Masculinity. Masculinity is also represented in the media in terms of physical aggression, toughness, competitiveness, and domination as portrayed in ads and stories in men’s magazines: http://www.theory.org.uk/mensmags.htm
These practices, as with representations of femininity, are culturally bound. They evolved out of the rise of the middle-class in the late 1700s and early 1800s in which their was a separation of work and “home” as distinct gendered realms (Nixon, 1997). Men began to become active in men’s clubs, as well as religious organizations, service constituted in terms of a discourse of moral commitment to service. And, with the rise of a business or industrial economy, men devoted more time to their work outside of the home, creating a division previously noted in which men constructed their identities around work and women, around the home. Men also began to adopt more austere, “non-feminine” dress. Lace, which was associated with masculinity in the 1500s and 1600s, was now considered to be a marker of femininity.
More recent representations of masculinity emphasize the fixed nature of male identities in which complexity, doubt, or alternative identities is portray as a negative:
This is most evident in cross-gender/dressing films such as Some Like it Hot, Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, and others, which not only represent females in limited ways, but also assume that adopting a feminine role is a violation of one’s basic, traditional male role. For example, in the following trailer for Sorority Boys, the characters, pretending to be members of a sorority, are shown as ultimately failing to adopt feminine roles given their innate masculinity:
Another aspect of the representation of masculinity is how it is associated with physical violence as an expression of “male outrage.” The video, Tough Guise, explores representations of violence as constituted by the need to assert one’s masculine identity through bullying or violence against women when challenged by others or the system:
Students could also analyze portrayals of male violence in advertisements (go to “media violence” on the following site:
Media representations of masculinity could also be discussed in terms of violence to women. For a discussion of how these representations influence perceptions of rape, see:
Rapping, E. (2000). The Politics of Representation:
Genre, Gender Violence and Justice. Genders, 32.
Masculinity and sports. An analysis of sports programming sponsored by Children Now in 1999
found that male adolescents are five times more likely to view sports programs on a regular basis than female adolescents. Analysis of the representations of sports indicated the following themes:
- Aggression and violence among men is depicted as exciting and rewarding behavior.
- Sports coverage emphasizes the notion that violence is to be expected.
Fights, near-fights, threats of fights or other violent actions are found in sports coverage and often verbally framed in sarcastic language that suggests that this kind of action is acceptable. This message was found most frequently on SportsCenter (10 times), followed by the NFL games (7 times), Major League Baseball games (2 times), NBA games (2 times), and Extreme Sports (1 time).
- Athletes who are "playing with pain" or "giving up their body for the team" are often portrayed as heroes.
This "playing with pain" theme was most common in the NFL games (15 instances), followed by Extreme Sports (12 instances), SportsCenter (9 instances), and NBA games (6 instances).
- Commentators consistently use martial metaphors and language of war and weaponry to describe sports action.
On an average of nearly five times per hour of sports commentary, announcers describe action using terms such as "battle," "kill," "ammunition," "weapons," "professional sniper," "taking aim," "fighting," "shot in his arsenal," "reloading," "detonate," "squeezes the trigger," "exploded," "attack mode," "firing blanks," "blast," "explosion," "blitz," "point of attack," "lance through the heart," "gunning it," "battle lines are drawn," and "shotgun." These war references were used most often in NBA games (27 times), followed by NFL games (23 times), Wrestling (15 times), SportsCenter (9 times), Major League Baseball games (6 times), and Extreme Sports (3 times).
- Sports commentators continually depict and replay incidents of athletes taking big hits and engaging in reckless acts of speed and violent crashes.
- Games are often promoted by creating or inflating conflict between two star athletes.
Sports announcers often frame team games as individual one-on-one contests between two well-known individual players. This theme was particularly prominent in the NBA games, with 29 instances.
- Many sports programming commercials that boys watch play on male insecurities about being "man" enough.
- Traditionally masculine images of speed, danger, and aggression are often used in the sports programming commercials that boys watch.
This emphasis on physical display of male prowess is evident in the popularity of professional wrestling with adolescent males, as examined in the video, Wrestling with Manhood http://www.mediaed.org/videos/MediaGenderCulture/WrestlingWithManhood
The highly gendered world of professional football is evident in the representation of female cheerleaders, for example, the following from the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’s Homepage.
