Media – Representation
Media representations are the ways in which the media portrays particular groups, communities,
experiences, ideas, or topics from a particular ideological or value perspective. Rather than the
media simply mirroring or reflecting “reality”, they can actually serve to “re-present” or create a new
- Representation refers to the construction in any medium (epically the mass media) of
aspects of “reality” such as people, places, objects, events, cultural identities and other
abstract concepts. Such representations may be in speech or writing as well as still or
Representation is a process. For instance, in relation to the key markers of identity – class,
age, gender and ethnicity, representation involves not only how identities are represented
(or constructed) within the text but also how they are constructed in the processes of
production and reception by people whose identities are also differently marked in relation
to such demographic factors. Consider Laura Mulvey’s “the gaze” theory(1975). How do
men look at women? How do women look at men? How do women look at women? And
how do women look at themselves?
A key study of representation concern is with the way in which representations are made to
seem ‘natural’. Semiotics and content analysis are the main methods of formal analysis or
- Semiotics foregrounds the process of representation.
- Reality is always represented – what we treat as ‘direct’ experience is ‘mediated’ by
perceptual codes. Representation involves the ‘construction of reality’. All texts,
however ‘realistic’ they may be, are constructed re-presentations rather than
transparent reflections, recordings or reproduction of an already pre-existing reality.
- Representations require interpretation – we make judgements about them, chose
whether to passively receive or challenge the re-constructed reality given to us.
- Representation is unavoidably selective, foregrounding some things and back
Key Questions About Representation
What is being represented?
How is it represented?
Using what codes and conventions?
How is the representation made to seem ‘true’ or ‘natural’?
What is foregrounded and back grounded?
Whose representation is it? (Whose interests does it reflect?)
At whom is the representation targeted? How do you know?
How do people make sense of re-presentation?
With what alternative representations could it be compared with? How does it
Who is the one constructing the re-presentation?
Why is the concept of representation problematic?
Comparisons with related representations within or across genres or media can be very
fertile, as can comparisons with representations for other audiences.
Every media form, from a home video to a glossy magazine, is a representation of
someone's concept of existence, organised into a series of signs and symbols which are read
by an audience. Therefore representation is a fluid, two-way process: producers position a
text somewhere in relation to reality and audiences assess a text on its relationship to
The mediators (editors, producers, directors ect) interpret the world for audiences. The
interpretation varies depending on the mediators own experience and background e.g.
class, race, gender, education, age (demographics). Audience interpret media texts and
analyse representations with the reference to their own backgrounds, beliefs and