A (curtain) call for less stereotypes
April 21, 2015
The media is a powerful driving force in today’s society. The way different races, ethnicities and genders are portrayed in TV and film can influence people’s opinions and perceptions of others in real life, but it’s time for Hollywood to understand the effect it has on the public.
Whether we like it or not, what’s shown on TV matters, as 96.7 percent of Americans own a TV. It influences our lives, perceptions and ideas, sometimes without us even noticing.
According to a recent study by University communications professor Travis Dixon, Muslims and Latinos face most of the stereotyping on screen. In the news programs studied, 81 percent of domestic terrorism portrayed was perpetuated by Muslims — when, in reality, only 6 percent of terrorist suspects domestically were Muslim. Also, 97 percent of undocumented immigrants on the programs studied were portrayed as Latinos. However, only 75 percent of real-life undocumented immigrants were Latino.
The large gaps in these percentages lead to misconceptions about those respective races. We shouldn’t feel anxious when we see a Muslim person in a crowd, nor should we question whether a Latino person we know has immigrant parents. We should see each individual and think of them as our fellow American. But, because of the way TV shows and media around us portray them, American culture is not as inclusive as it should be.
This is incredibly important, as these stereotypical portrayals of races lead to hate and discrimination in real life. In fact, in a 2014 survey, 45 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of Muslims as a whole. While it might not be the sole cause, to a great extent, stereotypical racial portrayals on our screens are causing races to be repeatedly judged as one collective unit. Rather than seeing each Muslim-American as an individual, people are using their media to judge Muslim-Americans as a whole.
However, Muslims and Latinos aren’t the only race facing problems in TV programs.
Professor Dixon also noticed that very few African-Americans are brought in for roles in national television news. They are portrayed in different television programs but hardly ever brought in as spokespeople, experts or other similar roles on news programs.
The lack of African-Americans appearing as strong sources for news programs enforces the idea that African-Americans belong in lesser roles, such as the sidekick or the comic relief roles they most often play in television programs.
Race isn’t the only inaccurate description in the media. Gender roles are still largely in place in the TV and film industry. Some shows seem to be working against that with strong female leads (such as Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation), but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Shows that display women as nothing more than second-string to men push against gender equality efforts women have been fighting for generations. Women are too often depicted as lesser, dependent or simply just there for sexual experiences.
We need to be pushing for strong leads in TV and film that acknowledge the non-stereotypical roles of all minorities in real life. Children, like adults, react to the images they see on TV. The more TV they watch, the more they are exposed to traditional and sexist opinions and ideas.
Young girls may watch TV shows and see stereotypical portrayals of women that leave them thinking that a woman can only perform one role, such as the housewife, the sex object or the assistant, to name a few.
Young boys may watch TV and see stereotypical portrayals that leave them thinking that the essentials for masculinity include emotional detachment, competition, toughness, etc.
And everyone could watch shows and subconsciously associate the negative racial portrayals with minorities off-screen.
However, in order to improve both gender and racial stereotyping, we need to start with the TV and film industry. Since the media powerfully influences how we view our world, I think it’s high time to call for an end to stereotypical portrayals.
With more diversity shown in all media roles, there could be a start toward bridging the disconnect between stereotypical roles and the races that play them.
Sam is a sophmore in media.