In the world of professional football, females are represented in terms of images of passive femininity and sexuality—images opposed to the high level of activity associated with the male players.
Men Can Stop Rape: explores alternative representations of masculinity
Gays/lesbians. In examining gender representations, it is also important to consider the ways in which gays and lesbians are represented in the media.
It has only been recently that gays and lesbians have even appeared in films, television programs, and commercials; if they did appear in the past, they were stigmatized in negative ways as highly effeminate or deviant. This began to change with the film, Philadelphia, with Tom Hanks portraying a gay fighting AIDS and Ellen DeGeneres on her prime-time television program.
The video, The Celluloid Closet, documents the ways in which Hollywood movies shifted in its representations of homosexuality from helpless or tragic characters to more recent characters in films such as The Boys in the Band and The Hunger are portrayed in more complex ways. More recently, programs such as Will & Grace and Queer As Folk, and films such as The Birdcage, have resulted in a shift in representations towards less stereotypical representations (Wilke, 2002):
While in recent years gay men have been desexualized in media, QAF [Queer as Folk] has turned that around. "The thing Dan and I are most proud of (in the show) is making gay men sexual," says Cowen. "I think this is very positive -- showing people who aren't ashamed of their sexuality. It's the most political thing we're doing and the most important thing for straight people to see."
Cowen observes that for gay acceptance in media, "We're exactly where we were 25 years ago for black people, like with Sanford & Son, Good Times and Diahann Carroll in Julia (1968-71) -- the first sitcom starring a black woman. She was a saintly nurse, but maybe we've skipped a step with QAF!"
It can be argued that advertising thrives on stereotypes such as the happy family, annoying in-laws or lazy husbands, but they are not oppressed minorities. Eventually, blacks and women in advertising have kept up with the times. Women today show up less often on the hood of cars as behind the wheels, though they still regularly toil for household cleaners, and blacks now appear in ads with such frequency that they represent the "every man" or woman.
But what of gay men, lesbians, and transgenders? Advertising remain slow at reflecting social change, thus homophobia and classic gay stereotypes continue to be regularly used as a source of comedy. Lesbian representation is mostly limited to embodying straight male fantasies -- after all, desire is the inspiration to buying most everything, not reality. Transgenders continue to be misunderstood by society and repeatedly appear as sexual tricksters of straight men or frightening monsters.
Another analysis of Will and Grace indicated that the gay characters are portrayed as operating in realistic social contexts, while as the same time, they are having to still deal with stereotypical perceptions that still persist in these contexts.
Despite these changes, analysis of primetime television programs for Fall, 2002 by the The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) found that:
The Fall 2002 season includes only seven lesbian and gay characters in primetime –all of whom are white. There are nobisexual or transgender characters. Last year, 20 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters regularly appeared on network television.
Visit http://www.glaad.org/eye/ontv/index.php for a complete list of the lesbian and gay characters appearing on television, and a season-to-season comparison.
This fall, only six shows on network television feature lesbian and gay characters: returning shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “ Dawson ’s Creek,” “ER,” “NYPD Blue” and “Will & Grace”; and the new ABC drama “MDs.” Eleven shows with lesbian and gay characters from the 2001-2002 season are not returning, including: “ Spin City ,” “Felicity,” “Once and Again,” “The Ellen Show,” and “Dark Angel.” The only shows to feature a bisexual and a transgender character – “That 80s Show” and “The Education of Max Bickford,” respectively – were also canceled last season.
