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Sociological Analysis of Grey's Anatomy

 
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Grey’s Anatomy is an extremely popular American medical drama about the lives of interns and surgeons who work in teaching hospital Seattle Grace. Being popular TV series with nine seasons of episodes Grey’s Anatomy proves that this form of media is one of the most influential agents of socialization able to change people’s beliefs, values and attitudes towards usual things or patterns of behavior. Sociological analysis of Grey’s Anatomy shows that traditional attitudes towards typical gender roles, racial stereotypes, and authority/leadership are being rethought by contemporary society.

Summary of Grey’s Anatomy

Similar to all typical TV dramas this one has multiple plots and characters, and that is why there is no need to list all the heroes and events. Let us consider the most important ones. At the beginning, viewers meet a group of interns who are ready to start their medical practice in the teaching hospital. Among them are Meredith Grey, Isabel Stevens, Cristina Yang, George O’Malley, and Alex Karev. Other main characters are their supervisors, chief Dr. Richard Webber, brain surgeon Derek Sheppard, Miranda Bailey, and some other attending surgeons and senior residents who appear as plot develops. The show focuses on their personal and professional lives, their relationships and worldviews. Each character in Grey's Anatomy is described to be professionally competent. All of them are shown doing their job, treating patients and performing all kinds of procedures (Holtz, 2010). The time they do not work, they live like ordinary people with ordinary feelings and emotions. Thus, the young doctors live, love, change their lives, lose the dearest things, and learn how to be good surgeons and humane people. Some of them leave, some stay, but eventually all of them are changed in this or that way (Holtz, 2010).

This medical drama is very interesting sociologically as apart from complex plot and numerous breathtaking storylines with complex characters and conflicts, viewers deal with meaningful messages, which are conveyed by the protagonist of the story, Meredith Grey. The major themes and ideas of the drama are related to the complex relations within family, groups of friends and coworkers, to the interrelation between different races, nationalities, and religions, and finally to the concepts of love, gender roles and marriage.

Medical Drama as an Agent of Socialization

Mass media have become an integral part of people’s everyday life. There is not a person who does not experience the influence of mass media and its output. Undoubtedly, television and all the media items presented by means of it play an important role in socialization. According to the most commonly used definition socialization is a complex set of communicative exchanges between individuals and agents of society that leads to the individual’s preparation for life in a social and cultural environment (Schaefer, 2011). 

The medical drama is considered an agent of socialization too. First, TV show is accessible to everyone regardless of his or her age, class, sexual orientation, race, and geographic location. Every person who watches it is exposed and susceptible to the same visual and verbal social messages. Hence, the universality of television mediates its role as a pivotal agent of socialization as it exerts a powerful influence in shaping gender roles, blurring existing stereotypes and reassessment of values. Second, the portrayal of doctors’ self-esteem and anxiety to become strong personalities and professionals makes people who watch Grey’s Anatomy think about the problems and concerns of main characters. What is more, one who watches popular TV series usually identifies him or her with one of the characters running through his/her life. Eventually, one may start to think and act the way his/her favorite character does in the drama. The medical drama is even more powerful agent of socialization as it interests not only ordinary people of different backgrounds, but also future surgeons and nurses who are likely to utilize the experiences of their fictional colleagues (Holtz, 2010).

Gender Roles

Grey’s Anatomy is the TV show that breaks many gender stereotypes, emphasizing that both man and women play equally important roles in society. In accordance with stereotypes men are more respectable and intelligent, while women are to act as typical homemaker and mother (Renzetti & Curran, 1995). This medical drama conveys one primary message: both males and females are competent and can solve problems; representatives of both genders can attain power. At the same time, male characters similarly to females are concerned with relationships and discuss them actively. Women in their turn similarly to men can be promiscuous and easy.

Although there are more female characters, which are depicted as strong personalities, the positions of power and authority are held by men. For instance, the majority of attending surgeons are men. However, while men occupy the top of the hierarchy and all of them are incredibly skilled, they resolve not as many surgical issues as women do. Indeed, problem solving is equally divided between females and males, and in most cases, it is collaborative (Holtz, 2010).

