Representation in the media
Representation in the Media
By definition, all media texts are re-
presentations of reality. This means that they are
composed, lit, written, framed, cropped, caption
ed, branded, targeted and censored by their
producers, and that they are entirely artificial
versions of the reality we perceive around us.
• 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, codified into a
series of signs and symbols which can be read by
• 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 reality.
• 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
• 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.
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 truth/fiction/whatever. In order to
fully appreciate the part representation plays in a
media text you must consider:
• Who produced it?
• What/who is represented in the text?
• How is that thing 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 perhaps the basic category we use for
sorting human beings, and it is a key issue when
discussing representation. 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
Here are some typically Male/
What other Typically Male/ Female Characteristics can you
How might the following objects
be 'gendered' through
advertising, given that both sexes
will use the product?
A Sports car A Diving Watch Bottled Beer Toilet Paper Deodorant
A Smartphone A Hi-Fi System Running Shoes A Video Game An Airline
• Feminism has been a recognised social
philosophy for more than forty 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
• 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
Representations of women across all
media tend to highlight the following:
• beauty (within narrow conventions)
• size/physique (again, within narrow
• sexuality (as expressed by the above)
• emotional (as opposed to intellectual)
• relationships (as opposed to
• 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 victimhood.
• 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.
'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)
• Male characters are often represented as isolated, as not
needing to rely on others (the lone hero).
• If they capitulate 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.
'Serious' Hollywood actors in their forties (e.g. Willem
Dafoe, Kevin Spacey) are expected to have a level of 'buffness'
that was not aspired to even by young heart-throbs 40 years
ago (check out Connery in Thunderball 1965).
• 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 beergut with
pride) having the muscle definition of a professional
• 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.
• Pick a Character from any TV drama
• Choose a marketable product that they could
have been chosen to be the face of
• Produce a magazine advert featuring your TV
drama Character along with a 200 word
paragraph that explains why they will be
suitable for promoting this commodity-
making sure your explanation focusses on