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and Film - 2003
If we assume that the media perpetuates stereotypes, what can be done to combat them, or has our society become numb to these stereotypes? What do the media messages say about women in society? About men in society? About race, gender and class?
Mass media became on of the main sources of popular culture in modern capitalist society. Media, however, not only entertains and offers news to people, but also transfers the stereotypes, beliefs and values of the society to reproduce the existing order of social life. Louis Althusser in his theory of ideological state apparatuses, says that schools, families, religions play the role of the ideological state apparatuses. These institutions invisibly transfer and indoctrinate the dominant hegemonic ideology of the society into the minds of people in order to be able to control people. In the modern capitalist world, I would argue, media turned to be yet another althusserian ideological apparatus that control the mind of masses. It seems like media creates the unique pieces of art: movies, documentaries, magazines, music, TV shows and others. Theodor Adorno, however, would argue that all of these products of media contain zero level of uniqueness. According to him, what we see on TV screens or in newspapers is produced only with one purpose of being sold. Therefore, what is manufactured (popular culture) by media has to reflect the life of people, it needs to be on such level that people would understand and except. This reflection, however, is created through reproduction of stereotypes, which fill the life of society and, thus, are known to everyone.
One can find multiple examples, supporting argument on indoctrinating role of media in a capitalist society, in the movies shown in Women, Sport and Film class. For instance, in all of the movies we saw how hard the main characters had to work/practice in order to achieve their own goals. Whether it was Velvet or Monica, the whole women baseball team or a young water-surfer, they all had to practice for a long period of time in order to achieve the success. I think that this corresponds very well to such an important value of the capitalist society as competition. In the modern capitalist society it is widely accepted that the way to success lays through competition and only those who work hard enough can reach the sought end. It is beneficial for the hegemonic power to make sure that all people in the society belief in such myth, so that the unequal nature of such competition could be mask behind the mass belief. It might be true that only those who work hard can achieve successful results, but what we fail to realize, that not every one in capitalist society has equal opportunities and conditions for hard work. Not everyone has chance to have a horse (National Velvet), to be in a school, which has enough money to pay for a good basketball couch (Love and Basketball), to be able to leave the families in order to play in a team (A League Of Their Own). Not everyone is lucky to meet a "prince on a black Jeep" (Blue Crush). There are many people who cannot reach what is understood as success only because of not having enough money or authority, and not because of not working hard enough.
Another stereotype that presented in all of the movies was the dependency of women upon men. Male characters always participated in helping a female-character to reach the success. Velvet needed young man who would help her to practice her horse-riding skills. Monica's love to a basketball player was an important component on her way to glory. The rejection of her love by man was one of the main moments that made her want to practice even harder. The main character of Blue Crush received an important advice from a young man she fell in love with, and, therefore, managed to win the competition. And, finally, in A League Of Their Own most of the women lived with the thoughts about their husbands who were fighting in the war. Besides, all sponsors, the manager and the couch of the female baseball team were men, and the existence of the team depended upon what the men says, rather from the athletic skills that these women manage to develop. What makes all these examples even more interesting is that one can develop a counter-argument, saying that the fact that in these movies men were helping women to achieve the success was instead a break of stereotype, which represents men as those who achieve high goals, and women as those who help to achieve these goals. If we compare the different ways, in which media depicts helping male and helping female characters, we will see that if men help with a wise advice and with their knowledge, then female helps by cooking and taking care of children. This is yet another stereotype, common to all kinds of mass media.
I am not quite sure how to combat the usage of stereotypes in media. Once we get rid of one stereotype another will take its place. I think, however, it is very important that people are able to recognize the stereotypes. Children should be taught from the schools what are the stereotypes that exist in society and how one should understand them, so that they, first of all, did not reproduce the existing stereotype, and, secondly, did not except everything what they see in movies, press or Internet for the pure truth. I believe that we need to start from elimination of believe in stereotypes within the society.
Adorno, Theodor and Horkheimer, Max. Enlightment as Mass Deception. Marxist Internet Archives. http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/adorno.htm (March, 2003)
Althusser, Louis. Ideological State Apparatus (BP for the Bryn Mawr Course On the Margins – bibliographical information is missing).
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