Dressed to Kill Stereotypes: Eddie Izzard’s Role as Parasocial Contact Icon You never get a second chance to make a first impression; a concept crucial to the importance of the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis. Eddie Izzard as a representative of a male transvestite minority group, plays a critical role in diminishing minority stereotypes in his HBO comedy special Dressed to Kill.
Eddie Izzard does this in 3 important ways: by identifying with the majority (his audience) on a familiar and common level, by embracing minority characteristics in order to humanize differences, and by approaching the subject (mostly non-verbally) in a lighthearted and non-threatening manner. The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis is the suggestion that parasocial interactions through media can act in a similar way to Intergroup Contact Theory when correlated to minority prejudice.
In studies on intergroup contact, it has been shown that direct exposure to a minority group changes the opinion and lessens the prejudice by that participant. Schiappa, Greg and Hewes wrote, “a person’s beliefs can be modified by that person coming into contact with a category member and subsequently modifying or elaborating the beliefs about the category as a whole” (93). In their parasocial contact hypothesis studies Schiappa, Greg and Hewes concluded,
Cumulatively, the studies reported here provide support for the PCH for two minority groups and across three television genres. The PCH has significant theoretical and social implications. For decades, mass communication researchers have insisted that mass media and television, in particular, can influence viewers’ beliefs about the world. Research on parasocial contact and the relationships that such contact produces is significant because it suggests that one form of learning is about individuals and categories of people (111).
This finding is most important because it means that individuals representing minority groups in media now become more than an individual, but an icon for the minority and as such they carry on a new importance and responsibility. In Dressed to Kill, Eddie Izzards approach to his special gains greater value because he now represents a larger group and his communication choices take on new significance. Eddie Izzard first identifies with the majority on a common level, but opening the show on the streets of San Francisco while not in drag.
His audience is from or at least in San Francisco and through his opening video and dialogue he connects to the crowd on a level outside of gender issues as a fellow San Franciscan or at least lover there of. His second technique is to embrace minority characteristics all the while humanizing them. He does this by coming out on stage in drag and performing the whole special in ‘costume’. He defines transvestites and even categorizes them by type at points throughout the special to bring the audience back and to demonstrate similarities with which they can identify.
His third technique is to approach the subject in a lighthearted and non-threatening manner; this is achieved simply by using a comedic format style. People laugh when they are uncomfortable and laugh when they are comfortable. Those that are uncomfortable are given the freedom to express themselves without standing out because everyone else is laughing. Those unfamiliar with transvestites now presented with a closer view of the minority in a comedic way, walk away with a positive feeling of the minority representative which influences their opinion and reduces prejudice.
The studies and conclusions on Parasocial Contact Hypothesis research are significant because it means the media can be used to reinforce positive images of minority groups to reduce prejudice. However the opposite is likely also true, so it is important that media be used for productive and not destructive purposes in this regard. Works Cited Schiappa, Edward & Gregg, Peter & Hewes, Dean. “The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis. ” Communication Monographs Mar. 2005: 92-115. Jordan, Lawrence dir. Izzard, Eddie wri. Dressed to Kill. 1999. HBO, 1999.
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