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Simpsons research


Gateway to Health and Caring

South Kent College

Ashford

by

Christian Freundel

Introduction & rationale

This research is about the Simpsons, a fictional cartoon family on Television. I will try to investigate if the number of male and female viewers/readers of this cartoon are about the same, unlike other cartoons (e.g.: Viz, 85% of Viz readers are male). Further I will try to find out if Homer (the Father of the family) is seen as the stereo typical man from both male and female perspective. The third thing I will try to investigate is how different age groups read the 'media text' (interpret) of Simpsons. In other words, do adults see things in the show that children don't?
The approaches of the 'media effect' suggests, that the media is a powerful institution that encourages viewers or spectators of the media to adopt stereotypical ideas of 'masculine' and 'feminine' gender roles (i.e. the media text). In other words the effect the media has on people ie. the 'media effect'. This implies that our values, morals, and gender based identities are influenced more or less strongly by the media, that we are like an empty vessel waiting to be filled. Others argue (Janic Radway (1994) or David Morley (1980)) that we are able to read, understand and make up our mind what the 'media text' text saying or what we think it is trying to say. Essentially this is one of the things I am going to investigating. What is the relationship of age and the ability to read (or evan see), and understand the Simpsons 'media text'.

To achieve this I have devised a questionnaire, which in part has open ended questions, and in part set questions which are either multiple choice or have 'Yes' or 'No' answers (see Appendix). I have posted the questionnaire on the Internet, additionally I will collect data in college and the local City centre.

I have picked this topic because I think comics and cartoons like the Simpsons are underestimated. I am interested in whether other viewers of the Simpsons and similar cartoons fell the same way. I will try to investigate this in the following ways.
I am interested in which age group picks up on subtle and sometimes glaring insinuations in the Simpsons. For example references to Atomic power problems, or the power of male dominance in the Family structure, or violence on TV. I am further interested in, whether in a male dominated genre like Comics and Cartoons (with exceptions for 'My little Pony' etc.) there is a higher percentage of female viewers than with other Comics and Cartoons (e.g.: Superman, Spiderman etc.). This 'female interest' in a 'male dominated' genre has happened in the series ''The X-Files''. Even though the X-Files would be categorized as a SF, Fantasy, Horror genre, which is predominately male dominated genre, it has a wide following of female fans. It is thought that this is because there is not gender stereotyping for the two main character Mulder (male) and Scully (female) in the show (Wilcox & Williams 1996).

Many researchers have suggested that men are shown in a limited (e.g.: the 'hypermasculine' action hero, i.e. ''A. Schwartzenegger'' or ''J. C. van Damme'') and women in very limited way in the media (e.g.: Dominick and Rauch (1972) found that 75%of all advertisements used females to sell products for the use in the kitchen and the bathroom, thus implying women are responsible for the housework). This is true for comics to. For example 'Supergirl' has the strength and ability equal to 'Supermans', but she was always falling in love with the 'bad guys', and evan though they were called 'E-Vill', 'Nars-Tee' etc. she never realised until it was to late (A. Moore 'Sexism in Comics' 1983). The Simpsons (like the X-Files) do not do this. In the Simpsons the writers either don't use stereotypes or they exaggerate stereotypes to create a comical situation and drive a point home (although the later is true for most of the show). A good example for this is the school caretaker. He is a parody of a hypermasculine hero. For example, in one show he fought a wolf who was trying to attack Bart (the boy in the Simpsons, which is an anagram for ''brat''), and after defeating the wolf sitting in the school yard and drinking a beer with the defeated beast to reminiscing about the 'good old days'.

Even though the Simpsons is not strictly an adult comic, they do seem to watch them a lot (Adult Comics by Roger Sabin). This might be because of the multi-layered story line. There is something for everybody in the show. From slapstick and 'getting one over on the teacher' for the children, to social issues of Homer losing his job for the adults. In my research I will try to prove or disprove this notion.

Hypothesis

H1. The proportion of male and female Fans will be about equal. Unlike to other Comics.
H2. Homer will NOT be seen as a stereo typical man by men but will be by women.
H3. Different age groups interpret the Simpsons in different ways.

