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VIEWING AMERICA: A QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS OF HOW NICARAGUAN
CITIZENS PERCEIVE U.S. LIFESTYLES AND HOW U.S. TELEVISION
PROGRAMMING INFLUENCES THOSE PERCEPTIONS
JORGE A. AGUILAR
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS IN MASS COMMUNICATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Jorge A. Aguilar
I want to express my sincerest thanks to Dr. Michael Leslie, the chair of my thesis
committee, for having the patience one sometimes needs to fulfill one's vision. With his
keen insight and constant encouragement he helped mold a project that would have
otherwise been wandering in a perpetual researchers' limbo.
I owe a very special, special debt of gratitude to Dr. Kurt Kent who was the initial
inspiration for the study in Nicaragua. He gave the project purpose and helped to design
the protocol that was needed to execute the investigation.
I also want to acknowledge Dr. Leonard Tipton and Dr. Helena Sarkio for their
contributions to this investigation and the stamina they exhibited while waiting to see the
finished and polished product.
Finally, I am eternally grateful to the 13 participants of this study who shared their
thoughts and opinions, often in difficult working conditions.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S .................................................................................................. ii
T A B L E O F C O N T E N T S ................................................. ............................................ iii
ABSTRACT .............. ......................................... vi
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
In tro d u ctio n ........................... ................... ...........................................
Nicaraguan Society and Culture: A Brief Introduction ............................................3
Nicaraguan Media................................ .. ... ... ..................
2 LITERATURE REVIEW ........................................................................... 10
In tro d u ctio n ........................................................................................10
Cultivation Theory ................................ ..................... ..... .. ...............11
Media Framing and Its Most Common Messages ...................................................14
A active A audiences ................................... ............................18
Human Information Processing and Social Learning .............................................22
R research Q u estion s........... ............................................................ .. .. ....... ..... 2 8
3 M E T H O D S ........................................................................................................... 3 0
4 F IN D IN G S ................................................................................ 3 5
T h e P articip ants ................................................................ 3 5
Job Opportunities...................................... 36
V violence and Law Enforcem ent ...................................................... 44
Family Values, Lifestyles, and Leisure Activities.............................. ...... .........50
Socio-E conom ic Status ................................60.............................
5 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION ...........................................68
Sum m ary ............................... .... ........................ ................. ........ 68
Study Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research................. ...77
A TELEVICENTRO CHANNEL 2 PROGRAMMING LINEUP MONDAYS JULY
2 0 0 3 .................................................................................7 9
B ESTESA CABLE SERVICE CHANNEL LINEUP IN LEON (MARCH 2005) ......80
C BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE 13 PARTICIPANTS .......................82
Interview 1: Y eny C ontreras............................................................ .....................82
Interview 2: Jarom ir Pastora........................................................... ............... 82
Interview 3: M ariela Aguirre .................. ......... ........................ ............... 83
Interview 4: Noemy Campos ......... .................................... .......................... 84
Interview 5: C arlos M u oz ........................................................................... .... ... 84
Interview 6: A rnoldo Cuevas......................................................... .............. 85
Interview 7: E vila Q uintana.......................................................................... ....... 85
Interview 8: M aria Jose V argas ...................................................................... .. .... 86
Interview 9: M arcelo A m aya......................................................... .............. 86
Interview 10: Cora Ena M onterey ........................................ ......................... 87
Interview 11: W ilberth H ernandez ........................................ ......... ............... 87
Interview 12: Rosa M endez .......................... ......... .. ........................ 88
Interview 13: G uillerm o Senteno.......................................... ........... ............... 88
D INTERVIEW PROTOCOL......................................................... ...............90
Part 1: G general Q questions ........................ ........... ............. ... .............. ............... 90
Part 2: General Questions About Television Viewing ...........................................90
Part 3: Specific Questions About U.S. Lifestyles...................................91
Part 4: Questions on Specific Television Programs: ............................................ 92
W ORK S CITED .................. ... .................. .. ..... ..........93
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ..................................................................... ..................99
LIST OF FIGURES
A-i Televicentro Channel 2 Programming Lineup .....................................................79
B-l Estesa Cable Service Channel Lineup In Leon..................... .............................. 81
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Mass Communication
VIEWING AMERICA: A QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS OF HOW NICARAGUAN
CITIZENS PERCEIVE U.S. LIFESTYLES AND HOW U.S. TELEVISION
PROGRAMMING INFLUENCES THOSE PERCEPTIONS
Jorge A. Aguilar
Chair: Michael Leslie
Major Department: Journalism and Communications
This qualitative study explores how Nicaraguan individuals perceive the U.S. and
how U.S. television programs broadcast in Nicaragua influence those perceptions.
Through in-depth interviews conducted in Nicaragua the study sought to identify the
perceptions that the participants had about U.S. family life, socio-economic status, job
opportunities, leisure activities and violence/law enforcement. The aim was also to
isolate how specific American television programs contributed to how the participants
understood these aspects of U.S. lifestyles.
The results show that fictional programs like Friends, My Wife andKids, and The
Simpsons had a distinctive influence on how the participants saw family life and leisure
activities. Similarly, crime dramas like NYPD Blue and The Precinct influenced how
they thought about violence/law enforcement. In general, they thought that the
individualistic nature of Americans relegated the family unit to a secondary position of
importance in the U.S. They also believed that while the U.S. was more violent than
Nicaragua, the U.S. counted on better trained and better equipped law enforcement
officials than Nicaragua.
The areas of job opportunities and socio-economic status were influenced by non-
fictional programs like news shows, which mostly reinforced ideas that the participants
learned from interpersonal contact with family members and friends who had been to the
U.S. In general, the participants saw these two aspects of the U.S. through the lens of
Hispanic immigrants struggling in the U.S. The participants believed that jobs were
plentiful in the U.S. but that they required dedication and hard work to maintain. They
had no clear notion of the socio-economic system but believed that through education and
effort any individual could climb up the socio-economic ladder in the U.S. Another key
influence in how they perceived job opportunities and the socio-economic structure in the
U.S. was Univision, the largest Spanish-language network in the U.S. Many of
Univision's programs are broadcast in Nicaragua. In shows like Cristina and Univision's
network news the participants were able to see and learn about the Hispanic population
that lives in the U.S.
The major global events of the past several years and the monumental impact they
have had on how the United States and other countries conduct international diplomacy
have made it necessary to evaluate how the citizens of other nations perceive the
Over the last 40 years, television has become the dominant shaper of how people
perceive the world they live in. Media researchers, concerned with the effects that
television viewing has on people's perceptions, attitudes, and values, assume that because
television might also be the most common influence on viewers, it heavily contributes to
an audience's conception of the world (Kang & Morgan, 1988, p. 431)
Nicaragua, a small Central American country of some 5 million people, lacks
significant locally produced programming but lies at the crux of several television
"powerhouses." The large majority of Nicaraguan broadcasting is made up of
programming from Mexico, Brazil, and the United States, not only on the four national
networks, but also on the dozens of channels provided by the cable services in that
country. Many of the countries of the world have a similar dynamic, mixing
programming from numerous sources and across national borders. As such, Nicaragua is
the ideal location to try to ascertain the influence that television programming may have
on the way that citizens abroad may perceive the United States and the lifestyle of its
A central issue in international communication research has always been the great
influence that the Western countries, the United States in particular, have over the rest of
the world's media, information, economic, cultural, and political systems. The concern
stems partly from the fear that, as dependency theorists posit, less developed countries
have been unable to develop economically, politically, and socially because of their
dependence on foreign investment and technology. Economic and social expansion, then,
has taken place from a few Western nations to subordinate nations in a manner that
"follows the logic of economic determinism in which market forces rule in order to place
as well as determine the winners and losers whether they be individuals, corporations,
or nation states" (Mcphail, 2002, p. 15). In terms of communications, the same
economic determinism has led to a largely unilateral flow of media, communications
hardware and software, and information protocol from the Western nations to the less
developed countries (p. 14).
Schiller (1992) pointed out in his famous work Mass Communication and
American Empire that the economic and military supremacy that the United States has
had since World War II also allowed it to become the leader in communications and
information technology in the world. In his original 1969 book, Schiller argued that the
United States not only exported U.S. radio and television programming, owned countless
communications facilities abroad, and manufactured the equipment necessary for
electronic broadcasting, but that it was also decisive in spreading an American
commercial model of communications (pp. 137-144).
At the heart of Schiller's argument is the notion that American values, beliefs, and
ideals are overwhelming and submerging the local cultures they are electronically
invading and displacing them to the background. He argues that the United States is
undermining the local cultures of these countries and culturally homogenizing these
foreign markets with program material "tailored almost exclusively to fit the market
needs of the consumer goods producers who sponsor and finance the programming"
This study does not, however, intend to study, as other researchers in the cultural
studies have done (Tsai, 1970; Canclini, 1982; Tan, Tan, & Tan, 1987; Chu, Schramm,
& Schramm, 1991; Skinner, 2001; Rampal, 2001), how the local culture of the
Nicaraguan citizens has been influenced or even altered by the American beliefs, values,
and ideals projected on the television screen. Instead, this study aims to identify how
American culture is being interpreted in Nicaragua and how specific programs on
television may be influencing how that culture is interpreted. Furthermore, the study also
seeks to examine how the Nicaraguan culture itself influences how the U.S. television
texts are being interpreted.
Nicaraguan Society and Culture: A Brief Introduction
Nicaragua is known as the "Land of Lakes and Volcanoes" and diverse
temperatures and terrain exist throughout the country. The country can be divided into
the three distinct areas: the Pacific lowlands, the central mountainous highlands, and the
Caribbean lowlands. Most of Nicaragua's' 5 million citizens live in the cities that are
closest to the Pacific Ocean. Walker (2003) notes that in Nicaragua
The people are relatively homogenous and culturally integrated. There are no
major racial, ethnic, linguistic, or religious divisions. Practically all Nicaraguans
are Catholic, speak Spanish, and share a common cultural heritage. The majority
are mestizo, a mixture of Spanish and Indian. And though there are some "pure"
whites, Indians, and blacks, little racial prejudice exists. (p. 2)
Gold-Biss (2003) points out that the 5% of the population that is indigenous, such
as the Miskito, the Sumo, and the Garifuno, live mostly near the Caribbean in provinces
that are largely autonomous (p. 5). Afro-Nicaraguans, descendants of black slaves
brought to Nicaragua by the English during the colonial period, also live near the Atlantic
Coast. He also goes on to say that race, religion, and ethnicity are not social issues in
The nation of Nicaragua has historically been unstable both politically and
economically, and this is no less true of the last three decades when two civil wars as well
ineffectual governments, accused of corruption and mismanagement, have left the
country in dire circumstances. While poverty in the country has existed throughout the
20th century the changing nature of the country's economic, political, and social policies-
from governments implementing largely socialist programs to others touting neoliberal
reforms-have all contributed to a general impoverishment that had never been seen
before. According to the 2002 United Nations Human Development Report on
Nicaragua (p. 32), almost 46% of the people in Nicaragua live in poverty and survive on
about a U.S. $1 a day. The income distribution is also among the worst in the world.
Arana (1997) says that in the 1990s President Chamorro and her administration "moved
from a state centered model of accumulation and a significantly regulated economy to a
market-oriented economy" and privatized large sectors of the economy like transportation
and fishing (p. 86). Historically, the country's main industry has been agro-export of
products such as coffee, cotton, rice, and sugar. While the economy grew in the mid-
1990s and unemployment dropped, the structural adjustments (advocated by the IMF)
"had caused such dislocations and underutilization of productive resources, including
labor, that the social cost had become a political issue" (p. 92). Another problem has
been the urbanization of the country, which has led to the creation of barrios that often
have shortages of water and electricity (Babb, 2001, pp. 46-49, 70-91). Crime is also a
problem. The 2002 United Nations Human Development Report (UNHDR) on
Nicaragua reports that crimes against individuals and properties have increased by 29%
and 16% respectively from 1997 to 2001 (p. 35).
Walker (2003) says that the largest social cleavage in Nicaragua is that of class.
He implies that though the Sandinista government of the 1980s sought to even the income
distribution among the classes by passing various reforms, including agrarian reforms,
the policies of the administrations that followed them have returned the marked class
differences. He says that the "middle sector" have identified more with the upper class
than with the 80% of the people that are impoverished in the country. He also notes that
a real type of tension and distrust still lingers between classes (pp. 116-134).
Two very distinct Church priorities took root in Nicaragua, says Linkogle (1996),
during the last three decades that influenced social policy in the country. During the
1970s and 1980s, the Catholic Church preached a liberation theology, which was "keenly
concerned with processes of social change as achieved through the transformed
consciousness of oppressed people," (p. 16) and sought to challenge the hierarchy and
injustices that existed in society. While this contributed greatly to the many changes that
Nicaragua experienced in the 1980s, in the 1990s the Church turned to fighting the forces
of secularism, particularly among the middle class (p. 173). Throughout the 1990s, the
Church again reestablished its influence in public policy matters that were largely lost
during the Sandinista administration. The Church's positions on such things as family
law, sex education and abortion, and morality in general were taken up by the Ministry of
Education and Health (Stein, 1997, pp. 242-244).
While Linkogle (1996) suggests that the Church has contributed to the traditional
notions of women's roles in Nicaragua (pp. 208-210), Walker (2003) indicates that the
general culture in Nicaragua has contributed to the misogynistic notions of gender roles
in that society (p. 115). Gold-Bliss (2003) says that while civil law protects the rights of
women, they are still discriminated and harassed because "deeply rooted cultural
practices of male dominance (machismo) and the exclusion of women from significant
public roles (marianismo) are rampant" (p. 5).
Over the last decades Nicaragua has remained one of the poorest nations in the
Western Hemisphere. Though it has "abundant and rich agricultural lands, considerable
potential for geothermal and hydroelectric energy, important timber and mineral
resources, and convenient located waterways that make Nicaragua an ideal site for an
interoceanic canal" (Walker, 2003, p. 1) the socio-economic policies it has implemented
as well as its political instability over the last three decades have brought about a
"regressive distribution of income" according to the United Nations Development
Program's Human Development Index (p. viii). As such, the countries infrastructure and
telecommunications sector have remained deficient and under-maintained.
According to Norsworthy (1997), the communications media in Nicaragua has been
"intricately bound up with the fierce political and ideological struggles that checker the
country's history as an independent nation (p. 281). During the 1980s the Sandinista
government, a leftist government that sought "socialist and social democratic inspired
philosophies of mobilization, public service, and social responsibility" (p. 282), sought a
media reform project that planned to break the commercial and advertising-related media
models that have generally existed in Nicaragua and Latin America. Norsworthy notes
that through legislation and a redistribution of media enterprises the government achieved
the coexistence of private, mixed, state, and cooperative ventures in the mass media.
While pluralistic ideas existed in radio and print, the state maintained a monopoly over
the only two national broadcast channels, Channel 2 and Channel 6. The Sandinistas'
"cultural democratization" project was never fully achieved due to the change in
government in 1990. The new president, Violeta Chamorro, deregulated the country's
media systems and returned to an advertising-based media model. An intense
competition for audiences erupted between radio, television, and print, and also led to
significant investment in modern equipment and to the professionalization of the media
(p. 285). Television began competing and even displacing both print and radio as the
medium of choice during the 1990s as the number of over-the-air channels increased and
cable television became available. In 1998, eight over-the air VHF channels and five
UHF channels were broadcasting, though seven of those were mainly broadcasting to the
Managua, the city's capital (Carlos, 1998).
The new channels as well as an increase in the hours that these channels broadcast
led to the need to import programming from abroad, especially the "telenovelas" (soap
operas) that are a staple of television in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries.
