Blog author: dphelps
by on Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A very, very interesting piece in WSJ this week detailing a study by the Business and Media Institute that looks at how businesspeople are portrayed on television:

The study, titled “Bad Company,” looked at the top 12 TV dramas during May and November in 2005, ranging from crime shows like “CSI” to the goofy “Desperate Housewives.” Out of 39 episodes that featured business-related plots, the study found, 77% advanced a negative view of the world of commerce and its practitioners.

On the various “Law & Order” shows, for instance, almost 50% of felonies — mostly murders — were committed by businessmen. In almost all of the primetime programs, when private-sector protagonists showed up, they were usually doing something unethical, cruel or downright criminal.

All businessmen have greasy hair and wear suspenders. TV tells me so.

Of course, the question is which came first, the chicken or the egg, the negative stereotype of the entrepreneur in the general public, or the stories that largely portray entrepreneurs in a negative light? The study’s author, Dan Gainor:

Over time, he says, plots that ritually make entrepreneurs the bad guys have a pernicious effect: “This becomes part of our collective worldview. We think all businessmen are somehow scummy. We think you had to lie, cheat or murder to get ahead.”

Gainor attributes these portrayals as the result of “a shrinking roster of available villains, in a universe where capitalists, along with aliens and Nazis, are one of the few groups left that it is safe to demonize.”

Poor Jack. Does he ever have a GOOD day?

In other words, cliche. Bad art. Pulp. Uncreative writers. Formulaic problem solving. But ought we be surprised? There is not much on television that we could label the paragon of narrative art (although, there are a few very quality shows, 24 not being one of them…sorry folks, if your show depends on Kiefer Sutherland angrily shouting at least five lines per episode, you’ve hit a wall).

So first of all, I think we need to keep things in perspective: this is not a rash of negative portrayals in deeply profound pieces of art. Most of these portrayals (at least the ones I am familiar with) are strawmen, paper tigers; in a word, silliness.

But a dangerous silliness. For on the other hand, we have to understand that television is influential, and even if the chicken did come before the egg, the egg will create another chicken. There are not a whole lot of people who readily recognize how silly this sterotype is, especially since it shows up so often.

So how does one stem the tide? What resources exist to bring this silliness to light, to help right this stereotype of business? Click here for one (slightly self-promoting) answer. Tell your friends!


  • http://blog.acton.org Jordan

    Futher confirmatory evidence: the transition of Lex Luthor from “mad scientist” to “evil capitalist businessman” in the 1980s.

  • Jack Bauer

    Has this guy ever even seen 24? Give me a break, that’s the best show on TV by FAR.

  • David Michael Phelps

    Yes, well, to each his own … but “Lost” seems much more thoughtful (though I’ve limited myself to only a few episodes–its addictively good), and the few episodes of “House” I’ve seen suggest much more creative characters. Also, until its unjust demise, “Arrested Development” was the best written show on TV (minus, perhaps, “The Sopranos,” if the two can be compared. But 24? Feels more like an amusement park ride (granted, a mildly amusing one) than a quality drama.

  • http://blog.acton.org/ Jordan

    David, I think you’re forgetting that [url=http://theresurgence.com/md_blog_2006-06-03_jack_bauer]Jack Bauer is a type of Christ[/url].

    After all, what would Jesus watch?

  • David Michael Phelps

    “Iron Chef.” And the occasional Fishing Tournament on OLN.

  • http://blog.acton.org/ Jordan

    See, I thought it would have been some sort of carpentry show, like [url=http://www.routerworkshop.com/]the Router Workshop[/url] or something.