Media Representation Matters


When you look at the cast lineup for your favorite tv show; what do you see? A probably somewhat balanced cast of men and women, maybe a few more of one or the other. What else? More than likely, the cast is going to be far over 50% white people. Your show might have a single queer character in the main cast, but that's pushing it. This article from momsoap is written by a woman who has studied media studies, who is done dealing with the fact that her daughter usually has only one character to see herself in.

She says "media is part of our culture. Culture provides a reflection. And when you are not reflected in the media, there is a sense of loss. We are constantly looking for our reflections somewhere. In our parents, in our friends, in our daily lives. And that includes media." It can be impossible to build up a good sense of self if you can't first see many positive role models for you to grow up and become. What children see in the media matters a great deal.

A study from a professor at Indiana University found that media exposure in the long run makes black boys, black girls, and white girls all feel worse about themselves, but builds up white boys' self esteem like no other. Martins is quite clear about how white male characters are represented when he says, "'Regardless of what show you're watching, if you're a white male, things in life are pretty good for you... You tend to be in positions of power, you have prestigious occupations, high education, glamorous houses, a beautiful wife, with very little portrayals of how hard you worked to get there.'" However, young, black boys are getting quite the opposite message, "'That there is not lots of good things that [they] can aspire to.'"

Media representation has come a long way from where it has been. However, absolute tragedies like Firefly--a series set in a future where China and America have become one superpower and there are literally zero Chinese characters with lines--still exist and come about. If you would like to try some shows with actually good representation, I would recommend trying Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Sleepy Hollow on Fox.


Now that you say it, TV shows really do portray our culture incorrectly. Actually, I think that an unfair standard is set through other types of media like magazines, billboards, and movies as well. You say that it matters--and I agree--but why? I did some of my own research about the effects that the misrepresented portions of the population experience. The article below explains how the media can negatively affect both women and men. The effects on females are quite disturbing. According to the article, 53% of 13 year olds and 78% of 17 year olds have poor body images, while nearly 65% of women and girls have eating disorders. Considering the fact that the average teen spends 10 hours a day paying attention to some form of media and sees about 500 (usually Photoshopped) advertisements per day, it seems very plausible that the media plays a role. I would be interested in a controlled, randomized experiment to compare body image of those with less media exposure to those with a lot of media exposure.
You also say that the media has come a long way in their representation--if you haven't heard already, you should check out what Dove is doing.

Couldn't agree more with what you said. It is really funny how disproportionately white men are represented in these TV shows. That has been the case since the advent of entertainment industry starting with minstrel shows. Also whats really irritating for me is the fact that these shows follow the stereotypes set in the society. That especially does not help in the assimilation of different cultures together. People get affected a lot by tv, their whole thought process is created by television which is dominated by the white male. I wrote a paper while applying for an internship at The Economist in London last summer and though I did not get the internship I did surprisingly hear back from them regarding the paper. In the paper I spoke about how Americans tend to view different cultures based on their movies. A great example would be Slumdog Millionaire where it depicts the hilariously high level of crime in that particular slum in Mumbai, India but does not mention anything about the enterprising people working in the slums there. So thats something thats extremely wrong with our media today.

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