In his book on Latin American television, Sinclair (1999) observes that throughout their
history the Central American countries have imported programming from their larger and
richer neighbors such as Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia. The shared
geolinguistic characteristics between these countries have made the smaller countries
natural constituencies and markets for the larger television production houses such as
Mexico's "Televisa" and Venezuela's "Venevision." Sinclair points out the unique
viewing experience in Latin America. Viewers, he says, are not only exposed to local
and national level programming, such as news and entertainment, but also are exposed to
two distinct "transnational level programming". At the "transnational regional level" (i.e.
the Latin American geolinguistic sphere) programming such as "telenovelas" and sports
are available and at a "transnational-global level" programming such as "CNN,"
Hollywood movies, and other foreign programming can also be found (p. 13). In the last
several years, Sinclair says, Latin American producers and distributors have made deals
with U.S. satellite and cable services that have made more channels and content available
Today, Nicaragua has five over-the-air broadcast channels, channels 2, 4, 8, 10. and
12. About 60 to 65 % of the programming on the national networks is from Mexico and
about 15% is from the U.S. The diverse programming on Channel 2, the oldest and top-
rated channel in Nicaragua, is a good example of Sinclair's notion that viewers are
exposed to programming from different regional levels. One can find Nicaraguan
national news at 6:30 a.m., 6:30 p.m., and 10 p.m.; CNN news at 6 a.m.; Univision's talk
show "Cristina," its dance show "Caliente" (from 8 a.m. to 10 .am.), and its U.S.
network news at 6 p.m.; a lineup of telenovelas from Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela at
all hours; and such U.S. shows as "The Flintstones," "The Agency," and "Ally McBeal"
(See Appendix A). The other national channels also regularly run U.S.-produced series
and Hollywood movies. An analysis of the programming on cable television shows a
similar diversity of programming. The channel lineup for "Estesa," which provides cable
services to Managua, Masaya, Granada, and other cities, contains a large number of
American networks, some not even available in the U.S. "TNT," "TBS," "E!
Entertainment," as well as "HBO," "Cinemax," Warner Channel," and "Sony," regularly
have U.S. programming that is either dubbed into Spanish or contains Spanish subtitles
(See Appendix B). These U.S. companies also have programming and movies tailored
to the Latin American market on their channels in Latin America. While 93% of homes
have access to television in Nicaragua (Carlos, 1998), only about 4% of the population
has cable television however. For most Nicaraguans, Norsworthy (1997) says, the cost
of subscription is prohibitively expensive though it is relatively inexpensive for a family
with a modest income (p. 290).
With this as background, the following review looks at the reciprocal relationship
between audiences and media texts. It begins with a discussion of theories of the
television effects and "active" audiences, reviews Cultivation theory and its limitations,
and explores the Uses and Gratifications paradigm, ending with an examination of
schema and learning theories of how individuals filter, interpret, and organize the
information/perceptions they encounter in their daily lives. It then proposes the core
research questions for the study.
Two key assumptions are central to the research presented in this study. The first is
that the media have diverse effects on individuals and, more importantly in terms of this
study, that an "individual's beliefs about the larger social world are shaped largely
through mediated experience, via television, film, newspapers, magazines, novels, and
textbooks" (Slater, 1990, p. 327). The research focuses on television because over the
last 40 years it has become the dominant shaper of how people perceive the world they
live in. The television unit seems to have become part of the family, if not the most
important member. Over 1 billion television sets were broadcasting around the world in
the 1990s and at least 55 percent of those sets were in North America and Europe
(McCullagh, 2002, pg. 2). In Latin America, over 80 million homes in the largest Latin
American countries have one or more television sets, and almost 12 million paid for some
form of paid television signals (i.e. cable or wireless) (Sinclair, 1999, p. 3). In the
United States, the average American household had it television on for over 7 hours and 4
minutes in the 1990s (Cheesbro, 1991, p. 197).
Conceptually, this study supposes that American television is one of the main
sources if not the main source of information about American culture and people that
foreign audiences have. Moreover, it is also assumed that television contributes
immensely to the social stereotypes that exist about the United States. Stereotypes,
Walter Lippmann (1922) wrote in the landmark book Public Opinion, arise out of the
limitations of time and space and the inability for intimate acquaintances with the world.
The subtlest and most pervasive of all influences are those which create and
maintain the repertory of stereotypes. We are told about the world before we see it.
We imagine most things before we experience them. And those preconceptions,
unless education has made us acutely aware, govern deeply the whole process of
perception. (p. 57)
In their study of American stereotypes in Thailand, to take an example, Tan and
Suarchavarat (1988) are concerned with how incomplete information about a social group
(i.e. Americans), along with a steady pattern of images from U.S. television that fills the
vacuum of information about the group, may lead to stereotypes that have little
correspondence to reality.
Theoretically, this investigation borrows from Cultivation research, which has
studied how television may cultivate and form impressions in individuals through
exposure to recurring patterns of stories, images, themes, and messages. Cultivation
theorists in media research, then, are mostly concerned with the effects that television
viewing may have on people's perceptions, attitudes, and values about society. In
"Growing Up With Television: The Cultivation Perspective," Gerbner, Gross, Morgan,
and Signorielli (1994) note that "television has become the primary common source of
socialization and everyday information (mostly in the form of entertainment) of
otherwise heterogeneous populations" (p. 18).
In the first few studies of its kind, Gerbner and Gross (1976) and Gerbner et al
(1977) surveyed television viewers about their perceptions about law enforcement and
violence. The researchers found that heavy television viewers, when asked to identify the
percentage of law enforcement officers in society, gave answers closer to the television
reality than did light television viewers. Similarly, when asked to identify the percentage
of victims of crime, heavy television viewers gave answers closer to television numbers
of violence than did light television viewers.
Other studies examining the difference between heavy and light television viewers
have been conducted on different topics, including sex-role stereotypes (Gross & Jeffries-
Fox, 1978; Morgan, 1987), minorities (Gerbner & Signorielli, 1978; Kiecolt & Sayles,
1988), perceptions of occupation and affluence (Fox & Philliber, 1978; Carlson, 1993;
Sirgy et al, 1998; Appiah, 2002; Signorielli, 1993), children's family roles (Brown &
Bryant, 1990), victimization and crime (Eschholz, Chiricos, & Gertz, 2003; Weaver &
Wakshlag, 1986) and political orientations (Jackson-Beeck, 1977)
Cultivation researchers have also studied the effects of television on international
audiences. Morgan and Shanahan (1992), for instance, looked at the relationship
between television viewing and gender role stereotypes, authoritarian beliefs, and mean
world measures in Argentina and Taiwan. They found that Cultivation effects in the
three categories were more significant for Argentineans than the Taiwanese, mainly
because the Argentineans watched more television, on average, than did the Taiwanese.
The researchers also pointed out that the fact that Argentina had more U.S. programming
than Taiwan had an effect on perceptions about violence, gender roles, and authoritarian
Similarly, Pingree and Hawkings (1981), in a study carried out in Australia
measuring perceptions of violence and crime, found that those with more exposure to
American programs saw life in Australia as more "mean" and "dangerous" than did those
that weren't exposed to American programming. Varma (2000) surveyed high school
students in India to examine the psychological impact of international programming on
them. The researcher found that the viewers of international programming wished for
greater sexual freedom in their society and were more inclined towards Western dance
and clothing. No significant differences between viewers and non-viewers, however,
were found for drug and alcohol use, violence measures, and modeling.
In Korea, Kang and Morgan (1988) studied how the cultural values and beliefs of
Koreans is impacted by the programming on AFKN, a group of television stations run by
the U.S. military with programming that is entirely produced in the U.S. They found that
Korean females who are heavy viewers of AFKN tend to have more "liberal" ideas about
dating, marriage, and the role of the woman in Korean society than did females who
lightly watched AFKN. Males who were heavy AFKN viewers, however, were more
protective of the Korean values and culture than those who watched less AFKN. Other
cultural studies that have examined the relationship between imported television
programming and its cultural impact have been conducted in Iceland, the Philippines, the
Caribbean, and Indonesia (Payne & Peake, 1977; Tan, Tan, & Tan, 1987; Phekoo,
Driscoll, & Salwen, 1996; Regis, 2001; Chu, Schramm, & Schramm, 1991; Ware &
Several criticisms of Gerbner and Gross's (1976) original format for studying
Cultivation effects have been expressed however. Hirsch (1980) found that the effects of
television exposure are minimal if a researcher controls for other variables like the
subject's income and education instead of how many hours of television are watched.
Other researchers have analyzed Cultivation effects in terms of specific program types
and genres. Potter (1991) criticized what he saw as random as random categorization in
Cultivation analysis and found that no linear relationship existed between television
exposure and perceptions of reality when the categorization of viewers and data were
Katz, Liebes, & Berko (1992) moved beyond establishing a linear relationship and
looked at the "relationship among text, situation-of-contact, and viewer involvement" (p.
157) in their research. After controlling for age and education the authors conducted
focus groups in Jerusalem, L.A., and Japan to examine how different ethnic groups
decoded the American hit 'Dallas.' The researchers were interested in how the subjects
read the society that was represented on "Dallas" and how the subjects felt about the
characters on the television shows. They found that while the viewers could, if they
wanted to, free themselves from the "unreality" of the show, sooner or later the viewers
were constrained to compare their own lives with the lives of the television characters of
'Dallas,' both on a cognitive and emotional level.
Media Framing and Its Most Common Messages
At the heart of Cultivation research is the notion that heavier television viewers
have perceptions of reality that more closely resemble the patterns and images of
"television reality" than light television viewers. This theory is troubling because of the
fact that "television reality" may not be entirely representative of reality. Foreign
viewers, watching U.S. programming that mostly projects U.S. lifestyles, may not be able
to watch (or identify) the diverse cultural, social, and political perspectives that exist in
the U.S. and may be getting only a partial and incomplete glimpse of the reality of
McCullah (2002) says in his book "Media Power" that the media are selective in
the information it delivers about the events and issues in our world and also in how it
presents that information. Thus it "controls the information that is available to media
audiences and so has the potential to shape or to set limits to their social knowledge and
to the images that they construct of the world in which they live" (p. 22).
In media studies, the concept of agenda setting refers to "to the media's capability,
through repeated news coverage of raising the importance of an issue in the public's
mind" (Severin & Tankard, 2001, p. 219). It is a theory that posits an inherently causal
relationship between media coverage of an issue and the public's perception of that issue,
which occurs over time and various cognitive steps. Media framing, on the other hand,
deals with the thematically related attributes that are included in a particular media story
about an issue or event. Therefore, the wording or explanation of an issue or concept by
the media can influence how and an individual perceives the different perspectives
presented in a story (Scheufele, 2000).
Most agenda setting research, however, focuses on non-fictional television
programming such as news coverage and not dramas and sitcoms. But research has
shown that distinct patterns can also be identified in fictional programming. According
to Fiske (1991), the economics of television production and distribution force it to appeal
to the widest possible mass audience, which consists of many sub-cultures, and to the
"variety of discourses that they will bring to bear upon the program in order to
understand and enjoy it" (p. 37). Fiske indicates that producers must homogenize the
variety of possible readings of the text while leaving some room for different readings to
capture the greatest possible audience. Producers, he says, resolve this challenge by
using the shared dominant ideology in a society and common television techniques that
play into the common history and experience that all members of a society share. Fiske
maintains that producers accomplish all this in television by using a series of codes or
"network of meanings that constitutes our cultural world" (4). The reality that television
presents through the techniques of casting, setting, and costume, as well as the
representational codes in the narrative (i.e. dialogue and action), also contain ideological
codes that are understood by audiences because they represent the cultural codes of the
society (pp. 4-12). The reward is "the easy pleasure of the recognition of the familiar and
its adequacy" (p. 12).
Researchers in television have performed an innumerable amount of studies on the
patterns of "reality" in television texts. Perhaps the best documented of these is
television violence. Because of George Gerbner's work in the Cultural Indicators
project, connected to his work on Cultivation theory, statistics and research on television
violence and crime have been kept for several decades. Gerbner (2002) says that adults
are witness to a mean and violent world on television. About 31% of all characters and
52% of all major characters in television are involved in acts of violence as victims or
victimizers. People belonging to a lower class, being Hispanic/Latino, or a woman of
color are the most likely to kill or be killed (pp. 295-296). He adds that violence is the
theme most found in 250 U.S. television programs exported abroad. Furthermore, about
46% of exported programs were crime/action series (p. 298). Signorielli (2003) says that
her study of network prime time television found that 60% of all programs contain some
violence. She adds "most programs do not show long-term consequences of violence,
remorse, regret, or sanctions."
In their study of protagonists on television Signorielli and Kahlenberg (2001) note
that television over represents people that are professional, particularly those in law
enforcement (13.6 % of all characters), and under represents white (managerial, clerical)
and blue collar (labor, factory) workers when the figures are compared to the statistics of
the U.S. Census Bureau. She also found that whites were still more likely to have
professional jobs than minorities on television. Single women were also more likely than
married women to be working. Greenberg & Collete (1997) had previously found, by
reading program synopses in TV Guide, that most men in programming were cast as
professionals of some sort while women were cast as homemakers or unskilled labor,
while Berg and Streckfuss (1992) found that typically female characters performed "more
interpersonal/ relational actions and fewer decisional, political and operational actions
than do male characters" (p. 201).
In analyzing the different classes that have been portrayed on network television
from 1946-1990, Butsch (1992) found that working-class families comprised only 11% of
all series. He notes that 70% of domestic sitcoms presented middle class families and
that 44% of all series had a professional head of the house. These families were shown to
be affluent and successful by their lifestyle, home, furnishings, and ability to form
servants. Moreover, Butsch says that in the working-class sitcoms, the "humor is built
around some variant of the working-class man's stereotypic ineptitude, immaturity,
stupidity, lack of good sense, or emotional outbursts," (p. 391) while in middle class
series men are the opposite. They are rational, responsible, and sensible. In both types of
series, the woman is also mature, intelligent, rational and responsible. Jhally and Lewis
(1992) say that "television in the United States, combines and implicit endorsement of
certain middle class life styles with a squeamish refusal to confront class realities or class
issues" (p. 74). They studied audience readings and interpretations of "the Cosby Show,"
and found that audiences tended to identify the Cosby family as proof that anyone,
regardless of race, class, or creed, can achieve economic success.
Researchers have also studied how families are portrayed in television. In his
book on television families, Douglas (2003) analyzes the extensive research on the
subject. He says that although the nuclear family has become less common in U.S.
society, television continues to present most families as a married couple with kids. He
adds that demographically, television families are unlike real families. Furthermore,
"they are rarely troubled by academic failure of children, poverty, spousal or child abuse,
serious illness, and a host of other negative events that regularly permeate the experience
of many real families" (p. 164). They mostly live in a suburb away from the city.
Though women in television are more likely to work outside the home than in the past
and men more frequently involved in domestic life and the rearing of children, traditional
roles have mostly been kept. Women are shown to take care of the kids and be involved
with meal preparation more then men, and were almost never shown to work full time.
Men are more likely to solve family problems and discipline kids. Parents and kids seem
involved, mutually respectful, and loving with each other. Douglas states, however, that
disagreements and disputes in the family are common, particularly in working-class
families, though these disputes are easily and amicably resolved. Sibling relations are
also frequently hostile. Children seek reassurance, support, and depend on parents to
resolve problems, all needs that are usually efficiently met by parents.
The second assumption in this study, a corollary to the first assumption, is that
television texts are mediated by an "active" audience and that "the meanings programs
have for viewers arise in the program/audience interaction" (Hagen and Wasko, 2000,
p.19). Mosco and Kaye (2000) point out that there is a strong debate in audience research
about "whether the audience is best viewed as active or passive (and if so, how active or
passive) as singular or plural, as a commodity, a form of labor, or as an ensemble of
social practices" (p. 32) and if the best paradigm to study the audience is a postmodernist,
political economy, or ethnographer one. Neuman (1982) puts it more succinctly: "Are
individuals from diverse social and cultural backgrounds really responding in the same
ways to these common cultural forms [of television]?"
In his chapter on Media Audiences in Media, Communication, and Culture,
Lull(2000) describes the evolution of audience research and how perspectives about
media effects have changed over time. Initially, he says audience researchers accepted
that the electronic media were powerful and persuasive forces in society and believed that
the task of the research "was simply to document the chain of influence as it moves from
'sender' to 'receiver' in order to measure effects" (p. 98). This direct effects model, then,
analyzed a straightforward stimulus and response path similar to the one that was
established between how exposure to the violent content of television stimulates
aggressive behavior. The next stage of audience research came as a result of the
inability of the direct effects model to explain the processes of mediated human
communication, consciousness, and behavior. The limited-effects model of
communication, in contrast to the direct effects model, didn't see media as such a
powerful force because of the intervening contextual forces inherent in a system of
'sender' and 'receiver.' Consequently, audiences were believed to have varying social
relationships that helped them to mediate the messages in the media, including vast
amounts of cultural influences.
A strain of audience theory that valued the audience's multi-faceted use of media
was the Uses and Gratifications model. Researchers moved away from traditional effects
model, focusing instead on functional perspectives from the audiences' point of view.
