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Humor and attitude toward homosexuals :
b the case of Will & Grace
h [electronic resource] /
by Heather Cribbs.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 67 pages.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: Data collected from a survey questionnaire disseminated to college students was used to examine the relationship between humor in the mass media on audience attitude. This research study attempted to link the comedic nature of media with a heightened tolerance toward unpopular messages by looking specifically at the show Will & Grace. Results supported the hypothesized positive relationship between humor on attitudes toward the show, as well as attitudes toward real life homosexuals. In addition, distraction and interpersonal communication served as mediators between humor and attitudes. Results supported positive relationships between humor and both distraction and interpersonal communication, and supported the mediated path involving distraction. But the interpersonal communication mediated path was negative. Results, implications, and recommendations for future research are discussed.
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Advisor: Scott Liu, Ph.D.
x Mass Communications
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Humor and Attitude Toward Homosexuals: The Case of Will & Grace by Heather Cribbs A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement s for the degree of Master of Arts School of Mass Communications College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Scott Liu, Ph.D. Randy Miller, Ph.D. Roxanne Watson, Ph.D. Date of Approval: July 17, 2009 Keywords: humor, contact hypothesis, para-social, homosexual acceptance, distraction Copyright 2009, Heather Cribbs
i Table of Contents List of Tables iii List of Figures iv Abstract v Chapter One Introduction 1 Overview 1 Why Homose xuality, Why Will and Grace? 2 Signific ance of the Study 5 Chapter Two Review of Relevant Literature 6 Humor 6 Distraction 9 Inte rpersonal Communication 13 Chapter Three Research Hypotheses 24 List of Hypotheses 26 Chapter Four Research Design 28 Structural Equation Model 28 Re search Methodology 29 Selection of Sample 29 Survey Instrument 30 Data Gathering 31 Measures 31 Humor of the Show 31 Distraction Level 32 Perceived Level of Inte rpersonal Communication 32 Attitude Toward the Show 32 Attitude Toward Gays/Homosexuals 33 Frequency 33 Chapter Five Results 35 De scriptive Results 36 Measur ement Model Evaluation 39 Structur al Model Results Analysis 39 In-Dept h Key Path Analysis 40
ii Chapter Six Discussion and Recommendations 44 Implications 46 Limitations 48 References 50 Appendices 55 Appendix A: Extended Path Diagram 56 Appendix B: Survey Questionnaire 57 Appendix C: Surv ey Questions and Variables 61 Appendix D: Hypotheses 63 Appendix E: Frequency Distributions 64
iii List of Tables Table 1 Descriptive Results 36 Table 2 Measurement Model Results 38
iv List of Figures Figure 1 Model of Hypothesized Paths 24 Figure 2 Structural Equation Model 28 Figure 3 Structural Model Results 35 Figure 4 Portion A of the Path Diagram 40 Figure 5 Portion B of the Path Diagram 41 Figure 6 Portion C of the Path Diagram 42 Figure 7 Portion D of the Path Diagram 42 Figure 8 Extended Path Diagram 56
v Humor and Attitude Toward Homosexuals: The Case of Will & Grace Heather Cribbs ABSTRACT Data collected from a survey ques tionnaire disseminated to college students was used to examine the rela tionship between humor in the mass media on audience attitude. This resear ch study attempted to link the comedic nature of media with a heightened to lerance toward unpopular messages by looking specifically at the show Will & Grace. Results supported the hypothesized positive relationship between humor on attitudes toward the show, as well as attitudes toward real life hom osexuals. In addition, distraction and interpersonal communication served as m ediators between humor and attitudes. Results supported positive relationships between humor and both distraction and interpersonal communication, and suppor ted the mediated path involving distraction. But the interpersonal co mmunication mediated path was negative. Results, implications, and recommendations for future resear ch are discussed.
1 Chapter One Introduction Overview Many studies using cultivation analysi s have shown that television shapes an audiences views on particular social gr oups, such as racial groups, specific genders, or religious sects. Cultivat ion theory suggests that audiences who watch many hours of television portrayals develop and cultivate views of society consistent with the patterns of tele visions pseudo-reality (Nacos, 2000). Subsequently, cultivation anal ysis measures the extent to which television plays a role in shaping audience views and perceptions. This research study hopes to link the comedic nature of media with a heightened to lerance toward unpopular messages by looking specifically at the show Will & Grace. Studies have shown humor to be a means of facilitating relationships, defining and redefinin g a situation, easing tension brought on by new information, and in many cases, a social lubricant (Graham, Papa & Brooks, 1992). Studies also support humor as a technique of social influence. OQuin and Aronoff (1981) refer to politician Henry Kissi ngers use of humor to lighten the international diplomatic scene, which affe cted his success as a negotiator. It is reasonable to look into humors effect s, particularly when used by the mass media.
2 Why Homosexuality, Why Will and Grace? To put it mildly, homosexuality has had a tremendously difficult time gaining acceptance in American society. Historically, homosexuality has been kept secret, or in the closet, and not accepted by the mainstream. Homosexuals have suffered physical abuse, familial rejection, and have even been subject to fines and jail time. Though homosexuality can be dated back to even the earliest human civilizations, doc umentation in the U.S. dates back mainly to around the beginning of the 20th century. It is possible that the burgeoning rise of capitalism is to blame, as many found themselves migrating to more industrialized cities to find work, and in turn found themselves outside of traditional familial and religious communities, (McWorter, 1996). However, it has taken nearly a cent ury for the traditional familial and religious presuppositions to leave the mi nds of American society, and many would say Americans still arent fully ri d of the stronghold. One reason for homosexuality not being accepted by society could perhaps be because lawmakers throughout the cent ury have deemed the practice illegal. In addition, President Eisenhower, by executive order, deemed homosexu ality a sufficient and necessary reason to fire any federal employee from his or her job in 1953, and the order lasted until 1993. Mainst ream religious organizations have condemned the practice and those who su pport it. And even the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexual ity as a mental illness until 1973.
3 What is interesting to note is the hom osexuals transition in society from criminal to comic relief. Cooper (2003) cites historian George Chauncey as saying, When gay men were being assaul ted (in the 30s and 40s), having a sharp wit could often diffuse dangerous encounters, (p. 514). In the past decade, popular culture and m edia presentations, with films such as My Best Friends Wedding and The Birdcage, as well as the television show Will & Grace, have portrayed homosexua ls in a comedic light. Will & Grace first aired in 1998 on NBC. The show centered around an openly gay male lawyer, Will, and his pl atonic relationship with heterosexual female interior designer, Grace. Surpri singly, the show garnered critical praise, and immediately did well with audiences. Ratings were high enough to secure a slot in the Thursday night NBC must see TV lineup, which brought in a substantial amount of advertising dollars. Schiappa, Gregg & Hewes (2005) refe rred to Will & Grace as an unusual communication phenomenon, (p.1). The success of Will & Grace is most interesting because of the relatively non-existent history of homosexual characters and storylines on television. As history shows, homosexuality was rarely accepted in real life American societ y, and as a result was seldom, if ever, seen in television plot lines. The year 1972 saw the first made-for-television movie with a gay theme, and ever since, the presence of homosexual themes and characters has been scarce. The mate rial that did air was often met with critical praise, but petitioned by social gr oups, rejected by affiliates, or censured by legislatures. Even one of the firs t comedic homosexual characters, Jodie
4 Dallas of the ABC sitcom Soap would later be written as bisexual in the shows third season (McCollum, 2006). Audiences just didnt seem ready for homosexuality in the mainst ream. By 1995, homosex ual characters accounted for 0.6 percent of the TV population, significantly le ss than estimated rates of homosexuality in the U.S. population (Shanahan & Morgan, 1999, p. 94). How then could Will & Grace become so popular ju st three years late r? And, more importantly, did it affect the way a udiences formed their perceptions of homosexuals? According to studies over the years, negative attitudes toward homosexuals are seen as pervasive among the general adult population (Herek & Glunt, 1993), as well as among college students (DAugelli & Ro se, 1990), and adolescents (Morrison, Parriag, & Morrison, 1999). Gallup polls dating back to 1982 state that only 34% of those polle d agreed that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle (Saad, 2008). This vi ew increased over the years, and was up to 42% in 1997, the year before Will & Gr ace aired. Interestingly, this number jumped to 50% in 1999, the year afte r the show first ai red (Saad, 2008). It seems reasonable to explore what role, if any, television has had in affecting audience attitudes toward homos exuals. The goal of this research study is to identify a positive correlati on between the humor of Will & Grace and its popularity, particularly the accept ance of the homosexual characters and themes.