At the same time, men are stereotyped as being confirmed womanizers. For example, the characters of Mark Sloan and Alex Karev are the main examples of the stereotype. Dr. Sloan is extremely promiscuous and light-minded. However, there is one more male character, Dr. Sheppard. He is a man who wants to have a family and live quietly. It is interesting, that typical men’s promiscuity is the characteristic feature of female characters. For instance, Christina and Meredith are depicted as equally apt to sleep around.

It is believed, that women are more consumed with talking about personal relationships, and this stereotype in maintained in Grey’s Anatomy as well (Renzetti & Curran, 1995). At the same time, men are shown engaged in relationship discussions too. Similarly, Meredith who continuously talks with Christina about their personal life, Derek shares his ideas about his relationships with Sloan or Owen.

The medical drama also presents a woman as a breadwinner in the family. Miranda Bailey is a workaholic, and eventually her husband becomes a stay-at-home father. The traditional gender roles are challenged in the relationship of Christina and Owen. Christina challenges the traditional stereotype that all women want to have children.

Although, Grey’s Anatomy mediates the prominence of gender stereotypes in media, it conveys the messages that break them down. The show presents promiscuous women, sensitive and open to relationships men, and a female, who is a breadwinner. In general, the show conveys that any trait or pattern of behavior in not limited to only one sex.

Racial Stereotypes

Multicultural society means the existence of racial stereotypes in the media (Schaefer, 2011). It seems that everyone has got used to the fact that African Americans usually were depicted as people who had service occupational roles. Usually, African Americans appeared on TV as servants, cooks, house cleaners, musicians and so on. It is obvious, that these stereotypes are the products of slavery and the prejudice that black people cannot fill any executive position. Similar stereotypes are applied to the representatives of other minority groups. However, in Grey’s Anatomy African Americans – namely Richard Webber and Miranda Bailey – occupy positions of power. Callie Torres is Latina and she is a senior resident. Christina Yang is Asian and is the most skilled and competent second-year resident. Thus, all the characters of this medical drama make equally great contributions to the development of the plot regardless of their race and ethnicity.

Grey’s Anatomy has of the most diverse casts and most of the characters relate to different minority groups. It is seen visually, but in reality, there is not a hint on abusive treatment or discrimination. It seems that there are no races and all the people are equal as this diversity is never addressed.

Authority/Leadership

The concepts of authority and leadership in the TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy are closely connected to the gender roles. The show presents stereotypical female “bossy boss” and male “leader” opposition. Women who have power are purely authoritarian. For instance, Dr. Erica Hahn is depicted as sarcastic, cold and rude. Dr. Miranda Bailey, the chief resident, is extremely bossy and demanding. She is referred to as the “Nazi”, which is the direct reference to her strict regime and resolute demands. On the contrary, Dr. Webber, who is the Chief, is portrayed as a true leader, self-confident and reliable. His mentor-like qualities make him likeable and approachable to his colleagues. The negative portrayal of women’s bossiness shows that while women are able to gain respect and assert power, they are not always able to maintain discipline by means of common sense and reasonableness (Renzetti & Curran, 1995).  

Functionalist Theory

Functionalism is a sociological perspective that interprets every single part of society in accordance with its contribution to the social stability. In other words, each part of society depends upon another one, and it is considered functional for the general stability. When one part does not work or is dysfunctional, it affects all the other parts and causes various social problems, including social changes. According to functional theory, all the institutions within one society are closely connected and interrelated (Schaefer, 2011).

Seattle Grace is a small society, which consists of many departments, doctors, interns, nurses, patients and others. Each element of the hospital’s society has some functions to perform, but it is impossible to achieve a success if these elements do not interrelate. The understanding of the functionalist theory contributes to the understanding this media item sociologically. During the nine seasons with more than 80 episodes, there were many situations when the whole system was at risk because of the mistake of one of its elements.

Conclusion

Summing up, Grey’s Anatomy being one of the most popular TV shows in the USA proves that medical drama is the powerful agent of socialization able to influence people’s worldviews and beliefs. This TV drama was analyzed sociologically, and it is found out that viewers deal with meaningful messages, which break down the existing gender and racial stereotypes, and interpret the main themes and ideas of the series. Sociological analysis of Grey’s Anatomy shows that traditional attitudes towards relations within family, groups of friends and coworkers, interrelation between different races, nationalities, and religions, and finally the concepts of love, gender roles and marriage are being rethought by contemporary society.

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