Abuse and Trauma on the CW: How the Network's Characters Cope
One of the most interesting, but ethically complicated, issues to study is the phenomenon of abuse and trauma and how individuals deal with these harrowing, upsetting events. However, given how difficult it is in general to get individuals to sit down for in-depth interviews (especially on a topic as sensitive as this), alternative avenues must be proposed for the expansion of our knowledge on a myriad of issues. That said, an untapped mine of study comes out of the American television network known as the CW and the various programs it has produced since the network’s launch. A content analysis of the CW’s shows offers an opportunity to analyze such sensitive topics as abuse and trauma without the ethical hurdles of an institutional review board. Furthermore, the shows that I have in mind for this study – namely, Arrow, Supergirl, and All American – offer a diverse range of characters to sample and interactions to draw meanings out of. These shows offer the occasion to examine how a bevy of characters from diverse backgrounds deal with their traumatic pasts and presents, while also allowing an exploration of how these characters interact and how these characters either negatively or positively affect each other. Through my research, I found that these shows reproduce hegemonic discourses regarding personal autonomy, sexuality, gender roles, and racial hierarchies. However, positive developments emerged in portrayals of male emotional vulnerability, racial solidarity, and psychological healing. In addition, through the lens of symbolic interactionism, it was discovered that the meaning that the characters took out of their trauma made them more empathetic, selfless individuals. Lastly, the societal implications of the network’s portrayals of abuse and trauma both on its own and in the context of interpersonal relationships are considered.