Freaks geeks and good sweet maids the able girl and popular culture
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Freaks, Geeks and Good Sweet Maids: The able girl and popular culture. Cultural and Audience Studies approaches ask:. what texts can tell us about the society from which they emerge. what audiences do with texts. The project:

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Freaks geeks and good sweet maids the able girl and popular culture

Freaks, Geeks and Good Sweet Maids: The able girl and popular culture

Cultural and audience studies approaches ask

Cultural and Audience Studies approaches ask:

  • what texts can tell us about the society from which they emerge.

  • what audiences do with texts

Www smartgirls tv

The project:

An examination of the construction and circulation of discourses of girlhood and giftedness in:

  • TV texts

  • Focus group interviews

  • Online discussion

Freaks geeks and good sweet maids the able girl and popular culture

  • Why look at TV?

  • What do we mean by ‘identity’ and why is it important?

  • What identities are on offer to able youth?

Freaks geeks and good sweet maids the able girl and popular culture

‘New teen tv’ texts offer :

  • issues and hopes and anxieties often not articulated in more "realist" cultural forms.

  • meanings and identities beyond that of more conventional TV.

    (Kellner 1998)

Growth of quality tv

Growth of ‘quality’ tv

  • From broadcast to narrowcast

  • New technologies and globalisation

  • Changes in media consumption patterns: DVD sets, TV’s in bedrooms; 60:40 to immersion experience

  • Dissolution of cultural hierarchies

Narrowcasting new audiences and quality tv

Narrowcasting, new audiences and quality TV

More intelligent TV BUT:

  • Audiences are first and foremost MARKETS

  • ‘more intelligent TV’ often equates to: ‘addressing those rich in cultural capital’

  • Creation of anxieties & narrow representations from need to sell products to most privileged markets



  • In schools: an external process: the result of adopting certain behaviours

  • In the media: aninternalprocess: possibly leading to adoption of certain behaviours

Behaviour intelligence and achievement tests

Behaviour, intelligence and achievement tests

‘A naive statement of the difference between intelligence and achievement tests is that the intelligence test measures capacity to learnand the achievement test measures what hasbeen learned. Butitems in all psychological and educational tests measure acquired behaviour.’

Cleary Committee of the American Psychological Association, Boardof Scientific Affairs

Defining identity

Defining Identity

  • A new way of thinking about oneself that emerges during adolescence.

  • Identity must be perceived by the individual, but also recognized and confirmed by others.

    (Erikson 1967)

  • The less developed identity is, the more individuals have to rely on external sources to evaluate themselves.

    (James Marcia, 1980).

Media identities

Media identities:

Liebes and Katz (1990) propose three types of reactions toward characters:

  • liking,

  • being like/similarity

  • wanting to be like/modelling

    but these responses are all part of one psychological variable: identification

Issues in g t identification

Issues in G&T ‘Identification’

  • Audiences are products of institutions and don’t exist outside them (Ang 1991): May the the same be true of the G&T re schools?

  • Assumed identities may be fleeting, partial, context-dependent or rejected

  • Identity of ‘gifted’ may be especially vulnerable to context dependency if not offered outside the classroom

  • A range of factors will affect whether and how far an individual will ‘take up’ a gifted identity on offer

Factors affecting facility of take up

Factors affecting facility of take-up:

  • Cultural status and familiarity, including:

    • Home/local culture

    • Class

    • Gender

    • Peer group

    • School culture

    • Wider culture

    • Inspiration

  • Personal attributes, including:

    • Self esteem

    • Resilience

    • Ambition



Think of a media character with whom you identify. Note down:

  • Demographic details [their age, gender, ethnicity, class, nationality, class, occupation]

  • Situational details [family/living/social circumstances/ roles]

  • Psychological characteristics

  • Physical characteristics

  • Programme/media [inc. genre] in which you encounter the character

  • Context in which you usually encounter the character

My research key questions

My research: key questions

  • What identities are on offer?

