Universal Studios Florida: the Hollywood that Once Was

It’s no secret that Universal Orlando Resort’s history is rich with television and film production. But where has it all gone? The short answer is that republicans took over the state government in 1998 and began chopping away at the incentives for filming in the state. If you look at the former (mainly TV) productions that used to film at Universal Studios Florida, you’ll notice that the late 90s and early 2000s are when the numbers began to drop to nearly nothing of consequence, save a TV episode here and there. Correlation may not equal causation, but this evidence to support the republicans killing off Florida’s film business may be anecdotal, but no less significant. All kinds of shows and TV movies were filmed in the sound stages and in and around the “working studio” theme park. Recently, Jennifer Beals was announced to be the sheriff in the new Swamp Thing TV show, and that prompted the idea to explore the history of productions in the park since the original 90s Swamp Thing TV show was filmed where the Men in Black attraction is located. Call it nostalgia; but knowing what used to flourish may prompt voters to think about who’s moving into the governor’s mansion this November. More than the politics of showbusiness and state legislature, delving into the variety of shows that once called Universal Studio Florida home proves to be an interesting and fun journey.

Headlining the most high profile productions to use the theatrical and television production facilities at Universal Florida is Nickelodeon Studios. Not only was it the most recognizable name using the production facilities, it was also incorporated into the park’s operations in order to further immerse the Universal Studios guests into the magic of TV and movies. In November 1988, Nickelodeon moved to the sunshine state and built its colorful office building with the big orange Nickelodeon sign on the front and eventual slime geyser in the forecourt. Although the production facilities were in use prior to the theme park officially opening, the official opening of the studio coincided with the theme park on June 7, 1990. The official opening allowed park guests to take a tour of the studio and guests could even audition for or join the studio audience during tapings of shows. Double DareFigure It Out, Legends of the Hidden Temple, GUTS, All That, and others are among those that regularly filmed. Shows like What Would You Do? often brought the cameras into the park in order to interact with guests. Sound stages 18 and 19 along with seasonally leased Stage 21 were home to some of your favorite Nickelodeon shows from the 90s. When the studios were in operation (many regard this as Nickelodeon’s golden age), more than a dozen kid/teen sitcoms, twenty game shows, and five children’s shows were shot at the main studios. Operating throughout the day were tours of of the facility for Universal Studios Florida guests; but during tapings, interested parties could signup to be in the studio audiences and kids/teens could even audition for the game shows when taping.

Well, what happened? After the republican legislation took over Florida in 1998, and the film incentives were greatly reduced, Nickelodeon along with Universal and Disney-MGM Studios began to book fewer and fewer shows. Furthermore, with the transition Nickelodeon was going through from live action game shows to more traditional sitcoms not intended for live studio audiences in the way Clarissa Explains it All, All That, and others in the early-mid 90s were, the studio shifted its focus back west. Eventually, Nickelodeon built new studios in California. So, it was a combination of lack of state film incentives and changing the direction of the content that were responsible for the eventual closure of the studio operations in 2004; and eventually, the administrative offices were moved to Santa Monica in 2005. From hundreds of employees to double digits, and eventually none at all, Nickelodeon employed many showbusiness professionals in Florida. And since the closure of the studio, the opportunities have greatly dwindled. Returning the state film incentives could recreate film and television opportunities. The story of Nickelodeon from 1988 to 2004 represents a kind of Hollywood that existed that was responsible for careers and unique theme park experiences.

Not only was Nickelodeon responsible for the “Hollywood of the east,” as Universal Studios Florida was considered from the time it opened for about 8-10yrs, there were a number of other shows that were also filmed there. Where many Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) houses are now located, used to be the stages where television and film was made. While Nickelodeon and Universal were the only “permanent” residents of the studio property, other shows and movies taped there throughout the early to mid 1990s.

