The Representation of Muslim Characters in the Television Series 24. Ethnic Norwegians and Norwegian Muslims Speak Out
Television series can play an important role in the way they represent different groups and categories of people, when considering the position of ethnic groups within contemporary multicultural societies. Television series participate in forming an arena, in which representations, social relationships, identities and borders between ingroup members and outgroup members are negotiated and constructed. According to social constructivism, the discourses in a television series will not merely be a reflection of reality, but also elaborate on the construction of reality. This PhD project will apply the methods and theories from two interpretative traditions in television studies, in an examination of the American action series ‘24’: a combination of textual analysis and audience reception analysis. The first part of the study includes textual analysis of selected episodes from ‘24’, drawing especially on theories of character representation. The focus will be on ‘24’’s depictions of the Muslim characters which constitute the enemy, and the main question will be if they are represented in a stereotyped manner. The second part of the study examines how a variety of interpretive communities of young adults in Norway read, comprehend and interpret the representations of Muslim characters in the texts. The reception analysis will be carried out in the form of focus group interviews. The advantage of applying this method is that statements and utterances in groups may shed light on reception in the context of interpretive communities with different backgrounds. The study will include twelve focus group interviews, and each focus group will consist of five to eight participants. The participants will be high school students in Norway who are either ethnic Norwegians or second generation immigrants with Muslim backgrounds. Participants will be asked about related themes and concepts which are central to this study, e.g. depictions of Muslim characters are depicted in ‘24’ and whether or not stereotype representations: exist, contain a kernel of truth and are offensive. Combining textual analysis and reception analysis is a common approach in reception studies of television series. However, the importance is often placed on mapping the meaning that is attached to the meeting between textual content and the audience rather than on a comparison of the parts (Waldahl, 1999). This project the will focus on a comparison of the analyses, allowing the analysis done by a television studies researcher to be complemented by and compared to the readings and understandings of the two interpretive communities. The textual analysis aims to uncover how stereotypes can work in a television series text, while the reception analysis seeks to shed light on the interpretative communities ́ stereotyping of the same text. An important issue is whether, and to which extent, opportunities for plural interpretations of the text exists, creating an ‘open’ text. By contrast if similar or identical interpretations of a text are portrayed, the text is considered ‘closed’. This study will investigate issues of interpretation, comprehension and stereotyping of television texts.