A content analysis of social groups in prime-time Spanish-language television.

Author:Mastro, Dana E.

Historically, content analytic research has pointed to disparities in the representation of Latinos in U.S. media offerings in terms of both the sheer number of Latino characters (Greenberg, Mastro, & Brand, 2002) as well as the often-stereotypical nature of these depictions (Ramirez Berg, 2002). Although a small but growing body of empirical studies documents the nature of Latino portrayals on U.S. television, little empirical research has examined the imagery presented in Spanish-language television. Research investigating the features of Spanish-language portrayals becomes particularly meaningful when the rapidly increasing viewership and popularity of Spanish-language television networks in the United States is recognized (Barnes & Jordan, 2005). Moreover, given that the programs aired on these networks are nearly exclusively produced outside the United States (Consoli, 2005; Univision, 2005) they are likely to differ from those on English-language networks, owing in part to differing cultural norms and ideals, including those associated with traditional gender and sex roles (Glascock & Ruggiero, 2004). When considered from the perspective of social identity theory, the characteristics of these portrayals become of consequence as these images would be implicated in processes of identity formation and social comparison (Harwood & Roy, 2005) among U.S. Latino viewers. Therefore, the present study applies a social identity theory framework in content analyzing a 1-week, random sample of Spanish-language television.

Spanish-Language Networks in the United States

The Spanish-language television industry has been steadily growing in the United States since the establishment of Univision (Stillig, 1995), which currently ranks as the most-watched Spanish-language network (Grillo & Bednarski, 2004). Indeed, since the inclusion of Spanish-language programs in the Nielsen rankings, Univision has emerged as the fifth most-watched television network in the United States ("Television en Fuego," 2006), due to some extent to reaching 98% of all U.S. Latino television households (Univision, 2005). Telemundo is second in Spanish-language television viewership, penetrating 92% of U.S. Latino television homes (Telemundo, 2005), followed by the Univision Communications-established Telefutura, which reaches 85% of Latino television households (Downey, 2005b). The final player in the Spanish-language television race is Azteca America (Downey, 2005a), currently reaching 77% of the total U.S. Latino population (Azteca America, 2005).

Telenovelas, (1) similar to soap operas, dominate the Spanish-language television networks and provide the principal basis for Univision's high ratings (Azteca America, 2005; Consoli, 2005; Downey, 2005b). Given their tremendous popularity, these programs have attracted the attention of the U.S., English-language networks. Notably, ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC all have English-language telenovela projects in development, with plans to begin airing as early as 2006 ("Television en Fuego," 2006; "Telenovelas," 2006).

It is notable to point out that in addition to Univision's status as the most watched Spanish-language television channel, it also presents a threat to the major U.S. broadcast networks; frequently outranking at least one of the English-language networks among young adults (Barnes & Jordan, 2005). Univision further asserts that more U.S. Latinos watch its programming in every daypart than any of the four mainstream broadcast networks (Univision, 2005). When assessing media use among bilingual Latinos in the United States, this is meaningful as members of this segment of the population have the option of selecting from both English- and Spanish-language programming--vastly broadening the television offerings. In fact, research has revealed that whereas older viewers are likely to attend more to Spanish- than English-language programming (Barnes & Jordan, 2005) due to the fulfillment obtained from watching shows that represent their cultural background (Faber, O'Guinn, & Meyer, 1986), younger viewers increasingly choose Spanish-language programming based simply on the appeal of the content (Barnes & Jordan, 2005).

Focusing attention on Spanish-language television is additionally valuable because Latinos typically report among the highest levels of television consumption in the United States. Across all age groups, Latino American households watch more television in prime time and daytime than the average U.S. home (Nielsen, 2005). When these elevated rates of television consumption are coupled with theoretical research suggesting that media effects are more pronounced among frequent users of the media (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1980), the imagery to which this segment of the population is exposed becomes increasingly important; both in terms of viewing English- and Spanish-language television.

