Television talk as site for identity construction

television-talk.pngAuthor(s) (CIMS)

Elke Van Damme

Year Publication



Academia Press




Teenage gender and sexual identities are shaped within a complex cultural landscape where the issue of protecting the ‘innocent’ (i.e. children/teens) from sexually suggestive images is high on the public agenda (Buckingham, 2008b; Duits & van Zoonen, 2011; Johansson, 2007). Intimate relationships and sexuality have entered the public domain and are presented on television, offering audiences possible roles to play in everyday life. Trepidation about teenagers being ‘corrupted’ by sexualised media has urged many scholars to investigate this issue, as illustrated by many newspaper articles, such as ‘Sex and the City verhoogt kans op tienerzwangerschap’ (Dijkman, 2008, 11 November). However, Buckingham and Bragg (2004), for instance, underlined that sexualised, mediatised representations can also empower and emancipate teens, who are often savvy, active and critical media consumers. Thus, we believe that it is too strong a statement to speak of youth as being ‘corrupted’ through media use and media consumption. Drawing on insights from the interdisciplinary field of cultural studies, we aimed to study how young audiences (14–19-year-olds) in Flanders consume fictional sexual scripts, and how these scripts can help in the development and articulation of a teenager’s gender and sexual identities. A qualitative approach was adopted using 57 teenagers divided into 8 focus groups. The topics of discussion were social viewing contexts and television centred communication, as well as sexual norms and values, the sexual double standard, sexual scripts and representations of peers and gay characters. We consider these focus group talks about the consumption of fictional sexual scripts as a site for identity construction, since identity (or the narrative of the self; Giddens, 1991) must be performed for others to see. Since gender and sexuality are both social constructs to which mediated representations contribute (Gledhill, 2003, p. 366; Jackson, 2005; Rahman & Jackson, 2010), and since gender and sexuality are intertwined and cannot be completely separated, both were investigated in this study (Bindig, 2008, p. 21; Lemish, 2010). The results of the study presented in this working paper show that talking about and watching televised sex have, for the most part, become less taboo among teens, and sexual scripts are often considered ‘normal’. A rather liberal stance regarding sexual representations was noted among most of the youth; however, this does not imply that their permissiveness is unlimited. In general, they highly value traditional norms and values regarding relationships and sexuality in everyday life, and although most respondents showed tolerance towards others having casual sex, they tended to distance themselves from such behaviour. Hegemonic gender performances and heteronormative discourse were frequently noted in the discussion of representations of gay characters on television, and young men in particular felt the need to stress their heterosexual identity.