Rubin (1994) explains that Uses and Gratifications model assumed that people are active
participants in selecting media messages, are goal-oriented in selecting the message
(obtaining gratification from the medium of choice), and are aware that their choices have
consequences. He also suggests that media use could be described in two ways:
"ritualized use" involves a habitual use of the medium for diversion while "instrumental
use" involves the use of media for information depending on the user's motivation.
Critics, according to Rubin, claim that the Uses and Gratifications model focuses
too much on the individual and make it difficult to predict overall patterns of media use
and the societal implications that this may have (p. 423). In talking about mass
audiences, understood as groups of people who may share media-related behavior, Lull
(2000) acknowledges the possibility that mass audiences have the potential to engage in
collective behavior and perceptions heavily influenced and persuaded by the media (pp.
112-116). But the full potential of mass audience, Lull says, has been fragmented and
narrowed due to the rapid expansion of electronic broadcasting (i.e. satellite television
and the Internet) and the creation of market segmentation and diverse content by media
executives and advertisers with financial stakes (p. 123). In a world where the global
communications media are largely dominated by American-style marketing and content,
as previously discussed, mass audiences are still largely exposed to the American ideals,
beliefs, and values broadcast across various media. Lull (2000) believes, however, that
although popular culture forms such as TV shows, movies, and pop music clearly
express particular cultural values, these popular forms and values are never simply
received, digested, and acted upon in any uniform way by their global audiences...
they are mediated critically and appropriated socially and culturally in the context
they enter. (p. 230)
One of the models this study uses is in terms of the interaction between audience
and television texts is the "preferred readings" model in Hall's (1980) "Decoding and
Encoding" essay. While the electronic media originate programming with a specific
discourse and purpose, Hall says, the programming also carries encoded messages with a
wider socio-cultural and political structure. Though the code can have multiple
connotative meanings, the most common way it is decoded by an audience, according to
Hall, is along a dominant and hegemonic cultural order that has "the
institutional/political/ideological order imprinted on them and have themselves become
institutionalized" (p. 134). But this reading of the encoded messages isn't necessarily the
only possibility. A negotiated interpretation and an oppositional interpretation of texts
are also possible. The negotiated version acknowledges hegemonic definitions but also
negotiates the process of decoding by also counting situated or local conditions and
logics. The oppositional version completely reclassifies the message within an
alternative framework. The key difference between Hall's model and the Uses and
Gratifications model is that Hall seems to imply that audiences are exposed to the
pervasive media almost involuntary. The Uses and Gratifications model assumes that
audiences voluntarily access media to fulfill different needs.
It is important to keep in mind, as Morley (1993) points out, that it is wrong to
assume that "the majority of audience members routinely modify or deflect any dominant
ideology reflected in media (p. 13) as well as to conclude that resistance is more
widespread than subordination to a dominant reading, which has become a tendency in
Active Audience analysis (p. 14).
Human Information Processing and Social Learning
Audience analysis has sought, then, to understand how individuals cognitively
process, filter, and organize the media texts with which they interact. Cultivation
research, for one, does not generally look to answer how or why television audiences
interpret television messages in the way that they do. As Shrum (1995) says, "the
understanding of an effect is not complete unless one can articulate the process (es) by
which the effect occurs" (p. 402). The author goes on to employ social cognitive theory
to explain Cultivation in terms of how individual estimates quantitative estimates about
people, behaviors, or other objects in the real world. The answer to "How many lawyers
are dishonest?" is an example of a "first-order judgment," he says. An individual can
employ several techniques to answer the question: count all the instances of a
phenomenon, consider all the information available to him or her, and weigh and balance
each one to decide on a judgment; recall several instances or experiences of the
phenomenon or just the most recent examples and then make a judgment; or just fit
particular instances that fit a preconceived notion of the phenomenon in question.
Shrum says that technique employed to answer the question, each differing from the other
in the cognitive effort it requires, depends on conditions such as time pressure as well as
the implications the question has for the respondent. The individuals in Cultivation
research whose perceptions of reality most reflect "television reality" (i.e. heavy
viewers), according to Shrum, may be utilizing the technique that requires the least
cognitive effort to make judgments and thus, are basing these judgments on the
frequency, recency, vividness, and distinctiveness of the phenomenon on television.
Shapiro and Lang (1991) focus more on the psycho-physiological processes that
affect the way reality is construed and how television stimuli affect that process. The
authors are interested, in particular, with how and why event memories are stored,
retrieved, and given value in relationship to reality. In their model, the researchers
believe that high-order processes such as decision-making and information gathering are
initiated by low-order responses such as orienting (i.e. something new or novel), startle,
and defensive responses. Mediated reality, such as a television murder, force high-order
process to "make sense" of the event after they have been triggered by the low-order
responses. An individual then builds contextual information such as physiological states,
communication source, and judgments about the similarities to reality about that event,
which is then stored in memory. The automatic and unconscious process by which the
contextual information is organized is prone to be forgotten, dissociated, dampened, or
intensified with time. Since the contextual information of television memories may be
similar to the contextual information of real events, social reality decisions may be more
influenced by television event memories than from memories from other sources.
In his study on television reception Hoijer (1992) examined three interacting
cognitive processes and how they influence the interpretation of television texts.
Through in-depth interview, Hoijer wanted to see how participants used interpretive
cognitive schema in analyzing a television program about HIV patients and their medical
care. He found that viewers focused and spoke most about the themes that were
psychologically close to them and their experiences. While some participants talked
broadly about the struggle with death and sickness, others, like a female nurse and an
insurance agent talked about issues that were closer to their professions and education.
Other participants gave longer answers about their own personal experiences in dealing
with diseases and going to hospitals. Hoijer hypothesized that each participant would use
one of three cognitive schemata: One that highlighted the shared universal experiences
that humans share, one that was shaped by socio-cultural experiences that were products
of a specific society, or one that was given meaning by private experiences that were
unique to an individual. His study is a clear example that, as he says himself, there is no
clear demarcation line between each realm of experience.
Hoijer's study talks about the socially founded cognitive structures that "form a
complex network, some parts deep in our unconscious and other parts more accessible to
our conscious mind" (p. 586) that "are a microcosm of universal, socio-cultural, and
private worlds shaped by social interaction with others and the environment and
interpreted by the individual" (p. 587). The individual, he insists, constructs meaning
out of media texts using his/her own cognitive structures. Entman and Rojecki (2000)
believe very definitive cognitive structures explain how and why White-American
audiences interpret certain messages about African-Americans in a particular way. They
say that both the need for cognitive economy, as Shrum (1995) suggested, as well as
cultural influences have a defining role in the way an audience interprets a text.
Schema, Entman and Rojecki (2000) say, are interconnected concepts about the
world (i.e. knowledge) that each individual has organized in his mind and allow him to
make inferences about any new information that is presented to him. Furthermore, these
schemata reflect "judgments of value while hoping to impose a kind of mental order on
an unstable world" (p. 48). Similarly, media texts and public discourse make use of
structures similar to schemata, which are calls frames, that "highlight and link data
selectively to tell more or less coherent stories that define problems, diagnose causes,
make moral judgments, and suggest remedies" (p. 49). The key feature of media frames,
Entman and Rojecki imply, are that they selectively present information that prompt an
audiences' schematic understanding about that information. According to the authors,
the most common schemata that individuals in a society share and the most common
media frames define that society's mainstream culture.
In their study of how and why White-Americans perceive Black-Americans in the
way they do, Entman and Rojecki say that schema and framing are very influential. They
say a schema of what is safe and dangerous is distinguished in large part by what a
person considers to be his or her own culture and what is an out-culture. The more
valued traits belong to the "us" group while the less valued belong to the "them" group.
Media frames, they go on to suggest, tend to reflect this schema in presenting an
idealized body type, communication behavior, and achievement status, and other series of
traits that tend to leave Blacks on the outside. These traits, Entman and Rojecki note, are
"perceived by most Whites as representing the realm of disorder and perhaps danger" (p.
The concept of schemata was initially used in cognitive psychology and refers to
the brain's "representation of an event, often combined with features of the
accompanying context, which retains, to varying degrees, the patterned features of the
event" (Kagan, 2002, p. 27). It emerges from brain activity resulting from the sensory
event. Kagan identifies two types of schemata: those resulting from visceral reactions in
sensory receptors, which then are represented symbolically (i.e. unpleasant or pleasant),
and those perceptual schemata that derive from external events around an individual.
Newborns, he goes on to say, are born with selective attention for things such as circular
forms, moving objects, and contoured fields and thus are prepared to build certain
schemata for making sense of the world early on (p. 33). Humans, Neisser (1976) noted,
cannot and do not process all the stimuli that they encounter in their daily lives and need
to selectively attend to perception. While schemata work to filter incoming information,
during certain moments, different schemata compete to make sense of a phenomenon (pp.
Three general classes of schemata deal with structuring how the social world works
according to Taylor and Crocker (1981). One schema deals with personalities and
prototypic conceptions about the behavior of these personalities. Another schemata
deals with the social roles that individuals should have, which includes such things as
occupational roles, family roles, and even the stereotypical roles of social groups. A third
is an event schema for particular circumstances like a party and the behavior they entail.
Event schemata also function as tools to recognize and make sense of stories.
Schemata, which Entman and Rojecki (2000) say simultaneously define
"mainstream culture" and also exist as a result of that culture, can be probed in order to
understand how individuals understand the social world in which they exist. Graber
(1988) indicates that schema come from many places. They are acquired not only
through operant conditioning and overt teaching but also from imitation. The
socialization of individuals, imprinted with the cultural values of the particular society he
or she lives in, teaches individuals detailed ideas about appropriate behavior and social
roles in different circumstances, the purpose of life, and even social judgments of what is
good and evil. Information systems such as television and newspapers also reflect these
cultural values (pp. 184-185).
In her study of the way individuals process political information Graber (1988)
selected 21 individuals and conducted a yearlong schema analysis. Concurrently to the
in-depth interviews, the researcher conducted a content analysis of the stories that were
appearing in media such as television and newspapers. She identified six different
dimensions in their schemata to process news. The most common was (1) "cause and
effect sequences" in which "news stories are readily incorporated into existing schemata
if the facts they report constitute a predictable outcome of familiar current situations" (p.
194). Another way of processing was (2) "simple situation sequences" in which
individuals could only recount the bare essentials of factual recurrences and often had
factual errors. A third dimension involved use of schemata dealing with (3) cultural
norms and "American interests" such as saying "that is the American way." These were
often used to judge the actions in news stories and the conduct of the subjects in those
stories. Other schemata involved recognizing and making judgments about the (4)
behavior of people and (5) institutions. A final dimension involved the use of empathy
and human interest schemata that made certain stories more salient to the participants if
they had relevance to their daily personal jobs or general interests.
The Graber study tried to both contextualize how participants understand the world
and, simultaneously, execute a content analysis of the news media stories that surrounded
the participants during the time of the study. As discussed previously, the meaning that
audiences find in media texts are the result of the interaction between the framing
potentiality of a television text and the way that an audience member conceptualizes the
world. It has already been noted that the way he or she interprets a particular text
depends in part "on background knowledge of an experiential or socio-cognitive kind,
activated in the reading process" and also "on the broader ideological, socio-cultural and
institutional frames that constitute the setting for our reading of it" (MacLachlan and
Reid, 1994, pg. 108).
The study examined how a Nicaraguan audience, in coming to conclusions about
U.S. society and lifestyles, decodes the messages in U.S. television texts and more
importantly, how and why individuals negotiate certain readings of the encoded messages
along their own logic situated in Nicaraguan culture. With this in mind, the following
research questions were posed:
(1) What are the perceptions that the Nicaraguan individuals in the study have of
the U.S. in terms of U.S. family life, socio-economic status, violence/law enforcement,
job opportunities, and leisure activities?
Since Cultivation theory and other media research suggest that television viewers
gain perceptions of the world that more closely resemble the content of the television
programming than the real world, the second research questions is concerned with the
way that U.S. produced television programming may be affecting how Nicaraguan
individuals perceive the U.S:
(2) How are U.S.-produced television programs affecting the way Nicaraguan
individuals perceive the U.S. (in terms of family life, socio-economic status, violence/law
enforcement, job opportunities, and leisure activities)?
This study research sought to identify specific American sitcoms, dramas, and other
television programming that were contributing particular messages about U.S. lifestyles.
So a corollary question is:
(3) What specific U.S. shows contribute to the way Nicaraguan individuals
perceive U.S. lifestyles and what specific messages about U.S. lifestyles are they
The fourth research question is concerned with how Nicaraguan individuals, as
audience members, engage with the U.S. television texts they are watching. It is
preoccupied with investigating what established knowledge about the U.S., schematic
structures, and frames were being used by the participants in their interpretation of the
texts, with particular emphasis on how Nicaraguan culture influences that interpretation:
(4) What personal and macro-social factors (i.e. Nicaraguan socio-cultural and
economic factors) influence how the U.S. television texts are being interpreted?
A corollary to this research question addresses the immediate similarities and
differences between the two societies and how the Nicaraguan reality may influence how
the U.S. is perceived:
(5) What are the similarities and differences between the perceived U.S. lifestyles
and the perceived Nicaraguan lifestyles?
The purpose of this study was to determine how television texts produced in the
United are influencing perceptions about the U.S. The study does not assume that U.S.
television programming is working to create perceptions in a vacuum where no such
perception exist independently of television, but that television, in fact, works among a
series of mediated experiences, including interpersonal communication and/or other
media such as newspapers and radio, that have created all sorts of opinions about the U.S.
It is thus necessary to also examine what the perceptions, in general, are about U.S.
society and the role television is playing in those perceptions. Because the study is also
concerned with how the audience negotiates the particular messages in the television
texts based on their own local conditions, it is also necessary to investigate how
Nicaraguan culture is influencing the interpretation of the television programming as well
as how Nicaraguan society compares and contrasts to the U.S. society. Most importantly,
the study is concerned with identifying how specific fictional programs such as sitcoms
and dramas are influencing the perceptions about the U.S.
The research design borrows from heavily from Graber's (1988) microanalysis- an
intensive study of a small number of people- of how Americans process political
information. She asserts that in-depth interviews have four distinct advantages. They
are discursive in that they allow the interviewer to study the "structural relationships
among assertions and provides insights into the existence and nature of belief systems"
(p. 19). They are dialectical and allow the researcher to probe deeper into the responses
and ideas being expressed by the participant, which adds value to the data that is being
gathered. Third, they are biographical, which allows the participants to share their
personal experiences and thoughts. Finally, they can be recorded to provide an accurate
textual account. For the purposes of this study, in-depth interviews were a vehicle for
identifying specific U.S. television programs, the specific messages these texts are
transmitting, and how these contribute to the perceptions that Nicaraguans have of the
In-depth interviews were conducted separately with 13 participants aged between
20 and 24. Individuals from this age range were selected because it is believed that they
would both watch the most hours of television andbe the most able to discuss,
remember, and decode the messages of the television programs they have watched. Nine
of the participants were from Leon, one of the largest cities in Nicaragua. The other four
participants were from the smaller towns ofEsteli, Rivas, and Masaya. Most of the
participants were recruited in Leon because it is considered a college town, allowing
easier access to participants, and also because it was believed to represent mid-point
between the bigger cities like the capital Managua and the thousands of little
purebloodss" that constitute Nicaragua. [For a brief background on the participants see
The in-depth interviews took place in the summer of 2003 and were performed in
Spanish. Time and money restrictions allowed only 13 individuals to be chosen.
Participants were first selected on the basis that they had never traveled to the United
States and upon their exposure to first-person accounts of life in the U.S. Interpersonal
communication between the participants and persons who've been to the U.S. was
believed to have been a main source of information about the U.S. Thus care was taken
to recruit participants with different degrees of interpersonal contact with these
"travelers" and to record which opinions were based on these sources. Economic
background, education, and viewing habits (hours of television watched) were also
considered when selecting the participants. The participants were repeatedly asked to
explain how and why they had the views, attitudes, and perceptions about the U.S. that
The series of questions was divided into four different parts. The first part asked
the participants to give brief personal background. That series of questions was followed
by questions about each individual's viewing habits and they're like or dislike for U.S.
programming, as well as the differences they saw in the production value of different
programming on television.