5 Significance of the Study This study does not delve into the s pecific perceptions and stereotypes held by viewers, nor does it discuss any causal relationships between Will & Grace and a reduction or diffusion of prej udice. It is concer ned with the attitudes held by viewers toward homosexuals, both on the show Will & Grace and in real life, and how these attitudes are in fluenced by the presence of humor. The significance of this study is two-fold. Narrowly speaking, the study is designed to test theoretical explanations of the effe ct of humorous television content on the change of audience attitudes On a broader level, the study has implications for research on the social f unctions of mass media. After fleshing out a structural model through a review of literature, research questions will be presented, then the resu lts of an empirical survey will be discussed.
6 Chapter Two Review of Relevant Literature Prior research has been devoted to the area of humor and persuasion, particularly its ability to dist ract viewers. This distra ction, it has been found, often leads the distracted to let their guards down, reduce their c ounterarguments, and accept the messages being presented to them. In addition, research supporting the notion of perceived interpersonal contact through television viewing suggests that audiences get a one-on-one feel with the characters of television programs. It has been suggested that interpersonal communication in any fo rm could reduce prejudice among the communicators, and humor has been found to facilitate interpersonal communication. Humor Much of the research regarding humo r suggests that it is an effective persuasive tool, especially in the area of advertising. Leavitt (1970) linked humor with an advertisements ability to enhance audience attention. Sternthal and Craig (1973), among ot hers, maintain that humor increases the probability of communication acceptance. They state t hat humor appears to be linked to the
7 attention value attributed to television commercials (p.13). But beyond mere attention, humor, it seems, has the abili ty to humanize its message, allowing the communicator to speak to the members of his audience on their own level, (p. 12). In his study, Leavitt (1970) asked the question, On what dimensions can viewers rate television commercials? Beginning with 525 descriptors, Leavitt filtered the words to 45 using a series of factor analyses. The final analysis resulted in seven factors: Energetic, Amus ing, Personal Influence, Authoritative, Sensual, Familiar, Novel, and Disliked. The energetic factor accounted for 55% of the total variance and was by far the mo st important. Interestingly, words used in this category to describe the commerc ials were also used for the amusing category. This, according to Leavitt implies that television humor tends to be fast paced (p.428). The fast paced nature creat ed by television humor, it can be said, could energize the audience and affect audi ence mood positively. Or, it could move too fast for audiences to keep up with, lessening their chance for counterargument, or even to form an informed opinion at all. Sternthal and Craig (1973) examined humor research and support the belief that humor does have an effect on an advertisements message, and is in fact an effective persuasive vehicle. T hey address the difficult nature of even defining humor on a universal scale. One approach, according to the study, defines humor in terms of its stimulus pr operties. For instance, whether or not an advertisement uses puns, jokes, sati re, etc. The second approach discussed defines humor in terms of the responses elicited to a stimulus, and often marked
8 by smiles, laughter, and heightened arous al. The approach used for the purposes of the study was the perceptual response approach. This involved audience recording of whether or not they perceived a message to be humorous. The study looked at two main ar eas: humor and creat ive strategy, and humor and vehicle selection. It found that, across the boar d, humor in the creative strategy of a me ssage enhances audience attenti on. But, the study also found that sometimes the use of humor does not always equal message comprehension. Sternthal and Craig (1973) suggest that any studies of humor should measure comprehension as well as attitudes toward the messages. They suggest that the preferred me thod of researching humor is to compare the persuasive effects of hum orous and serious messages, as opposed to just examining humors influence. However, in regard to message comprehension, studies that compared t he retention of persuasive humorous and serious material failed to fi nd significant differences attributable to the level of humor present (p.14). In addition, studies of pers uasion also suggested that although humor does induce attitude change, it does not do so to a significant degree more than serious messages. Despite these findings, Sternthal and Craig (1973) feel strongl y that these studies suffer from methodological inadequacies, among other interpretive issues, and that humor should be considered an important fact or in audience persuasion. Communication source also plays a role in the persuasiveness of a humorous message. In studies where the source was revealed to be trustworthy or an expert, humor was found to be pers uasive. In addition, unidentified
9 sources who delivered the messages we re found to have greater character attributes if they delivered a humor ous message as opposed to a serious message. Furthermore, if the message itse lf is dull or unappeal ing, delivering it with humor may enhance the audiences pe rception of the message source. In his review of humor studi es, Gruner (1976) found that the communicator who chooses to use humor in discourse is likely to improve their image with the audience. Many studies focusing on teachers in classroom settings have found that teachers who employed humor were preferred by students. These teachers were viewed as very approachable and more able to build positive rapport with students. Humor was also found to aid in the establishment of developing relationshi ps (Weaver & Cotrell, 1991) and in creating an open and relaxed atmospher e (Gilliand & Mauritsen, 1971). Distraction In regard to distraction, Sternthal and Craig posit that humor distracts an audience during the presentation of a pers uasive communication. Distraction, in turn, inhibits those audience member s who initially oppose the arguments advanced in the persuasive messages from generating and rehearsing counterarguments (p. 14). The reduction of c ounterarguments results in message acceptance. In other words, people are more likely to be persuaded by a message when distraction is present than if it is not present. Osterhouse and Brock (1970) also found that increasing the level of distraction results in a decrease in counterarguments and an increase in
10 persuasion. In their study, college students listened to a pre-recorded message about increasing tuition by fifty percent. They were divided into three groups and given separate treatments. One group was given a hi gh distraction treatment, another was given a moderate distracti on treatment, and the final group was given a non-distraction treatment. The high distraction group was given di rections to listen to the speech, while simultaneously observing four colored lights in front of them. When a light was turned on, the participants were to call out the corresponding number assigned to the light. They were given an average of 24 light flashes per minute. Those in the moderate distraction group were given an average of 12 light flashes per minute. Finally, those in t he non-distraction group werent given any. After listening to the communication, par ticipants completed a questionnaire that assessed their attitudes toward the tuiti on increase, provided them an opportunity to put forth a counterargum ent, and measured their level of recall of the facts discussed in the pre-recorded communication. All participants were able to recall facts, and those in both the high and moderately distracted treatm ent groups were able to accurately respond to the colored lights. The most interesting resu lt was that as the level of distraction increased, there was an increase in comm unication acceptance. Participants who were not distracted produced signifi cantly more counterarguments than those who were. In their seminal study of persuasi on, Festinger and Maccoby (1964) found that distraction facilitates the acceptance of counter-attitudinal communications.
