Social Judgment Theory: An Analysis of Queer Representation in the Latitude of Acceptance

Social Judgment Theory: An Analysis of Queer Representation in the Latitude of Acceptance

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It is common sense that there are different perspectives and stances a person can have on different subjects. These subjects become more serious as they become more political, like how people protest about black lives matter but don’t protest about what flavor of cake tastes the sweetest. These perspectives are important in Social Judgment Theory as they are what make up our point of view and perspective of the world. Although these perspectives are anchored, they are able to be changed through small or even large pieces of evidence that change one’s perspective over time. Representation of acceptance of all types of people is a great example of something that can change one’s perspective over time as people learn that minorities are human as well and should be treated the same as white cisgender heterosexual men. This paper will dig into the idea of queer representation in children’s and teen/young adult television shows and movies in an effort to educate people to become more accepting of the realities that many people face when identifying as LGBTQIA+.

Social Judgment Theory, created by M. Sherif, describes the range of perspectives one can have on a subject, why they have these perspectives, and how they can possibly be persuaded into leaning their anchor towards a different perspective. Within a certain subject, there are three ranges of perspective that one can have their opinion anchored, including the latitude of acceptance, the latitude of rejection, and the latitude of noncommitment. Within the subject of queer representation, the latitude of acceptance is explored to educate younger audiences to become more accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community. The two sources that are used in this paper to explore this idea look into the sexualities of Jack McPhee in the TV series, Dawson’s Creek, and the diverse queer characters in the TV series, Glee.

The first source explores the controversial gay character, Jack McPhee in the early 2000s show, Dawson’s Creek, as it is a good “representation of homosexuality on television tailored for the adolescent audience” (Meyer, 2003). In the article, “It’s me. I’m it.’: Defining Adolescent Sexual Identity through Relational Dialects in Dawson’s Creek,” Michaela D. E. Meyer writes about Jack since he was a gay character who was able to “express sexual identity in terms of acceptance rather than in terms of political or legal rights” (Meyer, 2003). This acceptance is important because many people use religion or politics to explain why they have a latitude of rejection when it comes to the subject of LGBTQIA+ rights.

In our world today, there is a large media output of straight cisgender characters so the character of Jack McPhee helps to break this heteronormative outlook. When discussing this outlook, Meyer notes “that a lack of representation of adolescent queer identity in the media leads adolescents to an inaccurate vision of an exclusively heterosexual world” (Meyer, 2003). This is true for many children’s cartoons as well. For years there has been nothing but cisgender and heterosexual characters, but as of lately, there have been slightly more diverse characters including shows like Steven Universe (produced by Cartoon Network) and The Owl House (produced by Disney Channel).

Meyer’s article explored the dialects within the show that discuss the conversation of Jack McPhee being gay to prove that he is very similar to every other character on the show and shouldn’t be treated any differently due to his sexuality. When explaining the importance of his character, she writes, “Jack goes through teenage problems like the rest of his friends. He cannot get a date; he has a crush on someone unattainable; he does not get along with his parents; he is unsure of what to do with his life. To Jack, these themes are more important than sexuality in identity construction” (Meyer, 2003). With this being said, Jack is portrayed as accepted and equal because he is the same as everyone else, minus the fact that he is gay, which is not an exception to the way people treat him.

When discussing past research that had been done on the subject of being introduced to the subject of homosexuality, Meyer writes that “none of the participants were presented with any information about homosexuality in school, and most made unprompted comments about the complete lack of information about homosexuality given by their parents” (Meyer, 2003). To reflect on this point, I was never taught about any identity other than straight and cisgender until I was brought to a pride parade. It was never taught in school and my parents tend to not tell me anything, as they have a “she’ll find out on her own” mentality. This wasn’t just for gender and sexual identities, as my parents had never had “the talk” with me, as well. It’s as if these topics are deemed inappropriate or bad when parents don’t discuss them, which should not be the case if we want to educate people to become accepting of others. Leaving the subject of LGBTQIA+ people out of TV shows (and even conversations in the classroom, and between parents and their children) gives the nonverbal cue that it is something to hide and be ashamed of, making people lean more towards the latitude of rejection since they weren’t taught anything different.

The second source explores the many diverse queer characters in the TV series, Glee. In the article “Sexuality and Teen Television: Emerging Adults Respond to Representations of Queer Identity on Glee” Michaela D. E. Meyer and Megan M. Wood look into the responses to having diverse queer representation on a show for pre-teens, teens, and young adults. Meyer and Wood describe Glee as being different than other TV shows because “the series contains a number of queer characters, deviating from traditional teen television formats where non-heterosexual identities are typically contained to one token character” (Meyer & Wood, 2013). This is very accurate to Dawson’s Creek because Jack McPhee is the token gay character in the show, with not much more representation. As for Glee, there are many characters of many identities throughout the show. Some examples of this diverse representation include Kurt who is gay, Santana who is a lesbian, Britney who is bisexual, Blaine who is gay, David who is gay and closeted, and Unique who is a transgender woman. Through the broad range of identities covered, the audience is able to become educated on the terms and accept them into their latitude of acceptance.

Within this research source, Meyer and Wood interviewed Glee fans on the impact of having so many diverse queer characters represented in the show. Overall, the results showed that “respondents overwhelmingly identified that visibility for queer characters was important because every viewer might ‘run into characters that are gay’ in their own lives” (Meyer & Wood, 2013). The idea of queer representation becoming a norm within the TV and movie industry will allow for more acceptance of queer people as younger audiences are exposed to and become educated about them.

When discussing their research, I found it interesting that the authors disclosed that “most of the viewers in our study identified as heterosexual” because they all seemed very accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community. This surprised me because many of the people who I have talked to who identify as heterosexual are either in the latitude of rejection or in the latitude of acceptance but leaning more towards the latitude of noncommitment, as they don’t fully understand the subject of queer people. The answers that were given by these heterosexual people were very accepting which could be due to the diverse queer characters that they were exposed to when watching the show but did surprise me when reading this source. If people became more accepting of queer people while watching this show, and Dawson’s Creek, this is another great example of why there should be more queer representation in today’s television and movies.

In conclusion, the representation of queer characters in television and movies is crucial to the acceptance of queer people as equals to white cisgender heterosexual men. This representation should not only start in teen shows as discussed above but also in children’s shows. Exposing children to queer characters will not make them queer, but not exposing them to these characters might hurt their mental health as closeted queer children might think they are broken since they are not represented in their favorite shows. Schools, families, and television should continue to work to represent these identities to allow for more accepting children. A problem that stands in the way of this education currently is the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and other similar bills that are forcing people back into fear as they feel like they are being rejected instead of accepted. All in all, the range of acceptance, rejection, and noncommitment play a role in every perspective, but some views are more vocal than others since they have become political.

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