The process by which the media present the ‘real world’ to us .
Media representation of the world at large
For many of us, the media are an important source of information about the world we live in. It has been argued that the media are one of the chief means by which we reach an understanding of this world. Many people believe that the media are a powerful means of shaping our attitudes and beliefs.
The media offers us a representation of reality rather than reality itself.
The texts are intentionally composed, framed, lit, cropped, branded, targeted and censored by their producers. They are entirely artificial versions of the reality we perceive around us.
This is called mediation or re-presentation: The process by which a media text represents an idea, issue or event to us.
In order to fully appreciate the part representation plays in a media text you must consider.
Who produced it?
What/who is represented in the text?
How is that thing represented?
Why was this particular representation (this shot, framed from this angle, this story phrased in these terms, etc) selected, and what might the alternatives have been?
The way that the media re-present their texts appear natural to us.
For example female models on the front cover of mags have their blemishes removed, in some cases the photo’s are cropped to make them appear more beautiful.
The process of re-presenting ideas and events from the world outside into a form that can be decoded by an audience is called encoding.
For example news and documentaries are highly selective in their presentation of events.
The process of selection and refinement inevitably involves a large element of simplification. Tabloids tend to simplify and sensationalise complex issues.
Another area that the media simplify representations is in the production of stereotypes. Certain groups are represented and their identities understood through re-presentation of them via media texts.
Rather than representing them as individuals, sections of the media use a kind of shorthand, in the way in which they represent some groups of people.
These groups of people come from all walks, but significantly they are often minority groups (for example gay men or ethnic groups).
What stereotyping does, is characterise whole groups of people by attributing qualities to them that may be found in one or two individuals.
Stereotypes are important for media producers as they have a limited amount of time to get their message across. The use of stereotypes allows them to get their message across very quickly. Especially in advertising they only have a few minutes to convey their message.
Stereotypes are also important to us as individuals as they allow us to quickly categorise people so that we can make sense of the world.
Countertypes are the opposite of stereotypes. They challenge the stereotypical representations, providing the audiences with positive representations.
It is undeniable that the media shapes our conceptions of what it means to be male or female. We encounter many different male and female role models in the course of a day's media consumption.
The issue is, that although these different role models may at first glance appear to be very varied, do they actually represent enough of a range of men/women?
Are we simply given variations on a stereotype that become sub-stereotypes in themselves? By adopting role models and parading them through the media as people it is desirable to 'be', are we stunting individual growth?
Gender is perhaps the basic category we use for sorting human beings, Essential elements of our own identity, and the identities we assume other people to have, come from concepts of gender - what does it mean to be a boy or a girl?
Many objects, not just humans, are represented by the media as being particularly masculine or feminine - particularly in advertising .
construct your own table of 'typical' male/female characteristics/objects, presented by the media. Try to list at least 5 for each.
Compare the representation of female musicians, such as Amy Winehouse or Lily Allen with those of their male equivalents. Do the media differentiate their representations according to their gender?
Representations of Femininity
Feminism has been a recognised social philosophy for more than thirty years, and the changes that have occurred in women's roles in western society during that time have been nothing short of phenomenal. Yet media representations of women remain worryingly constant. Does this reflect that the status of women has not really changed or that the male-dominated media does not want to accept it has changed?
Representations of women across all media tend to highlight the following:
beauty (within narrow conventions)
size/physique (again, within narrow conventions)
sexuality (as expressed by the above)
emotional (as opposed to intellectual) dealings
relationships (as opposed to independence/freedom)
Women are often represented as being part of a context (family, friends, colleagues) and working/thinking as part of a team.
In drama, they tend to take the role of helper ( Propp ) or object, passive rather than active. Often their passivity extends to victimhood.
Men are still represented as TV drama characters up to 3 times more frequently than women, and tend to be the predominant focus of news stories.
The representations of women that do make it onto page and screen do tend to be stereotypical, in terms of conforming to societal expectations, and characters who do not fit into the mould tend to be seen as dangerous and deviant. And they get their comeuppance, particularly in the movies. Think of Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) in Fatal Attraction or, more recently, Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) in Boys Don't Cry . America seems to expect its women to behave better than their European counterparts - British viewers adored the antics of Patsy & Edina in Absolutely Fabulous , but these had to be severely toned down (less swearing, NO drugtaking) for the US remake, High Society (which was a flop).
