The NPR – National Public Radio – recently reported in a three-part series that the major networks are trying to appeal to Latino audiences. Although the NPR article focuses specifically on news outlets trying to appeal to both Latinos who prefer their news in Spanish and those who prefer it in English, the networks are also struggling to figure out Latino’s TV viewing preferences in regular programming, such as sitcoms and dramas. Everyone wants a piece of the Latino 1-trillion-purchasing-power pie. According to a study by Nielsen Media, published earlier this year, the purchasing power of Latinos is greater than any other ethnic group.
Some believe that networks haven’t been able to appeal to Latino audiences with their English-language programming because of the heavy use of stereotypes. The New York Times reported that characters like Sofia Vergara’s Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on ABC’s Modern Family are too stereotypical and turn Latino viewers away. I actually love Modern Family and Vergara’s character. I recall an episode where the family went to Disneyland and Gloria insisted on wearing heels, against her husband’s advice. I thought it was hysterical. Why? Because I’ve seen that with my own two eyes! I live near Disney World and have been there – a lot. I’ve seen it at the mall too! I think that sitcoms, in particular, rely on stereotypes to get laughs. Modern Family, for example, also pokes fun at gay stereotypes, A-type personalities, and family dynamics. That’s what makes it funny. Take a show like Friends. They had Ross the nerd, Monica the obsessive-compulsive neat freak, Joey the dumb actor, and Phoebe the ditz. And remember Christina Applegate’s character Kelly Bundy on Married with Children? That was dumb blonde stereotyping to the max.
I usually don’t get offended by the use of stereotypes in comedies, especially if they ring true. But it does bother me a bit when Hollywood uses certain stereotypes over and over that aren’t even very accurate. It kills me every time I watch a show or movie set in a Latin-American country and there’s always a festival going on, like we wear costumes and dance in the streets all day. ¡Por favor! And of course, there’s the idea that most Latinos are maids, landscapers or drug dealers. Very rarely do you see a Latino portrayed as an executive in corporate America. Aside from the stereotypes, there’s also the issue about language preference.
Many Latinos prefer to watch the news and other programming in Spanish, period. I can’t relate to that, because I fall into the group that prefers English media. To me, Latino TV relies too heavily on sensationalism in news broadcasts and sexual innuendos in comedy shows. I’ll take a stereotypical joke over a fresh one any day. And I guess that’s exactly what the networks are trying to figure out: who prefers what, in what language and in which format. I’m sure they will keep trying until they get it right, because they know that pleasing the Latino audience is crucial to their bottom line.
Taina Haiman, Guest Contributor