11 They proposed that individuals te nd to present c ounterarguments when confronted with a message with which they disagree. Resistance is weakened when there is interference with count erargumentation. Their method of interference? Humor. In their study, Festinger and Maccoby (1964) placed members of a fraternity in two groups. One group viewed a hum orous film while listening to an anti-fraternity message; t he other group listened to the same antifraternity message, but wit hout watching the humorous film. Those who viewed the film showed greater acceptance to the message than those who did not view the film. The presence of humor provided a distra ction, and affected their attitudes. Other research in the ar ea of distraction suggests that positive affect experienced during message ex posure may transfer to the message itself, thus enhancing the acceptance of the pers uasive message. Burgess and Sales (1971) tested this by conducting two ex periments, wherein they presented participants with a series of nonsense words, and told t hem they would be tested for their recall of these words. Before the recall testing in the first experiment, participants were asked about t heir attitudes toward the context in which they took the test. Questions we re about the testing itself, the nonsense words, their surroundings, their feeli ngs toward the field of psychology, experiments, themselves, and life in general. In the second experiment, both positive and negative contexts were intentionally created. The researchers found that repetiti on of nonsense words in a positive context increased acceptance of the word s, while presentation in a negative
12 context increased rejection of the word s. They suggest that, like classical conditioning, context can affect attitudes of a previously neutral message. It can be assumed that, if humor, wh ich generally elicits positiv e feelings, were used to create the context of the dist racting situation, then attit udes, like that in the study, could result in a positive response. OQuin and Aronoff (1981) studied hum or as a technique of social influence and found that humor may be a po werful agent of change in everyday life, (p.355). They dist racted participants with humor in a buyer/seller format, and hypothesized that compliance was more likely to occur in participants who received the message with humor than t hose whose message was not received with humor. Participants were assigned to the position of buyer while the confederate served as the seller. The tw o were to haggle over the price of a painting. As hypothesized, participants who received a demand accompanied by humor made a greater fi nancial concession than those who did not receive humor. They also found that the par ticipants exposed to humor reported an increase in the enjoyment of the task. Citing Goff man (1967) and Zijderveld (1968), they agree that humor may allow the influenced person to save face by redefining the influence situation as one le ss threatening to him or herself, (p.354). In other words, because of this situational redefinition, or recontextualization, the si tuation isnt taken as seriously. This suggests that humor makes people less averse to conce ssions by lessening the importance of
13 the situation. Either way, humor does serve as a mean s of distraction, and in addition, can lead to positive attitude change. Interpersonal Communication This section of the liter ature review looks at interpersonal communication and its role in diffusing prejudices and increasing positive attitudes toward a stimulus. In addition, it will discuss how television can often simulate a real-life interpersonal connection. The goal is to show a connection between interpersonal communication and positive attitudes, and how humor could play a role in developing both. In a critical review of humor t heory and research, Sprowl (1987) argued that a primary goal of in terpersonal interaction is to enhance relationships with others and "humor serves as a valuabl e aid for the facilitation of that goal" (p. 58). Cheatwood (1983) s uggested that humor allows individuals to decrease social distance between themselves. In addition, Kane, et. al. (1977), suggested that this reduction of social distance is achieved by allowing individuals to probe each others values, motives, or intenti ons, and states humor as a facilitator. Kane also credits humor as being an ant ecedent to interpersonal attraction. According to Allports (1954) Contact Hypothesis, interpersonal contact is an effective way to reduce prejudice between minority and majority groups. Prejudice, he states, is a result of qui ckly made conclusions and generalizations about other groups based on incomplete or incorrect information. Other factors besides a negative initial experience incl ude mass mediated stereotypes, or what they have learned from family, friends or ot her members of their social circle. In
14 other words, assumptions are based more on hearsay, if not incomplete personal experience. Based on this assumption, pr ejudice can be reduced if one a) has a positive experience with a member of a particular group, and b) learns more about a particular group. Much research has been conducted supporting the importance of the contact portion of the C ontact Hypothesis. Amir (1976) among others has found that intimacy in contact vitally serves to reduce prejudice. Similarly, Works (1961) discusses the Prejudice-Interacti on Hypothesis in his study of white tenants of mixed racial hous ing complexes. The study took place in one housing project, but on separate sides. One si de, they found, was 94% occupied by black tenants and 6% white, while on the ot her side, 54% were occupied by black tenants and 46% were occupied by white t enants. Unlike many studies of the time, Works focused on prejudices held (or not held) by blacks against whites. He found that, as hypothesized, black tenan ts who lived on the integrated side of the housing project were far more acc epting than those who did not, and more importantly, was able to attribute this a cceptance to increased personal contact. Desforges, et. al, (1991) conducted a st udy testing the veracity of the Contact Hypothesis by using former mental patients as the minority subject. Students were chosen based on their res ponses to a survey about attitudes toward former mental patients. Thos e who had negative attitudes were selected for another experiment that involved interaction with a confederate student posing as a former mental patient. Two forms of cooperative contact were utilized jigsaw cooperative learning or scripted cooperative learning, while a
15 third method involved just studying in t he same room. Later, an unrelated study re-asked about their attitudes to ward formal mental patients. After participating in the learning activities with the supposed former mental patients, students who initiall y had negative attitudes toward former mental patients adopted more positive impre ssions of the confederates, more so than those who merely studied in the same room. Not only did they adopt a more positive attitude toward the specif ic confederate with which they came in contact, they also adopted a more positive attitude toward form er mental patients in general. In reference to homosexuals sp ecifically, Herek and Glunt (1993) examined the effect of interpersonal contact with acceptance of gay men and found a positive correlation. Their resear ch addressed the weak nesses of former studies that neglected to use reliable and valid attitude scales, as well as a large national probability sample. Their sample was selected using random digit dialing techniques, then interviewers a sked a series of questions regarding the respondents level of interpersonal contac t with homosexual men, as well as their attitudes toward homosexual men. Not only did they find that respondents with higher levels of personal contact reported hi gher levels of acceptance, they also found that interpersonal contact was the best predictor of attitudes toward gay men. After studying attitudes toward homosexuals every year for a period of nearly 20 years, Altameyer (2001) found t hat his subjects were experiencing a decrease in prejudice toward homosexua ls. (On a rather interesting note, a
16 notable significant increase in acceptanc e occurred in 1998, the year Will and Grace first aired.) On e common cause of the increased acceptance among subjects was an increase in contact wit h professed homosexuals. Altameyer described knowingly knowing a homosexua l as having a magical capacity to change minds (p.73). One of the studies asked a sample of 407 students to rate, on a 24 to +4 to -4 basis, the extent to which they had had certain experiences with homosexuals. Almost all experiences listed had a positive effect, with the item dealing with personal contact topping the lis t. For the item, I have personally known homosexuals and found that they are like everyone else except for sexual orientation, X = 7.26. According to Altm eyer, if the stereotypes are false, if homosexuals as a group behave in general like others (aside from their sexual orientation), then contact with them can prove the stereotypes wrong and reduce prejudice, (p.68). Another factor reported by Altameye r was that those who are considered hard core in their beliefs, described by the study as Right-W ing Authoritarians (RWAs), will change their attitudes if t hey perceive societal attitudes are changing. In fact, after showing the anony mous results to his classes who took the survey, which displayed a relatively favorable attitude toward homosexuals, he re-administered the survey and found t hat the High RWAs attitudes shifted twice as much as the Low RWAs. Further examples reported by the study were a decrease in practicing religious society members, an incr ease in research reports claiming
17 homosexuality is genetic, the changing face of AIDS from deserved to unfortunate, and an increase in positive media portrayals. Overby and Barth (2002) studied the ef fect of the Contact Hypothesis on homosexual men and lesbians, but took in to account community context. They used this context as a measure of opport unities for contact with homosexuals. Using a randomly generated national samp le, they tested a multivariate model using the community context variable and found that contact with homosexuals had a substantial impact on respondents a ttitudes toward homosexuals. Using a feeling thermometer, they studied the re sults of a telephone survey that asked questions about attitudes as well as demogr aphic information. According to the study, the size of the coefficient indicates that for every 1 percent increase in the percentage of gays in their community and holding all other factors constant, respondents reported a one-third of one degree increase in their feeling thermometer ratings of homosexuals. (p.453) Though the cause of interpersonal comm unication is not limited to humor, interpersonal communication does often l ead to positive attitudes. The next section of the interpersonal communica tion literature review discusses how television affects audience members and their views on the real world, specifically by simulating a real-life personal connection. As referenced earlier, Cultivation Theory concerns the effects of television viewing on audiences perceptions, atti tudes, and values. Developed in the 1960s by George Gerbner, it suggests that the pervasiveness of television
