Date of Award
Master of Arts in American Studies (MAST)
Dr. Rebecca Hill
Dr. Catherine Lewis
Research in media and cultural studies have shown that viewers form opinions regarding Jewish identity based on how Jewish characters are presented on screen. American entertainment has struggled with accurate portrayals of Jewish culture and characters; negative Jewish stereotypes frequently appear and perpetuate these perceptions. Due to the current rise of anti-Semitism in the United States, it is important to consider how writers are defining Jewish identity by examining depictions of contemporary Jewish characters and assessing viewer attitudes toward those characters. Two long-running, popular American broadcast television shows that contain Jewish characters as part of the main cast – The Big Bang Theory and Will & Grace – also have Jewish producers/showrunners with creative control over these programs. Their definitions of Jewish identity become some of the images that audiences see, which potentially contribute to viewers’ attitudes toward Jews.
My survey research found that respondents who watched The Big Bang Theory did not have a positive view of Howard; he was ranked the least favorite and the least honest, was said to have the most irritating faults, and most respondents stated they would not be friends with him. Viewers of Will & Grace were more favorable toward Grace, with a majority of respondents stating they would be friends with her. However, she was ranked the least favorite character and said to have the second most irritating faults. These results show considerable ways in which these characters prompt negative reactions from viewers, and indicate that these programs are not positively confronting Jewish stereotypes.