Although the filming of this next movie for Universal Television (released on Showtime) was supposed to wrap before the park opened, early park guests had the rare opportunity to watch Anthony Perkins reprise his iconic role as Norman Bates in Psycho IV. That’s right, the last installment in the Psycho franchise was taped right there at Universal Florida! Until 1998, the Bates House and Motel were located where Barney is now. Park guests could get up close and personal with the standing sets much in the same way they can at the world famous studio tour in Hollywood. In an effort to have a working studio theme park concept, high profile productions were needed to cement the idea of Hollywood made here. Showing a production on a famous set in the park was a brilliant way of taking park guests behind the magic of the movies. The park’s slogan at the time was “ride the movies,” so this took that concept further, and allowed park guests to “experience” the movies. Not only was a Hollywood movie getting made at the brand new Universal Studios Florida, it became an attraction and popular photo opportunity for the next eight years. For those who missed the filming, park guests could still get up close and personal with Hitchcock’s most famous movie at Alfred Hitchcock: the Art of Making Movies.

A couple of multi-season different shows called Universal Studios Florida home for the duration of their respective run. SeaQuest DSV (starting season 2) and Swamp ThingSeaQuest moved from Los Angeles to Orlando in 1995 for the filming of the second season. Other than some scenes that were shot in and around Orlando Tampa, most of the show was filmed in Sound Stages 20, 24, and 28. When the park offered a backlot tram tour, park guests could occasionally see into the sound stages when not not closed for filming. In nearby Sound Stage 21, the Universal picture Parenthood was filmed. Office building 22 housed the permanent and rental office space for the various productions on property. On the other side of the park where Men in Black is now located, was the Swamp Thing set. Although not part of the studio tram tour, guests could book additional tours of some of the active sets on property. Over the years, there were many other television shows and movies filmed at Universal Studios Florida. Knowing that movie and television magic was being made right there in Orlando added an intrinsic value to the experience of the theme park in its early years. It truly felt like Hollywood was right here in Orlando.

Those who love movies and theme parks were in awe of all the attractions and movie magic on display at Universal Studios Florida. And if you are a kid of the 90s, you remember all too well the closing of Nickelodeon shows “recorded in front of a live studios audience in Nickelodeon Studios at Universal Studios Florida.” And your parents likely remember the neon logo at the end of Swamp Thing and SeaQuest. What could be better than a movie-themed theme park that was also a bustling studio for a movie and TV fan? Not a whole lot. Unfortunately, when Florida switched from a Dem to a GOP governor in 1998, slowly the number of productions began to dry up as the state ended its desirable incentives. Sound stages were empty or primarily used for Halloween Horror Nights, Nickelodeon turned into Blue Man Group, sound stages destroyed for Rip Ride Rockit and more from the early 2000s to today. Very little is left of the Hollywood that once was. Still there are buildings in the park that sand testament to the role the theme park played in the many productions that took place, by in large, from 1990-2000. So much history–right here in Orlando! Hard to believe all the movie magic that was made part of the experience of visiting Universal Studios Florida.

If you live in Florida, and would like to see movie magic return to the Sunshine State, think about who will push for those state-level tax and other financial incentives to generate a renaissance of opportunities for those who love movies so much that they want to be part of making them.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. He’s also published prolifically on theme parks and produced a peer-reviewed study. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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Family Time at Universal Orlando

UO_NightInstead of researching my next article this past weekend, I spent time with family at Universal Orlando. But, in spending time with my family visiting from out of town, I definitely have some thoughts that I’d like to share. Nothing truly profound, but occasionally it’s refreshing to write on a more personal level instead of always being committed to scholarly writing. Much like thousands of other families, I grew up going to the parks. Needless to say, I did not frequent them like I do now–every week. I did not live in Florida until I was 24, so we would plan family vacations to Orlando every so many years. Since my sister and I grew up on Nickelodeon moreso than the Disney Channel, when we were old enough to appreciate the experience, our parents took us to then Universal Studios Florida to “ride the movies” and experience THE Nickelodeon Studios. Although there is a lot to enjoy about the present-day Universal experience, our favorite stories are from the early days of the park. Obviously, childhood memories are often more powerful than present ones by default, so there is definitely some degree of subjectivity in remembering the original park(s); but I digress.

