Beyond Representational Correctness

Rethinking Criticism of Popular Media

By Edward Schiappa

Subjects: Mass Media
Paperback : 9780791474242, 227 pages, March 2008
Hardcover : 9780791474235, 227 pages, March 2008

Table of contents

PART I. Provocations
1. The Impossible Dream of Representational Correctness
2. The Argumentative Burdens of Audience Conjectures
3. The Phenomenal Text of Will & Grace: Revisiting the Text/Audience Divide
PART II. Interventions
4. Learning from Television: The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis
5. Context Matters: Antifeminism in Michael Crichton’s Disclosure
6. Quitting “Man”: Masculinity, Film Criticism, and Pedagogy
PART III. Conclusions
7. Beyond Representational Correctness: Five Suggestions

Argues that representational correctness can cause critics to miss the positive work that films and television shows can perform in reducing prejudice.


Representational correctness describes an implicit set of norms, including accuracy, purity, and innocence, that guide much of popular media criticism. In this provocative book, Edward Schiappa argues that representational correctness is unproductive, antagonistic to audience research, and typically disconnected from relevant social psychological or mass communication theories. Analyzing criticisms of such television shows as Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Schiappa argues that the norms of representational correctness can cause critics to miss the positive work such shows perform in reducing prejudice. He contends that too many critics focus on isolated scenes or interactions that perpetuate a stereotype without considering the larger work that films and television shows can accomplish. Schiappa concludes that pop culture critics need to engage in more audience research, draw from relevant research in social psychology, praise positive representations and programming, and promote critical media literacy in both classroom and public pedagogy.

Edward Schiappa is Professor of Communication Studies and Paul W. Frenzel Chair of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. He is the editor of Warranting Assent: Case Studies in Argument Evaluation, also published by SUNY Press, and the author of Defining Reality: Definitions and the Politics of Meaning.


"Whether or not you agree with Edward Schiappa's central argument that media studies should move toward multimethodological approaches that incorporate social science measures into audience analysis to broaden its scope, it is difficult to deny that conventional textual analysis has sometimes been limited by problems related to representational correctness. Schiappa raises important questions for critical media studies and offers provocative answers." — Mary M. Dalton, coeditor of The Sitcom Reader: America Viewed and Skewed