From a rhetorical/audience perspective, it is often the case that audiences’ homophobic attitudes shape their responses to representations of gays and lesbians. In a study of the reactions of six television viewers in their 20s to representations of gay issues on television, these viewers’ reactions varied considerably due to differences in their attitudes:
For further reading on media representations of gays and lesbians, see The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics (Gross, L., & Woods, J.), Columbia University Press
See also information about gays and lesbians in films;
and in commercials:
Racial and ethic group representations. Students could also study the ways in which different racial or ethnic groups are represented both in terms of the images portrayed and the discourses of race constituting those representations (see Module 4 on discourses of race). A study by Children Now http://www.childrennow.org/newsroom/news-01/pr-5-2-01.cfm
of the diversity of groups represented on the eight o’clock shows in 2001 when children are most likely to be viewing indicated that:
- The 8 o’clock "family hour" is the least racially diverse hour on television. Only one in eight (13%) of the programs broadcast during this hour have mixed opening credits casts. By contrast, two thirds (67%) of programs during the ten o’clock hour, when the least children are watching, have mixed opening credits cast.
- African Americans account for the majority of non-white prime time characters, comprising 17%, followed by Asian Pacific Americans (3%), Latinos (2%) and Native Americans (0.2%). In addition, the study found that most on-screen racial diversity comes from the inclusion of non-recurring characters and that the number of diverse programs decreases significantly when focusing on a show’s main characters only.
-Latino representation on prime time decreased from 3% of total characters last year to 2% this year. Asian Pacific American characters increased from 2% to 3%. By contrast, Latinos and Asian Pacific Americans make up 12% and 3.6% respectively of the national population, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Another study of representations of different groups on prime-time television in Fall, 2002, found that the Latino population, now the second largest minority population in America, was represented only 3 percent of the time, even though they make up 13 percent of the population: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-06-24-Latinos-absent-in-TV_x.htm
The study also found that:
- whites accounted for 81 percent of screen time and 74 percent of all characters, though they make up 69 percent of the nation's population.
- blacks accounted for 16 percent of all characters compared to their 12 percent share of the population. However, much of this representation occurred on the seldom-watched UPN network.
This study points to the problem that certain groups are more likely to be represented on certain networks, resulting in a segregation in terms of viewing audiences, such as whites not viewing UPN shows.
TV networks "Family Hour" has least diverse prime time programming
In the following video clip from Race, The Floating Signifier, http://mediaed.org/videos/RaceDiversityAndRepresentation/RacetheFloatingSignifier
Stuart Hall critiques biological notions of race to argue that race is a social and cultural construct that is continually changing across and within different cultures.
Central to the cultural construction of race is Gramsci’s theory of white hegemony http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-rol6.htm
by which media representations serve to maintain and perpetuate a discourse of whiteness as the desired norm, against which people of color are defined as “other”:
In the following video clip from the video, Cultural Criticism and Transformation,
bell hooks examines the powerful white/capitalistic institutional forces and motives behind representations of race as evident in the documentary, Hoop Dreams, the OJ Simpson case, Madonna, Spike Lee, and Gangsta rap. As she notes, "The issue is not freeing ourselves from representations. It's really about being enlightened witnesses when we watch representations."
Based on their extensive empirical research on the representations of Blacks in television and films, Robert Entman and Andrew Rejecki (2000), argue that given the dominant discourse of whiteness that frames representations of Blacks in terms of a hierarchy of power positioning Blacks in a subordinate roles. They define what they describes as a bipolar portrayal of Blacks:
The predominate imagery of Blacks on television oscillates between the supremely gifted, virtuous, and successful and the corrupt, criminal, and dangerous (with some Black athletes a bit of both), much more so that it does with Whites. There is little in the way of the merely ordinary, those examples that fail to register a blip on a cultural radar screen calibrated to detect only the extremes. (p. 207)
They note that local news broadcasts frequently portray urban Blacks as more likely to engage in criminal behavior than Whites. “Such depictions may increase Whites’ fears of entering Black neighborhoods, as it reduces their sympathy for Blacks—who are in fact more afflicted by violence and crime than most Whites” (p. 209). Given the lack of factual reporting and contextualizing of larger issues on the news, they argue for the need for:
- providing accurate representation of knowable facts (like the size of the Black population and the welfare budget).
-seeking to create dominant frames in the audience’s minds that are rooted in such facts, or at least in consciously chosen and openly announced value commitments; that it, selecting and highlighting and therefore popularizing understandings of social problems, causes, and remedies based on what we know, not what we fear or unmindfully assume.
