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Heroes Versus Villains in Five Canadian-produced Television Programs
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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

HEROES VERSUS VILLAINS IN FIVE CANADIAN-PRODUCED
TELEVISION PROGRAMS*


Deborah K. Phillips
Southeastern Louisiana University


     Abstract.  This research examines the
     relationships between men and women of five
     Canadian and five American television programs for
     approximately thirteen weeks.  The U.S.  Nielsens
     for the fall were used to select the top five
     American television programs in order that these
     could be videotaped from 6 January 1992 until 6
     May 1992.  The Canadian Nielsens were used to
     select the top five Canadian-produced television
     programs for the same time frame.  The five
     Canadian shows examined were Road to Avonlea,
     Street Legal, Counterstrike, E.N.G. and Neon
     Rider.  The five American shows examined were
     Roseanne, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, Full
     House and Cheers.  The rhetorical critical method
     of Bormann's fantasy theme analysis was utilized
     in this research.  In addition, personal and
     telephone interviews with various producers,
     actors, actresses, story editors, writers and
     directors of the television programs were
     conducted.  Finally, computer responses from
     viewers of the programs were taken from the GEnie
     computer service.  Due to the fact that this
     research is work in progress, this particular
     article only briefly examines one aspect of the
     study; namely, the heroes and villains of Canadian
     television.

                       Introduction

     Researchers have examined the portrayal of male and
female characters in television content for nearly fifty
years through the method of content analysis.  More
contemporarily, however, rhetorical methods of analysis have
also been employed to examine the roles of males and females
in American popular culture (Doyle, 1985; Hubbard, 1989).
Since these studies have principally examined male and
female relationships in print media, expansion of the
research in this area is still needed.

     The first area of expansion is that of the
relationships between men and women as portrayed on
entertainment television programs.  Research in this area is
still lacking.  Numerous researchers have examined sex-role
stereotypes of males and females on television (Davis, 1990;
Gunter, 1986; Greenberg, Simmons, Hogan and Atkin, 1980;
McGhee and Frueh, 1980; Dominick, 1979; and Lemon, 1977),
yet very little research has been conducted about the actual
portrayal of relationships between men, between women, and
between men and women on prime-time television.

     The second area of expansion is the need for cross-
cultural studies of male and female relationships.  Despite
the similarities between the United States and Canada, no
research has dealt exclusively with comparisons of the
portrayals of male and female relationships on prime-time
television between the two countries.  At the same time,
however, research concerning differences between the two
countries along other dimensions such as news viewing
behaviours, political concerns and economic attitudes abound
(Baer, Grabb and Johnston, 1990; Payne and Caron, 1982;
Barnett and McPhail, 1980; Payne, 1978; Sparks, 1977; and
Beattie, 1967).

     The purpose of this study is to examine the portrayal
of male and female relationships in American and Canadian
television programming, using Bormann's rhetorical theory
called "fantasy theme analysis" or "symbolic convergence
theory."  This research will explore possible similarities
and differences between each culture's portrayal of male and
female relationships.  The following are the research
questions to be addressed:

1.  How are relationships between men and women defined and
    portrayed in U.S.-produced television programs?

2.  How are relationships between women defined and
    portrayed in U.S.-produced television programs?

3.  How are relationships between men defined and portrayed
    in U.S.-produced television programs?

4.  How are relationships between men and women defined and
    portrayed in Canadian-produced television programs?

5.  How are relationships between women defined and
    portrayed in Canadian-produced television programs?

6.  How are relationships between men defined and portrayed
    in Canadian-produced television programs?

7.  How are relationships between men and women similar
    and/or different for Canadian- and U.S.- produced
    television programs?

8.  How are relationships between women similar and/or
    different for Canadian- and U.S.-produced television
    programs?

9.  How are relationships between men similar and/or
    different for Canadian- and U.S.-produced television
    programs?