18 results in an effect on views, causing audiences to assume the views portrayed to them by what they see on television. For example, because of a large number of television shows involving law enfor cement officers, heavy television viewers often assume a higher percentage of the po pulation work in la w enforcement, or that crime rates are higher t han in reality. This is often based on a drip, drip belief which claims that audience member s are heavy viewers, but the portrayals are limited to the cu ltivated stereotype. Cultivation Theory has come under a lot of criticism throughout the years, and researchers have further expounded on the basic idea to test television effects more accurately. For instance, the extended cultivation hypothesis suggests that cultivation theory may onl y hold true for specific types and genres of television programs (McCleod et al., 1995). Graves (1999) study of young television viewers suggested Cultivation Theory causes viewers whose race is lacking or stereotyped to experience low self esteem. In addition, she agreed that the constant drip of restricted images would lead young viewers to develop stereotypes and prejudice, and concluded t hat among White ch ildren, there is evidence that positive portrayals are more likely to lead to positive attitudes, (p.10). Though still not considered a perfect theory, the idea does act as a spring board for examining televisi ons effects on viewers. Building upon Cultivation Theory, or perhaps what the theory lacked, is Greenbergs (1988) drench hypothesis. Th is is the belief that portrayals are more effective when they are more salient, or have more of an impact. In short, quality versus quantity. The drench hypot hesis is in general used to examine
19 positive portrayals, and suggests that w hen these positive portrayals are given more airtime, the viewers develop a mo re positive perception. These positive portrayals have a profound effect on the viewer because of their strength, intensity, or authenticity, (Grave s, 1999, p.6). Examples would be The Cosby Show and its portrayal of African Americans, or The Golden Girls and its portrayal of elderly women. Reep and Dambrot (1989) tested the dr ip and drench hypotheses against each other in their examination of gender roles on television. By examining shows where women had roles of author ity, they conducted an experiment wherein subject watched the shows portray ing women in non-stereotypical roles, then conducted a survey. They found supp ort for the drench hypothesis to be much higher then that for the drip hypot hesis. They concluded that televisions portrayal of a few, high-impact, non-stereot ypical characters is more important than sheer numbers of characters which make little or no impact, (p.556). Though there is much support fo r the drench hypothesis, many researchers agree that not a ll presentations, salient or not, have the same impact on audience members. To make a more in depth conclusion, Bahk (2001) considers three factors in his drench study of health messages: perceived realism, role identification, and media involvement. Perceived realism in this study is defined as the degree to which a vi ewer perceives that the content of a particular program is likely to be seen in the real world. Bahk cites other studies, such as Atkin (1983), who found that vi ewers with higher perceived realism are
20 more impacted by depictions of violence than viewers with lower levels of perceived realism. Role identification in this study refe rs to the degree to which the viewer feels attracted and affiliated with the char acters of the program. This supports studies by Sternthal and Craig (1973) Petty and Caciop po (1986), and others who claim message source as a credible factor in message acceptance. Bahk adds that people who become highly attrac ted to a dramatic character could be drenched by the characters advoca cy of certain beliefs, attitudes, and behavior, (p.191). He cite s other studies which found that likeable characters have more impact on viewers (Greenberg, e t. al., 1979), and that characters who are favored because of charmi ng qualities, such as humor are more likely to be imitated by viewers than those w ho are less favored (Bandura, 1977). Media involvement refers to the le vel of which the viewer is paying attention, captivated, or i nvolved with the media. B ahk posits that the level of media involvement is import ant because low levels can nullify message effects. Similarly, high levels of media involvement enhance message effects. According to Bahk, media involvement is influenced by three factors, the first of which is the characteristics of the media presentation. Fo r instance, if it is suspenseful, humorous, or boring. Ex citing presentations elicit more involvement, while tedious and boring pr esentations elicit less involvement (Bowen & Chaffee, 1974). The second infl uencer is the viewers pre-existing attitudes and personality. Bahk reports that some people are more prone to become involved than others based on their personal levels of empathy. The
21 third influencer is the view ers environmental and situat ional factors. This can include people the viewers ar e with, viewer motives, and sources of distraction, to name a few. Though discussion on the topic of in terpersonal communication and its role in diffusing prejudice may seem irre levant to a study of a television show, Horton and Wohls (1956) noti on of para-social interaction suggests that viewers form beliefs and attitudes about people through television because of a simulated interpersonal contact. In other word s, television provides an opportunity for interpersonal communication, albeit si mulated. One of the most striking characteristics of the new mass mediara dio, television, and the moviesis that they give the illusion of face-to-face re lationship with the per former, (p. 215). If an audience member has little to no contac t with a particular subgroup in their real life, para-social interaction can o ften serve as their window to these absent subgroups. Para-social interaction increases when the television performer acts informally, or like they are in real-life situat ions. This is most evident in television story programs, such as soap operas, si tuation comedies or dramas. These simulated story lines and characters allow a udiences to forget the action is taking place in a television studio, thus heightening the fee ling of reality. In addition, through the inclusion of others on the show, intimacy is personified, and the viewer by extension feels a part of that intimate group. Being part of a group nat urally assumes that group members share commonalities, perhaps even common views. According to Horton and Wohl,
22 the very act of entering into any interaction with another involves some adaptation to the others pers pectives, if communication is to be achieved at all (p. 219). This does not assume necessar ily that group members held the same views prior to joining said group. But, like the Contact Hypothesis states, through heightened positive interact ion with the simulated group, an increase in learning can take place, causing a decrease in prej udice. The level of intimacy created by television personas are seen as so powerful, that it is this level of intimate relationship that advertisers hope to capitalize on when having these personas endorse their products. Perse and Rubin (1989) expounded on the idea of para-social relationships and found para-social inte raction to be a normal consequence of television viewing (p.61). According to their study, most people use the same cognitive process for relationships in t he real world and those with the media. Real people and people in t he media, they found, have striking similarities and meet similar needs. Respondents in their study were asked to describe two of their peers, one liked and one disliked, as well as the attributes about these peers that made them like/di slike them. Then, respondents were to do the same exercise for soap opera characters. Cons truct systems were found to be linearly related, suggesting that audiences of te levision programming use a significant percentage of their interper sonal constructs for real life personalities when they describe television personalities. Schiappa, Gregg & Hewes (2005) mer ged the Contact Hypothesis along with the theory of Parasocial Interact ion to form the Pa rasocial Contact
23 Hypothesis. The PCH, as they referred to it, suggested that e xposure to positive portrayals of minority group members that produce parasoc ial interaction will be associated with a decrease in prejudicial attitudes, (p.5). They looked specifically at Will & Grace and tested to see if the show had a direct effect on the reduction of prejudices against homosexuals. They administered a 74-item survey to college students assessing thei r viewing frequency, attitudes toward the show, as well as their level of inte raction with homosexuals, both real life and para-social. Results indicated that respondents found the portrayals of the characters to be positive and had positiv e correlations between high viewing frequency and low levels of prejudice. There was also a positive correlation between high levels of para-social cont act and reduced level of prejudice. Interpersonal communication, both in the real world and simulated through para-social contact, has been shown to increase positive attitudes and decrease prejudice. The literature s upports these attitude changes particularly in the social realm of racial prejudice and prejudice against homosexuals. It also supports that positive portrayals and experiences are conduits to the development of positive attitudes. Though humor was not nec essarily used in the prior studies, it can be assumed that humor because it is a positive stimulus, could be an effective catalyst to po sitive attitude change.
24 Chapter Three Research Hypotheses After reviewing the literature, this study has chosen five variables to represent the hypothesized pat hs and structural model. T hese five variables are: humor (HUMOR), distraction level (DIS ), perceived level of interpersonal communication (IP), attitude toward the show (ATTS), and attitude toward those who are gay in real life (ATTG). Figure 1 Model of Hypothesized Paths HUMOR ATTS ATTG DIS IP
25 As depicted in the figure, humor (HUM OR) is the starting point for all findings in this research study. All vari ables in the model are first affected by humor, some directly, and some through a m ediated relationship. The direct legs of the path HUMOR ATTS, HUMOR DIS, HUMOR IP are recognized in the model as well as mediated paths HUMOR DIS ATTS, HUMOR IP ATTS, HUMOR ATTS ATTG. Distraction (DIS) and interpersonal commu nication (IP) are not related to one another, but both act as m ediators in different portions of the path. Based on the review of literature, humor has been shown to affect both variables. Though they are affected in different ways by different means, both affects have been found to be positive. Both serve as mediators between humor and attitude toward the show (ATTS). Attitude toward the show is an impor tant factor, not only because the study is based largely on respondents atti tude toward the show, but because it acts as a mediator between humor and atti tude toward real life people who are gay (ATTG). The review of literatur e shows support for attitudes toward television characters resembling attitudes held toward real life people. The model represents this para-social real m and its potential effects in the real world.