Representations of Masculinity
'Masculinity' is a concept that is made up of more rigid stereotypes than femininity. Representations of men across all media tend to focus on the following:
Strength - physical and intellectual
Sexual attractiveness (which may be based on the above)
Independence (of thought, action)
Male characters are often represented as isolated, as not needing to rely on others (the lone hero). If they capitulate to being part of a family, it is often part of the resolution of a narrative, rather than an integral factor in the initial equilibrium. It is interesting to note that the male physique is becoming more important a part of representations of masculinity. 'Serious' Hollywood actors in their forties (eg Willem Dafoe, Kevin Spacey) are expected to have a level of 'buffness' that was not aspired to even by young heart-throbs 40 years ago (check out Connery in Thunderball 1965).
Increasingly, men are finding it as difficult to live up to their media representations as women are to theirs. This is partly because of the increased media focus on masculinity - think of the burgeoning market in men's magazines, both lifestyle and health - and the increasing emphasis on even ordinary white collar male workers (who used to sport their beergut with pride) having the muscle definition of a professional swimmer. Anorexia in teenage males has increased alarmingly in recent years, and recent high school shootings have been the result of extreme bodyconsciousness among the same demographic group.
Race, like sex, is a set of genetically defined, biological characteristics. Like gender, it is also a set of culturally defined characteristics.
Representation of race in the media can consist of the same sort of rigid stereotypes that constitute gender portrayal.
However, stereotyping of race is seen as more harmful than stereotyping of gender, as media representation may the only experience of contact with a particular ethnic group that an audience (particularly an audience of children) may have.
Racial stereotypes are often based on social myth, perpetuated down the ages.
Thus, the media depiction of, say, Native American Indians, might provide a child with their only experience of Native American Indian culture and characters, and may provide that child with a set of narrow prejudices which will not be challenged elsewhere within their experience. The need for a more accurate portrayal of the diversity of different races is a priority for political agendas, but, as ever, it seems as though it will take a while for political thinking to filter through to programme and film-making.
After gender and ethnicity, age is the most obvious category under which we file people, and there are a whole range of judgements which go along with our categorisation.
Gays and lesbians are also stereotyped, with both groups having limited positive representations.
Disability has also been represented negatively in the mass media, with connotations of evil associated with the characters.
We criticise mature women for going about as mutton dressed as lamb, and young girls for tarting themselves up as jail bait. Film stars who start to show signs of aging in their forties are swooped on with cries of horror by gossip columnists ("Movie star gets wrinkles... and her ...breasts start to sag" shocker!!) while those who succumb to the surgeon's knife are written about with equal distaste ("Movie star can't raise eyebrows and her breasts DON't sag" equal shocker!!!). Thanks to the media, we appear to live in an age obsessed world: a world obsessed with youth and its attendant beauty. Old people are often subject to the most rigid stereotypes of all (old = ugly, weak, stupid). By denying that ageing is a natural part of the process, we condemn ourselves to an eternal adolescence and do not acknowledge that our tastes may grow and change. Will you still want YOUR MTV when you're 80?
WHO DOES THE RE-PRESENTING
Media representations are usually produced by institutions. These can be large broadcasting corporations or small independent companies . Even novelists who have the most control over their product are to a certain degree influenced by their publishers, who belong to large conglomerates.
In media studies it is a common place assumption, that media institutions are dominated by white middle-aged men. This assumption is true.
Media production reflects this. Western society itself is dominated politically and economically by white middle aged men, so it seems logical that the producers of cultural meaning should reflect this dominant groups view
Look at the representation of two different characters from two different texts from different eras. Consider- race/gender/class/ disability/ sexuality/age. Film/TV/Internet/Mags/Newspapers/Games/
E.g. James Bond or Bond Girl in the 1960’s in comparison to 2000.
Compare and contrast the representation of these two characters. Are there any key differences between the two texts.
Refer to audiences, media language, narrative, genre and representation.
SIGNS THAT SIGNIFY REPRESENTATIONS
Choose a group (men, women, ethnic group, disability, sexuality, class or place – country/city.
Consider the props, settings, costumes, language (accent or the way they speak), behaviour associated with the group.
You may want to consider positive and negative signs.
You may want to take photographs if relevant or you can collect these images from the internet to create a slide show on I Movie. You could also consider recording sound to signify your representation.