                  Fantasy Theme Analysis

     The method of study is Bormann's fantasy theme analysis
(1972).  Fantasy theme analysis is a rhetorical critical
method first introduced by Bormann (1972) and based upon the
work of Bales (1970) regarding small group communication.
According to Bormann, fantasies are essentially the dramas
or actions of the characters in a small group or other
context.  Fantasy theme analysis combines the uniqueness of
a case study with the categorization function of a content
analysis.  On the other hand, the category schemes of
fantasy theme analysis also allow the generalizability of
the data by other critics.

     The key to understanding fantasy theme analysis,
according to Bormann, is the "dynamic process of group
fantasizing" (1972: 396).  This concept of "fantasizing" is
not limited to groups but can also be applied to the mass
media.  Bormann explains that fantasizing or dramatizing is
what creates a "social reality for groups of people" (1972:
398).  These individual dramas or fantasy themes often recur
to form an overall "rhetorical vision."  The fantasies are
not only found in groups or public address situations but
often recur in larger publics such as the mass media.
Bormann states that "a rhetorical vision is constructed from
fantasy themes that chain out in face-to-face interacting
groups, in speaker-audience transactions, in viewers of
television broadcasts, in listeners to radio programs, and
in all the diverse settings for public and intimate
communication in a given society" (1972: 398).  In other
words, although fantasy theme analysis was developed in the
small group context, it is not limited to that context.

     According to Rybacki and Rybacki (1991), fantasy theme
analysis is based upon two communication assumptions.
"First, people use communication to create reality.  A
fantasy is a means of communicating the probable truth about
something in the rhetorical situation" (1991: 87).  The
second assumption is that "people can share the symbols they
create.  This means that their symbols converge in a joint
creation of reality, a sense of reality that has exceptional
salience and truthfulness for them" (1991: 87).  Regarding
the issue of convergence, Littlejohn states that "in fact,
shared rhetorical visions - and especially the use of
fantasy types - can be taken as evidence that convergence
has occurred" (1992: 184).

     Rybacki and Rybacki (1991) outline the procedure to
perform a fantasy theme analysis.  The authors explain that
there are three elements involved in conducting a fantasy
theme analysis: "discovering the communication patterns of
fantasizing, considering the elements of the fantasy, and
explaining how and why the fantasy works for a particular
group of people" (1991: 90).  The last element consists of
evaluating "the stages in the life cycle of a fantasy and
whether what you are evaluating is a consciousness-creating,
consciousness-raising, or consciousness-sustaining fantasy"
(1991: 90).  Three fundamental concepts are discussed:
fantasy themes, fantasy types, and rhetorical visions.  Each
of these will be reviewed in turn.

     With respect to fantasy themes, Rybacki and Rybacki
state that the critic finds the fantasy themes by "looking
for dramatic characters, heroes, and villains and their
supporting cast; scenarios, the plot lines that develop the
fantasy; and setting, the scene in which action takes place"
(1991: 90).  The authors explain that "at this point, you
are in the descriptive stage of the process of criticism, so
you should collect all the evidence you can on the content
of the fantasy" (1991: 90).  The following is a list of the
types of questions that the rhetorical critic should ask in
developing fantasy themes (Bormann, 1972):

1.  Who are the dramatis personae (characters)?

2.  Is some abstract entity such as "the people," "God," or
    "the young" personified to legitimize the drama?

3.  Who are the heroes and villains, the supporting
    characters?

4.  How much detail is given to characterization and are
    motives attributed to the behaviour of characters?

5.  What kinds of behaviour are praised, condemned,
    requested, and what kinds of behaviour are attributed to
    insiders, outsiders, friends and enemies?

6.  What values are attributed to each character type?

7.  Where are the dramas set?

8.  Is the drama set in a city, wilderness, frontier,
    supernatural realm, or fictional territory?

9.  Is there some supernatural or official sanction of the
    setting such as "the land promised by God" or an act of
    government?

10. Are there important props that are part of the setting
    such as costumes, weapons, sacred texts, or secret
    documents?

11. What are the typical plot lines?

12. What action involves the heroes, villains, sanctioning
    agent, or supporting cast?

13. Are there neutral acts?

14. What are the lifestyles of heroes and villains?

15. What emotions are portrayed in the action?

16. What is the place of the drama in history; that is, is
    there some sense of the historic importance of the
    action?