26 List of Hypotheses Using the five variables depicted in Figure 1, the following hypotheses were developed: H1: There will be a positive relationship between the perceived level of humor and attitude toward the show and/or characters. (HUM ATTS) H2 : There will be a positive relationshi p between the perceived level of humor and attitude toward homosexuals when m ediated through attitude toward the show. (HUM ATTS ATTG) H3 : Perceived level of humor will be positively related to the level of distraction. (HUM DIS) H4 : Distraction level will be positively rela ted to the attitude toward the show and/or characters. (DIS ATTS) H5 : The indirect relationship from HUM to ATTS mediated through DIS will be positive in both legs of the path. (HUM DIS ATTS) H6 : There will be a positive relationshi p between perceived level of humor and perceived level of interpers onal communication. (HUM IP) H7 : There will be a positive relations hip between the perceived level of interpersonal communication and attitude toward the show and/or characters. (IP ATTS) H8 : The indirect relationship from HUM to ATTS mediated through IP will be positive in both legs of the path. (HUM IP ATTS)
27 H9 : There will be a positive relationship between attitude toward the show and/or characters and attitudes toward homosexuals. (ATTS ATTG)
28 Chapter Four Research Design HUMOR ATTG ATTS DIS IP D1 e31 1 D2 e4 1 D3 e5 1 D4 e6 1 D5 e7 1 I4 e111 1 I3 e10 1 I2 e9 1 I1 e8 1 S1 e121 1 S2 e13 1 S3 e141 S4 e15 1 S5 e16 1 G1 e171 1 G2 e18 1 G3 e19 1 G4 e20 1 G5 e21 1 G6 e22 1 G7 e23 1 H2 e21 1 H1 e1 1 e241 e251 e261 e271 Figure 2 Structural Equation Model The Structural Equation Model Figure 2 summarizes the hypothesized theoretical relationships among the variables in a path diagram. Each propos ed relationship is sketched with arrows indicating the hypothesized path. T he boxes around the circled variables
29 represent the questions on the survey in strument. Questions were selected using a pre-tested questionnaire and repr esent valid measurements of each variable. The circles represent the margin of error for each question. Research Methodology Selection of Sample Though approximately 300 undergraduate students enrolled in a large southern university were surveyed, only 167 were used as the sample size for structural equation analysis and hypot hesis testing. These 167 respondents were chosen because they reported to have watched the show Will and Grace either on first-run prime time, in syndi cation, and/or on DVD. Approximately 61 were left out due to participant error, and the remaining 239 were used to determine demographic information. Respondents mean age was 20.12 (SD = 3.4), and 29.5 percent were male while 70.5 percent were female Percentage of White respondents was 66.1 percent, Hispanic respondents made up 15.9 percent, 5.4 respondents were Black, 2.5 percent were Asian, and 6. 7 percent reported to be Other. As expected, most respondents reported to have at least some college (62.1 percent), and only 1.7 perc ent reported high school as their highest form of education. The reported income for most respondents was between $0 and $10,000 annually (668 percent), the next highest percent being for those who made between $10,001 and $30, 000 annually. Only 1. 8 percent made over $150,000 annually. Also as expected, a high percentage of respondents
30 reported to be Straight ( 95.7), with the next highest being Gay and Lesbian, both reporting 1.7 percent. As for viewer frequency, 6.3 percent watched the show every week when it first ran in prime time, 26.8 percent watched it regularly, 21.8 percent watched it somewhat regularly, and 45 percent only watched it every once in a while. Of those who watch the show in syndication and/or DVD, 13.3 watch it regularly, 23.8 watch it somewhat regularly, only 2. 9 percent watch it every day, and the majority (60 percent) only watc h it every once in a while. Survey Instrument The survey questionnaire was pre-te sted on an undergraduate research methods class in the fall 2008 semester. St udents were asked to critique the questionnaire and remark on any unclear it ems. Revisions were made by the primary researcher and the final ques tionnaire was developed using feedback from those who took the pre-test and among the research team. The questionnaire consisted of 43 questions total, including 37 Likertscaled questions about attitudes and though ts concerning Will and Grace, its humor, characters, and about homosexuals in general. The remaining six questions were about each respondents age, gender, income, ethnicity, education level, income level, and sexual orientation.
31 Data Gathering Surveys were disseminated to undergraduate courses during the spring 2009 semester. Course titles and departments varied, and included Mass Communications courses, Womens Studies courses, and Anthropology courses. Participation for all respondents was vo luntary, and responses were kept confidential. No names or personal identifying information was gathered, therefore, answers we re kept anonymous. Nearly 300 surveys were disseminated in total, but only a portion of those were retained for relevancy. Of t he approximately 300 disseminated, only 167 reported to be viewers of the show. As previously stated, these 167 were used to determine structural equation analysis and hypotheses testing. Measures The following list includes the key m easures contained in the survey. Final questions were developed after a pretest and extensive review to minimize confusion and enhance clarity and relevanc y. The pre-tests and reviews were conducted weeks before the survey was handed out. Though 43 questions appeared on the survey, not all questions were used to determine key measures. The questions used are listed below. Humor of the Show (HS) Two items were used to measure audience perceived humor of the show. One Likert -scaled (5: Strongly Agree, 1: Strongly
32 Disagree): I watch Will and Grace to laugh. And another Likert-scaled (1: Very Funny, 5: Not Funny At All): How would you rate the humor of Will and Grace? Distraction Level (D). Five items were used to measure the amount of distraction that occurs while watching the show. All were Likert-scaled (5: Strongly Agree, 1: Strongly Disagree) : When watching Will and Grace, I am relaxed, Jack causes me to think about serious issues that real-life homosexuals face, Will and Grace is a source for understanding the homosexual community, While watchi ng Will and Grace, I am encouraged to think positively about homosexual issues , Watching Will and Grace makes me more sensitive to homosexual iss ues. The Cronbachs alpha was .72. Perceived Level of Inter personal Communication (IP). Four Likert-scaled (5: Strongly Agree, 1: Str ongly Disagree) items were us ed to measure the level of perceived interpersonal communication that occurs while watching the show: I would be friends with Jack if he were a reallife person, I would not like to get to know someone like Jack, I would like to get to know someone like Will. The Cronbachs alpha was .79. Attitude Toward The Show (ATTS). Five Likert-scaled (5: Strongly Agree, 1: Strongly Disagree) items were used to measure respondents attitude toward the show Will and Grace: I consider myse lf a fan of Will and Grace, I like Jack because he is funny, Jack represents a refreshing challenge to normal
33 conceptions of gender, I like Will bec ause he is funny, and Will and Grace is an important step forward in network television situation comedies because it features gay men in major roles. The Cronbachs alpha was .75. Attitudes Toward Gays/Homosexuals (ATTG). Seven Likert-scaled (5: Strongly Agree, 1: Strongly Disagree) were borrowed from Hereks Attitudes toward Gays and Lesbian Scale (ATTGL): M ale homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt children the same as heterosexual couples, Male homosexuals should not be allowed to teac h school, Just as in other species, male homosexuality is a natural expression of sexuality in men, I would not be too upset if I learned my son was a hom osexual, The idea of male homosexual marriage seems ridiculous to me, Male homosexuality is mere ly a different kind of lifestyle that should not be condem ned, and The only normal relationships are heterosexual relationships. The Cronbachs alpha was .90. Frequency (F). Three scaled questions were asked to determine the level of frequency respondents watched the show Will and Grace: How frequently did you watch Will and Grace when it first ran in prime-time? (1: Ev ery week, I rarely missed an episode, 2: Regularly, a few ti mes a month, 3: Somewhat regularly, about once a month, 4: Every once in a while, 5: Never.) Currently, how frequently do you watch Will and Grace in syndication and/or DVD? (1: Almost everyday, 2: Regularly, a few times a w eek, 3: Somewhat regularly, about once a month, 4: Every once in a while, about once every few months, 5: Never.)
34 After the previous two questions were asked, respondents were instructed to continue the survey if their responses were anything besides Never. If they responded Never to both questions, then they were to skip the section of questions related to the show and answe r the remaining item s. If viewers responded that they had watched the show to some degree, then they were also asked to answer another question measuri ng frequency: Select which describes how often you view Will and Grace (1: Always, 2: Sometime s, 3: Seldom, 4: Never).
