough Guys: The Portrayal of Hypermasculinity and Aggression Televised Police Dramas

Article excerpt

Countless studies have addressed the issue of the portrayal of women in the media, with many finding evidence of stereotypes and narrow roles that may have damaging effects on audience members' notions about gender. However, the issue of the portrayal of men in the media has received scant research attention. Particularly absent are quantitative analyses that attempt to draw broad, generalizable conclusions. This study expands research regarding gender role portrayals in the media to focus on the somewhat forgotten gender, males, using a quantitative content analysis.

One major male stereotype in media content from movies to rock videos to television dramas is the "macho" male. This study examines the macho male in police and detective dramas on television, measuring "hypermasculinity"--exaggerated, narrowly defined masculine qualities. The portrayal of a hypermasculine male has potential consequences for socialization of audience members into roles and for the learning of aggression from exposure, due to the frequent correlation between exaggerated expressions of masculinity and aggression. It is likely that young boys watching these portrayals will use this information to compare with other sources in learning what it means to be a male in contemporary U.S. society. Existing research and theory provide evidence of the potential influence of media models on learning both gender role attitudes and aggression (Bandura, 1986, 1994; Berkowitz, 1984, 1993).

This study examines the presence of a macho personality constellation in male characters appearing in a wide variety of police and detective programs and correlates machismo with the antisocial actions of those characters. Though many types of television genres and other media content also contain "hypermasculine" portrayals, police and detective dramas are the current focus due to the presumed presence of both stereotyped gender roles and aggression and crime. Therefore, this study also adds a novel perspective to the much-researched investigation of television violence.

Media Portrayals of Crime: Perpetrators and Police Officers

Crime and the pursuit of criminals have long accounted for a substantial part of the television schedule (Clark & Blankenburg, 1972; Comstock & Scharrer, 1999; Head, 1954; Smythe, 1954). Tedesco's (1974) investigation of the major characters in prime-time dramas from 1969 to 1972 found 57% could be characterized as "good guys" compared to 12% "bad guys" and 31% mixed. Television perpetrators are often older, of higher socioeconomic classes, and more often involved in violent crimes compared to perpetrators in real life crime statistics (Barrile, 1986; Estep & Macdonald, 1983; Oliver, 1994; Pandiani, 1978).

Other content analyses looking not at criminal behavior but at aggression in general lend support to the long-lasting presence of antisocial behavior on television. The nearly annual analyses of Gerbner and colleagues (e.g., Gerbner, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1994) as well as efforts by Greenberg (1980) and Potter and Vaughan (1997) agree that violence is a prevalent theme in television programming. The most recent and very comprehensive investigations led by the UC Santa Barbara research team (National Television Violence Study, 1996, 1997, 1998) show a consistent presence of violent acts most likely to stimulate an antisocial response, including those without consequence, without punishment, with graphic portrayals, and with justification. Instances of violence and aggression in film have been shown to co-occur with portrayals of macho male characters (Craig, 1992; Donald, 1992; Jeffords, 1994; LaFrance, 1995).

Hypermasculinity and Gendered Aggression

The word "macho" derives from the Spanish word "machismo," which has been defined as "the essence or spirit of masculinity" (Horowitz, 1967; Zaitchik & Mosher, 1993, p. 227). In social science research in the U. …