Media representations

Topic 4 from the Mass Media topic of AQA A level Sociology


Media representations & stereotyping

The media gaze

This is similar to the male gaze with the idea that it is largely white middle class men who are in control of the media. This means that the media only reflects the interests of a limited number of people and this is shown through a magazine cover of a naked Lana Del Rey

Symbolic annihilation

This refers to the under representation and limited roles of certain groups in media representations as they are omitted and stereotyped in many roles. The GMG point out that media representations are formed within the context of the dominant ideology of society meaning they generally reinforce the cultural hegemony of the capitalist class

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Representations of age

Representations of children

Children up to the age of 14 are generally represented in a positive way andoften figure as consumers of toys and games in advertising. Headliners, a journalism site run by young people monitored national newspaper output for 1 week and found seven deadly stereotypes of children:

Kids as victims - Children portrayed as victims of crimes committed against them by others such as the Rochdale child abuse

Cute kids - Providing the feel good factor in things such as advertising

Little devils - Stories of evil children and young hooligans in comedies and drama

Kids are brilliant - Exceptional children who excel in some way such as the documentary Child Genius

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Representations of age

Kids as acessories - Where children are used to enhance their parents' images such as Kim Kardashian's daughter wearing matching clothes

Kids these days - Stories that identify problems with todays youth such as the concern of tablet use in young children

Little angels - Children who endure terrible illnesses or disability with a smile

Representations of youth

Youth from age 15 to early 20s are often the subject of negative media stereotyping. They are portrayed as rebellious fulled by drugs, violence and sex such as in the TV drama Skins. 57% of news stories on youth were negative with 40% focusing on crime

Teenage boys most frequently appeared in the media in stories about crime being described as yobs, things, scum etc

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Representations of age

For many people the media provide the only source of information about events and therefore they distort people's attitudes to youths. Older people who tend to be more home based are particularly vulnerable to believing such stereotypes. An example of this is how 18-24 year olds are shown as sitting around all day so they don't bother to vote. It is beneficial to conglomerates to show young people in this way as it diverts the negative attention away from the middle aged journalists. Cohen argues that young people are relatively powerless and an easily identifiable group to blame for all of society's ills

Representations of older people

People above the age of 50 tend to be either largely invisible or presented in negative ways. Within US television just 1.5% of characters are elderly and when they are portrayed it is in stereotypical ways such as Mr Heckles in Friends who is portayed as being weird and forgetful

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Representations of age

There is still inequality with how elderly men and women are portrayed. Older men are often seen as sexual partners of younger women in films and are usually successful and business like. By contrast, older women are often seen as useless and in many films such as Disney ones older women are the villains

However, the growing numbers of older people with money to spend 'the grey pound' means we might expect more positive images of ageing to emerge such as in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and with Dove campaigns. White found that older viewers felt that they themselves had been stereotyped even though 54% use Facebook regularly

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Representations of social class

The mainstream media gaze means presentations of social class are filtered through the eyes of the rich and powerful upper class media owners who produce media content. 

Representations of the working class

The working class are generally under represented in the media but when they are represented it is in generally negative ways due to their lack of conformity to middle class values. Curran & Seaton argue that the content of working class newspapers such as The Sun suggest that the working class has little interest in current affairs. There are four main types of media representations of the working class:

1. As dumb and stupid baffoons - Butsch argues that the TV creates a persistant image of the working class as baffoons and the sitcom The Royle Family illustrates this with a family of couch potatoes

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Representations of social class

2. As a source of trouble and conflict - Working class people are often presented in the context of trouble who are undesirable welfare scroungers and socialise their children inadequately

3. As living in idealised communities - The Working class is presented as living in traditional working class communities who are hard working but separate from other communities such as EastEnders

4. As white trash and scum - The media stereotype is of an underclass with terms used such as chavs. Lawler said this stereotype represents the working class as 'worthless, frightening chavs with bad clothes and bad tastes'. This stereotype is shown in documentaries such as Benefits Street and sitcom characters such as Vicky Pollard in Little Britain

