(could be on any social group so try to have some examples for men, women, children, old people, ethnic minorities and regional groups)
If the question allows you to, begin with general comments about representation. You should also mention R Dyer.
Eg. Representation is an important issue because, whilst audiences might realise the characters and even the people they see in the media have been selected and or constructed, it is also the case that audiences look to media texts for information about themselves and others.
When we see representations of others repeated the effect is cumulative and we begin to recognise the types of people being portrayed and may start to see such representations as ‘natural.’
These representations may well impact on the way we see and treat others, or even the way we present or feel about ourselves.
R Dyer suggests the term ‘representation’ has four connotations that we must consider if we are to understand the issues involved.
The first is re-presentation (that the media re presents ‘reality’ for the audience. It constructs meanings through the use of codes and conventions.)
Secondly we must ask to what extent the representations are statistically accurate or typical of the society they seem to reflect.
Thirdly, Dyer suggests we must consider who speaks for whom. Here he suggests we consider the power relations involved in production and whether different social groups actually have ‘a voice’. Who benefits from perpetuating a certain world view?
And finally he suggests we need to consider what audiences actually do with the representations. Do they find them offensive, or believe them?
Then go on to talk about the statistical or industry related factors involved in the group you have been asked to write about. (You might make a link to Dyer’s second point.)
– are over represented in the media they make up slightly less than 50% of the British population and more than 50% of the characters we see on TV and in the sports pages.
Women- under represented (see above)
Older people – perhaps because they are not considered trend-setters (and because many already have their own brand preferences), and because most have fixed incomes and many have limited spending power they are therefore not seen as attractive to advertisers and consequently are somewhat marginalised in terms of their representation. It is also the case that when older people are healthy and active they tend to be ‘invisible’ in that audiences just view them as adults and it is not until they need specialist equipment (hearing aids, stair lifts,) or that they become problems within a narrative (gran needing a nursing home) that audiences read these signs as connoting ‘age’.
Children- are presented differently depending on who the text is targeting. In texts targeting adults they are often seen as little devils (in need of super nannies in reality shows) or little angels (in need of protection from harmful chemicals and e numbers in advertisements, or predatory paedophiles in newspaper articles.) In drama programmes targeted at children the representations tend to follow stereotypical gender lines, but often represent children as active and adventurous.
Next make some statement about ‘real’ people in the media as an introduction to talking about more unrealistic constructs.
Eg. Many of those we see represented in the media are ‘real’ people (celebrities, or stars ‘being themselves’), and many ‘reality’ based TV show present ‘ordinary’ people to us, but it is worth noting that even in these situations we are not simply being given ‘a window on the world’. Celebrities and stars all know that their livelihoods depend upon getting coverage in the media and are likely to some extent to co-operate with the publicity circus – giving the cameras the shots they expect and the gossip columns the conventional kiss and tell details. And ‘ordinary’ people have been selected by producers because they fit a demographic that will have audience appeal or because they are most likely to bring audience grabbing ratings to a show. So the Big Brother house, whilst unscripted and unrehearsed, is carefully managed to create maximum drama, conflict and sexual tension. Even the news tends to pigeon hole people when trying to convey a lot of information quickly. Conflicts tend to be reduced to binary oppositions (police v climate change protestors, labour V tories, Muslims V the ‘free world’) in reality most stories are far more complex.
When it comes to the media actually creating characters from scratch the simplifications are even more obvious and they reflect the ideologies of the society ate the time that they are constructed.
Now you can get round to the main part of the essay when you talk about the representations of men or women or oldies or whatever.
Begin with some general comments about physical and mental qualities that are generally represented as being ‘good’. What are the ‘templates of beauty’ associated with the social group? (Are there a range of templates across a range of media texts? Eg. The ‘perfect’ long haired snake hipped ‘rocker’ operates by different standards to the ‘perfection’ offered on the cover of ‘men’s health’. Likewise the female fashion model template is a different shape and has a different ‘look’ in terms of make up and facial expression from the models who are selected for Lads’ mags. Where as all the visible signs of ageing are viewed as negative and something to be avoided. A positive representation of old age is someone who doesn’t look their age!
Generally male ideals are seen as – tall, dark, handsome (square jawed, clean-cut) slim and good muscle tone. Usually shown with short hair (unless an alternative lifestyle is being represented) Men are usually celebrated for their physical strength, endurance, and resourcefulness in hostile environments, but are also celebrated for their intellects, logic, planning, quick thinking. They are usually represented as being competitive rather than co-operative. Where we are likely to be shown women getting upset we tend to be shown men getting angry, and men are most often the victims and perpetrators of onscreen violence. (Much of which is constructed as entertainment for the viewer)
Then go through the types you have thought of when revising – you will need to think of your own case studies.