  • How are able young people responding?

Issues in television texts able girls

Issues in Television texts: able girls

Anxieties & gifted/girl binary:

  • Terms: Freak; Geek; Egg-head; Nerd; Rainman; Ghost-world; Brain

  • Stigmatised activities: Maths, Science, Chess, Debate, Art, Band, after-school clubs

  • Endorsed activities: Grooming, Cheerleading, Writing, Fashion design, Shopping, ‘Hanging’ Dating (and for subcultural capital: Art, ICT, Music )


  • Binary notconsistent on TV through to adolescence: the social vs. academic tension ends with high school

Issues in film texts

Issues in filmtexts

  • Heathers: parental anxieties focus on social rather than academic success


    I almost moved into high school out of sixth grade because I was some genius. We all decided to chuck the idea because I'd have trouble making friends, blah-blah-blah… Now blah-blah-blah is all I do. I use my grand I.Q. to figure out what gloss to wear and how to hit three keggers before curfew. Some genius.

  • Mean Girls: dumbing down

    Cady (to Aaron):

    I pretended to be bad at math so that you'd help me. But the thing is, I'm not really bad at math. I'm actually really good at math. You're kind of bad at math. And now I'm failing.

Freaks geeks and good sweet maids the able girl and popular culture

Emerging from FGI’s:

  • Stronger representations in cross genre programming ie teen/detective; teen/sci-fi;

  • Poor representation in single-genre teen TV eg: The OC; One Tree Hill

  • Girls ‘read’ giftedness into texts where it is not overtly present in female characters

  • While TV worlds do not necessarily reflect own realities, they carry some authority with regard to identity/anxiety creation

  • Lack of ethnic diversity, socio-economic variety,& of representation on terrestrial (domestic)channels

Common stereotypes of men in media

Common Stereotypes of Men in Media

1999 Children Now report identifies the most popular stereotypes of male characters as:

  • the Joker

  • the Jock

  • the Strong Silent Type,

  • the Big Shot

  • the Action Hero.

Freaks geeks and good sweet maids the able girl and popular culture

Masculinity and Giftedness

In most media portrayals, male characters are rewarded for self-control and the control of others, aggression and violence, financial independence, and physical desirability.

Children s perceptions of male stereotypes

Children's Perceptions of Male Stereotypes

  • In 1999, the research group Children Now asked boys about how their perceptions of the male characters they saw on television

  • Boys noticed big discrepancies between the media portrayals and the reality they knew

Examples of gifted boys men

OBU male undergraduates

Examples of gifted boys/men:

  • Malcolm in the Middle

  • BtVS

  • CSI

  • Good Will Hunting

  • Eureka

  • James Bond

  • Simpsons

  • Battlestar Galactica

Many more positive examples for talent, esp sport

Media the gendering of giftedness


Logical, Reasoning, Deduction

Critical, Rational, Objective

Maths, Science, ICT

Doctors: diagnostic, detached, surgeons

Lawyers: adversarial, argumentative, ambitious


Intuitive, Lateral

Creative, Instinctive, Subjective

Languages, Arts

Doctors: empathetic, holistic, paediatricians

Lawyers: determined, off-kilter, ethical hunch-followers

Media & the Gendering of Giftedness

Joan of arcadia gender and intelligence

Joan: Mr. Price, I'm brilliant at this. I started out making a bunch of mistakes, but it turned out they weren't mistakes. I mean, they were mistakes if you follow the plans, but I threw the plans away, and all the mistakes fit together into something better

Mr. Price: Premise, argument, conclusion. The correctness of reasoning. The validity of inference.

Luke: It’s like watching three monkeys build a particle accelerator using tinfoil and a BiBi gun

Joan of Arcadia: gender and intelligence

Rose tyler

Rose Tyler

“Rose going off on the TARDIS is like going away to University. It changes her and she can’t really go back to her old life. But she was bored and stuck…and she needed to go”

  • Working class

  • Critical and creative thinker

  • Assertive

  • Courageous

  • Curious

  • Healthy BMI

Csi scientists for our time

CSI: Scientists for our time?