- providing self-critical material that offers context and clarifies the causes on the images that appear. In this mode, the news would report that Black crime rates are much higher than Whites, but that Racial difference disappears if we control for employment status. (p. 217).
And, this clip from the video, On Orientalism,
Edward Said examines how media representations of Mid-eastern and Muslim worlds reflect white, Western discourses positioning those worlds as an exotic, unfathomable “other.”
In the documentary video, Color Adjustment, portraying 40 years of a slow evolution of representations of race on television, Marlon Riggs demonstrates how African Americans on programs such as Amos and Andy, The Nat King Cole Show, I Spy, Julia, Good Times, Roots, Frank's Place and The Cosby Show, were only portrayed in ways that did not threatened white dominant discourses of race. These non-threatening representations are contrasted with more challenging portrayals of the Civil Rights movements on the news and in programs such as Julia, All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Hill Street Blues, and LA Law.
Professor Margaret Russell in an analysis of a 1980s movie, Soul Man, about a upper-middle class white male who poses as a black applicant in order to obtain admission to Harvard Law School.
Russell notes that the film challenges affirmative action and race-based scholarships in ways that appeal to what she defines as the “dominant stance” associated with the assumed ideological stance of a white audience, a stance she traces back to a tradition of Hollywood films beginning with Birth of a Nation. She concludes her study by contrasting films such as those by Spike Lee that challenge this dominant white stance with films such as Soul Man:
In defending his film, Do the Right Thing (1989) against the criticism
that it might make mainstream white audiences feel uncomfortable, Spike Lee
asserted, "[T]hat's the way it is all the time for Black people." Lee's point
was that the dominant gaze still prevails; "uncomfortable" perspectives are
marginalized, criticized, or worst of all, simply ignored. A film such as Soul
Man, which capitalizes on an ostensibly alternative perspective to tell a tale
about contemporary race relations, is ultimately fatally flawed by the domi-
nance of its vision. By exploiting the effect of racial stereotypes without
reminding the viewers of their continuing destructive force, Soul Man misses the
opportunity to make - either seriously or comically - a truly instructive
comment about the nature of racism in our society.
Christopher Miller, “The Representation of Black Males in Film”
Similarly, analysis of representations of Native Americans in Hollywood films
reflect the ways in which Native Americans are portrayed in the Western genre as the deviant “other” who attempted to block the white’s western expansion and exploitation of natural resources in the American west.
For lessons on studying contemporary Native American experiences that counter stereotypes about Native Americans:
Bret Enynon and Donna Thompson, American Social History Project: “Picturing a Nation: Native Americans and Visual Representation”
A study by Children Now of Native American adolescents’ perceptions of the media
Most said that they did not see youth with whom they could identify and who were true to life. Further, Native youth also stated that they do not see people of their own race. "I don't see any Native Americans in the media," said a young Comanche boy from Oklahoma City. When asked to identify Native Americans actors, a few children answered, "Northern Exposure," or "There was an X-Files [episode] a couple of years ago. . . ." This scarcity corresponds to many kids feeling "left out," and getting the message that minorities "shouldn't be seen."
When Native American youth do see other Native Americans on television, they experience a sense of pride. As one teen said, "If I see a Native person on the television screen, I feel proud of them. I don't care what tribe they are, as long as they're Native and making a difference." Another commented, "I feel kind of good . . . because, like after so many shows about White people, Indians actually get a chance to be on TV. It makes me happy. It shows we're getting somewhere."
On the rare occasions when Native youth do see their culture and race in the media, it is often an unflattering picture. As one Oklahoma City adolescent asserted, "[Native Americans] aren't highly respected. They're not often shown as the main character or the heroine." A teenage girl from Seattle told us, "When you do see Native Americans on TV, it's like movies about reservations or something like that. And they're all drunk and beating up on each other. And they're poor."
Representations of Asian men and women
reflect negative perceptions of Asians not trustworthy or mysterious.