Next, the series of questions turned to asking the participants about they're
perceptions about the U.S. This series of questions dealt with areas that most Cultivation
researchers have studied in the past. The question focused on five broad categories (see
Appendix D for the Questionnaire). The first category involved questions about the work
opportunities/type of jobs that were available in the U.S. In this set of questions,
participants were asked about the most common jobs in the U.S. and whether there were
more job opportunities in the U.S. than Nicaragua. The second category asked about the
amount of violence/ police presence in the U.S. This set of questions asked about the
most common crimes in the U.S. and in Nicaragua and the proportion of cops to residents
in each country. The third set of questions interrogated the inter-relationships inside the
family unit (adult/ adult and adult/children). Participants were asked about how children
were raised and the values that were taught. Questions about the leisure activities of
Americans, such as what Americans do on weekends and how American social
gatherings were different than Nicaraguan parties comprised the fourth area. Finally, the
fifth set of questions asked about the socio-economic system in both countries and the
importance of race and gender. The participants were asked to identify whether the class
system was more marked in the U.S. or in Nicaragua, and how an individual's race,
ethnicity, and gender might influence his/her place in that system.
The final series of questions asked about specific programs and characters that had
been mentioned by the participant during the course of the interview. The participants
were probed on the interpretations they had of each show, why they liked or didn't like
about the show, and what the show taught them about U.S. values.
The analysis of the data presented in the discussion is divided along the five
categories that have previously been mentioned: job opportunities, violence, family
values, socio-economic status, and leisure activities. For the most part, the first part of
each section deals with the opinions that the participants have about that particular aspect
of life in the U.S. That is then followed by the similarities and differences between both
countries as identified by the participants. Next, the source of the participant's opinions
is discussed as well as the particular U.S. programs, if any, which were influential in
Hall's (1980) Encoding/Decoding model suggests that while television texts have
specific messages with a wider socio-cultural and political structure, these messages can
have multiple connotative meanings depending on how the texts is decoded by an
audience. The analysis, then, is also complimented with research on both the macro-
social and economic factors that influence the way the individuals interpret the texts.
Yeny, 21, is a law student who watches about 13 hours of television a week. She
enjoyed programming that showed the importance of family and "the humanity of
Jaromir, 23, is a medical student who likes to watch sports and music videos as
well as dramas that deal with medicine. Several of his siblings live in the United States.
Mariela, 21, is a law student that is an avid watcher of American television
programming. Some of her family members including her dad have visited the U.S.
Noemy, 22, is a psychology student who lives most of her time in Managua. She
does not watch much television during the week but has an affinity for the international
news programs on Univision.
Carlos, 21, is a medical student in Leon who does not know anyone that has been to
the U.S. He likes to watch action movies as well as sitcoms.
Arnoldo, 22, is studying dentistry and watches about 15 hours a week of television.
He has cousins and friends who have been to the U.S. and have shared their travel
experiences with him.
Evila, 21, is a medical student who is married and has a daughter. She has traveled
to other Central American countries but never to the U.S. Her dad lives in the U.S.
Maria Jose, 22, was born in Leon and is studying to be a clinical analyst. She
watches only about 10 hours of television a week but based many of her opinions on what
she had seen on television.
Marcelo, 23, is studying International Relations. He keeps up-to-date on
international news and also enjoys programming that is "educational."
Cora Ena, 21, is studying to become a physiotherapist. Her dad lives on the U.S.
and experienced a lot of hardships when he moved. She watches about 40 hours of
television a week.
Wilberth, 23, finished high school and was working as an insurance salesman. He
knew several people that had been to the States. He believed that there was too much
U.S. programming in the over-the-air channels.
Rosa, 24, was born in Leon and was studying to obtain her degree in Business
Administration. She watched the least amount of television and American programming
of all the interviewees.
Guillermo, 23, is a pharmacy student who watches about 40 hours of television a
week. He likes to watch a lot of news programs as well as fictional television. His mom
has been to the U.S.
The job opportunities available in the United States were the characteristic that was
most attractive to the participants, particularly because of the stark contrast between the
U.S. and Nicaragua in that regard. For the most part, television was not the main
influence that shaped how the participants thought about job opportunities in the U.S.
Most of the participants acknowledged that the economic resourcefulness of the
U.S. would be the main reason why they would want to live in the U.S. Jaromir, a 5th
year medical student, said he believed the U.S. is an industrialized nation that is
concerned with the progress of business and helps everyone by setting good economic
"Generally the government here in Nicaragua directs its economic policies towards
foreign investment," Jaromir stated. "They facilitate a lot of things. Give them many
benefits. The national industries, then, suffer a little more. They have more
restrictions... Here in Nicaragua what they [national industries] have to do is lower its
employee numbers, its stores. So all that leads to lower employee numbers. I see that
the U.S., without taking into account the situation of the last 5 years, I think that all the
industries have way more support. They have easier time expanding."
Yeny, a 21-year old from Esteli, echoed Jaromir's feelings about the differences
between the two countries. She said that she believed that the U.S. is superior
economically because it created jobs not only for labor but also for professionals who are
"The manufacturing centers also need managers, administrators, supervisors,
secretaries. That not only generates jobs for the non-specialized or non-university
education sector but also for the superiors, the professionals, those who took out a career.
There are centers that employ all the job sectors. Here it is very difficult to find a job as a
Both Yeny and Jaromir relied heavily on the opinions of family members who were
living or had traveled to the U.S. While news shows did reinforce some of their ideas
their conclusions were based mostly on the experiences and opinions of others.
Of the 10 respondents that gave percentages of the type of work that can be found
in the U.S., 7 of them said between 50-70% off all Americans were professionals. Rosa,
24, said that almost 80% of the population that were professionals. She was the
participant that watched the least amount of American television. The high percentages
may be attributed to the fact that the participants seemed to include what would normally
be called "white-collar jobs" as professional jobs (i.e. jobs requiring a university degree
or technical training).
Jaromir believed that that people that were not professionals in the U.S faced
rigorous supervision and licensing by the government, unlike in Nicaragua. He implied
that this type of supervision and certification was so minimal in Nicaragua that if
Nicaragua ever practiced a similar process of authorization and evaluation many people
would immediately jump into the category of "professionals" in Nicaragua. He based his
opinions on this subject on the information that had been passed along by relatives in the
U.S. more than the news shows that he tuned in to.
In 2001, the unemployment rate in Nicaragua was 11.3% and the underemployment
rate was at almost 35% (UNHDR, 2002, p. 84). The Latin American and Caribbean
Statistics Yearbook (CEPAL, 2003) also shows that in Nicaragua the unemployment rate
goes up as the number of years of schooling a person receives also goes up (p. 30). The
UNHDR (2002) also notes that the informal sector of merchants, shopkeepers, and other
independent workers (i.e. non-salaried workers) has gone up over the last 10 years (p.
84). The parents of many of the participants belong to this independent sector which
undoubtedly influences how they view the issue of work.
The participants, however, saw that the issue of job opportunities in the U.S.
mainly from the point of view of Hispanic immigrants and the hardships that they faced
in the U.S. Many of them had immediate relatives that lived or traveled to the U.S.
regularly. All of the participants mentioned that the fewjobs and high unemployment
rate in Nicaragua made it necessary for people to go look forjobs in the U.S. Today
about 180,000 Nicaraguans have emigrated to the U.S. (p.34).
"In the U.S. there are more opportunities for a professional to practice his career,"
Guillermo, 23, asserted. "But here, it isn't a rare case to find people who've earned an
engineering degree, or any degree, who end up in jobs selling things or selling lotteries
on the street. Sadly, the percentage of jobs in Nicaragua is little, so it doesn't permit
people who earn degrees in engineering or other careers to work in those things. In the
U.S., I would say there are more jobs, stronger industries for professionals to work in."
"I know a doctor who was very prestigious here in Leon who went over there to
wash dishes," Wilberth, 22, recounted. "For a Hispanic finding a job over there, he
knows that he is going to work in whatever he finds."
Cora Ena's father, who currently resides in the U.S., initially stayed at a shelter
when he arrived in Los Angeles where he washed cars before working in a restaurant.
He's told me, she said, that life is very hard over there and very agitated. He hardly has
time to do anything else but to rest when he is not working, she added
For many Hispanics, according to Noemy, that means finding jobs as "domestic
help." She said she believed 25% of the people in the U.S. worked as "domestic help."
She added that a professional in Nicaragua started in a "lowly job" in the U.S. but even
that lowly job was better paid than one in Nicaragua.
Carlos, 21, said that television and movies show that even a person with a "lowly
job" has a bigger and better house than anyone in Nicaragua could have. This leads him
to conclude that the quality of life is considerably better in the U.S. than in Nicaragua
Television news, in particular the ones broadcast on Univision, the largest Spanish-
language network in the U.S. reinforced some of the first-person accounts of
"I've seen in the news on Univision, that if you go and work over in the U.S.
you're not going to have a good position because you're an immigrant. You're going to
paint, be a mechanic, or sell fruit. Even the police, Cora Ena, 21, said, treat people badly
because they are Hispanic."
Noemy had so much faith in the Univision news show that she said she admired
both Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, the anchors of Univision's international news
The participants, however, saw those who live in the U.S. as having great
opportunities, basing most of their conclusions on what they watch on news programs
like CNN International and other shows. Eight of the participants cited some form of
news program as the basis of their conclusion. Wilberth, 23, for instance, watches only
about 14 hours a week of television, but cited the news when he spoke very passionately
about his beliefs regarding the opportunities of U.S. citizens.
"I am more than sure that people who were born over there, or who are U.S.
citizens, or have lived over there for many years, or have been raised over there, if they
have taken advantage of their time have had a good education and good job," Miguel
said. "Any person, you see, who went to a prestigious university in the U.S. occupies a
good job and has the access to good jobs."
He also believed that 60 to 70% of Americans are professionals such as doctors,
lawyers, and engineers. He cited "many reports that have been presented" to support the
notion that the opportunities for good education and good jobs exist for U.S. citizens.
Interestingly enough, he didn't see the show "Married With Children," a sitcom
about a relatively poor family where only the father has a job, as being representative of
life in U.S. but more as an example of what happens when opportunities for education are
Similarly, Guillermo, 23, who professed to watch the news as soon as he gets up at
six to go to work (as part of the almost 40 hours that he watches a week), was very
confident that at least 85% of those who earned a degree out of college worked, after
graduation, in the same field as the one in which they studied. He cited news reports as
the basis of his conclusions, identifying the unemployment rate in the U.S. was 6%. He
was right according to the Time Almanac (2005, p. 625).
"I believe that if there is an unemployment that low then the people are working,"
Arnoldo, 22, pointed out that television shows that "an American has had had all
the opportunities... The state gives priority to these Americans. Similarly, Evila said that
typically Americans have economic stability and can aspire to university educations and
better things, while a Hispanic is often struggling and can't afford a university.
On the negative side, however, all the participants saw that working life in the U.S.
was more stressful and agitated than in Nicaragua. Carlos, for instance, said that
television including news shows had contributed to this image of a working professional:
"Generally, you can note that a professional is completely dedicated to his job ...
You can see that his job comes first and then comes everything else. And that if it is
necessary to work all 24 hours in a given day, that person is willing to do it so long as it
means that he can sustain his economic level and better himself. You can also see that a
certain level of responsibility is required because you can note that a lot is expected of the
person, more even that what he is capable of doing."
While none of the respondents identified any fictional dramas or sitcoms that
influenced their general perception of the most common jobs in the U.S. or the
percentages in each sector (i.e. professional, blue collar, white collar), these types of
programs did have a huge influence in teaching them about three different areas:
medicine, law, and law enforcement.
Mariela, 21, who is a 5th year law student, talked at length about her favorite shows,
which included crime drama shows like "CSI", "Law and Order", and "The Practice."
She believed that 20% of the population studies and works as lawyers in the U.S.
"In the U.S. everything needs lawyers," she stated. "Any little thing needs lawyers.
In an accident the first one there beside a doctor is a lawyer. To build a house, for
contracts, for sales.., in an operation that goes wrong or any type of hospital negligence
the first thing you see is a lawsuit because of who. They resolve your conflicts, even in
between family members. "
She based her conclusion, at least partially, on "The Practice," a drama series that
follows the lives and cases of defense attorneys in a Boston firm, and the way it presents
the American law system.
"What I like about 'The Practice' is the energy," she said. "How it shows the
energy with which a lawyer defends his client. I like that everything you allege you go
and investigate the witnesses. I don't know if that's how it is in the U.S. But here in the
U.S. it is not like that."
Yeny, another law student, said she liked "Ally McBeal", a sitcom about another
lawyer, because it showcased a strong independent women, it involved her career, and
"also presented the criminal, penal, and civil legal procedures that were used in the U.S."
Several participants also talked about medical shows like "E.R," "Precinct Med,"
and others found on "Discovery Health." Maria Jose, 22, a clinical analysis student, says
that she's seen in Discovery Health how everything is much easier for doctors in the U.S.
and how technology allows them to do things that can't be done in Nicaragua.
"That is why I like it. There are things that we kill ourselves doing here and there
[in the u.s.] they do it so easy by using a machine" She also felt this was related to that
the fact that "the doctor is more humane, relates more with patient. Here [in Nicaragua]
it is not like that. That is the impression that television gives me.
Evila, a medical student also praised the shows on the "Discovery Health" channel.
She said that the channel showed her how different the treatments are in the U.S. and that
it also motivated her to always keep learning.
Jaromir, another medical student like Maria Jose, said that shows like "E.R," which
follows the lives of Chicago Emergency Room doctors in and out of the hospital, showed
him the differences in technology between the two countries.
"That's what I like about 'E.R.', that it shows situations in which you can see that
they resolve things because they have a lot of doctors and you think, well, here I would
have done it in a different manner because I don't have that, for instance, to give you an
example, magnetic resonance at an instant, or an axial tomography at an instant. You
don't have a mobile ultrasound unit to examine at an instance. Many times the X-ray
units are not in good condition nor are there resources to use them in Nicaragua."
On the negative side, Jaromir said that "E.R." showed him the administrative
policies of the health system in the U.S., where he saw that if you don't have the
economic recourses you don't have good access to health care."
Violence and Law Enforcement
The responses to the set of questions focusing on violence and the police in the
U.S. seemed to be most influenced by television programming. Crime dramas like
"NYPD Blue," "Due South," "CSI," "Baywatch," and even "Medical Detectives," a
show on "Discovery Channel," had very definite influences on the way the participants of
the study understood the police.
In general, the participants agreed that there were more violent types of crimes in
the U.S. than there were in Nicaragua. Emblematic of the way that the students viewed
the differences in violence between the two countries was Marcelo' s statement that "In
Nicaragua, we respect the right to die a little."
"There is more violence over there," Maria Jose said. "There is violence here.
Every now and then you hear of a rape, of a stabbing, or about gangs. But a gang here is
nothing to one over there. Over there you hear about gang wars, of women disappeared,
kidnapping, drownings ... there is just more violence. The acts of cruelty are more over
Mariela said that the most common type of crimes in the U.S. were homicides
while in Nicaragua the most common type of crimes were robberies. Yeny thought that
crime was high, extreme, and abundant in both places, but that while a crime in
Nicaragua was done with a machete the same crime done carried out with a chainsaw in
Jaromir pointed out that the use of firearms was more common in the U.S. He said
that it was common to have gang warfare with firearms in the U.S. while in Nicaragua it
was common to see interfamily violence like the ones between married couples.
A comparison of the statistics shows that the U.S., in general, is more violent than
Nicaragua. The crime rate, however, has been going down significantly in the U.S. while
it has been increasing in Nicaragua. (UNHDR, 2003, p. 163, 35 & Time Almanac, 2005,
Noemy believed that different factors influence the amount of violence in both
countries. She believed that the liberties and opportunities that were available to
individuals in the U.S. led them to such things as gangs and drug use. In Nicaragua, she
felt that "one single factor motivates everybody: the economic factor. The few
opportunities available to the young, consequently, force them to resort to delinquency.
Carlos saw the motivations for crime in the U.S. differently.
"I think that the population, that the ideology that every person has is very
individualistic and leads him to that [crime]. That is why crime is a little more extensive
in that sense...it's like the people want more and more and more. They do anything to
obtain things. So all this contributes to, it gets more extensive. One infects the other.
Another infects another.
Wilberth pointed out that shows like "New York Undercover," a crime drama, and
"Primer Impacto," a sensationalistic news show on Univision, show him the other side of
the U.S., "a side that is not the typical nice, happy images of beaches and people having
fun". In these types of shows he gets to see things like homicides, drug trafficking, arms
dealing, and the mafia.