Check out this promotional video from 1990 when the park opened

It’s been 10 years since the whole family went to Universal Orlando. The last time the whole family was together in the parks was at Disney World in 2011 (when I was a Cast Member). Since I bought my sister a Universal Annual Pass, she gets down here a couple times a year but we had not been to the park as a family since 2010. If you have been going to the parks (whether Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, or Busch Gardens) for as long as I have, you get to witness the evolution of the parks and the continual reimagination of attractions and themed areas. Most of the time the change is positive and beneficial, but other times the changes are disappointing. I think that sometimes we forget that the parks have to reinvent themselves every generation in order to keep the guests coming in. That means that iconic attractions sometimes have to go, despite what long-time fans think. Other times, the addition of new attractions is outstanding! This is certainly the case with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando and the future Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. As my research has shown, nostalgia is an important element in the success and popularity of a theme park; but there is certainly more to the planning, development, and logistics of future offerings than just nostalgia.

PortofinoNightIf I had to name just one element of my staycation that made it feel like a family vacation, it would have to be pulling up to and staying at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel on site at Universal Florida. It wasn’t simply the fact that Loews has done an excellent job at recreating the quaint Italian waterside village, but that it felt like an escape from my normal every-day trips to the park. As a kid, I remember when there was no Portofino Hotel period and later on I remember passing it when walking to the park entrance from the Holiday Inn across the street where we stayed multiple times. Now, this was not my first stay at Portofino. I did stay there with my aunt and uncle’s family back in September 2010; but this was the first stay with my immediate family. I arrived before my family in order to get us checked in. When I went out to move my car to the parking garage, I ran into them and it was really cool to get to meet at the hotel. Maybe that is not very descriptive and lacks critical analysis, but it really was memorable since we were meeting at a hotel that we passed by and always wanted to stay at, and not having that opportunity previously, thanks to my annual pass discount haha.

One of the results of going to the park with my family or with those who have not been in a long time, or at all, is experiencing what it’s like to see the sites, hear the sounds, and riding the attractions, or watching the shows for the first time–vicariously anyway. Not that I don’t enjoy frequenting the parks as often as I do, but it’s always refreshing to get to smile, laugh, and enjoy the attractions like it’s the first time all over again. I cannot tell you how much I loved witnessing my parents’ reaction to the rides. I don’t think there is any time like the first. Hearing their respective reactions to what I enjoy all the time from their perspective was as enjoyable as the attraction itself. The expressions on their faces were priceless and created memories that will last for a lifetime. In addition to visiting new attractions (for them), we also revisited the remaining two opening day attractions that we’ve experienced as a family many times: E.T. the Adventure Continues and the Horror Makeup Show. I don’t think I will ever forget what it was like to meander through the E.T. queue as a kid. The feeling of what it must’ve been like to work on the movie will last forever. Even on this recent trip, my family and I still talk about that queue. Just waiting in queue for the timeless dark ride brought back so many fond memories. Although the hotel experience was probably what made this feel like a vacation for me, it is riding E.T. with my family that was the most exciting for me. Even when I am in the parks for a few hours or a day, I still ride that because it always takes me back to being a kid in the 90s at Universal.

GringottsFamilyVacationing in a family favorite theme park is not limited to waxing nostalgic of the past, but it’s also about creating new memories in the present. I think the funniest picture I took of them was when my parents and a family friend tried butterbeer for the first time! They absolutely loved it and got it twice during the 2.5 days in the parks. They were simply in awe at the beautiful architecture and creative engineering of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Forbidden Journey was definitely the favorite attraction between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Of course, they thoroughly enjoyed the train experience as well. Remarked over and over how it makes them want to take a real train for recreation sometime. For everyone, except me, riding Skull Island: Reign of Kong was a new experience! And, I had only ridden it once before (after which I wrote my critical analysis). Unfortunately, it did not qualify for the unlimited Loews express passes, so it was definitely the longest line; however, a much shorter wait than when I first experienced it. I loved being able to form new memories with my family at this ride. Until this trip, there were attractions that I would experience with friends or when my sister would visit me at which I did not have family memories. And, to that point, there was always an element missing from the experience. Nothing major, just a little feeling that felt empty. Now that we have experienced everything at the park, I have fond memories that I will continue to cherish for a lifetime as I have done since going to the park as a kid. Although there are family favorites that are no longer there, such as: Nickelodeon Studios, Hitchcock: the Art of Making Movies, Murder She Wrote, Lucy: a Tribute, Jaws: the Ride, and Earthquake: the Big One, I have had the opportunity to create new memories that will one day, in and of themselves, become nostalgic.

