Professor's book examines changing images of minorities on TV


imageSUNY Oswego communication studies Professor Tina Pieraccini explores how the camera lens has impacted the wide view of minorities in the new book “Color Television: Fifty Years of African American and Latino Images in Prime Time Television.”

She co-authored the book with Douglass L. Alligood of BBDO New York, who has provided advertising research on the TV-viewing habits of blacks to Pieraccini for years.

The book springs from Pieraccini’s “Women, Children and Minorities in the Media” course at Oswego. The class started about 20 years ago as a seminar on televised depictions of children, then progressed to encompassing images of women.

“When general education requirements added a diversity component in the 1980s, I included black images in the course, and that’s how I found the BBDO reports on how blacks and whites viewed television differently,” she recalled. She later added depictions of Latinos.

Pieraccini credited friend and colleague Howard Gordon, the college’s executive assistant to the president, with suggesting that she translate her course into a book.

Examining how minorities are depicted in popular media is “certainly not a new area for me, but it’s not an area a lot of people cover—unfortunately, because it is an important area,” she said.

As a generation grew up with TV as their babysitter, “that’s how so many children learned about other cultures and other races,” Pieraccini explained. “Some children may live in isolated areas where they don’t have a black friend or a Latino friend, so this may be all they know about other cultures.”

The “Roots” miniseries in the 1970s was one example of TV transforming cultural appreciation and race relations for the better, Pieraccini said, while the runaway success of “The Cosby Show” broke down innumerable crossover barriers. But the continued underrepresentation of minorities, as well as the continuation of stereotypical depictions, show that TV has not always helped, she added.

Chapters end with first-person essays that lend a more personal perspective on growing up as a minority dealing with these stereotypes. Gordon contributed an essay about how “Good Times” devolved from a show that tackled urban issues into “black minstrelsy” focusing on the antics of Jimmy “JJ” Walker. Oswego graduate Kendis Gibson, now a reporter and anchor for CNN, has an essay at the end that acknowledges minorities have come a long way in broadcasting, but there is still a ways to go.

“We hope readers would take away a better understanding of color in society and how televised depictions of blacks and Latinos have impacted progress,” Pieraccini said. “We hope that those students who did not live through the civil rights struggle will learn more about where these stereotypes came from and that perhaps this book will help dispel these stereotypes for a younger generation.”

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PHOTO CAPTION: Recording images—SUNY Oswego communication studies Professor Tina Pieraccini shows a copy of her new book, “Color Television: Fifty Years of African American and Latino Images in Prime Time Television,” to Howard Gordon, the college’s executive assistant to the president. Gordon first suggested that Pieraccini translate some material from her “Women, Children and Minorities in the Media” course into book form. He also contributed an essay to it.

(Posted: Feb 09, 2005)

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