Guillermo, on the other hand, mentioned "Medical Detectives." a forensics show
on Discovery channel when he was asked about violence in the U.S. He reasoned that if
the process of catching criminals has been perfected the way it is shown in "Medical
Detectives," then there must be a lot of criminals and planned crimes like homicides and
It is noteworthy that almost all of the participants repeatedly emphasized the
amount of gang activity that they perceived in the U.S. The students felt that in
Nicaragua people can sit outside their porches to talk to friends and neighbors, but that in
the U.S. this was impossible partly because of the violence and gang activity on the
Cora Ena, who based her conclusions about the U.S. on what her father had
recounted about the country and what she had seen in the news, thought that a person
could not walk down the street calmly or go out at night for fear of gangs. Gangs, she
said, have drive-by shootings or harass businesses and homes to no end. She admitted
that she knew mostly about life in Los Angeles but thought the gangs were common all
over the U.S. because of the images she saw on shows like Univision's "Primer
"There are gangs everywhere," she said. "But here they don't have guns. Here
they get you with a sling blade or something rustic... because the gang members over
there have more money or more access... and supply arms and everything else they need."
Out of all the participants only Arnoldo firmly believed that Nicaragua had more
violence than the U.S. because security isn't as good in Nicaragua.
"If Nicaragua had the size of the U.S. it would be super violent," he said. "There
would be so much more violence...In the U.S. the society has been better educated at
conserving themselves and have the security measures. That isn't true here."
Arnold added that he's seen measures, such as fingerprinting, that are taken to
solve crimes on Discovery Channel that don't exist in Nicaragua.
Arnoldo's point is one that was shared by all the participants. Nowhere is the
difference greater between the U.S. and Nicaragua, according to the participants, than in
the way the police functions.
Four of the eight participants who responded when asked to give the ratio of cops
to citizens answered that about 40 -60 % of the people in the U.S. worked in law
enforcement. But the numbers were all over the place. Several thought it was between
1-10%. In Nicaragua the respondents gave numbers that were either below 1% or
Mariela, born and raised in Leon, did not give a percentage but reasoned that there
weren't even 100 cops in all of Leon, which led her to believe there weren't 5,000 cops in
the entire country.
In fact, there are about 13 police officers per 10,000 inhabitants ( or approximately
0.13% of population) in Nicaragua and 24 police officers per 10,000 in Nicaragua (or
approximately 0.24% of population) (UNHDR, 2003, p. 163 & United States Department
of Labor1, 2003)
When asked about the differences in the police forces of both countries Jaromir
thought that violence might actually be lower in the U.S. because of the efficiency and
resources of law enforcement.
"The information system is better over there," he said. "Data exists with which one
can act quickly. Let me mention, the CIA, for instance, the FBI, the military. There is
the local police or the state police. So we are talking about four types of authorities or
police to defend against crime... You also have action corps that are part of the military
like the SWAT, I think they are called, I'm not sure, who also help fight against crime.
Here in Nicaragua there is the police and only the police.
Guillermo said that someone who is a policeman in Nicaragua is someone who has
"nothing better to do." In the U.S., he thought, the police had minimum standards for
height and weight, and received special training not found in Nicaragua.
Cora Ena agreed that the training in Nicaragua is minimal and that even people who
had only studied up to the 6th grade could join the police force. In many ways, she said,
this was the reason why some cops were always looking for a scam.
Because of the detective shows that he watched on the "Discovery Channel",
Guillermo also thought that: "Over there they count on technology to resolve the doubts
1 The U.S. figure is obtained by adding the number of police and sheriffs patrol officers, transit and
railroad police officers, and police/detectives managers in the U.S. Department of Labor statistics. It does
not include a host of other occupations involved with law enforcement identified by the Labor Department.
they have. Here they couldn't solve a crime with just a piece of hair that is found...the
closest thing that resembles that over here is finger printing. But sadly, there is no
database of all the fingerprints of all the citizens of Nicaragua."
"I like how they proceed in their investigations," Arnoldo said about the
protagonists in "CSI," another crime drama, and "Medical Detectives. "How they go
about making conjectures about how things happened in a case. There is a lot of
technology to know, to solve. That is what I like about the U.S. They don't solve it
100%. But I like that they have sufficient technology to go step by step to find the
evidence that they need. Cora Ena, Jaromir, Mariela, and Guillermo each noted how they
have watched police chases on programs, movies, and news, where one car is being
chased by dozens of police cars.
"Here there isn't even gasoline," Cora Ena said. "If you want to chase someone
who stole your bike you have to pay the gasoline of their piece of junk car. They say the
state doesn't pay them enough to cover gas and so you have to pay them."
Other participants like Mariela and Jaromir also complained that the cops were
unwilling to act because of lack of gas.
Jaromir sardonically added that the cops in Nicaragua don't show up at a crime
scene until there is dead body or until the people themselves have resolved a problem.
Because the government has more money, the police have more support in the U.S.,
Wilberth said. He added that he has noticed in the news that there is a large presence of
lifeguards at the beach and that the emergency number 9-1-1 can be accessed and trusted
by any citizen.
The conversation with Wilberth at that moment turned from the news programming
to "Baywatch," a drama that follows the lives of California lifeguards.
"So a guy is drowning and a pickup truck parks and gives him first aid," he
muttered. "Then someone else comes. Another boat also passes by. Three other boats
encircle someone else that's drowning. Another three jet skis help out the others, and
then there's also the helicopters if that had been here, he drowns, he drowns
immediately because there isn't that type of service."
Cora Ena admired the work of the police she that she sees in "Baywatch" and "Due
South," another police series that is set in Chicago. She said that law enforcement
officials in both shows were trained to notice the minutest details. If there is a robbery in
"Due South" or signs of drug trafficking in "Baywatch," the police teams are coordinated
and trained to handle the situation well, she said..
The only person to offer any resistance to the images of television law enforcement
"You can tell a lot of times that it is too surreal because they do things, honestly,
that you wouldn't believe that they really do... In the sense that they always get to the
central point and never leave a case with solving it... maybe they do have better means to
arrive at solving a crime but I've noticed that they will solve it even in under 24 hours.
And to be honest I don't think that it could be like that. Sometimes you need serious
investigations that take days or even months sometimes."
Family Values, Lifestyles, and Leisure Activities
The views of the participants on the relationship of the family unit in the U.S. were
influenced by the fact that they thought that the society was much more materialistic and
individualistic than Nicaraguan society. As such, they also perceived that work was
more stressful and more demanding in the U.S. than in Nicaragua, which had
repercussions for the family.
Ten of the thirteen participants, when asked to identify how Americans defined
success, believed that Americans placed economic interests over everything else,
including family and status/prestige. Eight of those ten used the word "materialistic"
when talking about Americans.
In the U.S. success means being economically well off and having prestige, Jaromir
said. "And the well being of the family is something that is done secondarily. I've
noticed that the North American society is more individualistic. Not like here. We tend
to be more communal."
He gave two examples that contributed to his perspectives. He said that he has
often seen in the news that when companies have to choose between profits and
personnel, they give up personnel. He also said that when watching the biographies of
famous Americans he's noticed that while the individuals are successful economically
their family life is a "disaster."
Mariela was harsher in describing the meaning of success for Americans.
"You're worth what you have. That's what you're worth. In the U.S. you have to
reach the pinnacle even if that means stepping on everyone else. So there is no individual
or spiritual growth. In the U.S. success is having the best car, the best salary, the best
position, the best house."
Family, Mariela noted, is a lower priority to Americans because most parents have
to work over 12 hours a day and spend little time with kids.
A typical American, according to Maria Jose, "leaves at 7 in the morning to go to
work, eats something quickly for lunch on the street, and gets home at around 8 p.m. Of
course he is very tired and dedicates the rest of his day to resting. "
"Over there one has a different type of pressure then over here," Yeny said. "Here
everything is more laid-back, the routine isn't so intense...and the distances aren't that
great and you have time to go back home, share lunch and dinner with your family. But
not over there. The distances are really large. You have to eat outside your home."
Evila also said that that since both husband and wife have to work from early in the
morning up until very late in the night, they have little time to share time with their kids.
Rosa said that the typical American working family leaves the kids to a nanny, gets
home late, and is not in the custom of asking the kids how their day went or if they
She cited "what people have told me" as the basis of her views on the subject while
Mariela, Yeny, and Evila based their conclusions on the information that had been passed
on to them from relatives and from television programs. Maria Jose said that programs
and movies were the basis of her conclusions.
"The nanny is in charge of the kids and that has consequences to the disunion of the
family," Maria Jose claimed. "Kids make their own life apart from that of their parents
because the lack of communication means that they don't have to tell them anything."
Mariela said that she liked the show "My Wife and Kids," a sitcom about a nuclear
family with three kids, because it showed how a family handles their everyday problems
and because they "laugh at life."
"But I don't like that sometimes that the dad, that sometimes they lose a level of
respect between parents and kids. It's like he uses tricks to get his kids to listen to him.
So yea, it pays off but sometimes the kids can get the wrong message... I've seen in two
or three shows that they make jokes of the women saying, 'oh, mom,' says the little girl,
'my dad is ridiculous,' 'oh you're dad is stupid, forgive him.' If you're mom, here [in
Nicaragua], if your mother tells you, 'you're dad is stupid' what is she letting you know?
She's making the kids lose respect for your dad. 'oh, it's that you're dad is stupid, he's
mentally retarded, he's an idiot, he's an animal."
Marcelo, on the other hand, had a different reading of the family life that he sees in
"My Wife and Kids."
"There is better communication with your parents. Better communication with
your friends. There aren't as many problems... It isn't like that here [in Nicaragua]. Here
the society is more conservative in that regard. If something happens, you're alone,
alone. You keep it to yourself. You don't share it with a friend and even less with your
parents, who are the ones that should be counseling you."
Wilberth identified some "key differences" between the U.S. and Nicaragua when
he was asked about the relationships of parents and offspring in one of his favorite shows
"The Simpsons," an animated sitcom, often satirical, that follows the life of a nuclear
"I assure you that people in the U.S. aren't as close to their families as Nicaraguans
are. You'll only find some four people in nursing homes here...Homer doesn't have the
patience to look after his father and so he sends him to a nursing home and shows him
that he doesn't love him at all."
Guillermo also talked about what he saw in "The Simpsons," but he sympathized
somewhat with how hard it was to take care of an elder. He thought that the practice of
putting elders in a nursing home was less common in Nicaragua than in the U.S. because
it was just too expensive for most families.
Arnoldo, like Marcelo, was also impressed by the "liberty of expression" in the
Simpsons's household and the relationship between Homer and his son Bart.
"What that show reflects is that relationship between a father and son. It is more
direct. They are more intrusive I guess you could say. There might have better
communication. Generally, here there is certain apprehension between parents and
offspring. It exists because the parent dominates. There isn't much communication."
He added that he liked the fact that Bart doesn't respect Homer because the dad is
dumb and is always getting into bizarre situations. He enjoyed the "equality" between
the two generations that he saw in "The Simpsons."
Another thing he said that the show reflected was that a person could always find a
job independently of not having a profession, which would be necessary to pay off his
house and maintain his family.
In the show "Step by Step," a sitcom that follows a recently married couple with 6
kids, Yeny said that she saw a rare glimpse into the workings of a nuclear family. But
she was really skeptical that a family bond like the one seen in the show could exist in the
"Let me tell you something that I've noticed about the U.S," Wilberth said. "At the
age of 18, what happens? They send him to look for his own apartment, his own work, to
begin his own life at 18. Not here in Nicaragua. A son could be married and can live in
his parent's house with his wife."
Maria Jose thought that "Friends," the sitcom that follows the lives of 6 single New
Yorkers, was representative of how life was for young people who were independent.
"In your 20s, you leave your parent's home, "she said. "You live with a friend.
You rent an apartment and at the same time study. Here nobody does that. You live in
your parent's house."
Noemy stated that her friends had commented to her that it was part of the
American culture to start separating oneself from one's family around the age of 18.
"They prefer it that way. They always give themselves a moment of privacy, of
being alone. It is very difficult here to have that. Maybe the reason for that is that they
are more independent, from an early age. If you compare that with here, where at 18 or
20 you are still with your family, there is less privacy here."
Mariela expressed a certain admiration at the lives of the "Friends," but didn't like
the element of promiscuity that she saw in the show.
"Rachel [a character in the show] sleeps with one today. Later on she sleeps with
another. The next month, oh, here she comes with another person. And another. And
another. And if it's possible with everyone in New York, with everyone in the U. S... I
don't think it's really that way over there because a person has to work 12 hours and I
can't imagine that person has any time left to even go out....Maybe 40% have a life like
Evila saw something similar in the show "Felicity," where the protagonist is a
university student that dates often.
She seems like a woman that wants to have sex but at the same time can't... You
always see the woman as a sexual object where her dignity comes second, where her
boyfriends, all the different men touch her, are always with her, and are always
insinuating the same thing. And although she seems to exhibit a level of insecurity, she
always sleeps with them."
She goes on to say that she doesn't think all the girls in the U.S. are like Felicity.
She does, however, believe that the fact that the young are more independent and that
parents are never around leads to them sleeping with boyfriends more in the U.S.
According to Noemy, Dawson's Creek, a drama about the lives of high school
teenagers, also shows that American society sees the subject of dating and having new
boyfriends and girlfriends every week as something natural. In Nicaragua, however, that
practice is very uncommon, she said.
Rosa thought that while life in the U.S. was more liberal and even "outrageous" in
how they saw dating, the traditions in Nicaragua could also be obstacles.
"People here keep to they're myths," she said. "They believe in something and are
sure of it. Since families are united, those myths persist in that you honor your dignity,
your loyalty, and that you be a person who doesn't have any blemishes that society can
throw in your face."
Wilberth expressed the difference this way: "Here if a woman wears a short skirt,
she's called a slut. Over there it's called fashion!"
While also discussing the show "Friends," Maria Jose highlighted other points that
were common among the interviewees. She said that people in the show not only live
with whom they want but also have the freedom to date whomever they want. In
Nicaragua, she said, people are more watchful of your every move.
Several of the other interviewees felt like Maria Jose in the sense that they too felt
that Nicaragua was more conservative because of the emphasis that was placed on your
reputation. Several expressed the adage, "Small village, Large Hell," to explain this
"Over there you can dress however you want. Nobody pays you any mind," Cora
Ena noted. "You can dress like a clown, it's your life. You don't even know what's
going on with your neighbor or your life long friend because your working hours clash,
and you don't have time to keep up with what other people are up to...Here if you get
pregnant, people say, "And she's not married!" And if you have a drink, "look she's an
alcoholic!" And if you have male friends, "look at how many men go to her house!"
Yeny agreed with Coran Ena's appraisal of Nicaragua, basing her conclusions on
what she had seen on television and what her sister, who lives in the U.S., had told her.
"What I don't like is that over there things are impersonal. One loses, in that sense,
the human side. Over there the warmth of the family doesn't exist. If you don't have
friends you are alone in a huge world. Here if you have a problem you knock on
someone's door. You can talk to one another and ask for help...Not over there. Over
there everyone passes you by. They crash and no one looks at any one else...when they
are showing the news you see in those streets [in the U.S.] how mundane life is.
Everyone gets on. Everyone gets off the trains. Nobody knows each other in the trains.
Here in the routes you're like, 'hey, how are you' when you run into someone. That isn't
like that over there. Over there you get on board, take care of your own business,
everyone has their own life and doesn't care what happens to anyone else."
All of the participants seemed to believe that differences between the two countries
in terms of the consumption of alcohol, drugs, and pornography had to do more with
access to them and the economic means to purchase them. Their perceptions were mostly
based on television.
"In the U.S., there is more liberty to watch pornography, to drink, to go out and
have fun," Marcelo said. "Not in Nicaragua, maybe because of lack of money."
Maria Jose also said there wasn't much difference between consumption in the two
countries except that people in the U.S. had more access to things like drugs and alcohol.
"In the U.S. you can find whatever you're looking for", Marcelo said. You can find
whatever type of music you want. There is a variety of clubs."
His image of parties, he added, came from what he had seen in "Beverly Hills
90210," a 1990s drama that followed the lives of several high school students into their
The news programs and the television medium in general, according to Carlos, led
him to believe that drug use was abundant in the U.S. He said that the news programs
always showed the ugly side instead of the pleasant side of things, but that was where he
got information about crime and drug use in the U.S.