Bibliography: UC Berkeley Library: African Americans in films
Bibliography: UC Berkeley Library: Native Americans in films
Bibliography: UC Berkeley Library: Chicanos/Latinos in films
Bibliography: UC Berkeley Library: Jews in films
For other related sites:
Xenophobia and portrayals of the other
National University course: Representation and Diversity in the Media
University of Iowa Communications Studies site: representations of racial groups in the media:
lists of films organized according to racial representations:
Analysis of representation of diversity in European media:
To recognize the degree to which mainstream news typically reflects a white, middle-class perspective, examine the following diversityinc.com site in which the news and current events are presented from a more diverse perspective. How are the topics selected and analyses employed different from typical mainstream news coverage?
New York Times lesson: Elyse Fischer, “Sufferin' Stereotypes:
Examining Race and Ethnicity as Presented in Children's Media”
New York Times lesson: Alison Zimbalist, Kelly Bird, and Jessica Levine, “TeleVisions of Race: Examining the Portrayal of Race on Television”
Class. Students could also examine representations of social class differences in the media as based on prototypical notions of working versus middle versus upper-middle-class groups. One analysis of class representations in the media
Class in the United States is still tied to the degree to which one controls the means of production, but it is also about race, access to power, education and even one's belief system.
The corporate media deals with class issues in ways that obscure their most simple meaning. New advertising campaigns about "white trash chic" treat class as a lifestyle choice, while economic coverage in newspaper business sections unquestioningly parrots Greenspan's poison about inflation (wage increases) being the bogeyman and the only response to falling unemployment being increased interest rates.
Editors and producers, both in the corporate media and in the alternative press, fear class issues. The corporate media knows that to talk about class is to talk about inequality, which is to discuss corporate oppression. But even alternative journalists, steeped in the logic of journalism schools, seek out the highest officials for comment on stories that "matter." Plain folk are used as props to support conventional wisdom.
As evident in the PBS documentary, People Like Us (see Module 4), http://www.pbs.org/peoplelikeus/
people want to be perceived as “middle class” by adopting class markers of dress, language, social practices. These class differences are represented on television in terms of a display of upper-middle class status symbols in commercials for expensive cars
or luxury cruises
In analyzing representations of class differences, it is useful to examine media texts organized around class hierarchies—the PBS Masterpiece Theater, Upstairs, Downstairs; Robert Altman’s film, Gosford Park, or Titanic portray the disparities in social practices and values associated with different classes, often leading to conflicts.
One example of class tensions within the same text is the PBS Mystery series, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: A Great Deliverance, in which the detective, Inspector Thomas Lynley, is upper class--the eighth Earl of Asherton, and his partner, Sergeant Barbara Havers, is working class, and has a strong resentment about upper-class people. The program revolves around conflicts in their relationships as they attempt to solve crimes; the series is based on the Inspector Lynley Mysteries book series by Elizabeth George http://www.randomhouse.com/features/george/
Upper middle-class characters that emerged in prime time shows in the 1980s such as Dallas and Dynasty http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/socialclass/socialclass.htm
reflected an increasing sense of a new wealthy class during the Reagan and Thatcher era. Some critics noted that the fact that these characters are often unhappy and conflicted was an attempt to convey the message to less-well-off viewers that accumulating wealth does not necessarily result in happiness—a message designed to placate concerns about not having wealth.
During that same period, the de-industrialization of the economy resulted in closures of traditional manufacturing plants, particularly in England and Ireland. A series of films about laid-off workers in these countries during that time--Brassed Off, Trainspotting, The Snapper, The Van, and The Last Monty, all portray the plight, often framed in a comic mode, of male workers who must find new kinds of employment that had little to with their familiar, traditional skills. For example, in The Van, set in Dublin, two works attempt to set up a mobile fish and chip restaurant, only to encounter a range of challenges. These films represent workers’ former employers as well as the British government, as having little or no concern for their plight.