Out of all the kinds of family vacations that one can think of, I firmly believe that theme park vacations are responsible for some of the most beloved memories. Whether you are from a traditional family or you were adopted, theme parks are places of magic that inspire, intrigue, and beckon for returned trips. I am thankful that I have so many fond memories at not only Universal, but Disney World, Busch Gardens, Carrowinds, Cedar Point, and the little known Magic World (formerly in Gatlinburg). If I was able to anecdotally designate the chief contributing factor to why theme parks make great vacations or simply lasting memories, I would venture to say that it’s because they provide experiences and interaction. Because one is physically and emotionally experiencing something, it is far more powerful than simply visiting a landmark or watching a movie.

License to Create: Theme Parks and Intellectual Property

ThemeParkHighAngleLicense and registration please. With 20th Century Fox, Sony Entertainment, and Paramount Pictures entering the themed entertainment game as potential heavy hitters, and to some extent Warner Bros. as well, questions about cinema, television, and video game intellectual property (IP) begin to rise. Only having really had two main players in the industry for the last couple of decades, unless you count CBS/Paramount before selling off the amusement park investments to Cedar Fair, Disney and Comcast (parent company to NBC Universal) utilize their own respective IP libraries as well as licensed properties from other media companies. Not having as vast an IP library as Disney, many of Universal’s theme park properties have come from companies like TimeWarner, Viacom, and Fox. Whereas Disney primarily uses their own extensive library, they too have licensed other companies’ IP such as MGM Holdings, 20th Century Fox, and CBS. Although some of the once-licensed properties by either Disney or Universal have now been officially procured (i.e. Disney’s LucasFilm and Universal’s DreamWorks Animation), a common practice in the themed entertainment industry is to license, borrow, barter, trade, etc. But, with these new players demanding a slice of the hospitality and tourism pie, could we see more original television programming or movies?

SpyroThink about it for a moment. Let’s look at some of the most well-known IPs from Sony, Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros. Although there is a mild to moderate degree of subjectivity in what constitutes “well known,” I am going to go with commonly thought of properties. Starting with Sony. In no particular order, some of the most popular Sony properties include: James Bond (formerly MGM), Spider-Man, Men in Black, Smurfs, Terminator, Silence of the Lambs, Hotel Transylvania, Spyro, The Nanny, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Price is Right, Final Fantasy, and Crash Bandicoot. Switching gears to Fox. Some of the most well-known Fox properties include: Avatar, The Simpsons, Rocky Horror Picture Show, The X-Men, Bones, New Girl, American Horror Story, Alien, X-Files, Die Hard, Futurama, and Family Guy. Although not well known in the US, Warner Bros. operates a theme park in Australia and what is now called Movie Park Germany. Some of the most popular Warner Bros., IP are: Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Looney Tunes, DC Entertainment, Lord of the Rings, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Lego Entertainment. Viacom, parent company to Paramount Pictures, is one of the original Hollywood studios and owns IP such as: Mission Impossible, Titanic (partnership with Fox), Star Trek (films and TV shows), Forrest Gump, and the valuable Nickelodeon. Obviously the aforementioned lists are not exhaustive, but I wanted to try to paint as brief but effective a picture as possible to understand why IP is a hot topic.

JamesBondLogoRecognize some of those titles? You probably recognize most, if not all of them. Unfortunately, these companies have already licensed out some of those properties to Universal, Disney, and Six Flags. Avatar and Alien are licensed by Disney. Marvel Entertainment, Harry Potter, and Nintendo are licensed to Universal, DC Entertainment and Looney Tunes are licensed to Six Flags Parks, and the Nickelodeon IPs are split amongst different entities. Of course, when the licensing agreements were drawn up, it is unlikely that either Sony, Fox, Paramount, and to a lesser extent Warner Bros., thought that they would enter or re-enter into the themed entertainment industry. Now that this part of the tourism and hospitality (and live entertainment) is exploding, Sony, Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros. need to rethink how to play catchup–and FAST. But, when you have licensed out some of your most valuable properties, how do you make up for it? The short answer is (1) refuse renewal when the license expires or (2) develop original content. Since some licenses run for decades, the former isn’t really an option unless the license is coming up for renewal in the next few years; so, we are left with one logical conclusion: pump out original content that is adaptable to a live experience. This is where research like mine comes into play since I have studied the relationship between cinema and theme parks, and moreover how to successfully translate a movie or TV show into an attraction. It’d be nice if one of these companies would snatch me up. But, I digress.

