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Representing Youth with Disability on Television

Glee, Breaking Bad, and Parenthood

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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 6. Game of Themes

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← 78 | 79 →Chapter Six

Game of Themes

Focusing on the roles that youth with disabilities (9–18 years of age) play on Parenthood, Breaking Bad, and Glee, I used a thematic analysis approach to determine the recurring themes, sub-themes, and patterns that may influence audience perceptions of youth living with disabilities. To accomplish an analysis of this nature, I moved away from descriptions to a more categorical, analytic, and theoretical level of coding. The intention of this analysis is to discover where and how youth with disabilities are being represented within contemporary network and cable television and to what effects.

Influenced by postmodern philosophies on deconstructing messages, semiotics, and language (Barthes, 1975; Derrida, 1967/1976; McLuhan, 1964), and using Hall’s (2006) theory on encoding and decoding, I examined the limits and parameters of the encoding/decoding process that the audiences of these shows might perform. According to Hall (2006), one of the key characteristics of the process is encoding the “receiver’s” acceptance of the message as meaningful discourse, which can then be decoded. The decoded message and its associated meanings “‘have an effect,’ influence, entertain, instruct or persuade, ← 79 | 80 →with very complex perceptual, cognitive, emotional, ideological or behavioral consequences” (Hall, 2006, p. 165). Within this coding system, individuals might arrive at multiple, oppositional meanings. The coding system serves to condense possible meanings by encouraging an audience to arrive at dominant or preferred meanings, which are secured through multiple viewings, observations, and interpretations (Hall, 2006)...

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