Other films about working-class characters in the 1990s include:
The Big Night (1996; dir. Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott; cast: Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Isabella Rossellini; subj.: tale of two Italian-American brothers in Long Island and their struggle to keep their little authentic restaurant and lives afloat)(cooks and restaurant owners)
Spitfire Grill (1996; dir. Lee David Zlotoff ; cast: Alison Elliott, Ellen Burstyn, Will Patton; subj.: young woman comes from prison to small town in Maine to begin life again working in local diner; screenplay by Zlotoff) (diner cook)
Sling Blade (1996; dir. Billy Bob Thornton; cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh; subj. retarded adult man, Karl Childers, struggles in a small Southern town; surprise low budgeted, independent film nominated for 1996 Oscar as Best Film) (mechanic)
Fargo (1996; dir. Joel Coen; cast: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi; subj.: murder and kidnap plot involving woman police detective and car salesman, set in Fargo, North Dakota; script by Joel and Ethan Coen) (auto sales, policewoman)
Secrets and Lies (1996-British; dir. Mike Leigh; cast: Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Timothy Spall, Claire Rushrook; sugj.: slice of life of working class family dealing with young Black woman's discovery of her white mother.
Hidden in America (1996; dir. Martin Bell; cast: Beau Bridges, Bruce Davison, Shelton Dane, Jena Malone; displaced autoworker and family struggle to get by after wife dies, sharp and poignant depiction of hidden poverty in America) (out of work laborer).
Good Will Hunting (1997; dir. Gus Van Sant; cast: Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver; subj.: Rough Boston youth with genius for math shows up MIT academics, wins girl, and gains confidence with counselor; written by Damon and Affleck who received writing Oscars.) (academia)] (construction, janitor, community college teacher).
Ulee's Gold (1997; dir. Vincent Nune; cast: Peter Fonda, Patricia Richardson, Jessica Biel, Christine Dunford; subj.: beekeeper father brings dysfunctional family together through hard work and struggles.)(bee keeping).
October Sky (1999; dir. Joe Johnson; cast Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Natalie Canerday; subj.: based on autobiographical book by Homer H. Hickman, Jr., a coal miner's son in West Virginia, who becomes inspired by launch of Stutnik satelite, an against a life in the mines chooses to invent rockets with high school friends.(coal miners, students, teachers).
Television programs during the as The Archie Bunker Show, Roseanne, The Simpsons, and Married with Children, often portrayed working class characters as uneducated and racist. For example, Roseanne and her husband are overweight, her husband drives a pick-up truck, and their world is often highly conflicted, phenomena equated with being working-class. In contrast, The Cosby Show, portrays an upper-middle class family as concerned with consumer purchases and achievement.
The media rarely portrays the actual lives and experiences of working-class people, for example, showing how they often have to hold several jobs to survive, the lack of affordable housing and day care, and the decline in health-care benefits provided by employers. One study found that in two years of PBS prime-time programming, 27 hours addressed the concerns and lives of the working classes—compared with 253 hours that focused on the upper classes.
And, portrayals of working-class television families perpetuate stereotypes of the dysfunctional working-class family.
Based on an analysis of two TV talk shows that portray working-class participants’ revelations about family conflicts and personal problems, Laura Grindstaff (2002) found that while giving these participants voice to express their problems, this expression is controlled and sensationalized in a manner that focuses on the dramatic, as opposed to larger institutional explanations for these problems.
And, representations of “poor white trash” in media texts often serve to perpetuate myths about the working class.
See also trailers for the 2000 movie, Poor White Trash:
However, such a perspective fails to recognize the complex influences of class and race on identity:
The view from inside the working class is much more complex. The working class white is operating off his own cultural, family and individual biases; yet coupled with these are the pervasive, historically assumed ideas that violence, racism and fundamentalism are somehow inherent in his class. Even if one becomes aware of the layers of identification applied to oneself, and most people do not, a battle against your own heritage is difficult at best, and usually impossible. The class to which we are born, in which our family circulates and our formative years are spent, is the guiding principle with which we view other groups and their cultural beliefs within our life experience.
Films that show poor whites as violent people who attack wealthy citified whites allow the rich to justify their treatment of "white trash" by portraying the poor whites as racist, criminal and uneducated. This allows other typically marginalized groups to join upper class whites against the "white trash". This justifies upper class stereotyping of poor whites and serves to aid in relieving upper class white guilt over treatment of "others" in the past.
