Theory Analysis of Parks and Rec

Media Effects Theories Analysis: Parks and Recreation Luisa Estefania Villarreal April 20, 2015


Cumulative Media Effects

Transcript of Theory Analysis of Parks and Rec

Media Effects Theories Analysis: Parks and Recreation

Luisa Estefania Villarreal

April 20, 2015

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Media Effects Theory Analysis: Parks and Recreation

The applications of Cultivation theory and Desensitization theory are based on

cumulative scenarios within the Parks and Recreation television show. Parks and Recreation is a

popular mockumentary that debuted in April 2009. (1) This show is based around the city

government of Pawnee, Indiana, specifically the parks and recreation department. The

department is pretty much run by Leslie Knope. The rest of the cast acts as part of the

department or the government. The adversaries usually are part of the local businesses, political

figures, government officials, coworkers, and the citizens of Pawnee themselves. At times, the

challenges come with trying to get projects done and not having the resources.

Cultivation Theory

Cultivation theory depicts that the outcome of being exposed to television’s

demographics over time affects our beliefs and attitudes on reality. As we are exposed to what is

on television, we set beliefs on the demographics found on a particular that show. Your beliefs

then become the attitudes, judgments, and likes or dislikes. These attitudes may also become

intentions to particular behaviors. (K. Drogos, lecture, March 30, 2015)

This clip shows a different demographic from what traditional government officials have

been through out American television. (2) First, the main character is a female in a leadership

position. Secondly, a man plays her assistant with a different ethnic background than just white.

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Both of these characters contradict established stereotypes and schemas based on their

roles and gender. One of those schemas may be that women are usually in the place of the

administrative assistant, and not the other way around as shown here. Leslie Knope sets an

example of a courageous, passionate woman that takes matters into her own hands. She takes

risks, she is organized, and she is always prepared. Leslie is a dedicated, caring, and very

passionate leader with a strong sense of doing what is good for her hometown. This is a different

tone of approach towards women in leadership than what shows on television most often portray.

Usually, television portrays men in leadership roles and as the main character in television

shows. Based on the cultivation theory, the more they increase the inclusion of women in

leadership roles, the more they built a different belief on the roles women should have and the

more normal it will become.

A small-town teenage girl, who normally shies away from speaking her mind, is exposed

to Parks and Recreation for the first time while flipping through the channels. She is watching

the pilot, and so far she is not really processing the information, she is just being entertained. She

is not consciously watching Parks and Recreation because of her interests, but rather seeks out

the show to pass the time.

As she continues to watch the show everyday for the next couple of weeks to just pass the

time, she is now being more exposed to a different, less traditional demographic. She sees a

woman playing the main role, and that main role is in a leadership position. The show also

emphasizes on the main character tackling big projects, getting those projects done, and

incorporating new ideas in a small town.

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As she lives through her day to day life, she makes the beliefs that women, like Leslie,

get things done, they are looking out for the good of the people and not taking advantage of their

power, Pawnee is small town like hers and it needs to be improved, and that men are usually not

working towards initiating, but rather supporting Leslie. This leads her to believe that being part

of your government is a fun adventure and a good way to give back to the town she lives in.

As this young girl continues to watch, every episode reinforces her beliefs without her

consciously knowing so. The more she watches the more she grows to like Leslie as a leader.

And after she finishes an episode, she wishes to participate in more leadership roles.

Over long period of exposure, she now has an attitude established about women in

government. Because of this, she now intents to participate in her school’s student government

and in the future, intern at her local municipal offices. She doesn’t truly know why all of the

sudden she has this aspirations, but has established strong attitudes about women being a part of

government. But when she joins and she faces a completely different experience than what she

has seen on Parks and Recreation, then cultivation will not occur and her experience will take the

place of those beliefs established through the show. (Drogos, K., Lecture, March 30, 2015)

Television shows, like this one, have the power to set a positive or negative reality in a

young person’s life because they’re still in an age where they are shaping the world around them

and in them. Having women play the main characters and be portrayed in a leadership positions

more often can encourage more young girls to participate in such roles. Cultivation theory tells

us that television reality impacts our own reality over time. In real life, we then apply those

beliefs to our everyday life. Therefore, I would promote more characters that influence youth in a

positive way, as well as making more ethnically diverse characters, so that they can relate to

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them. Seeing more female characters playing the main role of a show and including more

ethnicities in prospect situations can then lead to a new normal and create healthy stereotypes

based on race, gender, age, sexuality, etc.