Portrayals of Latinos on English-Language U.S. Television

The frequency and nature of Latino portrayals on U.S. television has been an issue of longstanding concern--Latino representation in U.S. programming is rare and when present, these images often involve negative stereotypes (Greenberg et al., 2002). Indeed, during the fall 2003 season and across six broadcast networks, Latino characters on prime-time television programming accounted for only 6.5% of the character population (Children NOW, 2004), despite comprising approximately 12.5% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census, 2000). Among all Latino characters portrayed on television, only 11% held high-status jobs, with Latinos more likely to be seen in roles as domestic workers than any other racial/ethnic group (Children NOW, 2004).

Harwood and Anderson (2002) found that Latino television characters were deemed less attractive and less appropriately dressed than their White counterparts. Additionally, they were identified as the lowest in social attraction and fulfilled negative plot functions more so than Whites, indicating the malevolent nature of these characterizations. Mastro and Behm-Morawitz (2005) found that among men, Latinos were of lower job authority than Whites, and among women, Latinas were of lower social authority than Whites. Although not significant by Scheffe tests, chi-square tests revealed that Latinos were portrayed as lazier and had lower levels of intelligence than White characters. Moreover, compared to their White peers, Latino women possessed the lowest work ethic and demonstrated the greatest levels of verbal aggression, whereas Latino men displayed lower levels of articulate speech and greater levels of antagonism.

When taken together, content analytic research suggests that the manner in which the majority of Latinos are depicted in English-language media reflects several longstanding media stereotypes (Ramirez Berg, 2002). These images include representations of Latinos as criminals and deviants; as sexual provocateurs and objects of sexual desire; and as dimwits and targets of ridicule. Consequently, it is not surprising that Latinos in the United States are increasingly turning to the Spanish-language networks, but what can viewers expect to encounter when tuning in to the offerings on Spanish-language television?

Portrayals on U.S. Spanish-Language Television

To date, only one empirical study documents the content found on Spanish-language television (see Glascock & Ruggiero, 2004). In their analysis of three Spanish-language networks (Univision, Telemundo, and Azteca America), Glascock and Ruggiero (2004) provide preliminary insights into the Spanish-language television landscape. In so doing, their findings make a notable contribution by offering an initial look into the images provided in the Spanish-language, prime-time landscape. Specifically, Glascock and Ruggiero (2004) report that males (52%) slightly outnumbered females. Women were identified as younger, tended to have lighter skin and hair color, and were more provocatively dressed than men. In terms of occupations, men held more professional jobs whereas women held more support and service jobs, such as maids and waitresses. Moreover, women were portrayed as having more parental responsibilities than men; a finding they suggest is indicative of the tendency for media content to provide representations that maintain traditional gender and sex roles.

Among both sexes, lighter-skinned characters were more likely to be in major roles and of higher socioeconomic status; with darker-skinned characters more likely to be in supporting roles and of lower socioeconomic status (Glascock & Ruggiero, 2004). Additionally, lighter-skinned characters were depicted as younger than darker-skinned characters. The authors posit that these results, privileging lighter-skinned characters, point to existing real-world biases within the Latino communities that favor a fair complexion.

Although Glascock and Ruggiero's (2004) results are noteworthy, features of the design suggest that continued research is in order. First, the lack of a random sample of programming limits the ability to confidently generalize from their findings (Neuendorf, 2002). Second, inter-coder reliabilities do not consistently meet conventionally identified levels of acceptability (Krippendorff, 2002). Last, the categorical nature of many of the variables restricts analytical options. Accordingly, the present study addresses each of these points in order to expand on their foundational work.

Theoretical Implications

As the content analytic studies of U.S. and Spanish-language television networks indicate, Latino viewers attending to either type of media have the potential to be exposed to skewed representations as they relate to portrayals of different groups. When it comes to U.S. television programs, Latino viewers are likely to encounter negative or stereotypic representations of their ethnic group. When exposed to Spanish-language media, viewers may witness certain social groups...

To continue reading