An Exploration of Television and TikTok

Photo of Harlen Makemson, Professor, School of Communications

Student researchers in the Spring 2024 edition of the Elon Journal focused their efforts on two distinct forms of media – television and TikTok – and explored how each informs, persuades, and entertains an increasingly diverse audience.

In the realm of television, Alexandra Borda’s examination of three telenovelas and three American soap operas found that while traditional roles associated with women were found, the portrayal of women in telenovelas has drastically strayed away from the “stereotypical” Hispanic woman. Ellie Schmidt’s study employs qualitative conversation analysis to examine excerpts of dialogue from the HBO television series Succession, concluding that profanity use strongly indicated a character’s intent to assert power, but it often had limited conversational effect. Instead, profanity acted as an accessory to more successful power-related linguistic strategies, such as interruptions, topic control, and preferred responses. Meanwhile, Heath Foster’s study of Formula I auto racing found that outcome uncertainty impacts global Formula 1 viewership, but in a surprising manner. Counterintuitively, as point differentials among teams increase, viewership rises, in the sample studied.

Three student authors addressed the interplay between users and consumers on TikTok and similar social media platforms. Ava Girardi analyzed young female users’ comments to the top liked TikTok videos that use hashtags related to fitness, health, eating habits, and weight loss, identifying themes including body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, disordered eating, and fixation on food and health. Sadie Wiswall used content analysis to investigate Duolingo’s unique brand communication through TikTok, which emphasizes entertainment over traditional promotion. While Duolingo’s approach enhances brand visibility, questions persist about its conversion of social media engagement into tangible results. While not strictly focused on TikTok, Miles Vance’s study of video content and social media posts by Russian, Ukrainian, and Wagner-affiliated channels show that the most common themes presented were legitimization, deflection, humor, and violence.

The articles in this edition demonstrate the strength of undergraduate research produced in the School of Communications, each study being the product of an earnest collaboration between student and faculty mentor. Please enjoy their fine work.


Harlen Makemson
Editor, Elon Journal