Mariela said that drug use was rampant in the parties held in music clubs in the
U.S. She insisted that parties and clubs in Nicaragua "were more innocent" and closed
earlier than in the U.S.
"There is a show here on E! Entertainment Television that is called 'Wild On..."
And on it you see women that lift up their tops and show their breasts. You're not going
to see that here. Here you'll see the women really covered. Never or rarely a tight skirt.
And as my mom says those shows only lead you to debauchery, to debauchery, to
alcohol, and drugs. And I've seen girls on those shows that are completely out of it.
They don't even know where they are. A lot of times there are rapes, or homicides,
because the people don't, the girls don't even know who they slept with at night."
She believed there were two reasons why these people indulged in this frantic
lifestyle. One was the lack of communication between parents and kids. The second
reason, according to Mariela was that they already had everything they could ever want
in terms of possessions, which caused them to lose respect for the value of things and to
Yeny also talked about "Entertainment Television" and the parties on "Wild On..."
but protested the fact that Nicaraguan society was beginning to copy some of the things
she saw on the channel.
"Look, everything, every idea about alcohol, sex, and drugs is copied. I absolutely
think everything is copied because they think that that is having a life. That is enjoying
life. That's what they are being sold. That's what the publicity is selling them. So they
go and live that. They think that is life."
She also added that she was astounded by the increase in drugs, sex, and alcohol in
Nicaraguan society over the last 5 years, which she attributed to the mimicking of
Jaromir, however, discredited what he saw on "Wild On..."2 He didn't believe that
parties in the U.S. were like the ones shown in the program. He believed that the abuse
of alcohol and pornography was controlled in the U.S. by such things as age limitations
and other government restrictions. He did, however, believe that the U.S. was more
sexually liberal than Nicaragua because students were taught sex education early on in
elementary and high school, giving them information on which to base their sexual
practices. The policy of the Education Ministry in Nicaragua, according to Jaromir,
frowned on teaching anything related to sex.
When the discussion turned to the differences in socio-economic status between the
U.S. and Nicaragua, the participants didn't have a clear notion of what the class system in
the U.S. might look like. Once again, their opinions were influenced by the family
members and immigrants that they had come in contact with, through first-person
accounts in person and through television.
Maria Jose indicated that the class system was more marked in the U.S. than in
Nicaragua simply because most people in Nicaragua belonged to either the middle or
lower class. She said that she had seen how marginalized Hispanic immigrants were in
the U.S. and that it was a marked contrast to the richer class. She didn't, however, have
an image of what that richer class in the U.S. might look like.
Arnoldo said the opposite.
2 The national channel Canal 8 is copying the format of "Wild On..." with its own show entitled "Wild En
TN8." Like it's counterpart, the show goes to parties, interviews guests, and scans for "wild" action.
"I think the social system is way more marked in Nicaragua than in the States
because here in Nicaragua there is great diversity and big differences between the upper
class and the lower class.
He believed that in both countries the upper class was composed of people in
government and people with "higher level careers."
Jaromir didn't think the class system was as marked in the U.S. as in Nicaragua.
He believed that the U.S. had a distinct upper class and that everyone else was relatively
I see that a lot of people in particular situations, let's say in the lower class, could
easily ascend to the middle class if they put forth a little effort... here in Nicaragua you
can see very noticeably who is in the upper class. The middle class is one that contains
everyone; some who are reaching the upper class and some that are almost in the lower
class. Here you have people and segments of society that don't have anything and other
who just have what they need to survive."
Similarly, Guillermo believed there was a higher standard of living for the middle
class in the U.S. than in Nicaragua, and he believed that the lower class was minimal in
the U.S. when you compared them to the proportion of people in the lower class in
Wilberth said that the socio-economic status of both countries were very similar.
"The people who are rich in both," he said, "are people who are in government,
while the middle class in composed of doctors, lawyers and people who own small
Mariela believed that an established group of people belonged to the upper class in
Nicaragua and that what mattered in that society was your surname. Moreover, everyone
already knew who belonged to that privileged group and who didn't.
"That group always gets together and does its own thing, its own reunions and
parties. 'Let's go to a certain place .. .' So what happens? If you're poor what are you
going to do? You don't have a certain surname? Then no, no, no, you don't belong with
us. And they're always going to look at you like something less."
Nevertheless, she thought that class was more marked in the U.S. than in Nicaragua
because of what she saw on television.
In general, the participants had little concept of what it meant to be really rich in
the U.S. When they were asked to give the image they had of the upper class in the U.S.,
their answers resembled Guillermo's, who said: "I think the upper class have good
capital, comfort, your house, your car, a life that's pretty comfortable and access to
services because of money."
This description, however, was similar to how they described the comforts of the
Wilberth's image of a rich person was from the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," while
Cora Ena's was of out the show "Clueless," both sitcoms about young individuals that
live with rich parents. In them, they said, people enjoy life, travel the world, have the
newest cars, and even own several businesses. Evila said that the difference in socio-
economic status could be seen in the type of neighborhood one lived in. She believed
that the U.S. definitely had good neighborhoods and bad ones from what she had seen in
All of them agreed, however, that the state helped the individual climb up the
socio-economic ladder more in the U.S. than in Nicaragua.
"U.S. citizens have certain privileges that are not given in Nicaragua," Rosa said.
"People who are from over there are given scholarships, are given enough to maintain
yourself, the money for basic nutrition. All that help that you have we don't have here."
Guillermo identified the "American Dream" as going from the middle class to the
upper class in order that "your life has the comforts that you've always dreamt of. I think
that's what it is, to set a goal and work towards it."
The U.S. government, he added, facilitated this by granting scholarships and the
opportunities at all levels of education. This was something that was minimally done in
Nicaragua, he noted. He based his answers on the subject on the news he had both seen
on television and read in newspapers.
Not everyone has access to education, Carlos said, because of the lack of economic
resources in Nicaragua. Often, he added, kids have to work in order to help their families
and miss out on gaining a university education.
Cora Ena said that the information she's gotten from her father, the news, and
shows like "Cristina" (a talk show on Univision) have led her to believe that the state
helps individuals more in the U.S. than in Nicaragua.
"The state gives you a percentage back when you have kids," she said. "They help
when you don't have a job. Dining tables are set up for people who don't have jobs.
And for elders too."
When they were asked about the role that gender, race, and ethnicity had on the on
a person's position in the class system, not a single respondent talked about any
discrimination towards women. The answers focused mostly on race and ethnicity in
terms of African-Americans and Hispanic immigrants.
Discrimination, according to Yeny, exists in both places. She believed, however,
that the discrimination in the U.S. was based on race and ethnicity while in Nicaragua the
discrimination depended on your economic status.
An Arab with money is still discriminated in the U.S., she said, while in Nicaragua
a white girl with no money is discriminated.
She based her conclusions on what she had seen in movies and in a show in
Discovery Channel where she had seen how certain children in the U.S. are very self
conscious and made to feel inferior because of their race.
"There is a great deal of discrimination," Maria Jose said, "that isn't seen here. In
some cases it's almost a quotidian thing for an African American or Hispanic to be
discriminated. There are some African Americans who have been able to do well, live
well in the U.S., but the majority is marginalized."
"If we talk about Hispanics," Wilberth said, "they look at you as if you're inferior
because they know there is money in their country, and that if you're over there in their
country to work it is out of necessity. And so some take advantage of your need because
they humiliate you, denigrate you, the worst things."
Cora Ena said that she's watched in TV series that Blacks are discriminated against
and that they are usually the suspects whenever there is a crime. She also noted that
employers look at the physical characteristics of a person to determine how a potential
job candidate will act.
Jaromir claimed that he had seen on news shows that racism against African-
Americans still existed in the U.S. Later on, however, he said that the image that he had
of African Americans was based more on what he had seen in on television shows and
"I really think that, for example, that most of the time if they show problems with
drugs, problems with theft, with homicides in a series, they usually show the viewer that
it someone that is African-American. The violent series also usually show that the white
guy is the good guy. The African-American is the bad guy."
In general, the participants recognized that African-Americans were discriminated
and stereotyped in both television and movies. At the same time they believed that
African Americans had a distinct lifestyle that often included crime.
Evila, for instance, said:
"From movies and what one sees in American history, well, they are people that
have always been disenfranchised because they have been used, for hard labor, heavy
work. It's possible that that entire community has an element of resentment.. .Maybe
that's why it's possible that they are more aggressive...It is like they are always on the
defensive because of what they have experienced in the past."
Yeny said she liked some African-Americans who had "fought to integrate into
society," but most Africans lived a lifestyle that was more "worry free."
"I see that maybe television and all that stuff influences a lot. Blacks on drugs,
Blacks fighting within their own race, Black homicides. Blacks who are never vindicated
and aren't in the university. As a group, the majority doesn't fight to excel."
Indicative of the contradictory feelings that the participants had about African
Americans was Mariela's testimony. She acknowledged that African-Americans had
historically been marginalized, mistreated, and generally disliked. This competed with
the fact that her dad had been robbed at gunpoint by an African American who he
believed might be involved with a gang. This violent image of African-Americans was
reinforced by television.
"I have seen it in programs, like I said, like in 'Boston Public,' movies, and stuff... I
have seen cases where there are neighborhoods where all the individuals of black features
carry weapons, weapons, everything, everything. They carry drugs. You can find that
with white people but it's understood that in a black neighborhood you can find weapons,
drugs, everything. You see everything... You see that in 'Training Day' with Denzel
Washington. Sometimes in Discovery Channel there is a show called Medical Detectives
where there were shots in a black neighborhood and you see all the black people in that
neighborhood. The normal thing is too see a car and [makes gun shot noise] a bullet
fight. And that gives you an idea."
Similarly, Arnold said that television and movies, as well as friends he talked to,
led him to believe that African Americans were good at dirty businesses and transactions
like the drug trade.
"They always have a lot of money because of those things. And they're always
well dressed, elegant, but at the same time they are indifferent to society because the
other society is of a more serious nature. And they seem to take things more
carefree...there is always going to be drugs and there are also going to be dead people,
homicides, and assaults. And whenever you see a program it is related to this."
The participants seemed to agree that African Americans were generally very
different than their white counterparts. Carlos, for instance, said that "Fresh Prince of
Bel Air," a sitcom about a rich African American family, showed him a person that was
more joyful, more dedicated to family even. More dedicated in the sense that he doesn't
commit himself 100% to work and instead gives himself the liberty to spend with family
and have fun."
In shows like "The District" and "NYPD Blue," both crime dramas set in
Washington and N.Y. respectively, he saw that white people were more committed to
working and generally leave their families as something secondary.
Cora Ena said that "Moesha," a sitcom that follows the life of an African American
teenager, showed her several distinct characteristics about African Americans.
"There is a great difference in the music. She [Moesha] listens to a lot of rap.
They use a lot of the clothes that males use and are really loose-fitting. How they talk to
each other isn't the same. It's different than 'Clueless,' which is another program. They
are different because the clothes are different, they are more of class, aren't as loose-
fitting. The girls don't use a lot of colors. In Moesha they use a lot of patterns and things
that are very flashy. They have thick braids and use a lot of make up."
Wilberth agreed with Cora's assessment of African Americans. He also stated that
they use extravagant clothes, had wild hairstyles, and thick jewelry.
Yeny said she disliked the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" because the characters in the
show said the jokes didn't make much sense and bordered on the illogical. She thought
the difference in culture was why she did not like the show.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
The aim of the study was to identify how Nicaraguan citizens perceived the
lifestyles of American citizens and to analyze how particular messages from U.S.
television programs were influencing those perceptions. The in-depth interviews
revealed that the participants used television in two distinct forms. In one case,
television messages were reinforcing the ideas that the students had heard about the U.S.
from friends and families. One of the significant findings of the research is that all the
participants, even those who had been selected to participate in the study because they
had no or little exposure to the perspectives of people who had traveled to the U.S., cited
travelers to the U.S. as references to back up their conclusion. Marcelo, 23, for instance,
claimed that he knew no one that had traveled to the U.S. Throughout the interview,
however, he cited the information that had been given to him by people who had been to
the U.S. Similarly, the other participants also regularly cited information obtained from
other travelers to support their own opinions. For the most part, this was true of the
questions regarding jobs and, to a lesser extent, the class structure of the United States.
In the second case, the participants were apt to rely on the messages that they perceived
from television, both in its fictional and non-fictional form, to form certain conclusions
about U.S. lifestyles. For the most part, television was a major influence when it came to
questions dealing with family lifestyles and violence/law enforcement.
It is safe to say that the key factor that determined how much influence television
exerted over the participants was the strength and complexity of the preconceived
notions, or schemata, by which they organized information about the United States.
While schemata are not static networks used only to filter information they mostly are
resistant to disconfirmation. As Graber (1988) notes, the schemata that are learned and
hardened during our early years tend to remain unchanged throughout a lifetime and "the
odds favor schema maintenance over schema growth or creation" (pp. 185-187). In other
words, individuals are more likely to process information in a way that confirms their
existing schema and to avoid that information that contradicts them.
The main schemata that influenced the perceptions of the participants in the study
in regards to job opportunities came from the perceived experiences of Hispanic
immigrants in the U.S. and from the significant differences in economic opportunities
between the two countries. The interpersonal communication variable was most
influential in the area of job opportunities. Several of the participants, like Cora Ena and
Jaromir for example, had relatives in the U.S. who have struggled economically in the
U.S. Others had tapped into an extensive network of information relating to the life of an
immigrant in the U.S. Still others, like Marcelo, who said he did not know any one who
had traveled to the U.S. repeatedly used information from "people who have traveled" as
the basis of his conclusions
In general, the participants believed that job opportunities in the U.S. were much
better in the U.S. than in Nicaragua and that the standard of living was also higher in the
U.S independently of whether one was a professional or held a menial job. They had no
real notion of the division of labor in the U.S. but tended to believe that a large majority
of people in the U.S. worked as professionals. This fact, according to the participants,
was a markedly different from the reality of the unemployment and underemployment
figures for both professionals and non-professionals in Nicaragua.
The television programs that most had an impact on the participants, and which
reinforced the perspectives given to them by first-person accounts, were news
programming and news magazines-style shows, particularly those shows on the Spanish-
language network Univision. While most Nicaraguans do not have cable, the national
channels regularly show CNN International and Univision shows like "Primer Impacto"
and "Cristina," which have definite messages about employment and the American
economy that influenced the participants.
Interestingly enough, while not many occupations were mentioned specifically
during the interviews, the participants did elaborate on the most common occupations
found on television, namely those that involved doctors, lawyers, and law enforcement
officials. Medical shows like "ER" and "Precinct Med," attorney-themed programs like
"Ally McBeal," and "The Practice, as well as the crime drama shows, contributed to their
opinions about these specific occupations. The participants were able to talk at length
about these programs and the occupations they saw on the screen. Moreover, the fact
that many of the participants had careers in similar fields seem to augment there interest
in the show and accentuate how they processed the information on the screen.
An interesting point that supports the theory that information is processed which
reinforces schemata and ignored if it might clash with that same schemata is the fact that
the participants believed that all Americans lived an agitated and stressful lifestyle that
was much different from Nicaragua. This belief in an agitated and stressful lifestyle was
usually tied, during the interviews, to the belief in an immigrant narrative that assumed
that most Hispanics in the U.S. had to work non-stop just to survive economically. But
when probed further the participants usually said that they thought all Americans worked
long, tedious hours and lived taxing and hectic lifestyles. In general, research (Signorelli
and Kahlengberg, 2001; Butsch, 1992) shows that working families or blue-collar
workers, for instance, are rarely represented on television and it is safe to assume that
they are rarely if ever shown to be working in agitated and stressful conditions. In other
words, fictional television programming for the most part shows a lifestyle that is more
calm and relaxed. The assumption that can be made then is that the participants did not
cite fictional programming to back up the schema that "life is hectic for all Americans"
because it would have been contradictory to their belief structure. But the participants
did cite television when talking about the affluence that Americans enjoy which would
affirm their schema.