Film Strip BoardIt is entirely possible that Sony, Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros. will be forced to generate new ideas for movies, tv shows, and video games. More specifically, original creative media content that can and needs to be able to be translated from the screen into a theme park near you. When developing original content that has the ability to be translated to a live experience, companies need to keep in mind that a high-concept plot with unique settings, characters, and action sequences are necessary for a movie turned attraction. There is a lot more to it than that, but at least this gives you an idea what is required and backed by empirical evidence. Although blockbusters are typically the sourced content for theme park attractions, not every blockbuster is appropriate. Take Titanic for example. It is a movie about the 20th century’s worst and most infamous maritime disaster. So, I don’t think Paramount or Fox will add “Titanic: Ride it Out” to its parks. The ability to cross-promote intellectual property is of great importance for the strategic exhibition and integration of movies, tv shows, or video games. One of the reasons why the Disney parks are so successful is because the Disney movies can be (1) seen in the cinema (2) character meet and greets in the parks (3) the platform for a video game (3) used in theming on the cruise line (4) A-list artists can record covers of the songs from musicals (and broadway musicals can be produced) and (5) the platform for attractions in the parks. Sony, Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros. need to concentrate on producing movies and TV shows (and by extension video games) that can be used in strategic and creative cross-promotion.

X-Men TASReturning to the present state of IP in the parks. Fortunately, some of those companies still–at least to the best of my knowledge–retain the theme park licensing for a few of the properties that were mentioned earlier; but for the most part, the most well-known movies, video games, and TV shows are already licensed by other companies. Viacom/Paramount operates the Nick Hotel near Disney in Orlando, so it still retains some licensing to its Nick IPs. However, since other parks use some of the Nick characters, there is probably some red tape to go through in order to fully use them in the Paramount park in the United Kingdom near London that is under development. Just like Disney wants to get their hands on Universal’s Marvel properties, Fox really needs to work on getting the X-Men back. On that note: since The Avengers is Disney’s heaviest of hitters and the same for Fox and the X-Men, perhaps eventually we will see that Disney has access to The Avengers and Fox the X-Men. Disney doesn’t really need The Avengers as much as Fox needs the X-Men. The X-Men is arguably Fox’s most successful film franchise in the last couple of decades and it is still going strong. Another Fox property that is licensed by Disney is James Cameron’s Avatar. As for Sony, they have not licensed out as many of their properties to themed entertainment companies, with the obvious exceptions of Terminator and Men in Black. Another area to explore is the reason why non Disney and Universal parks are mostly being built overseas. But that is the topic for another article; however, it is directly linked to IP and copyright.

maps_game_of_thrones_a_song_of_1024x1024_wallpaperfo.comCurrent IPs that would make for great attractions in a U.S. Sony, Warner Bros., Paramount, or Fox theme park would be Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, X-Files, James Bond, Lord of the Rings (but that is a whole other discussion in and of itself), Hotel Transylvania, Spyro the Dragon, Maze Runner, Hunger Games (need to be licensed from Lionsgate), Ice Age, or Mission Impossible. Content is king. More innovative and original content from the big studios who also have theme park investments means that there will be more movies to see each year!! It will also open the door for new ideas from comics, literature, history, and legend. Instead of reboots and remakes, you will enjoy new ideas and narratives. So, the long and short of it is that media conglomerates with movie studio and theme park investments are at a crossroads. They can either not go full-force into themed entertainment and play around with the current IP in their respective libraries or can rise up to the challenge to develop original movies and tv shows that can also find their ways into theme parks in the U.S. and around the world.

The Man Vanishes

ShrinkingManEvery once in a while, I make observations of trends in entertainment and media that I like to explore in hopes of encouraging further discussion; this is one of those topics: The portrayal of white heterosexual men in media has definitely changed since the days of Father Knows Best, Silver SpoonsAndy Griffith, and Leave it to Beaver. Just so we are clear, I am neither condemning nor condoning this changing portrayal in television and advertising. I am merely highlighting an element of the media based on both empirical and anecdotal evidences that, if for no other reason, is simply interesting to think about. Media should aim to be fair to all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religious beliefs, and genders in terms of their respective narrative portrayals. Of course, there is nothing wrong with stereotyping for comedic or dramatic effect; but, it should not become the norm or the status quo. But I digress; you could call the white heterosexual male in media the vanishing man because of how he has been treated over the years, especially in the last 20. The title I selected for this article is a play on of one of Hitchcock’s earliest film titles The Lady Vanishes.