35 Chapter Five Results Figure 3 is a pictorial display of the descriptive results in the structural model diagram. In this model, every represented path was proven to be valid and significant, except for the path betw een IP and ATTS, which had a negative value of .028. The relationships and pat hs of this diagram will be examined in the following pages, and the findings will be discussed. Figure 3 Structural Model Results HUMOR ATTS ATTG DIS IP .805 .595 .845 .302 .846 -.028
36 Descriptive Results Table 1 presents the means and st andard deviations of all independent and dependent variables examined in this study. Following the table, each section will be broken down then discussed for more clarity. Table 1 Descriptive Results Variables Mean SD Cronbachs Alpha Humor (HUM) 4.0 *** Shows humor rating (H1) 4.0 .82 Watch show to laugh (H2) 3.9 .91 Distraction Level (DIS) 3.14 .72 Watch show to relax (D1) 3.4 .89 Think of serious issues (D2) 2.7 .87 Understand homosexuals (D3) 3.0 1.0 Think positive of homosexuals (D4) 2.8 .93 More sensitive to homosexual issues (D5) 3.8 .83 Perceived Level of Interpersona l Communication (IP) 4.05 .79 Would be friends with Jack (I1) 4.0 1.0 Would not like to know Jack (I2) 4.0 1.01 Would like to know Will (I3) 4.0 .9 Would not like to be friends with Will (I4) 4.2 .9 Attitude Toward the Show/Cha racters (ATTS) 3.71 .75 Fan of show (S1) 4.1 .86 Like Jack because hes funny (S2) 3.51 .88 Jack a refreshing challenge to norms (S3) 4.0 .8 Like Will because hes fu nny (S4) 3.6 1.04 Show an important step forward (S5) 3.32 1.02 Attitude Toward Gays/Homosexuals (ATTG) 3.9 .9 Homosexuals should be able to adopt (G1) 3.82 1.25 Homosexuals should not teach school (G2) 4.5 .8 Homosexuality is natural expression (G3) 3.6 1.21 Not be upset if son was a homosexual (G4) 3.3 1.4 Homosexual marriage seems ridiculous (G5) 4.0 1.22 Homosexuality should not be condemned (G6) 3.8 1.32 Only heterosexual relationships are normal (G7) 4.0 1.3 As expected, participants found the s how Will and Grace to be humorous. Overall humor rating was favorable (M ean H1 = 3.94, SD = .82), and many
37 reported watching the show in order to laugh (Mean H2 = 3.9, SD = .91). There was a favorable reporting of those who watc h the show to relax (Mean D1 = 3.4, SD = .89), and it was more favorable t han those who think of serious issues homosexuals face (Mean D2 = 2.7, SD = .87) or who think positively about homosexuals because of the show (Mean D4 = 2.8, SD = .93). This finding supports the distraction hypotheses. As for perceived level of interpersonal communication, results were consistent; there were equal repor ts of a desire to be friends with the characters and a des ire to not be friends (Mean I1 = 4.0, Mean I2 = 4.0). Attitudes toward the show were favo rable, though reported fans of the show (Mean S1 = 4.1, SD = .86) were less than those who thought the show was an important step forward in television because it feat ured gay men in prominent roles (Mean S5 = 3.32, SD = 1.02). Atti tudes toward homosexuals were fairly consistent, though in most cases, unfavorable responses toward homosexuals outnumbered favorable responses. For in stance, responses for heterosexual relationships being the only normal relations hips (Mean G7 = 4.0, SD = 1.3) were higher than responses for homosexuality is a natural expression (Mean G3 = 3.6, SD = 1.21). Overall, attitudes toward homosexua ls were consistent with attitude toward the show (Mean ATTS = 3.71, A TTG = 3.9), supporting Hypothesis 2. However, in some instances, indivi dual variables for attitudes toward homosexuals (ATTG), though relatively favo rable, were not as favorable as the individual variables for attitude toward t he show (ATTS). For instance, reported
38 fans of the show (Mean S1 = 4.1, SD = .86) werent as high as those who reported that homosexuals should not be able to teach school (Mean G2 = 4.5, SD = .8). In addition, those who think homosexuality should not be condemned (Mean G6 = 3.8, SD = 1.32) were less than reported fans, as were those who think homosexuality is a natural ex pression (Mean G3 = 3.6, SD = 1.21). Table 2 Measurement Model Results Latent Constructs and Indicators Standardized Factor Loadings Standard Error Humor (HUM) Shows humor rating (H1) .782** .080 Watch show to laugh (H2) .793 --Distraction Level (DIS) Watch show to relax (D1) .636 --Think of serious issues (D2) .484** .157 Understand homosexuals (D3) .503** .173 Think positive of homosexuals (D4) .752** .162 More sensitive to homosexual issues (D5) .507** .148 Perceived Level of Interpersonal Communication (IP) Would be friends with Jack (I1) .806** .253 Would not like to know Jack (I2) .622** .227 Would like to know Will (I3) .804** .173 Would not like to be friends with Will (I4) .534 --Attitude Toward the Show/Characters (ATTS) Fan of show (S1) .774 --Like Jack because hes funny (S2) .737** .078 Jack a refreshing challenge to norms (S3) .625** .082 Like Will because hes funny (S4) .577** .075 Show an important step forward (S5) .526** .098 Attitude Toward Gays/Homosexuals (ATTG) Homosexuals should be able to adopt (G1) .829 --Homosexuals should not teach school (G2) -.692** .046 Homosexuality is natural expression (G3) .820** .065 Not be upset if son was a homosexual (G4) .822** .075 Homosexual marriage seems ridiculous (G5) -.621** .072 Homosexuality should not be condemned (G6) .640** .077 Only heterosexual relationships are normal (G7) -.882** .067 **p<.01
39 Measurement Model Evaluation Standardized factor loadings and thei r standard errors for construct indicators are presented in Table 2. The indicator loadings for all constructs are generally high and statistically significant. Also, the standard errors are generally small, demonstrating acceptable valid ity of the measurement model. Structural Model Results Analysis Structural equation analysi s provided adequate fit to the data according to research standards. Bentler and Bonnett (1980) posit that a Normed Fit Index (NFI) of less than .9 can be improved, but is a reasonable fit, and that a Comparative Fit Index, when close to a value of 1 is a very good fit. NFI for this study was .9 when rounded, indicating room for improvement, but reasonably acceptable fit. CFI was also .9, indicating a good fit of the model to the data.
40 In-Depth Key Paths Analysis Figure 4 shows the three most signifi cant paths, which were the three direct paths from humor: HUMOR DIS (path = .845), HUMOR ATTS (path = .805), and HUMOR IP (path = .846). It was hypot hesized that there would be a positive relationship between humor and the level of distraction experienced by audience members, the level of inte rpersonal communication perceived by audience members, and audience members attitudes toward the show. Humor, as the results indicate, has a signific ant effect on the distraction process and interpersonal communication audience me mbers go through while watching the show, as well as their attitudes toward the show itself. Thus, hypotheses 1,3, and 6 were supported. HUMOR ATTS DIS IP .805 .845 .846 Figure 4 Portion A of the Path Diagram
41 Hypothesis 5 proposed that distraction level would be positively related to the attitude toward the show held by audiences. The path DIS ATTS, as shown in Figure 4, was positive (path = .302) supporting that the higher the level of distraction experienced while watching t he show, the more favorable the attitude was toward the show. Therefore, hypot hesis 4 was support ed. In addition, because hypothesis 3 was supported along wi th hypothesis 4, hypothesis 5 was by default supported (path = HUMOR DIS ATTS). As you can see in Figure 4, both legs of the path were positive (.845, .302). Therefore, humor, when mediated through distraction, positively a ffects attitude toward the show. Put another way, the higher the humor, the higher the distra ction, and the higher the distraction the greater, and more posit ive, the attitude toward the show. HUMOR ATTS DIS .805 .845 .302 Figure 5 Portion B of the Path Diagram
42 The bottom portion of the path, portion C as depicted in Figure 6, did not have as positive or significant results as the rest of the model Other than, of course, the path HUMOR IP, which was the highest and most significant in the model (path = .846). Unlike every other path in the model, the path IP ATTS was negative (path = -.028), s uggesting that the perceived level of interpersonal communication, though highly affected by hum or, does not translate to a positive effect on attitude toward the show. Thus, hypothesis 7 was not supported, and by default, neither was hypothesis 8. HUMOR ATTS IP .805 .846 -.028 Figure 6 Portion C of the Path Diagram HUMOR ATTS ATTG .805 .595 Figure 7 Portion D of the Path Diagram
43 Figure 7 depicts the final path, ATTS ATTG, which was significant and positive (path = .595), and supports hypothes is 9, which suggests that there will be a positive relationship between the attitudes held toward the show and attitudes held toward real life homosexual s. That is, the more positive one feels about the show Will and Grace, th e more positive one will feel about homosexuals in the real world. In additi on, hypothesis 2 was also supported, in that both paths HUM ATTS, and ATTS ATTG were positive.