     The second fundamental concept of fantasy theme
analysis is the fantasy type.  Rybacki and Rybacki describe
the fantasy type as:

     a stock scenario that is repeated or shared over
     and over again.  Although there may be slight
     variations in elements of a fantasy theme, the
     same characters or character types, the same
     settings, and the same plot lines are repeated ...
     When a fantasy theme has been repeated often
     enough, it no longer has to be repeated in its
     entirety to have rhetorical impact.  The members
     of the audience know the missing details (1991:
     92).

Examples of popular fantasy types are "slasher films" or
"biker pictures of the Sixties."  The following are a few of
the questions used to analyze fantasy types (Bormann, 1972):

1.  Are the same people or institutions cast as heroes and
    villains?

2.  Is there a repetition of the same plot line or the same
    scene?

3.  Are some scenes considered sacred, profane, or neutral
    territory?

     The third fundamental concept of fantasy theme analysis
is the rhetorical vision.  According to Rybacki and Rybacki:

     In using the fantasy theme approach to do
     criticism, you ultimately want to be able to
     evaluate a rhetorical act or set of acts in terms
     of the judgmental criteria of results, truth,
     ethics, or aesthetics.  The goal of fantasy theme
     analysis is to explain how and why a fantasy
     became a shared reality for a group.  A group's
     shared reality is found in its rhetorical vision
     (1991: 96).

     The authors describe the differences between fantasy
themes, types, and rhetorical visions as follows:

     An individual fantasy theme offers one script of
     characters, setting, and plot.  A fantasy type is
     the abbreviated statement of the fantasy theme and
     allows the fantasy theme to be referred to in a
     rhetorical act without supplying all the details.
     A rhetorical vision is the total of all the
     communication acts that, when taken together,
     comprise the index of the complete drama (1991:
     96).

     Rybacki and Rybacki describe "The Silent Majority" or
"The Cold War" as phrases representing rhetorical visions.
The following are examples of questions to be posed in
analyzing rhetorical visions (Bormann, 1972):

1.  How encompassing was the rhetorical vision?  Was the
    rhetorical community small or large?

2.  What community life-cycle stage did the vision
    represent: consciousness creating, raising, or
    sustaining?  Did the vision draw more members to the
    rhetorical community?

3.  What was the relationship of this rhetorical vision to
    competing visions?  Did it isolate the group because its
    fantasy was incompatible with other interpretations of
    reality?

4.  How did the vision provide a coherent, comprehensible
    way for the members of the rhetorical community to cope
    with or adapt to a time of trouble or a chaotic and
    confusing situation?

5.  What motivation to act did acceptance of the vision
    provide members of the rhetorical community?  What
    standards of belief and behaviour were advocated in the
    vision?

6.  How compelling was the vision for participants?  Did
    sharing the vision commit members of the rhetorical
    community to a lifestyle change, or was acceptance of
    the vision the only change community members
    experienced?

7.  What were the aesthetic properties of the vision?  Were
    the characters one-dimensional figures who enacted
    stereotypical melodramas, or were they fully developed
    as people who enacted a range of behaviours in a fully
    articulated setting?  Was the drama logically complete?

     Rybacki and Rybacki explain that the final stage of a
fantasy theme analysis is to examine the extent to which a
rhetorical vision functioned as truth.  The authors feel
that the truth standard is the most important criterion in
the fantasy theme approach:

     Rhetorical visions reveal what constituted truth
     for those who shared the vision.  Truth is inter-
     subjectively determined, and when a fantasy
     becomes a compelling rhetorical vision, it does so
     because a rhetorical community has
     inter-subjectively determined it to be true.  The
     vision constitutes truth for a particular
     rhetorical community but does not necessarily
     constitute truth for other groups in society
     (1991: 99).