The hatred and condescension of the poor seems to be the last available method of prejudice in our society. Just as Americans have made an effort to educate, understand and alter the treatment of marginalized groups and alternate cultures within our society, we have held on to poor whites as a group to demean. Making assumptions about groups of any sort on societal and biased definitions is flawed in any situation. As with other groups, there must be an effort taken to use an open mind and individual code to ascribe merit to those in our world.
Thomas Frank (2004) argues that mid-American working class people have bought into the false binary of the “two Americas” promoted in the media—the “Red” (the “conservative” central part of the country that voted for Bush in the 2000 election, and the “Blue,” the two coasts who voted for Gore), a binary contradicted by Midwestern states that voted for Gore. This binary leads to prototypical assumptions about people in the “Red” areas—that they hold the bed-rock values of being humble, reverent, upbeat, loyal, and hard-working, a prototype set against what is perceived to be the effete, intellectual, snobbish, morally-questionable, white-collar worker who inhabit the “Blue” areas. Frank quotes Missouri farmer who described the kind of work he does as “measured in bushels, pounds, shingles nailed, and bricks laid, rather than in the fussy judgments that make up office employee reviews” (p. 39).
For Frank, the class divide is therefore one that has been framed around a discourse of cultural difference revolving around notions of cultural authenticity in which working-class people are portrayed as “basking in the easy solidarity of patriotism, hard work, and the universal ability to identify soybeans in a field” (p. 40). The fact that class distinctions are framed in fast-track capitalism in terms of cultural attitudes related to valued social practices serves as a means of masking economic realities of small-family farmers and business owners who have been put out of business by agribusiness conglomerates and corporations. “Deregulated capitalism is what has allowed the Wal-Marts to crush local businesses across the Midwest and, even more importantly, what has driven agriculture, the region’s raison d’etre, to a state of near-collapse” (p. 46).
In his review of economic history, Richard Ohmann (2003) notes that a major shift in economic policy occurred beginning in the 1970s from one of what David Harvey describes as a stable “Fordism” to the instability of “flexible accumulation” through “new sections of production, new ways of providing financial services, now markets, and, above all, greatly intensified rations of commercial, technological, and organizational innovation” (Harvey, 1989, p. 147). Ohmann notes that the “instability and excesses of this casino capitalism” (p. 33) has resulted in a shift from stable, well-paying, long-term, full-time jobs with benefits (Ford believed in paying workers so that they could afford his cars and decent housing) to “flex-time, part-time, and temporary labor; subcontracting and out-sourcing; job sharing, home work, and piece work; workfare and prison labor” (p. 34). This shift since the 1970s has resulted in a parallel shift way from the New Deal politics of strong government support programs and government regulation to a diminution of government support and deregulation, resulting in funding cuts for education, job training, health care, social security, child-care, and housing, particularly for low-income people.
Changes in the nature of work: film clips of working in the early 20th century:
These shifts have placed working-class people in a double-bind. On the one hand, the transformation from manufacturing to “knowledge-economy” jobs entail increased higher education beyond high school. However, cuts in state and federal spending due to tax cuts has resulted in large increases in tuition in state colleges and universities.
These economic shifts and cultural messages influences working-class adolescents’ identity construction around class and race, leaving many of them confused about their social status and economic future. They recognize that their class status has much to do with differences in cultural capital available to their middle- and upper-middle-class peers to which they may not have access. Yet, the popular media, particularly conservative radio talk shows, continue to reify false binaries of low-income people’s “authenticity” associated with blue-collar work as set against the “knowledge-economy” workers. These conservative messages deliberately shift attention away from the larger economic forces of fast-track capitalism and corporate control working against low-income people.
This suggests that some of the appeal of the conservative messages employs the traditional “race-card” strategy of pitting low-income whites against low-income people of color. In his documentation of the evolution of white privilege, David Roediger (2002) noted that in the 1800s, wealthy Whites provided poor Whites with small tokens of economic privilege and social status that served to create an economic hierarchy that set low income Whites against Blacks. And, given the rise of a post-Civil Rights racism since the 1970s, politicians continued to employ the “race-card” appeal to attract white voters. Given the loss of well-paying jobs for low-income Whites since the 1970s, working-class Whites have increasingly defined their class identity in terms of racial polarization and resentment against Blacks and Latinos as scapegoat targets for job losses, defining their sense of social superiority through “othering” Blacks and Latinos as inferior. This othering takes the form of Whites distancing themselves from what they perceive to be low-level “slave-labor” work done by Blacks and Latinos, and attempting to achieve what they perceive as middle-class status in terms of not being or living near Blacks or Latinos.
