Representations

Representation is the way people, groups, cultures and ideas are presented by the media.

Media institutions use stereotypes because the audience will instantly understand them. They are repeated so often that we assume they are normal or true.

Archetypes: This is the ultimate stereotype.

Counter-types: A representation that challenges traditional stereotypical associations of groups, people or places.

Key areas of representation:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Social Class
  • Ability/Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Regional Identity
  • Sexuality

Gender

Males and females are often represented differently in the media. In modern society, it is still common to find that females are more often judged by their physical appearance than other qualities they may possess. Although, the BBC no longer cover the Miss World contest, much of the media still place a great emphasis on women’s looks, eg. page 3 of The Sun newspaper.

Despite high levels of participation in both, the playing and watching of sport by  women, media coverage of sport in Britain tends to be from a male perspective. This means that sportswomen are virtually ignored by the media.

Race and ethnicity

There are many stereotypes of people on the basis of their ethnic group. Media representations of ethnic groups and people from other countries in general, vary from the exotic and interesting, to the strange and threatening. Where ideas support the view that our culture is superior to others is superior is called ethnocentrism. Where ideas support the belief that others are inferior, then this is called racism. Racism has tended to draw on physical differences between people, especially skin colour.

Most journalists are white and reflect the views of the dominant cultural group in society. The views of minority groups are rarely voiced because very few are employed within the media. As a result, many ethnic minority people distrust the mainstream media as a source of news.

Age

Until this century, most children did not have a special status in society. They were seen as miniature adults, who would usually work and contribute to the family as soon as they are physically able to. Children are now seen differently.

There is a tendency to idealise and romanticise childhood – as a sign of innocence and freedom but also of vulnerability.  This is particularly noticeable in Hollywood where child stars are usually cute and lovable. Alternatively, children may be seen as victims in horror films, such as ‘The Exorcist’ or news reports of child abuse and violence. The most notable changes to these stereotypical representations can be found in newer cartoons. For example, Bart from ‘The Simpsons’ is a widely recognised symbol of childhood rebellion, He does everything adults seek to prevent children from doing and yet remains a funny and likeable character. Later cartoons, such as ‘South Park’, have further explored the less attractive and darker side of children’s nature.

For as long as there has been popular culture and mass media, there has been adult concerns about young people, especially teenagers. Much of the concern has revolved around young people’s use of media and the potential harmful effects. This concern has been voiced through the media in Britain.

Research into media representations of old age in America and Britain has shown that the elderly (age 60 and over) are generally viewed negatively. A common image is of an old person to be presented as a victim of violence, deprivation, loneliness, ill health and so on. Discriminating against people on the grounds of their age is referred to as ageism.

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