     However, what is acknowledged as the truth can change
over time.  Rybacki and Rybacki state that:

     What is acknowledged to be the truth can be
     discovered only by comparing the various fantasies
     that people use to conceptualize reality.  As a
     critic, you must examine competing rhetorical
     visions to determine if the same people or
     institutions are cast as heroes and villains, if
     similar plot lines are used, and especially if
     recurring patterns of symbolization are used in
     different visions.  Or you may find that widespread
     convergence is not occurring and that several
     competing versions of the truth exist.  The one
     'true' rhetorical vision for a particular time is
     the one that achieves convergence (1991: 100).

                        Methodology

     This section will discuss the specific stages of data
collection and the procedures followed to implement a
fantasy theme analysis for the purposes of this research.

Television Program Selection

     Since Bormann's fantasy theme analysis is audience-
centered methodology, the Nielsen ratings were used to
select the television programs for analysis.  The Nielsen
ratings reflect the most popular television programs based
upon audience data.  Since fewer Canadian programs are
produced, the potential size of that sample was limited at
the outset.  In addition, many of the top thirteen
Canadian-produced television programs from the fall season
did not return during the spring season, and therefore these
programs had to be eliminated from the study.  Finally, due
to the time constraints and expenses of videotaping a
television program for sixteen weeks, the decision was made
to select a more manageable number of programs.  Therefore
the top five Canadian-produced fictional entertainment
programs and the top five U.S.- produced fictional programs
were selected.

     A CTV research department employee supplied the
following list of the thirteen most popular Canadian-
produced entertainment programs, based upon Nielsen data for
the period 9 September to 1 December 1991:

1.  Street Legal            CBC   1,089,000  viewers
2.  Road to Avonlea         CBC   1,073,000  viewers
3.  Counterstrike           CTV   1,034,000  viewers
4.  E.N.G.                  CTV     954,000  viewers
5.  Neon Rider              CTV     751,000  viewers
6.  Northwood               CBC     730,000  viewers
7.  Katts and Dog           CTV     667,000  viewers
8.  Mom P.I.                CBC     625,000  viewers
9.  Bordertown              CTV     596,000  viewers
10. Material World          CBC     581,000  viewers
11. Kids in the Hall        CBC     430,000  viewers
12. Urban Angel             CBC     417,000  viewers
13. Max Glick               CBC     362,000  viewers

Based upon the above list, the top five programs were
selected for analysis.

     The Nielsen data regarding the U.S.-produced
entertainment programs referred to the period 16 September
to 15 December 1991.  A manager at a local television
station provided a list of the top 109 American programs,
ranked by rating/share.  The top thirteen were as follows:

1.  60 Minutes                CBS       21.0/34
2.  Roseanne                  ABC       20.3/31
3.  Murphy Brown              CBS       19.8/29
4.  Cheers                    NBC       18.6/29
5.  Designing Women           CBS       18.2/27
6.  Full House                ABC       18.1/28
7.  Coach                     ABC       18.1/27
8.  Home Improvement          ABC       17.3/26
9.  Major Dad                 CBS       17.3/26
10. Murder She Wrote          CBS       17.1/23
11. Unsolved Mysteries        NBC       16.5/27
12. NFL Monday Night Football ABC       16.4/27
13. Evening Shade             CBS       16.3/25

Based upon these data, the five most popular fictional
entertainment programs - Roseanne, Murphy Brown, Cheers,
Designing Women, and Full House - were selected.

Procedures

     The five Canadian and five American programs were
videotaped during the sixteen-week period from 6 January
1992 to 26 April 1992.  I then set about to identify
prevalent fantasy themes, fantasy types, and rhetorical
visions in accordance with the principles of fantasy theme
analysis outlined earlier.  Each episode was viewed in its
entirety in order to classify the material into the three
categories.

Identification of Fantasy Themes

     In the identification of fantasy themes, the following
questions guided the analysis:

1.  Who are the dramatis personae?

2.  Who are the heroes and villains, the supporting
    characters?

3.  How much detail is given to characterization and are
    motives attributed to the behaviour of characters?

4.  What kinds of behaviour are praised, condemned,
    requested, and what kinds of behaviour are attributed to
    insiders, outsiders, friends, and enemies?