For bell hooks (2000), all of this serves to divert white working-class people’s attention away from an economic system that fails to provide well-paying employment:
Not even the economic crisis that is sorely impacting on their lives at home and at work
alerts them to the realities of predatory capitalism. Their lack of sympathy for the poor
unites them ideologically with greedy people of means who only have contempt for the
poor. Once poor can be represented as totally corrupt, as being always and only
morally bankrupt, it is possible for those with class privilege to eschew any responsibility
for poverty and the suffering it represents. (p. 69).
In summary, representations of gender, race, and class are often derived from institutional forces that represent groups other than themselves using discourses and myths that serve to maintain their own power and status in society.
For further reading about representations of gender, race, and class see the anthology, Gender, Race And Class In Media: A Text Reader (Dines & Humez, eds.), which contains numerous essays on the representations of gender, race, and class in the media.
William F. Munn, lesson plan: Class in the Media: Writing a Television Show
Traci Gardner, Comic Makeovers: Examining Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Media
Representations of Different Age Groups or Occupations
Media representations of different groups of people based on age (children, adolescents, the elderly), or occupation often essentialize, generalize, or categorize people based on stereotypical generalizations about individuals. It is assumed that certain prototypical images, language use, or social practices of a group are represented in a single token representative person—that a black gang member serves as a representative of all black adolescents.
Again, what is important is to help students to go beyond simply identifying the stereotyping to determine the origins of these representations. One of the incentives to essentialized, generalize or categorize people into groups is to create a hierarchy in which certain groups are perceived as inferior scapegoats, as did Hitler with Jews during World War II. Another incentive is to use these prototypes to ridicule or parody the shortcomings of a particular group, for example, to create humor out of the stereotype itself.
Children/adolescents. Children are often portrayed in the media or films in negative or stereotypical ways. For example, based on an analysis by British 18-year-olds of British newspapers, students identified what they perceived to be seven stereotypes of children in the media:
* Kids as victims.
* Cute kids sell newspapers.
* Little devils.
* Kids are brilliant.
* Kids as accessories.
* "Kids these days."
* Brave little angels.
A study by Professor Katharine Heintz-Knowles for Children Now of the representation of children on television
found that children are often portrayed as motivated primarily by peer relationships, sports, and romance, and least often by community, school-related, or religious issues. Children are also rarely shown as coping with societal issues such as racism, substance abuse, public safety, or homelessness or major family issues such as family crises, child abuse, domestic abuse, or family values. And, about 70% of the children portrayed are engaged in pro-social actions such as sharing, telling the truth in difficult situations, meeting their responsibilities, and helping others of the time, while 40% are portrayed as engaged in anti-social actions, such as lying, neglecting their responsibilities, or being aggressive either verbally or physically. Physical aggression was portrayed as effective in meeting the child's goal most of the time, and deceitful behavior is seen as effective nearly half of the time.
In this study, children of color were under-represented. 80% were white; 13.7% were African-American, 4% were Asian-American, and only 2.1% were Hispanic/Latino, as compared to the actual population percentages of 69% of children under 18 are white, 15% are African-American, 3.3% are Asian-American, and 12.2% are Hispanic/Latino.
Another study for Children Now, on the types of issues covered by news about children
indicated that the primary focus of the coverage was on crime and violence-about half of all television news stories, and about 40% of all newspaper articles. Economic topics such as child poverty, child care, and welfare accounted for only 4% of all news stories about children. Only about a third of all stories dealt with public policy concerns associated with children.
Adolescents are often portrayed in being in a crisis state, without providing them with tools for critically analyzing reasons for their problems. In the following three sites, David Considine, argues that the media present adolescents with a lot of consumer options and portrayals of substance abuse, but do not provide any critical analysis of these options/abuse or strategies for coping with them: