Everybody Loves Guido: Italian Characters on Modern U.S. Sitcoms
Conducted by Linda and Samuel Lichter, co-directors of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, a study of 1988 examined the relationship between watching television and ethnic and racial groups attitudes. This study was sponsored by the Commission for Social Justice of the Order of Sons of Italy and other anti-defamation groups. It showed that many people regarded television as “a learning tool and an accurate reflection of the real world,” and that about one-third of those who expressed opinions regarding this topic said that the characters they watched on television affected their ethnic self-perception and the attitudes towards other groups (Litcher and Lichter).
Television is a primary source of entertainment for millions of Americans and it influences people’s opinions with regard to gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. Small groups of people build up their opinions on what they see on TV, however the role of television as a reinforcer and crystallizer of existing attitudes is significant. Furthermore, the study of 1988 that we mentioned before showed that the more positive or favorable the response to a TV character is, the more likely the viewer sees the character as typical of his or her ethnic group. Comic characters, for example, create likability through humor, and this factor is important in evaluating the degree to which ethnic characters on sitcoms may reflect reality for viewers, particularly for young people. Situation comedy is a mass genre and a consistent staple of broadcasting over the world. It can be defined as a “form of programming which foregrounds its comic intent” (Mills). Sitcom “comic impetus” is the most obvious and significant genre characteristic and while the audience might enjoy it for a variety of reasons, its humor is “always of paramount concern”.
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