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Representations of social class

Representations of the middle class

The middle class is over represented in media content and is generally presented in a positive light - as mature, educated and sensible with middle class families being represented as well functioning units such as in Outnumbered. Such positive representations combined with negative portrayals of the working class confirm and promote the existing class structure

Representations of the upper class

The upper class is generally presented as being well bred and superior with posh accents, country estates etc. They are portrayed in a romanticised way through period dramas such as Downton Abbey and the lavish lifestyles of the upper class is plastered in magazines and websites with lavish cars, homes and holidays

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Representations of ethnicity

Ethnic minorities are under represented within the media industry as just 17% working are from ethnic minorities. Within the media ethnic minorities are also under represented reflecting that and when they are represented they are ghettoised and onlyfeature in specialised programmes.

Media stereotypes of ethnicity 

1. As deviants and law breakers - Minority ethnic groups are frequently represented in the context of drug dealing, terrorism and gang culture. Hargrave found that black people were more than twice as likely as white people to be portrayed on TV as criminals and black people committing crime is far more likely to be reported fitting the news values of the white eye

2. As posing a threat to British culture - Immigration is presented as a threat to the jobs of white British workers and Muslim culture is seen as a threat to British culture such as forced marriage

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Representations of ethnicity

3. As causing social problems - These include representations linked to racial problems, welfare scroungers etc. The media generate moral panics which they link to ethnicity such as asylum seekers really just looking for economic opportunities and in 2003 The Sun said Eastern Europeans were killing and eating swans

4. As having limited talents and skills - They portray minority ethnic groups as people who have few skills and talents and are often shown in low paid jobs such as cleaning

5. As having problems internationally - Developing countries are portrayed as chaotic, suffer from AIDS epidemics with the GMG finding that British coverage focused on terrorism and disasters with very little conext given leading the audience to perceive these countries negatively. An example is the coverage of Syria which focuses on the refugees fleeing, how war torn it is and problems with terrorist groups but it leaves out the rich history and complext list of events which led to the civil war such as the Assad dictatorship

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Representations of ethnicity

Eastern Europeans

White people from Eastern Europe such as Poles, Romanians etc are often blamed for British problems especially since their mass immigration when they joined the EU in the early 2000s. Dowling says these immigrants are blamed for taking British jobs, drugs, theft etc by negative media coverage and exaggerated stories

Islamophobia and the media

Since 9/11 in 2001 91% of media coverage on Muslims has been negative. Muslims have been demonised by threatening British values such as the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham. In 10 years from 2006 negative news about Muslims increased by 270% in the UK and Goffman says the word Muslim has become a stigmatised identity and has created a moral panic

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Representations of ethnicity

Explanations for stereotyping of ethnicity

Pluralists see media representations as simply reflecting the news values of journalists and providing material that media audiences want. Cottle suggests that negative coverage of ethnic minorities are popular with media audiences as it constructs a sense of identity. This allows white audiences as seeing themselves as better than other groups with an example being the coverage of Muslims burning the poppy on Remembrance Sunday. Neo-Marxists believe that the high dominance of white individuals working in the media means ethnic minorities are moe at risk of being represened negatively


  • Due to globalisation appreciation of black culture has grown with magazines being directed at minoroties such as Asian Woman. There are more TV presenters from ethnic minorities and Beattie shows this is most obvious in children's TV
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Representations of gender

General features of representations of gender

1. The under-representation of women in the media industry - Women are often a minority among editors and journalists as well as in the management of industry. The International Women's Media Foundation found that in the UK women faced a glass ceiling so found it harder to progress which is why 60% of senior professional roles are filled by men

2. The male gaze - Marxist & Radical Feminists point to the way representations of gender are filtered through the media gaze of the predominantly male dominated media establishment. Men look at women as sexual objects by using camera angles that focus on women's sex appeal which is clear in advertising like in perfume adverts and men's magazines