Social stereotyping of scientists:

Sergeant O‘Riley: ‘Here comes the nerd squad’(CSI) project:

‘On CSI they’re gorgeous and scientists’

‘Catherine Willows used to be a pole dancer. She’s a good role model because she brought up her daughter and made herself a scientist’

‘Its not just the men who can’t handle their feelings’

‘On Bones its like they’ve swapped the man and woman roles’

Freaks geeks and good sweet maids the able girl and popular culture















OCD sufferers

Career changers










Middle class


Bones superhero as metaphor

Bones: Superhero as metaphor

Bones: You think he hid from life by immersing himself in a fantasy world where he fought crime and I do the same thing only I don’t have super powers. I have science.

Booth: C’mon Bones, you do fight crime.  It’s not a fantasy.  As far as any normal person is concerned you do have super powers.


Zack: ‘In some ways my intelligence is a handicap. I tend to make people feel stupid and they resent me for it.’

Mtv dumb girls tv

MTV= Dumb Girls TV?

  • “MTV has become a prime purveyor of a particular genre of reality-based entertainment. No one has had the gall to come out and label this genre Dumb Girl TV, but that's what it is.” 16/04/06

  • “ Since Daria went off the air in 2001, not only have there been no subsequent signs of intelligent female life on MTV, the station has…as good as rebranded itself as Dumb Girls TV.” 13/05/06

  • “There's an unspoken rule at MTV. Shows directed at girls are permitted to depict their participants as vapid, shallow, materialistic money-hoovers. Shows about boys exist to inspire admiration in the lives and dreams of their subjects.” 30/12/06

    The Guardian

Freaks geeks and good sweet maids the able girl and popular culture


Stupid girl, stupid girls, stupid girls

Maybe if I act like that, that guy will call me back Porno paparazzi girl, I don't wanna be a stupid girl

What happened to the dream of a girl president She's dancing in the video next to 50 Cent They travel in packs of two and three With their itsy bitsy doggies and their teeny-weeny tees Where, oh where, have the smart people gone? Oh where, oh where could they be?

Disease's growing, it's epidemic I'm scared that there ain't a cure The world believes it and I'm going crazy I cannot take any more I'm so glad that I'll never fit in That will never be me Outcasts and girls with ambition That's what I wanna see

What do we want

What do we want?

  • Positive & well-rounded representations

  • Social diversity

  • De-gendering of abilities

  • Home-grown heroes

  • Across the media

When do we want it

When do we want it?

Equality Now: Joss Whedon

Shows to watch cited by interviewees

Shows to watch (cited by interviewees):

  • Veronica Mars

  • The Gilmore Girls

  • Dr Who

  • CSI (Vegas, NY & Miami)

  • Joan of Arcadia

  • Bones

  • ER

  • Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter

  • Wonderfalls

  • Grey’s Anatomy*

  • Dead Like Me* *=adult language/content



  • Ang, Ien (1991) Desperately Seeking the Audience; London: Routledge

  • Battersby, Christina (1988): Gender and Genius Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  • Erikson, E. H. (1968 ) Youth, Identity and Crisis New York: Norton

  • Kellner, Douglas (2004) "Buffy the Vampire Slayer as spectacular allegory : a diagnostic critique." In: Kinderculture: the corporate construction of childhood, eds. Steinberg Kincheloe. 2nd ed. Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press

  • Liebes, T., & Katz, E. (1990) The export of meaning: Cross-cultural readings of “Dallas.” New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Marcia James E (1980) “Developmental and Validation of Ego and Identity Status." In ed.R.E. Muss, (1990). Adolescent Behavior and Society, A Book of Readings, New York: McGraw-Hill, pp194-203.

  • Children Now(1999)Boys To Men Conference Report: Media Messages About Masculinity, September 1999

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