Challenge 3: Norm Breaking

OverviewIt’s clear that deviance is a fascinating subject not only for sociologists but for millions of television viewers as well. That’s why we’ve seen a proliferation of shows in recent years that feature people breaking almost every kind of social norm imaginable, from folkways to taboos. We might expect to see deviance covered in talk shows or newsmagazine programs, but it’s a staple of many other genres. We see it in reality TV shows like Teen Mom, which focuses on how high-schoolers deal with pregnancy and parenthood, and Love After Lock-Up, which portrays people whose love interests are incarcerated. But it’s not just reality TV shows that feature deviance. Dramas such as NCIS or The Blacklist, comedies such as The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Mom, hybrids such as Transparent or Orange is the New Black, and even Animated Shows such as The Simpsons or Family Guy all deal with various elements of the pathological or dysfunction. And there are many more such shows we could add to the list.
Why is there so much deviance on television? Are these shows merely entertainment, or is there something more going on here? When we watch them, do we feel morally superior or get some kind of vicarious thrill? Can gossiping about the various deviant behavior actually help make us feel closer and hold society together reinforcing social norms? Does exposure to so much deviance help reinforce our social norms or serve to erode them?
Step 1: Data CollectionFor this activity you will be using existing sources doing a content analysis of an episode from a particular TV show. (Return to Chapter 2 for a review of this research method.) Choose a contemporary TV show that is available for multiple viewings. As you watch the episode take notes about the content and try to document all the ways which deviant behavior is portrayed on the show. (You can also note how you initially felt in response to the portrayed deviant behavior. For example, did you find yourself “getting heated” when someone behaved a certain way or if watching with someone else did you find yourself condemning that person together, did you bond over shared values?)
Step 2: Analysis
First, you will want to identify what is the social norm or expected behavior for said situation and then, consider the following as you finalize your notes and prepare your presentation:
Who is the intended audience of the program? Why did you choose it?
What kind of deviance is featured? Give examples of situations, scenes, dialogue, or characters and explain why they are examples of deviance.
Is the deviance celebrated or condemned?
How does it make you feel to watch the program?
What effects do you think the show has on other viewers?
Do you think the program supports or challenges prevailing social norms?
Do you think the program supports or challenges any theories thus presented so far in the class/text?
Step 3: Share
Present your analysis in a 3-minute Flipgrid presentation. A good presentation will: 1) Clearly state the show and the research method and 2) Answer directly a question or two (from the list above) that seems most relevant and interesting for your experience.
Recommended shows for this analysis:
90 Day Fiancé
Love After Lock-Up
Good Girls
Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking

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