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Representing Youth with Disability on Television

Glee, Breaking Bad, and Parenthood


Dana Hasson

Representing Youth with Disability on Television is a complex and multidimensional mainstream cultural discourse that examines specific stereotypes in fictional programming. The book draws attention to the group labeled as disabled, which is often marginalized, misrepresented, and misunderstood in the media, by analyzing the popular television programs Glee, Breaking Bad, and Parenthood. To obtain a more rigorous account of the way that youth (9–18 years of age) with disability are framed on television, this analysis examines the following issues: how research on popular culture is contextualized within social theory; the theoretical perspectives on representations of disability in popular culture; and the various contexts, genres, media, representations, and definitions of youth with disability in popular culture. The text also outlines the historical growth of disability, which is crucial for a discussion regarding the changing dimensions of popular culture. Critical hermeneutics, content analysis, and methodological bricolage are the mélange of methodologies used to closely examine the dominant models of disability (social vs. medical) used in the portrayal of disabled youth on television today.
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Chapter 3. What Do Popular Culture, Television, and Youth Have to Do with It?


← 46 | 47 →Chapter Three

What Do Popular Culture, Television, and Youth Have to Do with It?

Few subjects range as far and vary as frequently as does popular culture. It seems to embrace all and to discard much. Its consistency is change. Like the escalator that is now so essential to the shopping center, sports arena and airport, it moves regularly, conveying us all up and down to different levels of engagement and distraction, to goods and pleasures regularly arranged to attract, to appeal, to entice. (Betts, 2004, Preface)

Historical Overview

Patterns of television viewing and practices have changed dramatically over the last 60 years. To better understand this trend, I begin this section with a working definition of popular culture. In academia, the debate over the validity of the concept of popular culture continues. For example, some researchers of popular culture (Steinberg & Kincheloe, 2004) have argued that it reflects the attitudes of the younger generation, and we need to include it in educational forums (i.e., the school ← 47 | 48 →curriculum, everyday interactions between teacher/student), whereas others (for example, Storey, 2001) have pointed out that popular culture is the residue of what is left over from “high culture” or what is considered well renowned by the upper classes of society (those individuals with wealth, distinction, and power) with respect to art, music, film, and literature. Nevertheless, in the past 30 years, the study of popular culture has evolved to become a...

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