I Love New York: Does New York Love Me?

By Campbell, Shannon B.; Giannino, Steven S. et al. | Journal of International Women's Studies, November 2008 | Go to article overview

I Love New York: Does New York Love Me?


Campbell, Shannon B., Giannino, Steven S., China, Chrystal G., Harris, Christopher S., Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

This article seeks to highlight reality television's most popular rearticulation of the Jezebel and the Sapphire stereotypes while assessing its implications for African American women. Nearly eight decades after their inception in mass mediated culture, the Jezebel and Sapphire stereotypes have been reborn in the form of Tiffany Pollard, better known as "New York", and her mother "Sister Patterson" (respectively). Television acts as a powerful socialization agent, and thus plays a significant role in how audiences shape their racially stratified and gendered world. Researchers employed discourse analysis to provide the rich contextual data necessary to capture the effects of I Love New York; additionally, researchers will illustrate notions of patriarchy and hegemony. Further, the authors seek to provide readers with the motivation and materials to self identify, and more importantly, self-correct.

Keywords: television, stereotypes, African American women

Introduction

This article seeks to highlight television's most recent rearticulation of the Jezebel and the Sapphire stereotypes and discuss its implications for African American women. Jezebel represents the bad (black) girl. She is alluring and seductive; her sexual prowess mesmerizes and ultimately overpowers men (of all races). Sapphire, a feisty, wisecracking, emasculating, (black) woman is always eager to let everyone know it is she who is in charge. Mass media currently represent one of the most pervasive agents of socialization. It is the authors' contention that the way media frame the Jezebel and Sapphire impact the real lives of African American women. Mediated depictions represent a means for members of different social, cultural and ethnic groups to learn about each other, whereas framing is "the process of culling a few elements of perceived reality and assembling a narrative that highlights connections among them to promote a particular interpretation" (Entman, 2007). Framing works to alter an audience's interpretation of a given concept, thus leading the audience to feel or think in a particular way. The critical paradigm of framing suggests that frames act as tools for media to promote hegemonic values, or the ideologies of the dominant culture (McQuail, 2005). Because the American public consumes television with such voracity, the researchers presuppose that its framed messages represent a powerful socialization agent. Hence, television plays a significant role in how audiences shape their racially stratified and gendered world. This particular function of media is often described as the reinforcement of social stereotypes (Fujioka, 1999; Wilson & Gutierrez, 1996). Researchers will employ discourse analysis to provide the rich contextual data necessary to capture the implications and repercussions of I Love New York's rearticulation of the Jezebel and Sapphire. Research suggests that these caricatures are, at present, the stereotypes that dominate the media portrayals of black women (Jones, 2004; Givens & Monahan, 2005). Social reality is produced and made real through discourse, thus social interactions cannot be fully understood without references to the discourses that give them meaning. As discourse analysts it is our task to explore the relationship between discourse and reality (Phillips & Hardy, 2002).

The 1970s represent a critical era with regard to the mediated imagery of African American women. This period demarcates the end of the civil rights movement and the emergence of the black power and women's liberation movements. This unique era symbolizes a nexus of sorts for African American women, who were uniquely and intimately involved with/in all of these movements. This nexus of events resulted in a correlative shift in the expectations of black women. African American women were eager to engage in arena's that were previously off limits to them and their new found influence was not overlooked by the media.

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