Like the conclusions in the category of work opportunities, the participants based
many of their opinions about socio-economic status in the U.S. on the experiences of
immigrants and those who had traveled to the U.S. In general, however, they did not
have a clear notion of the class system in the U.S. Overall, their perspectives on class
were very influenced by the stark class system in Nicaragua. To them, the most dramatic
reality in Nicaragua was the large number of people that belonged to the lower class and
lived in poverty. They went on a certain faith that "class differences" existed
everywhere but were largely devoid of significant images of class in the U.S. except for
the ones relating to immigrants. They didn't mention poor whites or poor blacks, for
instance. When probed they expressed a belief that minorities like Hispanics and
African-Americans were nearer the bottom of that class scale in the U.S. but believed that
effort and education helped the individual, independently of gender, ethnicity, or race, to
climb the social ladder. According to the participants the U.S. government and the
"welfare state" also helps the individual more than in Nicaragua. Again, their
understanding of issues such as education and government assistance was influenced by
their perception of the poverty and economic tribulations that overwhelm Nicaragua.
Once again, television news and Univision were the key programs playing a role in
how the participants saw the U.S. society, though it was more likely to reinforce what
they had obtained from first person contacts. Significantly, the participants did not seem
to be able to articulate a significant image of a "rich person" in the United States. The
schemata that they had of an "rich person" in the U.S was a person who lives comfortably
and has enough to take care of his family, a description that could easily have been the
description of a middle class family. Not one of the participants mentioned the life of
executives of a U.S. corporation, for instance, which often are featured on news
programs. As stated earlier, sitcoms and dramas do not commonly portray rich families
or the luxury that accompany that socio-economic status. A couple of the participants did
mention the characters from "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," "Clueless," and the Mr. Bums
character in "The Simpsons," as characters that were rich, but they did not have a round
or solid description of how these characters reflected U.S. society.
Television programming such as sitcoms and dramas was more influential in the
categories of family and violence/law enforcement. The schemata that the participants
used to evaluate "family" in the U.S. was related to two things; one, was the belief in the
agitated lifestyle of the U.S. and the long working hours, while the second dealt with the
fact that the participants also believed that U.S. society was more materialistic than
Nicaraguan society. Both of these factors, according to the participants, influenced
family life in the U.S. They said that parents were motivated by their materialistic nature
to work long hours, which kept them away from home and the kids. Family seemed to be
a secondary priority to adults. This "neglect," in turn, lead to U.S. children becoming
independent at earlier ages than in Nicaragua, where it was customary to live at home
until one was married. It is hard to locate the exact origin of these interrelated schemata.
The participants seemed to believe, but never really articulated, that the economic
opportunities of the U.S. seem to cleave the family units as each member actively seeks
and is able to find financial independence, an independence that is not entirely possible in
Nicaragua. It may also be related to a need in Nicaraguan society to maintain the family
unit as well as other social groups intact in order to survive in the historically poor
country. The geographical distance between cities in the U.S. was another factor that
influences the "emotional distance" between families, a factor that is not as manifest in
geographically smaller Nicaragua.
Television shows like "Friends," "Dawson's Creek," and "Felicity," exemplified
the separate sphere in which young people seemed to live. It is a world, according to the
participants where there is more dependence on friends instead of family and where the
individual has more privacy. Another thing that the participants saw in television
programming was a general lack of respect by children for their parents in such shows
like "The Simpsons" and "My Wife and Kids." They believed that this was
representative of the U.S. Ironically, some of the participants believed that the parity and
friendliness that the other participants criticized in the relationship between parents and
offspring, led to more open relationships and better communication between parents and
children in the U.S. than in Nicaragua. Both interpretations of the television texts may
fit in with Douglas (2003) extensive research on how the family is presented in
television. He says that while families in television are usually mutually respectful,
"disagreements and disputes are a standard feature of television family life" (p. 125).
The disputes are usually amicably resolved through communication tactics such as
commanding, hinting, requesting, and/or reasoning (p. 123). While the participants may
have picked up on this on-going conflict, their schemata about the nuclear family was not
altered by the fact that most families presented on television programming are
functioning nuclear families.
Another curious interpretation of texts like "Friends" and "Beverly Hills" was how
the participants perceived the dating and sexual practices of the young adult protagonists
in these shows. Unlike in Nicaragua, they said, the young adults in these shows seemed
to date often and engage in casual sex. Since these young adults were independent, in as
much as no authoritative figure was controlling their actions, they were able to move
freely in the dating world. This is not possible in Nicaragua according to the
participants. Several of the interviewees hinted that the smallness of the towns in
general, and the fact that everyone knew each other and related "gossip" to authority
figures, made it near impossible to act in a similar fashion to the young adults in the U.S.
Another factor that certainly influenced the way the participants thought about dating and
sex was the role that religion plays in Nicaraguan society. Abstinence is acutely
promoted not only by the church, which is a powerful institution in Nicaragua, but by the
Ministry of Education and the schooling system. A couple of the participants did believe,
however, that the promiscuity in Nicaragua was also increasing due to the "American
values" that were entering Nicaraguan society.
As would be expected, television programming had the most effect on how the
participants perceived crime/law enforcement in the United States. As Gerbner (2002)
says, television viewers are subject to a mean and violent world on television full of
robberies, homicides, and rapes. Furthermore, Cultivation research has found that heavy
television viewers have a more violent perception of the world than do light television
watchers because of the amount of crime dramas full of homicides, armed assault, and
rapes found on television. In this study, Nicaraguan citizens based much of their
opinions about violence and law enforcement on what they saw on shows like "NYPD
Blue," "CSI" and even "Baywatch." The documentaries they saw on Discovery channel,
considered more real than the fictional dramas, influenced how the interviewees
understood crime in the U.S. Though the participants believed that crime was pretty
equal in both countries, they thought that the crimes in the U.S. were much more violent
than the ones committed in Nicaragua. This violence, however, was offset by the well-
trained police force and high-tech resources found in the U.S, according to the
participants, which they saw at work in the aforementioned television shows. In
contrast, Nicaraguan police well ill-trained, poorly paid, and lacked the support of high-
tech resources to fight crime, they said.
The underdeveloped television sector in Nicaragua made it a wonderful place to try
to investigate the praxis of audience and text because the country is dependent on foreign
programming to feed its broadcast stations. Hall's (1980) Encoding/Decoding model
suggests that media texts have messages that resonate with audiences because these
audiences recognize the social and cultural characteristics in these messages as their own.
In this cross-cultural study, the aim was to identify how a Nicaraguan audience alters the
meanings of U.S. television texts along their own macro-social and personal
In summary, this study found that the individuals in the study selectively
interpreted certain messages on U.S. television programs to reinforce the beliefs that they
had about the U.S. Television programs dealing crime and law enforcement were key
means by which the Nicaraguan individuals learned about that aspect of American
society. The participants believed that while the U.S. certainly had more violent crimes
than Nicaragua, the available resources that law enforcement in the U.S. enjoyed, both in
manpower and technology, was considerably different from Nicaragua. Programs
showing the lives of young adults and singles were more influential in how the
participants conceived of "family life" than shows about nuclear families. The reason
for this had to do with the participants' belief that Americans are more individualistic
than Nicaraguans and consequently preserving the family nucleus was not a priority for
Television's role in the participants' understanding of job opportunities and socio-
economic status was slightly different than the other categories. For the most part, the
participants relied on non-fictional shows like news programs and news magazines that
featured stories dealing with Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. to amplify the narrative that
they had heard through interpersonal communication about these same immigrants. In
the case of job opportunities, the participants believed that while most Americans had
good professional jobs, were paid well, and had the opportunities to achieve success
through effort and education, they were more likely to talk about the hardships that
immigrants faced in the U.S. While they had no clear notion of the class system in the
U.S., the participants again expressed confidence in the ability for U.S. residents to move
upwards in socio-economic status, which was starkly different to the bleak outlook the
participants had on the economic opportunities that individuals have in Nicaragua.
Study Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
This investigation was limited by the fact that the underdevelopment of Nicaragua
as a whole may be so marked that it is difficult to ascertain the many variables that may
be influencing the reading of the television texts. In other words, it may have been too
easy to attribute the opinions of the participants to the poverty and low employment
opportunities of the country disregarding the influence of the social standing of the
This investigation ambitiously set out to identify the differences in two very
different worlds across several categories which, in the end, may have taken away from
identifying the complexity of each category in and of itself. Future research would be
wise to select just a single category of opinions (i.e. family values) to investigate and
seek to identify a larger volume of sources for each one.
Similarly, the focus on different categories may have taken away from
concentrating on the personal information and lifestyle of the participants themselves.
Such as focus would have allowed the investigator to better understand the exact
characteristics that the individuals used to interpret the television texts.
Another limitation of this study is that it did not study the linguistic differences
evident in the dubbing and subtitles of the U.S. programs. "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," to
use an example, is considerably different in Spanish and English because much of the
show's uniqueness is found in the protagonist's manner of speech (i.e. slang). The
difference between the true script and the subtle changes that creep into the text once a
translation is required could potentially throw off the way that program is interpreted.
Further research attempting to address the perceptions of the U.S. abroad must take the
linguistic differences into account.
The participants openly cited the medical and detective programs on the
"Discovery Channels" as the basis for many of their conclusions. A gap in the literature
exists on how channels like the "The Discovery Channel and other non-fictional channels
like "The Learning Channel" and "The History Channel" influence perceptions about
society in general. A future study might ask whether documentary type programs on
these channels are more likely to be perceived as more realistic than fictional sitcoms and
dramas, and whether such a perception holds across national borders.
Finally, it would be useful to know more about other forms of television and media
content, both fictional and non-fictional, that influences the worldviews of audiences in
Nicaragua. A baseline study of media in Nicaragua is in order.
TELEVICENTRO CHANNEL 2 PROGRAMMING LINEUP
MONDAYS JULY 2003
Figure A-1. Televicentro Channel 2 Programming Lineup
Source: Telivicentro Canal 2
ESTESA CABLE SERVICE CHANNEL LINEUP IN LEON (MARCH 2005)
CANAL TELEVISORA DESCRIPTION
S 2 CANAL 2 LOCAL
[ 3 NICKELODEON CANAL PARA NIrOS
S 4 IICANAL 4 LOCAL
5 IFOX KIDS CANAL PARA N10OS
6 IHMOVIE WORLD IIPELICULAS
7 BOOMERANG DIBUJOS ANIMADOS ESPANOL (SAP / STEREO)
8 TELENICA |LOCAL
_9 CARTOON NETWORK IDIIBUJOS ANIMADOS ESPANOL (SAP / STEREO)
10 IICANAL 10 LOCAL
11 IESTV LOCAL VARIADO
12 IJNICAVISION LOCAL
13 DIS NEY CHANNEL [(CANAL FAMILIAR
14 CINECANAL OESTE IPELICULAS
15 HALLMARK 1PELICULAS
16 JESPN 2. IIDEPORTES
17 ~FOX SPORTS IDEPORTES VAR1ADOS 24 HORAS ESPANOL
18 IE.S.P.N. INTERNATIONAL DEPORTES GENERALS ESPANOL (SAP / STEREO
19 HCNEMAX OLE UPELICULAS (STEREO)
20 SONY [SERIES (STEREO)
21 __H. B. 0. OLE PELICULAS (STEREO)
22 IWARNER CHANNEL IPROGRAMACI6N VARIADA
23 IMULTIPREMIERE IPELICULAS
.24 I A. CANAL FAMILIAR
25 STARZ PELICULAS
26 ITNT VARIADO ESPANOL (SAP / STEREO)
27 CANAL DE LAS ESTRELLAS IVARIADO ESPAROL
28 ITV AZTECA 13 [PROGRAMACION VARIADA EN ESPANOL
29 ITELEMUNDO PROGRAMACl6N VARIADA/NOTICIOSA EN ESPANC
30 ITELENOVELAS NOVELS MEXICANAS
31 ANIMAL PLANET MIUNDO ANIMAL ESPANOL
S 32 PEOPLE & ARTS IICULTURA MUNDIAL ESPANOL (SAP / STEREO)
[ 33 DISCOVERY CHANNEL IEDUCATIVO PARA TODAY LA FAMILIAR (SAP)
S34 IA X. N SERIES VARIAOO ESPArOL
35 FOX LATINO PROGRAMACION VARIADA
36 ICNN EN ESPANOL NOTICTAS ESPAROL
37 HISTORY CHANNEL DOCUMENTALES HISTORICOS
S 38 IMUNDO OLE DOCUMENTALES
39 JIEl ENTERTAINMENT IENTRETENIMIENTO
S 40 M. G. M. )PELICULAS
41 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EDUCATIVO PARA TODA LA FAMILIAR (SAP / STEREO
42 TIELEHTT PROGRAMACION MUSICAL
S43 RRMO SON IPROGRAMACl6N MUSICAL
44 TV GUIDE GUIA DE PROGRAMACITOD
45 EWTN IRELIGIOSO- ESPAROL
S 46 .T.. S. PROGRAMAC16N VARIADA JNGLES
47 CARACOL VARTADO
S4 IKTLA VARIAO BASEBALL
49 A. B. C. NOTICIAS PELICULAS INGLES
50 tN. B. C. NOIICIAS -PELIUCULAS SINGLES
51 C. B. S NOTICIAS PEI[CUILAS INGLES
52 _DISCOVERY KIDS CANAL PARA NI OS (SAP / STEREO)
53 FILM & ARTS IIPELCULAS, DOCUMENTALES
54 IDE PELICULA IPELICULAS MEXICANAS
55 ICINE LATINO PELICULAS ESPANOL
56 M.T.V. LATINO MUSIC JUVENILE ESPANOL (STEREO)
57 FILM ZONE PELICULAS
58 IICNN TNTERNACTONAL NOTTCIAS TNGLES
59 DISCOVERY TRAVEL & ADVENTURE (VIAES Y AVENTURAS ALREDEDOR DEL MUNDO
60 FOX MIAMI PROGRAMACI6N VARIADA EN INGLES
61 CINE CANAL ESTE IPELICULAS
S 62 |FILM ZONE ESTE -IPEUCULAS
63 21100% NOTICLAS N OTICIAS LOCAL
64 DISCOVERY HEALTH CANAL FAMILIAR ESPANOL (SAP)
65 TVE CANAL FAMILIAR ESPANOL
66 IR.A I. VARIADO TALANO
F 67 JBBC LONDRES J VARIADO SINGLES
68 J[DEUTCHE WELL IVARIADO ALEMAN
S69 ITVS FRANCrA IFVARIADO FRANCF
75 CASA CLUB TV VARIADO FAMILIAR
S 76 FOOD NETWORK IVARIADO
78 MAGIC CHANNEL [MUSICAL LOCAL
96 IENLACE IEVANGELCO LOCAL
99 CANAL 23 LOCAL
I I Revisado 1 de dicierr
Figure B-1. Estesa Cable Service Channel Lineup In Leon
Source: Estesa Cable Services ((http://www.estesa.com.ni/guiacanales/cable.html)
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE 13 PARTICIPANTS
Interview 1: Yeny Contreras
Yeny Contreras, 21, was born in Esteli, a city in the Northwestern part of the
country. Her parents and siblings were born in El Salvador and emigrated to the U.S.
when Yeny was very young. Both of her parents are merchants and her dad travels
around the U.S. selling different items. They both had only elementary education
She is in her 5th year of law and does not have a job. She stated that she watched
about 12 -13 hours in a week, most of those hours coming in the weekend. She has cable
and enjoys watching MTV and other shows that play American music. She also stated
that she used to watch a lot of series but stopped liking them.
Yeny repeatedly stressed that she liked programs that showed the humanity of
everyday living. Also was very opinionated on the importance of family and lack of that
familial support in the U.S.
The shows she talked about were "Beverly Hills 90210", which she "watched
forever", "Friends," and "ER". She also watched a little "Ally McBeal" but stopped
liking it cause it "got silly" and "went away from what she liked." Also mentioned "Step
by Step." The shows she didn't like were Buffy and Fresh Prince.
Interview 2: Jaromir Pastora
Jaromir, 23, was also born in Esteli but is living in Leon because he is studying
medicine at la UNAN (Universidad Nacional Autonoma Nicaraguense). He is in his 6th
and final year of medical school. He is married and has a kid.
His dad has bachelors in public accounting and manages a shop in his home. His
mom is a housewife who completed her first year of high school.
Jaromir has sisters residing in U.S. and also knew other friends and family
members that have traveled to U.S. Though one of his sisters has a Bachelor in law from
Nicaragua and the two others have a degree in business administration, Jaromir stated
that they are all involved in labor that involves housework, taking care of children, and
cleaning. He stated that he also had talked to Americans living in Nicaragua who shared
with him what American lifestyle was like.
