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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 7. “Breaking” Down the Content


← 102 | 103 →Chapter Seven

“Breaking” Down the Content

The purpose of this study was to examine the various themes related to disability, particularly youth with disability, in three TV series—Glee, Parenthood, and Breaking Bad—to get a better sense of how these popular television programs include this population in their repertoire. This work builds upon previous research in the field of disability, media, and critical youth studies.

I chose to examine the representations of youth living with disabilities in three primetime television programs on two major networks (NBC, Fox) and one cable network (AMC). Specifically, I looked at episodes featured in Season 1, each an hour long. Through a thematic analysis, I found major themes related to the depictions of contemporary disability in these dramas. I decided whether a pattern was a theme based on its frequency and relevance to disability as it exists in the educational environment of the high schools of these programs. For example, was disability depicted inclusively? Are the images used to represent disability stereotypical? Is bullying involved in these representations, and if so, is it physical or emotional? Are the educators and schools integrated into the lives of the disabled characters, and ← 103 | 104 →how are they portrayed? These are the types of questions that started to form as I examined the shows. I also found that these were the topics most widely discussed in the media on news programs and on social networking sites (i.e., Twitter, Facebook)...

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