5.  What values are attributed to each character type?

6.  What action involves the heroes, villains, sanctioning
    agent, or supporting cast?

7.  What are the lifestyles of heroes and villains?

8.  What emotions are portrayed in the action?

     These questions were selected over those raised by
Bormann since it was felt that these questions would be more
beneficial in determining the relationships between men,
between women, and between men and women.  Moreover, similar
questions were employed in a previous analysis of male and
female relationships in the Canadian television series
E.N.G.  (Phillips, 1992).  Hence it was felt that these
particular questions would be more pertinent in the
identification of fantasy themes for this particular topic.
The questions regarding setting seemed least pertinent to
these specific research questions.

Identification of Fantasy Types

     The second stage of the analysis was the identification
of fantasy types.  This depends upon the patterns found in
the fantasy themes.  Although additional guiding questions
may become evident in determining these themes, two
questions presented by Bormann have been used thus far:

1.  Is there a repetition of the same plot line or the same
    scene?

2.  Are the same people or institutions cast as heroes and
    villains?

Identification of Rhetorical Visions

     The third stage of the analysis is the
identification of rhetorical visions.  Again, questions
may develop as a result of the findings of the first two
stages of the analysis.  To date, however, four of
Bormann's questions have guided the identification of
rhetorical visions:

1.  How encompassing was the rhetorical vision?  Was the
    rhetorical community small or large?

2.  What community life-cycle did the vision represent:
    consciousness-creating, raising, or sustaining?  Did the
    vision draw more members to the rhetorical community?

3.  What motivation to act did acceptance of the vision
    provide members of the rhetorical community?  What
    standards of belief and behaviour were advocated in the
    vision?

4.  What were the aesthetic properties of the vision?  Were
    the characters one-dimensional figures who enacted
    stereotypical melodramas, or were they fully developed
    as people who enacted a range of behaviours in a fully
    articulated setting?  Was the drama logically complete?

Reliability Measures

     Once identification of the themes, types and visions is
fully complete, an intra-coder reliability check will be
performed.  One episode of each Canadian program and one
episode of each American program will be randomly selected,
for a total of ten episodes to be selected and viewed again
in their entirety.  These episodes will be viewed again as a
measure of intra-coder reliability in order to ensure that
codes are not changed during the course of the analysis.
Any discrepancies between the two codings of the various
programs will be reported.

Personal Interviews

     The next phase of the project calls for personal
interviews with producers, writers, actors and actresses,
story editors and directors at the selected television
programs.  This stage of the analysis is, of course,
dependent upon both access to and the co-operation of
program production staff.  To date, however, the only
program at which it has not been possible to obtain such
interviews is Cheers.

Computer Bulletin Board Data

     The final phase of the project involves the use of
computerized bulletin board services.  This procedure was
implemented in the previous analysis of the E.N.G. program
(Phillips, 1992).  In that analysis, questions were posed to
users of the computer bulletin boards of three computer
services: Prodigy, GEnie, and Compuserve.  Members were
asked general questions such as their opinions of various
characters and what they liked or disliked about the
program.  A similar procedure will be followed in the
current project, although questions will be more specific.
For example, some of the questions used to identify themes,
types and visions will be presented to the computer bulletin
board public.  Canadian bulletin boards will also be
accessed during a future visit to Toronto.  In addition, the
questions will be presented via a GEnie bulletin board which
deals exclusively with Canadian culture and which is
typically used by Canadian residents.

     Although computer bulletin boards do not represent the
general population, these boards do represent the responses
of avid viewers of the programs.  These viewers on computer
boards are generally more familiar with the specific
programs of interest and therefore would represent the
rhetorical communities to which Rybacki and Rybacki refer
(1991).  Recognizing the fact that discrepancies could exist
due to my American frame of reference, I have elected to
establish these computerized methods of checking fantasy
themes, fantasy types, and rhetorical visions as well as
observing to what extent the Canadian population observes
the same themes, types and visions.  If the body of computer
response data is too small to run statistical analyses, I
will then attempt to implement some type of categorization
scheme to systematically classify the responses of the
computer users.  In the event that few or no responses are
received, I will question a number of Canadian residents
about the Canadian television programs as a means to
validate themes across cultures.