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Representations of gender

3. The under-representation and stereotyping of women - Men accounted for 84% of those quoted in lead articles and globally women are the subject of news stories far less than men. When women were heard in the news they appeared mainly as normal people, whereas men were presented as experts and 50% of news stories reinforced gender stereotypes. Cumberbatch showed that women appear in the most popular TV programmes less often than men and this is evident for older women as out of all of the over 50s on the BBC 82% are men

4. Patriarchal ideology - Feminist writers say the media remains patriarchal with femininity being in the interest of men. The way women are under-represented is the symbolic annihilation of women involving trivialisation, omission and condemnation of women in the media

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Representations of gender

The social constuction of gender differences

  • Connell suggested that the media produces an idea of hegemonic masculinity which is an aggressive highly sexualised male macho identity. There is also a hegemonic femininity identity which is an emotional, dependent and weak female. This is shown through mens magazines which focus on drinking and the objection of women and womens magazines which focus on romance and shopping
  • Wolf says the media promotes the beauty myth which dictates that women should be judged by a certain standard of attraction. This image tends to be size zero, youth obsessed and airbrushed and is explained in the rise of women undergoing plastic surgery and the fact many photos in magazines are airbrushed
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Representations of gender

  • There are also gendered interests within the media with magazines dictating that men and women should have different interests such as a women's section focusing on beauty and celebrity gossip and a men's section focusing on engineering and transport
  • Female characters tend to be severely under-represented in video games accounting for just 16% of characters and when they are they are over sexualised. This is shown through games like Grand Theft Auto which portray a masculine male identity and the women in it are prostitutes. However, more women are in games such as the Lara Croft series
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Representations of gender

Female representations and stereotypes

1. The WAG - the wives and girlfriends of men who are often concerned with beauty such as Victoria Beckham

2. The Sex Object - the slim, sexually active figure foind in red top newspapers such as The Sun's page 3 girl

3. The Supermum - the happy homemaker who is concerned with childrearing, cooking etc

4. The Angel - who is good, displays little sexuality and is sensitive

5. The Ball Breaker - who is sexually active, strong, selfish, independent and not dependent on men

6. The Victim - as in many drama films and TV shows with men as both the course and sometimes the solution of their problems

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Representations of gender

Male representations and stereotypes

1. The Joker - who uses laughter to avoid displaying seriousness or emotion

2. The Jock - who avoids being soft, and who shows aggression to demonstrate his power and strength to win the approval of other men and admiration of women

3. Strong Silent Type - A person who is in control and acts decisively and avoids showing his emotions such as James Bond

4. Big Shot - A person who is economically and socially successful such as Jay Gatsby portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio

5. Action Hero - A person who is willing to show extreme violence and aggression to save the day such as Batman

6. Buffoon - A well intended person who is completely helpless such as Homer Simpson

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Representations of gender

Theoretical explanations of gender stereotyping

Pluralists - suggests that stereotyping occurs because it is what media audiences want. they are an easy way to sell products for example by targeting a TV show at women you're going to secure a proportion of that audience

Liberal Feminists - see media representations as a product of the under-representation of women in male dominated media organisations which encourages a male view but this will change as women gain more power

Marxist Feminists - negative or harmful stereotypes of women are a source of profit for media companies. as an example it is beneficial for magazines to depict an ideal beauty image because they will receive adverts from make up companies who claim to help women to reach these ideas

Radical Feminists - media stereotypes encourage women to satisfy men's needs. women are encouraged to look good for me through the beauty myth

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Representations of gender

Are media stereotypes of gender changing?

McRobbie says that in postmodern society there is more flexibility in the representations of men and women in the media, in keeping with the changes in wider society. There is now a growing social expectation that women and men should be treated equally and this is presented through the media portraying a wide range of gender identities

Females - There is more emphasis now on independence and sexual freedom for women and there is a growing diversity of imagery; women doing better than men in education, job market etc. A new form of popular feminism has emerged shown in teenage magazines such as Sugar which promote female assertiveness and encourage girls to be independent showing girl power. Women are being presented as 'tough girls' in TV dramas and films such as Katniss in the Hunger Games. However, these roles still hold a conventional femininity as these are nearly always attractive and glamourous women