Desensitization Theory

Desensitization theory refers to the outcome and effect of being exposed to negative

affect-producing content repeatedly. The more a person is exposed to this content the more their

response to the negative affect-producing content, and the specific negative behavior, is reduced.

Initially, this causes a change in the way they view the content overtime, but it could also lead to

the person becoming immune to the negative behavior when witnessing the behavior and/or

cause the viewer to actually engage in the behavior itself. (K. Drogos, lecture, April 1, 2015)

The constant abuse, bullying and harassment towards Jerry, also known as Gary or Larry,

are an example of behavior that usually causes negative emotions after exposure. Witnessing that

kind of behavior should produce an uncomfortable, disturbing feeling and probably enrage

people. This clearly negative behavior is used for humor in almost every episode of the show

Parks and Recreation.

This clip accumulates instances when Gary was called by a completely different name

than his actual name throughout the show Parks and Recreation. (3) He is made fun of and is

addressed in a very demeaning manner.

A high school freshman comes across Parks and Recreation on Netflix. As he watches for

the very first time, he notices that Gary is the butt of all the jokes in the office, and at first he

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finds it very unkind and offensive. On the very first episode he watches, he feels sorry for Gary

and doesn’t like the way he is being treated. He then notices that everyone else in the show is

laughing at him, and Gary seems to laugh along too, even when he doesn’t get that they’re

making fun of him.

This high school freshman keeps watching a couple more episodes, and then he catches

himself laughing at some of Gary’s misfortunes. He finds the show to be hilarious and tunes in

the next day to binge watch a few more episodes.

This time around, he laughs at the mishaps, the pranks, and the jokes made around Gary.

Towards the end, this high school freshman laughs at April’s remark on Gary’s bad luck with his

name being spelled wrong in a check. He even goes as far as repeating to the TV, “ Yeah,

Larry!” and does not feel any remorse or even thinks much of it. He just laughs.

Over his exposure to these jokes, this high school freshman no longer feels

uncomfortable at the sight of bullying, shaming, or verbal abuse. He instead finds these negative

behaviors portrayed in Parks and Recreation as comical and fun. Because of the desensitization

effect, when he witnesses a fellow classmate being made fun of by a junior, he joins in and

begins to make fun of his classmate instead of standing up for them or stopping the behavior.

Desensitization predicts that negative actions like bullying and verbal abuse become less

severe in the perspective of the viewer as they watch the content over time. A lot of comedic

shows like this one use humor to hide or introduce negative content in a more laid-back and less

uncomfortable manner. Therefore, there should be more precaution on what topics are being

portrayed as humorous and light-hearted. I don’t believe there always has to be a character, like

Gary, that is constantly being made fun of for “having bad luck” or just because their different.

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This promotes bullying and abuse, and it makes it okay for others to do the same. I propose

changing the way comedic shows view people and their circumstances and using them as the

joke. Instead, have more shows focusing on writing jokes based on life events. For example,

turning a bad situation into a funny one, but without targeting a person. This would lead to a

more positive outlook in life.

Cultivation Theory vs. Desensitization Theory

Cultivation theory and desensitization theory both predict an effect at the individual level.

These theories focus on what happens within the individual’s thoughts and emotions. Like

mentioned in both examples, we see an internal process of adopting the effect over cumulative

times of exposure. Both of these effects are a long-term change, but a very slow process to

change because of the cumulative exposure aspect in these theories. Both of these theories are

also focused on a person’s perception of roles and behaviors. They are affect-focused and predict

effects within a person’s attitudes and beliefs on what they are exposed to.

Although both of these theories are affective-focused, cultivation theory focuses on a

cognitive impact as well and can produce a positive or negative effect, depending on the context.

Desensitization theory produces a negative outcome because the effect reduces the reaction to a

negative affect-producing content, making the person more immune to the behaviors presented.

None of these predict an exact behavior, but both highly suggest a person is more likely to act on

their attitudes the more they are exposed to content, for it reinforces their existing attitudes and


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