Methodology

1. Statement of method

I have used a questionnaire for my research which provides an objective method of research. It contains some 'Yes' and 'No' questions some multiple choose questions and some open ended questions. I have chosen this research method because it will give me easy access to a large sample of people. If I had used an in-depth interview I would not have been able to post my research on the Internet. Thus reaching a larger number of people. The methods of observation and content analysis would not applicable for my research, because there is nothing to observe or analyse the contents from which would have in any way relevant to my hypothesis. I was not able to find any relevant secondary data to aid my hypotheses in any way. Although I found secondary data about entertainment and for example TV watching habits of varies age groups they were not linked to any kind of program, which meant that it was of no use to me. I tried to find some relevant secondary data on the Internet, but was unable to find anything relevant or related.

2. Problems involved

Although there are problems involved in research using a questionnaire most of this can be overcome through a pilot study. This problems might be of the nature of, questions on a questionnaire contain sociological jargon which sounds 'normal' to the Sociologist. Questions might be ambiguous (have two meanings) or lead, guide the reader to a certain answer or not have that answer as an option. The instruction could be unclear for what the participant is supposed to do or fill in on the questionnaire.

3. Pilot study

Questions I have altered due to my pilot study, which involved a total of ten participants.

In Question 3 in the Questioner added two boxes. One with 'More than twice a week' and the other with 'Less then once every two weeks' because found people were writing this on the Questioner. Question seven changed the phrasing from 'How regularly do you read/watch those other Comics/Cartoons' to 'How regularly on average do you read/watch those other Comics/Cartoons'. This change was made to avoid confusion of which 'other' Comics/Cartoons should be used to make the statement about the number of time that 'other' Comics/Cartoons was watched. To questions 9; 10; 11; 18 added a 'Don't know' Checkbox, for found that some were not filled in, in the pilot study. In question 14 added one checkboxes, 'under 10' because again people were writing this in on the pilot study. Even though had to make some changes to questioner after the pilot study, I found that I was getting the data I required to answer my hypothesis.

4. The sample and it's limitations

My sample is not representative of a large population because it is not large enough and it is not selected from a clear sample frame. Nor is the number of males and females how answered the questionnaire evenly split. The sample size is 29 people, of which there are 7 females and 22 males. Nine of which were answered anonymously though the Internet. The other 13 were answered either by students in South Kent college or through random sampling in Ashford city centre. Therefore the findings are and can not be generalized for a wider population

[Sample of the questionnaire can be found in the Appendix.]

Findings

H1. The proportion of male and female Fans will be about equal. Unlike to other Comics.

This hypotheses is related to question number 1 on the questionnaire 'are you male or female?' combined with question number 2 'do you watch and/or read the Simpsons?'.

22 males and 7 females participated in the survey.

This indicates that more that 2/3 of the Simpsons views are male, and only 1/3 is female. Therefore I have to reject my H1.

H2. Homer will NOT be seen as a stereo typical man by men but will be by women.

This hypotheses is related to question number 9 'do you think Homer represents how the average man is?' and question 1 'are you male or female?'.




The data clearly indicates that the percentage of males is higher than the percentage of females how said that Homer did not represent the average man. Note the high percentage of 'Don't know' in the female pie chart. This result indicates that H2 was not meat, and therefore I have rejected it.

H3. Different age groups interpret the Simpsons in different ways.

This hypotheses is related to questions number 14 'What age are you?', number 16 'do you think, there are hidden messages/references in the Simpsons?', question number 17 'If yes (refers to hidden messages/references), name one if you can' and question number 18 'are this subtle suggestions (refers to hidden messages/references) one reason why you watch the show?'.

N.B. The age group 26-30 was represented by one person only. That is why the three graphs they are either N/A or represented with 100% 'No'.

Chart 1 showing the participants age and if they though that there were any hidden references/messages in the Simpsons. This is indicated by the size of the blue columns. Note the steep rise from age groups 16-20 to 21-25. This rise supports my H3.


Chart 2 shows if the open ended question 17 'If yes name one if you can' (this is referring to the hidden references/messages)[see Appendix]. The Diagram shows whether an answer was given or not. Note again the steep rise from age groups 16-20 to 21-25. This rise supports my H3.



This Chart 3 shows if the hidden messages/references is one of the reasons the participant watches the Simpsons. Although the increase is slight in the age groups 21-25 & 31-40 there is a increase. In the age group over 40 (40>) 100% of participants watched the Simpsons because of hidden references/messages. This supports my H3.

Evaluation

Through the Pilot study it was apparent that the questioner would provide me with the data I required to answer my hypotheses. The additional questions on the questioner were interesting but not necessary to be able to answer my hypotheses. A problem was getting people to find the questioner on the Internet.

