Stereotyping in the Media
A stereotype is a commonly held popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. According to the Webster’s Dictionary, stereotyping is defined as a fixed conventional notion or conception of an individual or group of people, held by a number of people. Stereotypes are standardized and simplified conceptions of groups based on some prior assumptions. The media has the power to stereotype and to change the views of its audience. It can be responsible for a stereotype of a certain group in which it causes an imprecise perspective that the viewers/readers/listeners will remember and apply to real life. The media can also portray a given stereotype or give evidence that one has acted in a given way.
The media portray stereotypes of all races, genders, religions, sexual preferences, etc. For example, an Italian, jock, or homosexual portrayed in a media source has certain expectations of how they are supposed to act and look like. Italians are recognized in America as greasy-haired gangsters. The media perpetuated this stereotype through movies such as “Goodfellas” and “The Godfather” and television shows such as “The Sopranos”. Athletes are generally portrayed as stupid, violent, egotistical people who get by on their athletic ability alone. The media has drawn this picture in movies such as “Any Given Sunday”. To be a homosexual man in the media means to be feminine, promiscuous, and the bearer of the AIDS virus. This stereotype has been seen in the film “Philadelphia” and the television show “Will and Grace”. These are just a few general examples of media stereotyping.
Stereotyping is an insidious process. Mental categories and labels are necessary if we are to cope with the fast- paced world around us. Without stereotypes we would have to learn each day what fire-fighters do, how to behave at a funeral or what foods to eat for breakfast. But categorizing is dangerous too. Stereotypes can become too rigid and when there is no room for growth the label becomes stifling, both for the individuals who are labeled and for the category itself. The challenge is to keep an open mind even for the most solid "givens."
In my blog, “Stereotyping in the Media”, I explored five different medium: magazines, cartoons/editorials, movies, television and radio. Several examples of each of these and how they used stereotyping were displayed in this blog. “Stereotyping in the Media” was created to demonstrate how the media and its use of stereotyping affects everyone. Very few people have not been subjected to at least one source of media in their lifetime. The broad use of stereotyping can create preconceived ideas and beliefs. This in turn can create prejudice and racism.
The main purpose of my blog, and the reason I chose this subject, was to show the negative effects of media stereotyping. I believe that media literacy is essential for reducing the consequences of using these generalizations in the media. Media literacy in our schools would teach children how to identify these stereotypes and distinguish what is accurate and real. This education can teach the children to not depend on these preconceived ideas and develop their own thoughts and ideas about other races, genders, religions, etc…
Five principles of Media Literacy quoted from Media Literacy Resource Guide, Ontario Ministry of Education:
1. All media are constructions. Perhaps the most important concept in media-literacy education is that the media do not present simple reflections of external reality; they present productions, which have specific purposes. The success of these productions lies in their apparent naturalness. However, although they appear to be natural, they are in fact carefully crafted constructions that have been subjected to a broad range of determinants and decisions. From a technical point of view, they are often superb, and this, coupled with our familiarity with such productions, makes it almost impossible for us to see them as anything other than a seamless extension of reality. Our task is to expose the complexities of media texts and thereby make the seams visible.
2. The media construct reality. All of us have a "construct," the picture we have built up in our heads since birth, of what the world is and how it works. It is a model based on the sense we have made of all our observations and experiences. When, however, a major part of those observations and experiences come to us preconstructed by the media, with attitudes, interpretations, and conclusions already built in, then the media, rather than we ourselves, are constructing our reality.
3. Audiences negotiate meaning in media. Basic to an understanding of media is an awareness of how we interact with media texts. When we look at any media text, each of us finds meaning through a wide variety of factors: personal needs and anxieties, the pleasures or trouble of the day, racial and sexual attitudes, family and cultural background. All of these have a bearing on how we process information. In short, each of us finds or "negotiates" meaning in different ways. Media teachers, therefore, have to be open to the ways in which students have individually experienced the text with which they are dealing.
4. Media have commercial implications. Media literacy includes an awareness of the economic basis of mass-media production and how it impinges on content, techniques, and distribution. We should be aware that, for all practical purposes, media production is a business and must make a profit. In the case of the television industry, for example, all programs - news, public affairs, or entertainment - must be judged by the size of the audience they generate. A prime-time American network show with fewer than twenty million viewers will not generally be kept on the air. Audience sampling and rating services also provide advertisers with detailed demographic breakdowns of audience for specific media. A knowledge of this allows students to understand how program content makes them targets for advertisers and organizes viewers into marketable groups. The issue of ownership, control, and related effects should also be explored. The tendency has been towards increased concentration of ownership of the individual media in fewer and fewer hands, as well as the development of integrated ownership patterns across several media. What this means in practical terms is that a relatively small number of individuals decide what television programs will be broadcast, what issues will be investigated and reported.