Lucille Ball in her most famous roles in the series, except the Freezer episode.

Lucille Ball in some of her most famous roles in the series.

During the early days of entertainment media (both radio and television, and to some extent movies), the traditional male stereotype was one of strength, intelligence, rationale, and leadership; whereas the stereotype of women was unfairly characterized as ditzy, homebodies, less intelligent, overly emotional and mainly concerned with house chores and child rearing. Note: Lucille Ball’s character in I Love Lucy definitely doesn’t fit the aforementioned stereotype–and thankfully so–she did so much for the portrayal of women in media and gave us one of the most iconic characters that became such a part of Americana. Perhaps that’s why the show is still relevant today. On a side note, I watch it every morning at Planet Fitness while I use the elliptical. Anyway, over time, the stereotypes of men and women (and for the most part, unless otherwise stated, this article is referring to white heterosexual men and women) have shifted greatly. In recent decades, the past traditional female stereotypes have been rightly criticized for being unfair to women.

Cast of "Married with Children"

Cast of “Married with Children”

But, in an effort to be more fair to women, have men been dealt an unfair blow? In the past 10-20 years–mostly concentrated in, but not limited to, sitcoms–men are now almost regularly portrayed as unintelligent, irrational, disconnected, bumbling, and child-like; however, women are now shown as the grownups, leaders, intelligent, rational, and practical. This new type of man is seen in shows like The SimpsonsMarried with Children, Home Improvement, and most any Disney Channel or Nickelodeon show. When men are now shown in traditional roles, they are often portrayed as buffoons, clueless, and in need of guidance, often times by a woman or their kids. On the other hand, female characters in the media, like Progressive’s Flo, have evolved over time to be highly intelligent and superior to any male in the commercial. [Please note that I absolutely adore Flo, and find her commercials to be as entertaining as a typical television show.]

Throughout the media, we are seeing a greater diversity of players and representations of various groups such as gay men, in popular entertainment media; we are also seeing different roles for straight men. Mixed race couples can be seen, single parents are no longer regularly shown to be helpless, and non-traditional and extended family units can be found regularly. But in this effort to do good, the scales may have tipped in the opposite direction too much. Among other attributes mentioned earlier, the role of the father in the home is often devalued if existent at all; and men/partners/husbands are often seen as ineffectual and incompetant. A recent example of this can be seen in the Gogurt commercials where the father is preparing his kid’s lunch and the wife “busts his balls,” so to speak, for not packing a well-balenced lunch, which, for purposes of the commercial, means a Gugurt. Another example is the Allstate commercial where the couple is sitting in a cafe and the female driver receives the safe driving bonus check where as her husband or boyfriend does not. That is a common theme in many Allstate commercials. Interestingly enough, this vanishing man dilemma appears to be mostly limited to white men, while black men are usually portrayed as strong, masculine, and leaders in the house. However, in movies, black men are still more often portrayed as the villain and the white guy as the hero–a discussion for another time.

The cast of "Will and Grace." From left: Will, Jack, Karen, Grace

The cast of “Will and Grace.” From left: Will, Jack, Karen, Grace

Switching gears for a moment, the portrayal of gay males (mostly white) in the media has also changed over the last decade. Traditionally when portrayed, if portrayed at all, they were portrayed as silly, goofy, socially awkward, and the side-kick. But a lot has happened since the days of Will and Grace, which is arguably the launchpad of positive portrayal of a principle gay cast in a popular show. Generally speaking, gay [mostly white] males are now shown in a very positive light with characteristics from the silly to the serious in ads, television, and movies. A good example of this would be ABC’s Modern Family or the cancelled NBC show The New Normal, SmashProject Runway, and Glee are also examples of recent shows that feature prominent gay characters in a very positive/normal light, as opposed to the exaggerated characters of gay males in past shows.