It would be good to advertise the questionnaire more on the Internet, or post it on a well known site. I.e. not use a site that has just started, and thus was not known at all. In addition to this there was the time factor. If I had to do this work again it would be vital to have more time, to be able to get more raw data. It might be interesting to talk to people about the Simpsons (or other cartoons/comics) rather then getting them to fill in a questioner, to find out how people think cartoons/comics effect children, and to ask children about there views on Supperheroes etc., or 'antiheroes' like Homer.

I have looked at the differences in the understanding of certain subtle insinuations in the Simpsons related to age (Diagrams 1-3). It might be possible that the first approach (media effect) of passively receiving a media text is what younger age groups experience (e.g. 0 - ~15), and the second approach (being able to 'read' the media text) being what people after a certain age experience (e.g. from 15 to 16 years onwards). In light of resent debates and events discussing the relationship for screen sex and violence and violent children (e.g. David Cronenberg's controversial film 'Crash'), there might be a connection between the two.

I have disregarded my H1 and H2 and accepted my H3.

The findings for H1 indecent that 1/3 of the Simpsons viewers are female. This findings may also be due to the size of the sample further research is necessary. By looking at the data combined with H2 it can be see that the percentage of males is higher than the percentage of females how said that Homer did not represent the average man. Again this might be due to the low percentage of female participants. The third hypotheses, which I accepted, the data clearly indicates an increase correlation with age and the understanding of subtle insinuations in the Simpsons. All three questions relating to this hypotheses produced data that increases to a certain age and then drops of again. This might be due to the comparatively low number of participants over the age of 26. This might indicate an age were people stop watching the show or never started to watch it. Further research is necessary to prove this though.

Alternative ways of researching might be showing one episode of the Simpsons to a sample audience, after which the participants could be interviewed.

Overall it can be said that this research shows that over 2/3 of Simpsons viewers are male. It can further be assumed, that about the same amount of males and females think that Homer represents how the average man is (about ¼ of the sample). The data of the third hypotheses showed that there is a correlation between age and understanding subtle insinuations in the Simpsons. The assumption was made that on average the Simpsons are viewed to the age approximately 26 yeas. Although further research would be necessary to prove this. Finally it can be concluded that sample of this research was to small which may have influence the results, and if further research were to be conduced the sample size would have to be considerably bigger.

Bibliography

Title

Author

Date of publication

Sociology in Action series 'Investigating the Media'

Paul Trowler

1988

Adult Comics-An introduction

Roger Sabin

1993

Comics-ideology, power & the critics

Martin Barker

1989

Sociology Review

Andrew Jones

Vol. 7 No. 1 Sep. 1997

Sociology in Action series 'Investigating Mass Media'

Paul Trowler

1996
(Second Edition)

Sociology-a new approach

Edited by Michael Haralambos

1986
(Second Edition)


Appendix

Simpsons survey

I am a student at South Kent College in Ashford. For my Sociology project I am conducting a survey about the Simpsons. Please read the questions carefully, and write your answer in the appropriate box or put a tick in the appropriate box. All information given here is strictly confidential and will only be seen by myself and my tutor Simon Fox. Please answer the questions as accurately as possible. Thank you for your help!!

1. Are you male or female?

    Male/Female

    2. Do you watch and/or read the Simpsons? (If "No" jump to question No. 5)

    More than twice a week

    Twice a week

    Once a week

    Once every two weeks

    Less then once every two weeks

    4. Rate the Simpsons on a scale of 1-5 (1 is terrible, 5 is excellent)

    12345

    5. Do you read/watch other Comics/Cartoons?

    YesNo

  1. If Yes which one/ones (Maximum of 3)

    1: 2: 3:

    7. How regularly on average do you read/watch those other Comics/Cartoons?

    More than twice a week

    Twice a week

    Once a week

    Once every two weeks

    Less then once every two weeks

    8. Rate those other Comics/Cartoons on a scale of 1-5 (1 is terrible, 5 is excellent)

    Others 1 :12345

    Others 2 :12345

    Others 3 :12345

    9. Do you think Homer represents how the average man is?

(If your answer is "No", this survey is finished! Mail it if you are answering it in the NET!)

Thank you for help me! And have a nice day. Douh!

After the questionnaire had been filled in on the Internet, this thank you page appeared:


Thank you

for participating

in me survey about the

SIMPSONS!

If any think interest in comes of this, I will publish the results on my Homepage!

Thank you for your time!!!


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© 22.06.98, Chris Freundel