Here are some examples for men
Action hero – Die Hard, Bourne Supremacy, Bond . He’s tall, strong, physically confident, intelligent and resourceful can work guns, cars, helicopters and women!
The father archetype. Sometime he is the reliable head of a family sometime this type emerges in American movies as the father of America – a wise president. Morgan freeman often gets to play him as does Harrison Ford. He is sometimes a wise old wizard in fantasy or sci-fi. The loving, virile/powerful father we all wish was still looking after us.
- All muscle and no brain. Arnie in Terminator. Tends not to think his way out of situations just puts up with a lot of pain and punches his way out. Celebrated for his extreme body shape the himbo has broad shoulders, muscles, narrow waste and hips, tends not to have body hair and to sometime go topless and sweat to show off his physique. Slightly less extreme versions of him appear as ‘the jock’ in American teen pics.
The New Man
– Grew out of advertising in the nineteen nineties. The new man was someone who had a successful career but also loved his family and wasn’t afraid to show it. He was presented cooking in the kitchen for a special occasion. He wasn’t threatened by his female partner’s career success because he was confident in his sexuality. He was well groomed and smartly dressed, unless he was smart casual in classic blue jeans and very white t shirts. He was largely a fantasy figure which attempted to appeal to women. He was politically correct and sophisticated. More recently he has reappeared as a slightly younger are more vain version of himself – the metro-sexual. He is largely a marketing device aimed at getting men to spend money on grooming products, but he also appears in men’s life-style magazines. He is confident enough to wear moisturiser, but not quite confident enough to wear those marketed to women and babies! The attempt is to make men as body conscious and clothes conscious as the women who buy fashion magazines thereby creating a demand for ‘male’ products.
Perhaps as a sort of back lash against the unrealistic ‘new man’ two other male types have appeared in the media. ‘The Lad’ often used to target younger men in such magazines as ‘Zoo’ and ‘Nuts’ but also depicted on the screen in shows like ‘Men behaving badly’ or by the curry loving Lister in ‘Red Dwarf.’ The lad type presents young men as beer drinking, immature, fun loving, and sex obsessed. Texts targeting young men show such consumption patterns and interests as desirable and appropriate and suggest that intellectual activity beyond knowing the football scores is an effeminate waste of time. Further more the consumption of soft porn (topless images of women) is seen as a ‘bit of fun.’ Having ‘a laugh’ with ‘your mates’ is the highest level of achievement.
A similar representation is ‘the inadequate bloke.’ Here romantic-comedy films or sitcoms show us the hilarious consequences when ‘an ordinary bloke’ (with ‘Lad’ tendencies) tries to live up to ‘New Man’ ideals (usually because he is trying to get along with a romantic partner or get approval from his children). Examples of this comic figure are Sean in ‘Sean of the Dead’ the central character (played by the same actor) in ‘Run Fat Boy Run’ and ‘The Office’ is a collection of various manifestations of the ‘inadequate bloke’ type.
When homosexual men are represented they tend to fall into two (sometimes overlapping categories). There are the ‘screaming queens’ of sitcom (and also represented by the star personas of Julian Clary, and Graham Norton) these tend to make a big deal of their sexual preferences. They mince across the set and make risqué jokes in celebration of their sexual activities. It is as if being gay was the central and most important characteristic they possess. This type of gay character is perfectly satirized in ‘Little Britain’ by the ‘Only gay in the village’ sketch. The outrageous costuming, a mix of wet-look pinks and bondage gear and David’s insistence that his sexuality be noticed and should be an issue is a perfect send up of the way gay celebrities/comedians are still constructing their stage personas. The other type of gay character that is increasingly appearing on the screen is the ‘gay expert’ He appears in such shows as ‘Queer eye for the straight guy’, but he also appears as a fashion expert advising women how to make the most of their figures. (Gok) Here the implicit suggestion is that being gay somehow bestows ‘natural’ good taste and an awareness of chic. This type of character is often seen in sitcoms and rom-com movies as a best friend to a female star. Sometimes the narrative twists upon an unwitting straight guy being jealous of the gay friend. And always the suggestion is that, unlike straight guys, he understands women – really this only extends as far as him knowing how to shop and worrying about his looks!
Others: the nerd or geek, the boy next door, the mad scientist, the ‘honest Joe’ (unremarkable hard working father gets screwed over by his employer/government has to take extreme heroic action to keep his self respect – ‘Full Monty’)
If you can see a type give it a name and write about it (describe the type and say where it appears and what audiences or the money making media producers get from it and , if you can., what it might imply about society.