Date Rape After the Afterschool Special: Narrative Trends in the Televised Depiction of Social Problems

  • Polletta F
  • Tomlinson C
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Abstract

Social problems scholars have pointed to sensitive depictions of social problems like smoking, rape, and spousal abuse on television as evidence of the success of movements devoted to those causes. Media scholars have countered that the pressure on television producers to hew to formula inevitably leads to stereotypical depictions of social problems. We appraise these two perspectives by way of an analysis of the portrayal of date rape on teen television dramas over the course of 2 decades. We show that, for a period, advocates did secure portrayals of date rape that were in line with a feminist antirape agenda. However, that depiction yielded to one in which date rape figured as a narrative device, used to tell audiences something about the show's characters or their situation, not to tell them something about rape. Developments in teen serials' content and especially their form led eventually to antifeminist portrayals, in which rapes were portrayed as unjust but routine events. Behind these developments, however, were demands on television writers to produce not formula, but novelty. We conclude by theorizing more generally the effects of the demand for novelty on the depiction of social problems on television. ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]; Copyright of Sociological Forum is the property of Wiley-Blackwell and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. This abstract may be abridged. No warranty is given about the accuracy of the copy. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract. (Copyright applies to all Abstracts.)

Author-supplied keywords

  • Crime
  • Media
  • Narrative
  • Social problems
  • Television
  • Violence

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Authors

  • Francesca Polletta

  • Christine Tomlinson

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