                          Results

     At this point the project is still work in progress as
I am currently analyzing the data.  However, one interesting
development with regard to the research questions can be
discussed to some extent; namely, the issue of heroes versus
villains in Canadian-produced prime-time television.

     Holmes and Allison (1992) observe that Canadian
television has offered very few Canadian heroes, whereas
American television has always featured an abundance of
heroes.  In their article, the authors present examples to
demonstrate that the two male lawyers of Street Legal, Leon
Robinovitch (Eric Peterson) and Chuck Tchobaniam (C.  David
Johnson), are contemporary Canadian television heroes.

     However, based upon my fantasy theme analysis, personal
interviews, and computer bulletin board data, Street Legal
was seen as one of the three Canadian television programs
with no distinct heroes or villains.  The other two Canadian
programs with characters not fitting into the hero or
villain mode were E.N.G. and Road to Avonlea.  The two
Canadian television programs seen as having distinct heroes
or villains were Neon Rider and Counterstrike.

     First, let's briefly consider the three programs
without clear-cut heroes or villains.  One reason to reverse
the verdict of Holmes and Allison that Leon and Chuck are
heroes is that on Street Legal sometimes the bad guys are
good and the good guys are bad.  The authors identify Leon
as a hero but then point to his affair as an unheroic thing
to do.  As for Chuck, he spent most of his time this season
cohorting with biker gang members, showing up drunk for
court, or in jail.  These are definitely not qualities of
the traditional hero, although they do make Chuck a more
believable character.  C. David Johnson, who plays the role
of Chuck, was asked if he feels there are distinct heroes or
villains on Street Legal.  He replied: "I think the lines
are a little blurred" and he did not feel that there were
distinct heroes or villains.

     Similar scenarios were encountered in the case of
E.N.G. and Road to Avonlea.  One Canadian viewer from the
GEnie bulletin board service responded as follows about the
former: "Heroes and villains?  No, not really.  It is a
television show about making a television show.  The only
villains, usually, are people from the outside, people being
filmed for stories, etc."  Actress Cynthia Belliveau, who
plays reporter Terri Morgan on E.N.G., also stated that
there are no distinct heroes or villains on the show.  A
female Canadian GEnie computer user also failed to see
distinct heroes or villains in Road to Avonlea.  She
replied: "I wouldn't say there are distinct heroes or
villains here.  It is a clean-cut show where there are
characters with different personalities but they are all
just 'regular' small town folk."

     In contrast, viewers as well as actors and story
editors of Neon Rider and Counterstrike described these as
programs which relied on heroic and villainous characters.
A male Canadian GEnie bulletin board user agreed that
Counterstrike is comprised of heroes and villains: "The
whole show is based on the hero and the villain.  The hero
is the Counterstrike team and the villain is the object of
the operation.  The good guys and the bad guys."  Actor Tom
Kneebone, who plays Bennett the butler on Counterstrike,
agreed with the good and bad guy concept, adding "but
they're 1992 goodies and baddies."  Similar patterns for
heroes and villains were found for Neon Rider.  In the words
of Carl Binder, the program's story editor: "Our main
character, Michael Terry, is obviously the hero of the
show."

                        Conclusion

     It should be stressed that this research is still work
in progress.  For example, the analysis of the American
programs and the comparison of these programs with their
Canadian counterparts both remain to be completed.  However,
even at this early stage of analysis, some interesting
trends pertaining to the lack of identification with
Canadian characters as heroes or villains have been noted.
Whether these trends are evident for the American television
programs is difficult to state at this juncture, and it may
be that the differences in genre (Canadian drama and
American situation comedies) could account for differences
in hero or villain status.  More comparisons will be made at
a later date.



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* Deborah K. Phillips (M.A., University of Wyoming, 1987) is
currently working on her doctorate at Florida State
University while teaching in the Department of Communication
and Theatre at Southeastern Louisiana University.  This
article represents work in progress derived from her
doctoral dissertation.  The research is funded by the
Canadian Embassy.