44 Chapter Six Discussion and Recommendations Nearly every path of t he model was positive, and significantly so, thus supporting the claims of this research study. Humor, no doubt, has an effect on audience attitudes toward mass mediated c ontent, as well as on their attitudes toward the real world. As menti oned before, humor softens and even humanizes a message; it helps relate to the audience me mbers. It is a tr ait that advertisers hope to capitalize on when selling a product. In the case of Will and Grace, homosexuality served as the product being endorsed. The most important finding is the pos itive path between ATTS and ATTG. It supports the research that attitudes held toward fictionalized para-social representations on television translate into real life attitudes toward particular people groups. In a time of heightened sensitivity to gay rights and policy specifically, as well as any message not historically easily accepted by the mainstream, using humor could be the key to breaking staunch barriers. Though research into the reasons why people hold their views on unpopular messages is necessary, it is possible that humor can break these barriers if attitudes held arent deeply f ounded or strongly rooted in anything
45 sound. So, when confronted under the guise of humor, positive cognitive responses may have the ability to alter the negative views held. On the other hand, in his study on attitude change and subsequent behavior, Festinger (1964) found that a change in attitude did not always result in behavior modification. He in fact found that an inverse relationship often existed, wherein participants who r eported the most attitude change, showed the least behavioral change. Festinger suggested that environmental factors played a role. In the case of viewing Will and Grace, the humorous, relaxed, and distracting atmosphere could play a large ro le in its acceptance. If taken out of ones living room and placed in a voting boot h, would viewers be as accepting of homosexuals in terms of gay rights and governmental policy? Further research into how favorable attitudes affe ct actions is also recommended. Greenwald (1968) coined the term "cogniti ve response" in the context of persuasion when he argued that people remem ber their personal reactions to a message rather than the message itself. Wr ight (1973) echoes this finding in his study that states a rece iver relies heavily on her evaluative mental responses to message content, rather than on the content itself, to arrive at an attitudinal position after exposure, (p.60). This effect of cognitive response, when combined with the research on humor, as well as distraction and interpersonal communication, has potential to greatly benefit mass communicators because of its social implications, and further research is recommended. Though most findings in this study were positive, the negative path between IP and ATTS does bear further discussion. This finding seems to
46 contradict most of the previous findings such as the Contact Hypothesis, as well as the Para-social Contact Hypothesis. Perhaps this is due to faulty answers, or perhaps hypotheses and theories dealing with televisions effects, such as Cultivation theory, ar e inherently flawed. But, perha ps there is something more concrete hindering the path from perceiv ed interpersonal communication with the shows characters to positive attitudes toward the show. Further research is recommended. The negative finding is particularly puzzling because, according to the model, the path between humor and interpersonal communication was positive; it was, in fact, the strongest positive path in the model. Further research on interpersonal connection and positive attitudes in the para-social realm should be further looked into and tested. Perhaps t he fact that positive connection is made doesnt necessarily mean positive attit udes are formed. Maybe connection and attitudes are parts of two totally s eparate processes, and require further research. Implications As previously stated, w hen confronted under the guise of humor, positive cognitive responses may have the ability to alter any negative views. The findings in this study can be used by a number of organizations, government agencies, as well as racial, religious and ethnic people and groups to further their less popular messages. In addition, i deas, products, lifestyles, etc., that are not historically accepted, be they controve rsial, costly, or new, can benefit from
47 the findings of this research study. Advertisers have further support for using humor to not only promote any product, but products that are less popular, due to high cost, etc., or even for new products Listed below are a few organizations that may benefit specifically. 1. Gay Rights Organizations: This st udy presents a victory of sorts for those who would promote a homosexual agenda. One major finding of the research is that humor has positive e ffects on message reception. There was a direct positive effect on the level of distraction, the perceived level of interpersonal communication, and on the show itself. This, in turn, had a positive effect on attitudes toward real-life hom osexuals. Humor makes the homosexual message positive. This positive reception translates into more favorable attitudes. 2. Political Parties/Lobbyists: Th is study provides adequate data for political parties and lobbyists hoping to pass legislation, especia lly one that would deal with issues not historically accept ed by mainstream society. Though this study does not hope to aide in deceiving the voting public, utilization of the distracting effects humor has could help to pass positive legislation. New ideas arent inherently bad, but can have troubl e gaining acceptance by those who are accustomed to what has always been. If this complacency prevents people from investing proper research in what may be beneficial to society, then perhaps a humorous message could help to break barriers. 3. Message Receivers and Message Opposers: This study exposes the means necessary to distract from what some would call important fundamental
48 moral issues. In so many words, one could find support for humors ability to manipulate message receivers. Getti ng a message across, depending on the message, should perhaps not be under the guise of humor, but more straight forward, and decided upon by clear minded individuals. Message receivers, therefore, should be aware and cauti ous of message encoders ability and potential to mask unpopular messages with humor. Perhaps this works well toward messages for human rights and soci etal progress, however in the wrong hands, it has potential for negative ramificati ons. In fact, furt her research is suggested as to how effective humor is, and under what types of conditions is it effective, particularly when dispensing a negative message. To perhaps counter this manipulation, message opposers could either expose the distraction, or present the same message in a non-humorous manner. For instance, in regards to homosexuality, organizations who oppose a gay agenda could present homosexuality in a more serious light, or the cons as defined by the particular organization. The same could be true with other organizations, be they political, so cial, or business-related. Limitations One draw back to a study on Will and Grace is that t he show no longer airs in prime time, and is not consider ed current. Though the show does still air in syndication and can be purchased for viewing on DVD, as well as have a large fan base, it is not as popular as it onc e was, particularly to the younger college-
49 age sample studied. Future studies mi ght consider more age and interestspecific samples. This study was more quantitative, and t herefore limited in how specific the findings could be. Because humor is difficu lt to define, future researchers might also consider more in-depth interviews with participants to get a better gauge on their definition of humor, and how humor impacts their attitudes. In addition, research shows that certain people are predisposed to certain reactions when presented with humor. A study more qua litative in nature is recommended to further develop this factor and how it affect s attitudes toward the show as well as homosexuals.
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56 Appendix A Extended Path Diagram HUMOR ATTG ATTS DIS IP D1 e31 1 D2 e4 1 D3 e5 1 D4 e6 1 D5 e7 1 I4 e111 1 I3 e10 1 I2 e9 1 I1 e8 1 S1 e121 1 S2 e13 1 S3 e141 S4 e15 1 S5 e16 1 G1 e171 1 G2 e18 1 G3 e19 1 G4 e20 1 G5 e21 1 G6 e22 1 G7 e23 1 H2 e21 1 H1 e1 1 e241 e251 e261 e271 Figure 8. Extende d Path Diagram HUMOR: Humor (produced by show Will and Grace) DIS: Distraction level IP: Perceived level of interpersonal communication ATTS: Attitude toward the characters/show ATTG: Attitudes toward real life people who are gay
57 Appendix B Survey Questionnaire Were conducting a study of audiences reception to the television show Will & Grace. Please answer each question as honestly as possibl e. Your responses will be confidential. __________________________________________________________________________ Answer the following questions by circling the appropriate response. 1. How frequently did you watch Will and Grace when it first ran in prime-time? 1Every week, I rarely missed an episode 2Regularly, a few times a month 3Somewhat regularly, about once a month 4Every once in a while, about once every few months 5Never 2. Currently, how frequently do you watch Will and Grace in syndication and/or on DVD? 1Almost every day 2Regularly, few times a week 3Somewhat regularly, about once a month 4Every once in a while, about once every few months 5Never *If your answer to questions 1 and 2 was Never please skip ahead to question 28. 3. Select which describes how often you view Will and Grace: 1Always 2Sometimes 3Seldom 4Never 4. How would you rate the humor of Will and Grace? 1Very funny 2Pretty funny 3Somewhat funny 4Not very funny 5Not funny at all __________________________________________________________________________
