in the Media
All media texts are re-presentations of
• They are entirely constructed versions of reality.
• When studying the media it is vital to remember this
- every media form, from a home video to a glossy
magazine, is a representation of someone's concept
of existence, encoded into a series of signs and
symbols which can be read by an audience.
• However, it is important to note that without the
media, our perception of reality would be very
limited, and that we, as an audience, need these
artificial texts to mediate our view of the world; in
other words we need the media to make sense of
• 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 reality.
Extension/Restriction of Experience of
• By giving audiences information, media
texts extend experience of reality.
• Every time you see a media text, you
extend your experience of life but in a
second-hand way (vicarious).
• However, because the producers of the
media text have selected and
constructed the information we
receive, then our experience is
Truth or Lies?
• Media representations - and the extent to which we accept them - are a very political
issue, as the influence the media exerts has a major impact on the way we view the world.
By viewing media representations our prejudices can be reinforced or confronted.
• Generally, audiences accept that media texts are fictional to one extent or another - we
have come a long way from the mass manipulation model of the 1920s and 1930s (the
hypodermic needle effect).
• However, as we base our perception of reality on what we see in the media, it is
dangerous to suppose that we don't see elements of truth in media texts either.
• The study of representation is about decoding the different layers of
• In order to fully appreciate the part representation plays in a media text you must
• Who produced it?
• What/who is represented in the text?
• How is that element 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?
• What frame of reference does the audience use when understanding the representation?
• Gender is one of the basic categories we use for
sorting human beings, and it is a key issue when
discussing representation (along with race, culture,
• 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 - and we grow
up with an awareness of what constitutes
'appropriate' characteristics for each gender.
• Or cultural ideas of gender.
You can construct your own table of 'typical' male/female characteristics, as
perpetuated by the media. Try to list at least ten for each.
Typically masculine Typically feminine
How might the following objects be 'gendered' through
advertising, given that both sexes will use the product?
a sports bottled toilet
car beer paper
a hi-fi an
cigarettes trainers games
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
• 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)
Representations of Femininity (2)
• 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 victim-hood.
– 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.
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)
Representations of Masculinity
• Male characters are often represented as isolated, as not needing to
rely on others (the lone hero).
– But consider the ‘buddy’ syndrome
• If they revert 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.
• 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 beer-gut 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
body-consciousness among the same demographic group.
Representations of Masculinity (2)
• As media representations of masculinity become more
specifically targeted at audiences with product promotion in
mind (think of the huge profits now made from male fashion,
male skin & hair care products, fitness products such as
weights, clothing etc), men are encouraged (just as women
have been for many years) to aspire to be like (to look/behave
in the same way) the role models they see in magazines.
• This is often an unrealistic target to set, and awareness of this
• Whilst some men are concerned about living up to the ideal
types represented in magazines, others are worried by what
they perceive as an increasing anti-male bias in the media.
• There is growing support for the idea that men are represented
unfairly in the media.
• Source: http://www.mediaknowall.com/representation.html