Date of Award

5-2010

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Laura Lindenfeld

Second Committee Member

Paul Grosswiler

Third Committee Member

Nathan Stormer

Abstract

This thesis considers the sexual content, sexual archetypes, and implications of portrayed consequences of sexual activity on teen television programs. This work contributes to existing work regarding sexual content on television, with a specific focus on television programs that feature teenager characters and are marketed primarily to teenage audiences. The teen genre has been missing from much of the scholarly research regarding sex on television and involves its own specific concerns and considerations due to the age and implied impressionability of the demographic in regards to forming ideas and attitudes about a variety of topics, including sex and gender. This thesis provides a brief history of teen film and teen television, concentrating on the specific themes and characterizations that have appeared consistently in regard to characters' sexual behavior and its consequences, as well as an overview of the sexual content that appears on teen television today. Based on the genre's history and the discussed characterizations and themes, the author outlines five sexual archetypes routinely seen on teen programs: The Virgin, The Romantic, The Bad Girl, The Playboy, and The Questioner. These archetypes assist in demonstrating the gendered consequences for sexual activity on the programs. Through a narrative analysis, focusing on the cause-and-effect aspects of sexual storylines, four popular teen programs (Dawson's Creek, The O. C., One Tree Hill, and Gossip Girl) are discussed in terms of the sexualized characterizations of characters, the recurring sexual themes portrayed, and how consequences for having sex differ for male and female characters, as well as for white and non-white characters. Extensive examples from all four shows are used to illustrate and enhance the author's arguments, which are based on existing gender and whiteness theory, with a specific focus on three sexual storylines from Gossip Girl, comparing and contrasting the consequences of sex in each relationship. The author argues that female characters experience harsher consequences for having sex as a means of perpetuating a cultural script that allows for a "boys will be boys" attitude but punishes females for behaving sexually. The author also argues that non-white characters are used in sexual storylines primarily to carry out controversial plot lines as a way to allow white characters to learn from the controversial experiences without being associated with the controversy. The shows' narratives uphold a hegemony that privileges upper-class white males as well as prioritize a sexual sequence of events in which heterosexuality and monogamy are of top concern, and which punishes female and non-white characters for sexual behavior as a means to promote this script.

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