Critically examining the media, it becomes clear that white heterosexual men are being systematically stereotyped as week, stupid, immature; and, it appears as though they are the only demographic group being portrayed that way on a regular basis. The desire not to offend gay men and heterosexual women has caused heterosexual men to be on the short end of the stick. In an effort to balance the scale of the representation of white men versus all other demographic groups/minorities, the media has tipped the scale in favor of the minority groups and not thought of how the portrayal is affecting men over the long run. In real life, there are gay, straight, black, white men of all personality types from the serious and responsible to the silly and ill-driven. So when we see only one side of that picture, the media just isn’t portraying a realistic portrait of men as they are today. In both television and movies, it appears as though women are being appealed to by making fun of men and showing them as ineffectual lovers and incompetent. This is increasingly witnessed in sitcoms because dramas have to be more serious and realistic, and not as regularly portrayed in works of cinema.

Not only in narrative television do you find this depiction of men, but you can increasingly find it in advertising as well. Advertisers have always known they need to write the commercials for the one in the family (or household) who does the shopping. Since a growing number of women are the keepers of the purse strings, it makes since for advertisers to gear advertisements toward women because it increases the probability that the product will be purchased. In the past, advertisements showed women how they could please their men by purchasing the right products and services. But now, we see advertising appealing to women by making fun of men. And, this is often combined with the topics that often come up during a girls night out. So, you will often see commercials highlight the incompetent father. In recent studies, research shows that 2/3 of younger men (teens, 20s, and 30s) enjoy shopping. Furthermore, with the numbers of married or partnered couples dwindling and young professionals staying single much longer than in the last generation, it will become necessary for advertisers of household items to appeal to both men and women. And if they are to sell to men, advertisers will need to ease up on how men have been portrayed in household item commercials. Again, this is a generalization because obviously there are commercials that are either neutral or appeal to the men of the house.

By making fun of men in order to appeal to women, are producers and advertisers accomplishing their goal? And, does this actually affect women’s attitudes toward produces, services, and entertainment? Perhaps this is a backlash to being looked down upon for such a long time. Many may see it that way. But, it still does not make it right or fair. Whatever the case, societal norms are changing and men and women are finding themselves in new roles. And, the American idea of masculinity is evolving rapidly as there is a wide range of stereotypes of male in the media ranging from the abusive to the grotesque and from the serious to the silly. In these roles, men are portrayed from only being able to solve problems through brut force to the gay male who relies upon sensitivity and creativity to the metrosexual (straight/effeminate) male. And in that realm of confusion, that may explain why we see these more negative representations of heterosexual males.

Striking a balance in the portrayal of genders in the media is a game

Striking a balance in the portrayal of genders in the media is a game

Hopefully, highlighting this issue will open the door for communication and discussion in terms of gender roles in todays’ society and how various groups of people are represented in the media. Perhaps, maybe this will help producers and advertisers to show all types of people in a more realistic light and not stereotype one group more negatively than another. Due to children being probably more porous than ever, and shaping their world view of men by how they view males in the media, perhaps this will encourage the creators of content not to paint men in such a negative way because there are plenty of examples of wonderful fathers, husbands, and boyfriends out in the world. Research shows that kids’ perceptions of men on television are not positive. And this is a dangerous slope. Many children see men on television as stupid and inept and women are portrayed as effective and intelligent. However, more recent commercials and shows have made an effort to show men in a more favorable light, and we could be seeing the pendulum swing back to a more neutral position.

One thing is for sure, it is up to the parent(s) to guide children as to what is real and not real. And, that males and females in television may not always exhibit characteristics that are desirable in the real world. It is important to stress that stereotypes do not represent reality, but merely a creative twist or embellishment on reality. At the end of the day, characters are created to sell a show. But, it is important to recognize that men may be being dealt a bad hand by the media, and creators should step back to see that the very thing that happened to women and gay males in the past is effecting the portrayal of heterosexual men today.

 

References

  • Abernathy, M., Professor of Communication Studies, Indiana University
  • Lucas, S., Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Lake Tahoe Community College
  • Gender Ads Project, Accessed from http://www.genderads.com
  • Basow, S.A., Stereotypes and Roles, Thomson/Brooks Cole, 1992
  • Reeves, B., Children’s Perceptions of TV Characters, Human Communication Research, Vol 3, Issue 2