58 Please answer the following questions by circling the number that best reflects your feelings. Please circle whether you Strongly Agree Agree Neither Agree nor Disagree Disagree or Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree Agree Neither Agree nor Disagree Disagree Strongly Disagree 5. I consider myself a fan of Will and Grace 5 4 3 2 1 6. I watch Will and Grace to laugh. 5 4 3 2 1 7. When watching Will and Grace, I am relaxed. 5 4 3 2 1 8. While watching Will and Grace, I seldom think of serious issues. 5 4 3 2 1 9. Will and Grace is a source for understanding the homosexual community. 5 4 3 2 1 10. While watching Will and Grace, I am encouraged to think positively about homosexuals. 5 4 3 2 1 11. Will and Grace rarely opens my eyes to serious issues homosexuals face. 5 4 3 2 1 12. I like Jack because he is funny. 5 4 3 2 1 13. Jack represents a refreshing challenge to normal conceptions of gender. 5 4 3 2 1 14. Jack causes me to think about serious issues that real-life homosexuals face. 5 4 3 2 1 15. Jack is a character not to be taken seriously. 5 4 3 2 1 16. I would be friends with Jack if he were a real-life person. 5 4 3 2 1 17. Jack correctly represents most gay males. 5 4 3 2 1 18. I would not like to get to know someone like Jack. 5 4 3 2 1 19. I like Will because he is funny. 5 4 3 2 1 20. Will represents a refreshing challenge to normal conceptions of gender. 5 4 3 2 1 21. I would like to get to know someone 5 4 3 2 1
59 like Will. 22. While watching Will and Grace, I am always focused on the homosexual themes. 5 4 3 2 1 23. I would not be friends with Will if he were a real-life person. 5 4 3 2 1 24. Watching Will and Grace makes me more sensitive to homosexual issues. 5 4 3 2 1 25. Watching Will and Grace has helped shape my view of gay marriage. 5 4 3 2 1 26. Will and Grace is an important step forward in network television situation comedies because it features gay men in major roles. 5 4 3 2 1 27. I care about the characters of the show Will and Grace as if they were real people. 5 4 3 2 1 ________________________________________________________________________ Answer the following questions by circling the appropriate response. 28. How would you rate your level of social contact with homosexuals? 1I have more than 3 homosexual fr iends or close co-workers 2I have a few [3 or less] homosexu al friends or close co-workers 3I am acquaintances with a few homosexuals, but not as friends 4I do not know any homosexual people personally 29. How would you rate your experiences with homosexuals? 1Very positive experiences 2Fairly positive experiences 3Fairly negative experiences 4Very negative experiences 5No experiences 30. How would you rate your knowledge of homosexual lifestyles? 1Know almost everything about homosexuals 2Know a lot about homosexuals 3Know some about homosexuals 4Know very little about homosexuals 5Know nothing about homosexuals __________________________________________________________________________
60 Please answer the following questions by circling the number that best reflects your feelings. Please circle whether you Strongly Agree Agree Neither Agree nor Disagree Disagree or Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree Agree Neither Agree nor Disagree Disagree Strongly Disagree 31. Male homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt children the same as heterosexual couples. 5 4 3 2 1 32. Male homosexuals should not be allowed to teach school. 5 4 3 2 1 33. Just as in other species, male homosexuality is a natural expression of sexuality in human men. 5 4 3 2 1 34. I would not be too upset if I learned that my son was a homosexual. 5 4 3 2 1 35. The idea of male homosexual marriages seems ridiculous to me. 5 4 3 2 1 36. Male homosexuality is merely a different kind of lifestyle that should not be condemned. 5 4 3 2 1 37. The only normal relationships are heterosexual relationships 5 4 3 2 1 Answer the following questions by filling in the blank or circ ling the appropriate response. 38. Age : ____ 39. Gender: M F 40. Ethnicity: Black Hispanic Asian White Other_____________________ 41. Education: High School College Some college Graduate School 42. Income: $0-$10,000 $10,001-$30,000 $30,001-$70,000 $70,001-$150,000 Over $150,000 43. Sexual Orientation: Straight Gay Lesbian Bisexual Not sure
61 Appendix C Survey Questions and Variables HUMOR Q4 : How would you rate the humor of Will and Grace? Q6 : I watch Will and Grace to laugh. Distraction (DIS) Q7 : When watching Will and Grace, I am relaxed. Q14 : Jack causes me to think about serious issues that real-life homosexuals face. (Reverse Coded) Q9 : Will and Grace is a source for under standing the homosexual community. Q10 : While watching Will and Grace, I am encouraged to think positively about homosexuals. Q24 : Watching Will and Grace makes me more sensitive to homosexual issues. Interpersonal Communication (IP) Q16 : I would be friends with Jack if he were a real-life person. Q18 : I would not like to get to know someone like Jack. (Reverse Coded) Q21 : I would like to get to know someone like Will. Q23 : I would not be friends with Will if he were a real-life person. (Reverse Coded) Attitude Toward the Show (ATTS) Q5 : I consider myself a fan of Will and Grace Q12 : I like Jack because he is funny. Q13 : Jack represents a refreshing challe nge to normal conceptions of gender. Q19 : I like Will because he is funny. Q26 : Will and Grace is an important step forw ard in network television situation comedies because it features gay men in major roles.
62 Attitude Toward Gays Q31 : Male homosexual couples should be a llowed to adopt children the same as heterosexual couples. Q32 : Male homosexuals should not be allowed to teach school. (Reverse Coded) Q33 : Just as in other species, male hom osexuality is a natural expression of sexuality in human men. Q34 : I would not be too upset if I learned that my son was a homosexual. Q35 : The idea of male homosexual marriages seems ridiculous to me. (Reverse Coded) Q36 : Male homosexuality is merely a diffe rent kind of lifestyle that should not be condemned. Q37 : The only normal relationships are het erosexual relationships. (Reverse Coded)
63 Appendix D Hypotheses H1: There will be a positive relationship between the perceived level of humor and attitude toward the show and/or characters. (HUM ATTS) H2 : There will be a positive relationship between the perceived level of humor and attitude toward homosexuals when m ediated through attitude toward the show. (HUM ATTS ATTG) H3 : Perceived level of humor will be positively related to the level of distraction. (HUM DIS) H4 : Distraction level will be positively rela ted to the attitude toward the show and/or characters. (DIS ATTS) H5 : The indirect relationship from HUM to ATTS mediated through DIS will be positive in both legs of the path. (HUM DIS ATTS) H6 : There will be a positive relationshi p between perceived level of humor and perceived level of interpers onal communication. (HUM IP) H7 : There will be a positive relations hip between the perceived level of interpersonal communication and attitude toward the show and/or characters. (IP ATTS) H8 : The indirect relationship from HUM to ATTS mediated through IP will be positive in both legs of the path. (HUM IP ATTS) H9 : There will be a positive relationship between attitude toward the show and/or characters and attitudes toward homosexuals. (ATTS ATTG)
64 Appendix E Frequency Distributions % who watched WG on primetime Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent Valid 1.00 9 6.3 6.3 6.3 2.00 38 26.8 26.8 33.1 3.00 31 21.8 21.8 54.9 4.00 64 45.1 45.1 100.0 Total 142 100.0 100.0 % who watched on syndication Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent Valid 1.00 3 2.9 2.9 2.9 2.00 14 13.3 13.3 16.2 3.00 25 23.8 23.8 40.0 4.00 63 60.0 60.0 100.0 Total 105 100.0 100.0
65 % who either watched primetime or syndication/DVD Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent Valid .00 72 30.1 30.1 30.1 1.00 167 69.9 69.9 100.0 Total 239 100.0 100.0 GENDER Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent Valid Male 69 28.9 29.5 29.5 Female 165 69.0 70.5 100.0 Total 234 97.9 100.0 Missing 5 2.1 Total 239 100.0 ETHNICITY Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent Valid 1.00 13 5.4 5.6 5.6 2.00 38 15.9 16.5 22.1 3.00 6 2.5 2.6 24.7 4.00 158 66.1 68.4 93.1 5.00 16 6.7 6.9 100.0 Total 231 96.7 100.0 Missing 9.00 8 3.3 Total 239 100.0
66 EDUCATION Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent Valid 1.00 4 1.7 1.7 1.7 2.00 84 35.1 36.2 37.9 3.00 144 60.3 62.1 100.0 Total 232 97.1 100.0 Missing 9.00 7 2.9 Total 239 100.0 INCOME Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent Valid 1.00 145 60.7 66.8 66.8 2.00 48 20.1 22.1 88.9 3.00 10 4.2 4.6 93.5 4.00 10 4.2 4.6 98.2 5.00 4 1.7 1.8 100.0 Total 217 90.8 100.0 Missing 9.00 22 9.2 Total 239 100.0
67 SEXUAL ORIENTATION Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent Valid 1.00 223 93.3 95.7 95.7 2.00 4 1.7 1.7 97.4 3.00 2 .8 .9 98.3 4.00 4 1.7 1.7 100.0 Total 233 97.5 100.0 Missing 9.00 6 2.5 Total 239 100.0