He watches some 15-20 hours a week, but there are times when he watches too
much television when he has to tear himself from it. Has cable
Jaromir claimed to love any type of sports programming. In regards to series and
dramas, he mentioned "Dharma and Greg," "Friends," "ER," "Med Precinct," and
"Discovery Health." He liked medical shows because they showed him different type of
treatments and new technology. He also likes to watch movies but made it clear that he
likes movies that are surprising and not trite.
He said he really disliked "Jackass" because he felt that not only were the
individuals in that show selling their dignity for money but also because it showed that
U.S. society is materialistic. He also doesn't like JLO because he feels she's separated
herself from her Latina roots to take on Anglo Saxon parts and Eminem, the rapper,
because Jaromir thinks he makes U.S. society look violent and chaotic. He said that
while it may be violent and chaotic in some parts it isn't that way in the whole U.S.
Jaromir also believes television does affect violence in real life. He said that television
gives people get ideas. He stated that movies gave people the idea to crash airplanes into
buildings on 9/11 and also alluded to shootings in school (like Columbine).
Interview 3: Mariela Aguirre
Mariela Aguirre, 21, was born in Leon. She is in the 5th year of law school. Her
mom is a pharmacist and her dad is a doctor. Both of them have university degrees.
She says that she has uncles, cousins, and friends who live in the U.S. Her dad
has also traveled to the U.S. and has shared his perspective on what the U.S. is like. She
She watches about 3 or 4 hours a day of television, about 24 on average. She has
Mariela said that she really likes American movies and shows like "CSI," "Law
and Order," and The Practice." She stated that she liked shows that have the theme of
family and unity, and was very opinionated on this subject during the interview. She
also watched "My Wife and Kids," "Everybody Loves Raymond," and "Friends," as
well as news shows such as "60 Minutes" and "ABC news." She also listed the channels
to which she tunes in regularly: Discovery Channel, A&E Mundo, People and Arts,
Discovery Health, Animal Planet, and the Warner Channel.
She also said that one thing she didn't like about the U.S. was that they glorified
themselves in movies and made themselves to be the heroes in movies. She also didn't
like what she perceived to be a disrespect and mistreatment of parents by American kids.
Interview 4: Noemy Campos
Noemy Campos, 22, was born in Rivas, Nicaragua. She resides in Managua
during the weekdays because she is studying psychology in a university located there.
During the weekends she usually heads home to Niquinohomo, a small town near
She is the daughter of a single mom, who works in the domestic area as a cook
and maid. Her mom only had elementary schooling.
Noemy said she had various friends who had been to the U.S. and others who had
moved to the country permanently.
She has cable in her house in Managua but only national channels in her home in
Niquinohomo. She says she only watches about 7 hours of television a week but when
she was younger she watched 7 hours a day. She likes to watch news programming,
specifically the international news on Univision. She said she admires and looks up to
the professionalism of Jorge Ramos and MariaElena, the two lead anchors on Univision's
network news. She also likes to watch shows like "Friends," "Dawson's Creek," "ER."
Along with Rosa, Noemy was the most reticent of all the interviewees. It was
thus surprising to hear her say, in response to the question of how Americans define
success, that Americans want to rule over the world. She talked briefly about the Free
Trade Agreements, but not in detail, but believed that the U.S. was taking advantage of
the poorer country of Nicaragua. She believed that news programs were more apt than
fictional programs to distort reality.
Interview 5: Carlos Mufioz
Carlos Mufioz, 21, was born in Leon. He is a 5th year medical student. His
parents are separated. His mom is a high school professor and he does not have contact
with his father. His mom has a biology degree.
He does not have family or friends that live in the United States and does not
know anyone that has traveled to the United States.
Carlos watches about 12-15 hours a week of television and only receives the
national channels at home. He likes comedies and action movies. Among the shows he
mentioned were "Aprendiendo a Vivir," (a Spanish soap) "Dawson's Creek," "Buffy,"
"Fresh Prince of Bel Air," as well as "The District," "NYPD Blue," "Angel," and "Relic
He also expressed a belief that the violence may be harmful to kids because they
often try to copy what they see on television. He also thought that television might be
influencing an individual's desire for power because it often shows powerful individuals
acting selfishly without showing the true nature of the suffering these individuals cause.
Furthermore, he believed that U.S. television was transmitting cultural values that were
foreign to Nicaragua and thought that Nicaragua needed shows that would showcase its
Interview 6: Arnoldo Cuevas
Arnoldo Cuevas, 22, was born in Leon. He is in his fifth year of odontology and
does not have ajob. His dad is a mechanic who owns his own shop. His mom is a
housewife. His dad received some high school education but did not finish while his
mom attended elementary schooling.
He said that he has cousins and friends that have traveled to the U.S. who have
shared how difficult life is in the U.S. because one has to work long hours and lives a
Arnoldo said he watches about 14-15 hours of television a week. Used to watch
about 5 hours a day when he was in high school. The shows he enjoys include "Friends,"
"My Wife and Kids," "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," and "The Simpsons." He said that most
of the series that he watches are on the Warner Channel. He also tunes in frequently to
the Discovery Channel.
One thing that he noticed was different in the U.S. was that there was a freedom
of communication between friends and parents. He didn't feel that that existed so much
in Nicaragua. He was also impressed by the access to services such as health care that
Americans enjoyed. In comparison, he said, Nicaraguans have no one to really help him
or her out.
Interview 7: Evila Quintana
Evila Quintana, 21, was born in Leon. She is married and has a daughter. She is
almost finished with medical school. Her mother is an odontologist while her dad is and
administrator. Both of her parents have a university degree.
Her dad lives in the U.S. and has a newspaper there. Evila has traveled to other
Central American countries and said that she would rather live in another Central
American country than in the U.S. Dad mostly tells her about how heavy work is in the
She watches about 14-15 hours a week and has cable. She routinely wakes up and
puts on CNN in the morning. She also said that she used to watch a lot of television
when she was in high school.
The shows she watches the most were on Discovery Health and the Sony channel.
Most of the shows that she watched dealt with medical issues. Among the ones she
mentioned were "E.R," "Medical Detectives," "Dawson's Creek, "Friends," "Dharma
and Greg," and "Felicity."
She expressed a real faith in the "realness" of the shows on the Discovery
Channel and the History Channel. She thought that more "reality" shows like those
should be presented on the national channels so that Nicaraguans would see reality and
no longer think that everything in the U.S. was so great.
Interview 8: Maria Jose Vargas
Maria Jose Vargas, 21, was born in Leon Nicaragua. She is finishing her studies
as a clinical analyst. Her dad works as a civil servant while her mother is an
administrator at a market. Both her parents have university degrees.
She said she has friends that have traveled to the U.S. that have said that life is
more agitated in the U.S. and that the youth are also more liberal because there are more
modes of entertainment. They also have told her that life is dangerous.
Watches about 10 hours of TV a day.
She watches about 10 hours of television a day but watches Discovery Health
often. She also watches the "X Files," "Friends," "The Simpsons," and "Dawson's
Maria Jose spoke adamantly about her belief that Americans were more
materialistic and individualistic than Nicaraguans. She said that television influenced
that perception of American life. Furthermore, she believed that some of the ills of
society such as drug addiction were a result of the family's lack of unity.
Interview 9: Marcelo Amaya
Marcelo Amaya, 23, was born in Leon, Nicaragua. He is studying International
Relations and wants to work with community development in Nicaragua. His dad is an
electrician and his mom is a seamstress. His dad studied until the third year of high
school while his mom received schooling until middle school.
He said that he did not know anybody that lives in the U.S. Has no contact with
anyone. In the interview, however, he cited what he had heard from other people about
the U.S. to back his conclusions.
Marcelo watches about 20 hours a week and has cable. He expressed a real
interest in international news and tried to keep more informed of international news than
of national news. He said he tuned in often to CNN International. He also likes to watch
television that is educational like the Discovery Channel and the People and Arts
Channels. Other shows he watched included "Friends," the "Simpsons," "Ally McBeal,"
and "Dawson's Creek." Marcelo believed that there should be less violence on television
because children were susceptible to watching and imitating that violence.
He felt that civil society in the U.S. was more organized than in Nicaragua. He also
believed that the individual's rights were more protected in the U.S. than in Nicaragua.
He based this view on what he had seen on the national news. He also talked about the
privileges that money affords you in both countries and specifically cited the legal
troubles that Mike Tyson had faced over the years in the U.S.
Interview 10: Cora Ena Monterey
Cora Ena Monterey, 21, was born in Masaya. She is in her 2nd year of
physiotherapy at a university in Managua. Her dad works at a restaurant in the U.S.
while her mom is a housewife. She no longer talks to him.
She cited the information that her dad had communicated as the basis of many of
her opinions about the U.S. He entered the U.S. illegally and experienced some real
hardships upon arriving. Cora Ena said he was homeless for a while as he worked all sort
of oddjobs. He told her that while there is money to be made in the States one doesn't
really get to enjoy it because one has to work all the time.
Cora Ena said that she really enjoyed watching television. She watches about 20-
25 hours of television a week, but that balloons to around 40 hours when she has more
free time. She only has the over-the-air channels in her home. Among the shows she
likes were the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," "Moesha," "Clueless," "Xena: Princess
Warrior," "Dawson's Creek," "That 70s Show," "Baywatch," the "X Files" and Disney
shows like "Pepper Ann" and "The Gargoyles. She also said she watched movies and
soaps all the time.
During her interview she had very strong feelings about her perception that there
was a large amount of violence in the U.S. She said that news shows and movies showed
her the reality of the situation in the U.S. though she did believe that certain things were
giving a false sense of "reality."
Interview 11: Wilberth Hernandez
Wilberth, 21, was born in Leon. He finished high school and was working selling
insurance. His mom lives and works in Panama while his dad works in the marketplace.
He said that he knew three or four people that had been to the U.S. They have
told him that the U.S. is a very beautiful place that is economically prosperous. Some
people, however, work day and night to make more money and better their lives, they
also have told him.
Wilberth watches about 14 hours a week, mostly during the day. He only receives
the national channels in his home. The shows that he watches include "The Simpsons,"
"Fresh Prince of Bel Air," "Married With Children," and "Baywatch."
He felt that there were too many American programs on national television. He
said that he wanted more Latin American shows that were not soap operas on these
Wilberth believed that there were two realities in the U.S. He thought that while
Americans enjoyed certain prosperity and lifestyle, which was evident in television
shows, they also had to live a stressful life to achieve a certain status. Furthermore,
Wilberth believed that crime and violence were very significant in the U.S. and that an
American lived in more fear than a Nicaraguan.
Interview 12: Rosa Mendez
Rosa Mendez, 21, was born in Leon. She is in her 4th year of Business
Administration at the University of Commercial Sciences. She also works at the
university as an administrator's assistant. She lives only with her mother who is a
housewife. She doesn't have contact with her father. They both graduated from high
She knows several people that have traveled to the U.S. They have told her that
life is very difficult in the U.S. Their comments have mostly been related to the
difficulties for immigrants in the U.S.
She has only the national channels in her house and watches about 18 hours of
television during the week. She mostly watches soap operas. She doesn't tune in
regularly to many series but did talk about "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Baywatch." She
also talked about shows on Univision like the "Cristina" a sensational talk show on that
Along with Noemy, Rosa was very reticent during the interview. She
acknowledged that U.S. citizens do enjoy many privileges that are not available in
Nicaragua such as jobs and health care. She also believed that Nicaragua's culture, in the
form of religion and peer pressure, was often an obstacle in the development of a woman.
Furthermore, she believed that violence on television and "scandalous" talk shows like
"Crisitina" on Univision were bad for "impressionable" youth.
Interview 13: Guillermo Senteno
Guillermo Senteno, 23, was born in Leon. He is studying to be a pharmacist. He
is married and works about 5 hours a day as a key maker in a little shop in the market that
is owned by his dad. The interview was conducted at the market while he worked. His
dad works at the shop and at a hardware store nearby. His mom is a housewife. They
both only had basic schooling.
He did not know anyone that had traveled to the United States besides his mom.
Her comments on the U.S were more about the beauty of the country.
Guillermo said he watches about 40 hours a week, most of which are on
weekends. He said that he usually wakes up around 6 a.m. and the first thing he puts
turns on are international news programs, especially CNN in Spanish. He said he is also
very committed to reading the newspaper. Several figures that he gave were very
He doesn't have cable where he lives with his wife, but often goes over to mom's
house to watch cable. Among the shows he liked was "Beverly Hills 90210," "That 70s
Show," "Dark Angel," the "Wonder Years." He identified a lot with Kevin, the main
character from the "Wonder Years" because of the similarities he perceived between the
character and himself. He also watches the Discovery Channel. He said that he would
welcome more American shows on national channels because he is bored with the soap
operas that make up a large part of the programming. He would also like to see more
Although he watched a lot of fictional series he most often cited news programs
and documentary type programming (i.e. the Discovery Channel) as the basis of his
Note: Given the nature of the study, some of the questions outlined in this form needed a
few follow up questions and were also rearranged depending on the direction the
interview was taking.
Part 1: General Questions
How are old are you?
What do you do for a living? How many years of schooling did you receive? (Probe to
learn about the person's background in terms of education, income, and social class)
Have you ever traveled to the United States? If yes, what was your experience while in
the States? Did you make any friends while there? Do you have any contact with
American friends in Nicaragua? (Probe for detailed account of what subject perceived
about American lifestyle)
Part 2: General Questions About Television Viewing
1) Did you watch television today? Yesterday? During the past week? For how long?
Where were you at home, or somewhere else? Do you have cable or satellite?
2) About how much television do you watch? (Probe for self-assessment. Does viewer
consider himself/herself a heavy viewer?)
3) What are your favorite television programs? (Probe for name of specific programs.
Ask 'any other?' at least three times, to try to expand the list of favorites. Make special
note of any American programs.)
4) Why do you like those programs? (Probe for motivations for viewing that would
indicate any relationship to the United States or its values, practices, material life, or
other aspects of the country.)
5) Who are your favorite television characters (if any)? Why? Do you relate somehow to
the life they lead on television?
6) Do you watch [name of American program]? Why or why no? ( Probe for reasons that
would indicate the attractiveness of some aspect of America or American life as
portrayed in the programs)
7) Where do you usually watch television? Alone or with friends? Is there a particular
room in the house where you like to get comfortable?
8) Do you have a preference between the production/ look of television programming
from the South American countries such as Venezuela or Colombia, as opposed to say
the United States? Why? What do you think the main differences are?
9) Do you think some of the television networks in Nicaragua should run more U.S.
programming? Why or why not? (Probe for detailed reasons of what the subject might or
might not want to see)
10) The criticism of television in general is that it does not accurately portray reality.
What are your thoughts on that? (Probably the last question)
Part 3: Specific Questions About U.S. Lifestyles
Would you like to live in the United States? Why or why or not?
(Depending on this answer, the interview could take one of numerous turns which include
the following questions):
Do Americans have a lot of time of leisure and rest? What do Americans Do On
Weekends? On time off from work? What percentage of leisure time is spent in a social
atmosphere such as partying? How would you compare this to the things Nicaraguan
citizens do on their free time?
Do you think the U.S. is more violent than Nicaragua? In general do you think there are
more cops in the U.S.? Why or why not? What would you say the most common crimes
committed in the U.S. are? Are those the same as in Nicaragua?
Are there more employment opportunities in the U.S. than in Nicaragua? What type of
job do you think most Americans have? Office? Factory? Manual Labor? Professional?
(Probe for distinctive features that might be different between the two countries.)
How would you define success? Materials? Prestige? Merit? Family? What type of
possessions do they have in the United States that you might not find in Nicaragua?
Is there a distinctive class system in the U.S.? Is race, gender, ethnicity a factor in this
class system? In success? Why or Why not?
Do women work more than men? Who would you say normally should take care of kids
in general? How are things done in the United States (in terms of last question)? Are
there more women in workplace?
Part 4: Questions on Specific Television Programs:
(This will depend largely on some of the examples that the interviewee provides and the
background research on the programming on television in Nicaragua.)
Would you like to be more like your favorite character [name of character] Would you
like to dress like [name of character]? Have his or her career?
Do you think the set of characters in [series] would be good friends to have in real life?
Why or why not? Are the lives these characters live anything like what you experience in
your daily life?