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Representations of gender

Males - there's a wider range of representations of masculinity opening up new choices for men to construct identities different from traditional hegemonic masculinity. new male identities that have made appearances in the media include the emo boy, metrosexual and the new man who are more emotional. these changing identities are reflected in the growing concerns of men such as with issues of appearance

Advertisers have found new ways of tapping into a lucrative men's market for consumer cosmetics but women are becoming more successful and have growing power in society with traditional stereotypes having less appeal. However, there is still the exploitation of women as sex objects such as through **** sites

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Representations of sexuality

Representations of heterosexuality

Men are facing the same type of sexualisation and body scrutiny that was previously only what women had to deal with. An example is Henry Cavill being told to take his top off for a shoot and the increase of naked men appearing in magazines. The metrosexual male stereotype has emerged in the media, heterosexual men who embrace their feminine side, use designer cosmetic products etc

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Representations of sexuality

Representations of homosexuality

Due to the fact that most men who work in the media are heterosexual depictions of homosexuality can often be stereotypical. In the past media organisations have avoided covering issues surrounding homosexuality due to the fear it could put off potential advertisers. Gay men are often portrayed as effeminate such as Damian in Mean Girls and lesbians being butch and macho like. The media has often presented distorted views such as portrayed homosexuality as a social threat like the 1980s AIDs epidemic.

Gross argues that the media have often symbolically annihilated gays by excluding or trivialising them. Stonewell found that LGBT characters appeared in less than 5% of total programmes and 75% are found in just 4 shows; Hollyoaks, I'm a Celeb, Emmerdale, How to look good naked. Even when homosexual characters are included in the media the main focus is on their sexuality such as the film Brokeback Mountain

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Representations of sexuality

Growing tolerance and changing stereotypes

Although the media still tend to under represent and distort the lives and experience of gays, this is changing and there is growing acceptance of different sexual orientations. This is shown through the popularity of people such as Ellen and Matt Lucas. The pink pound consumer market is large and affulent so Pluralists suggests they are responding to what the audience wants such as with the popularity of rainbow themed items

The sanitisation of gay sexuality

Gill suggests that to avoid the risk of offending heterosexual audiences mainstream media represents homosexuals in a sanitised way. Gay men are rarely portrayed in a sexualised way but lesbians only appear in a highly sexualised manner to appeal to male fantasies. These representations have the effect of appealing to the homosexual market, not offending advertisers and not challenging heterosexual ideology

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Representations of disability

The social construction of disability

Shakespeare argues that disability is created by societies that don't take into account the needs of those who do not meet with society's ideas of what is normal. This creates a disabled identity among those who don't conform to this stereotype such as people having an adverse reaction to people with dwarfism. Most of us learn about disability as part of the socialisation process and because its mainly able bodied people who control the media they nearly always represent disability as a problem for the individuals themselves such as on The Undateables

Symbolic annihilation of disability in the media

Around 25% of all adults are defined as disabled through the Disability Discrimination Act yet only 1 person in 100 on TV programmes had a disability. However, recently the media has increased their disabled coverage such as an autistic character on Sesame Street

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Representations of disability

Negative stereotypes of disability

Brian et al identified that news reports of people with disabilities had got more negative in the last 10 years. Nearly 1 in 5 articles discussed disability using terms like scrounger and many shows link disability to benefit fraud. In addition, negative stereotypes are also applied to those with mental health conditions portraying them as a threat to others

Media stereotypes of disability

Barnes showed how the vast majority of information about disability in books, films etc consists of disabling stereotypes which patronise disabled people. He identified stereotypes that the media use to portray disabled people:

1. As an object of violence - as victims, for example being helpless and vulnerable to bullying at school

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Representations of disability

2. As sinister or evil - this is one of the most persistant stereotypes, portrayed in classic films such as bad guy in Dr No had two artificial hands

3. As laughable - the disabled person is a fool such as on The Undateables

4. As a burden - the view of disabled people as helpless and having to be cared for by others like Andy Pipkin on Little Britain

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