What is fairness in media representations?


In class we have discussed endlessly the different ways the media chooses to represent both mainstream and peripheral identities. We have also discussed that some of these identities are symbolically annihilated (Wan-Hsiu 11). But what is fair? Is misrepresentation worse than annihilation?


Of course this is a gray area; in some cases — take trans women — the misrepresentation takes us miles back away from acceptance and tolerance — she is often sensationalized or the butt of a joke about undermining the cis-hetero-masculine sexuality (Wan Hsiu 8-9). But on the other hand, the IKEA and Mistic ads of the 1990s brought awareness of gay and lesbian identities to an ignorant general population. These representations were highly palatable because they conformed to many heteronormative values.

On the other hand, we can look at fairness in representation of attractiveness in television characters. How many sitcoms center on a funny father/breadwinner/head-of-household who is perhaps a little overweight (cue the midnight snack jokes!) and his naggy and subjectively more attractive, thin wife? This never ceases to bother me. Why is beauty a prerequisite for female entertainers but only a recommended trait for male success in entertainment? It is the combination of our culture’s obsession with thinness and the patriarchy’s ability to use that to keep women powerless.

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“If women are busy trying to control their bodies through dieting, excessive exercise, and self-improvement, they are distracted from other important aspects of selfhood that might challenge the status quo” (Hesse-Biber 63).

Kind of reminds you of this poem, eh?

  • Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery.”The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford Unviersity, 2007. 61-83. Print.
  • Wan-Hsiu, Sunny Tsai. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11.1 (2010): 1-15. Print.

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