5. Media contain ideological and value messages. Media literacy involves an awareness of the ideological implications and value systems of media texts. All media products are advertising in some sense - for themselves, but also for values or ways of life. They usually affirm the existing social system. The ideological messages contained in, for example, a typical Hollywood television narrative, are almost invisible to North Americans, but they would be much more apparent to people in developing countries. Typical mainstream North American media convey a number of explicit and implicitly ideological messages, which can in include some or all of the following: the nature of "the good life" and the role of affluence in it, the virtues of "consumerism," the proper role of women, the acceptance of authority, and unquestioning patriotism. We need to use decoding techniques in order to uncover these ideological messages and values systems.
When we are reading, watching or listening to media and analyzing its contents, questions like the following are suggested by media literacy experts:
- Who is "speaking" and what is their purpose? (Who produced or sponsored the message?)
- Who is the target audience, and how is the message specifically tailored to them?
- What techniques are used to attract attention?
- What values and lifestyles are promoted? (What is communicated as good to be, or have, or do? What is not good to be, or have, or do?)
- What is implied without being specifically stated (especially about the credibility of the message)?
- What is left out of this message that might be important to know?
Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, reflect upon, and act with the information products that media disseminate. Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action, a new policy paper by Renee Hobbs, Professor at the School of Communications and the College of Education at Temple University and founder of its Media Education Lab, proposes recommendations on how to provide students and adults with the knowledge and critical thinking skills to sort through the overwhelming amount of digital information they receive every day in our media-saturated society. This is why the Knight Commission recommended that digital and media literacy be incorporated as vital elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state and local education officials, and that public libraries and other community institutions be funded and supported as centers of digital and media training. From parents concerned with online safety issues, to students searching for information online at home, schools and libraries, to everyday citizens looking for accurate and relevant health care and government resources, all Americans can benefit from learning how to access, analyze, and create digital and media content with thoughtfulness and social responsibility (KnightComm)
Several steps need to be taken in order to accomplish these goals for media literacy. Focusing specifically on media literacy programs in our school curriculums on the local community level, recommendations and questions to be asked are as follows:
- Research needs to be done as to what the needs of the students are in the community. For example, are there any programs or classes already existing that can be enhanced or increased in availability for the students?
- Are there staff and teachers in the local schools with the skills and qualifications to teach Media Literacy courses? If so, how can they be utilized? How can the number of teachers be increased? New hires or more training?
- Are the financial resources available or how can they be raised in order to set these programs in motion? Grants? Donations? School Funding?
- Policies need to be in place as to what the content of the courses and the ages/grades that these will be taught. Will it be a required course to graduate? Should the classes be offered in the elementary schools while the students are still impressionable?
- Are the parents committed to the idea of having Media Literacy taught in the schools? Community meetings should be scheduled to encourage parent participation.
- Enlist local public news, radio and television programmers to include media literacy campaigns into their programs.
- Provide concrete examples to demonstrate how the media is affected our children.
Mass media is a powerful factor which influences our beliefs, attitudes, and the values we have of ourselves. Used ethically, the mass media can play an important role in preparing young people to be productive workers and informed, responsible citizens. Misused, it can be a source of misinformation and manipulation from which our children need to be protected. On the other hand, the media are also a source of pleasure, escape, fantasy, and engagement that enriches our lives.
Stereotypes are categorical and general, suggesting the traits apply to all group members. They are inflexible, rigid, simplistic, not easily corrected, and can be conscious or unconscious. They are prejudgments not based on experience and they can be reinforced by negative personal experience. Stereotypes originate in and reveal the power of media in society because they are part of a culture's ideology. They foster values that reinforce group and individual subordination. They marginalize people and treat them as "the other". They can also categorize people into groups whose members supposedly share inevitable characteristics, most typically, negative ones.
Media literacy education must be integrated into our school curriculums. The benefits will not only reduce the influence of stereotyping, but educate students on how to interpret and analyze the media. I am aware that everyone will not agree. Some feel that school time is too vital to be wasted in helping students understand content that they will encounter on their own. But the fact remains, we all, including our children, are exposed to and influenced by aspects of the media every day. I believe that it is our job as parents and concerned citizens to educate our children in Media Literacy. Media Literacy will assist them in building their own ideas and judgments without being influenced by just what they are seeing, reading or hearing. Media Literacy will help students “build minds of their own”.
"Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action | KnightComm." KnightComm: Strengthening Journalism, Communities and Democracy in the Digital Age. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. <http://www.knightcomm.org/digital-and-media-literacy-a-plan-of-action/>.
Media Literacy Resource Guide: Intermediate and Senior Division 1989. Toronto: Ministère De L'Education De L'Ontario, 1989. Print.
"Project Looksharp - Media Literacy at Ithaca College." Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY. Web. 02 Dec. 2010. <http://www.ithaca.edu/looksharp>.
"Stereotype - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary." Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 08 Dec. 2010. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stereotype>.