Bringing up baby : representations of lone motherhood in modern popular culture
This thesis explores media representations of single mothers, and considers how one segment of the audience interprets the messages and ideologies embedded within texts, in relation to their own experiences and perceptions. It combines textual analysis of selected texts from popular television and film with empirical data collected during seminars conducted with groups of teenage, female college students and young single mothers. The texts studied were chosen from television soap opera and situation comedy (both of which deal mainly with family relationships and family situations) and popular, modem Hollywood films; three areas I considered to be central in helping me to gain an understanding of how the media construct meanings and messages for audiences in a form and style designed for repetition and unambiguity, to create easy understanding for audiences, even when they are actually complex and contradictory. The research groups were made up of young women aged between 16 and 20, from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds. The fieldwork was conducted over a period of several weeks over the five year research period, and used with the case-study texts from contemporary popular culture. The data collected suggests that, beneath the increasingly diverse representations of single mothers in popular culture, media texts tend to define and represent single mothers generally as incomplete, lacking and/or deviant in comparison to ‘normal’ motherhood. However, the young audience members with whom I worked, used the parameters of their own experience and knowledge to simultaneously engage with and distance themselves from the seemingly entrenched ideologies embedded within the texts. As a result it seems that despite the essentially negative representations that continue to dominate media stereotypes of single mothers, young female viewers remain generally aware of and distanced from the messages being transmitted.