May 052014

Time with Tim by Wootang01 on flickr

Our nation is comprised of racially diverse people playing varying roles but Canadian television ads convey a markedly different image, according to the authors of a paper on the subject just published in the Canadian Review of Sociology.

University of Toronto sociologists Shyon Baumann and Loretta Ho spent 18 months examining the meanings attached to race in prime-time food and dining commercials on CBC, CTV and Global TV. Their results, summarized in Cultural Schemas for Racial Identity in Canadian Television Advertising, reveal a big divide between the ways our ethnic subcultures were characterized and people’s actual day-to-day lives.

Baumann and Ho found four distinct and favourable ways in which White actors are presented but the only clear way in which Blacks were depicted was as blue-collar workers. An ad f

or “Honey Bunches of Oats,” for example, featured a White food scientist and then panned to two Black factory workers in front of a packaging machine.

They also found just one schema for East and Southeast Asians, which showed them as “unemotional overachievers who respond to any and all situations in a robotic way.”

“Culture schemas are so entrenched in the advertising world that they go beyond mere stereotypes.” says Ho. “The way Asians are depicted gives me a script on how I should be acting: I should be the achiever, the unemotional robot, constantly striving for higher grades. Also, for the general public viewing this, it gives them a script on how to interact with me, before even knowing me, like, ‘Oh, she’s an Asian. She must be smart! She must be good at math. How should I interact with this person?’”

Media Coverage:
Globe and Mail May 6, 2014

Access the Baumann and Ho study

See the latest issue of the Canadian Review of Sociology