The effects of media bias and stereotypes
|Media Portrayals and Stereotypes
The media is a very useful and important part of everyday life. Various productions such as radio talk shows, newspapers, magazines, television programs, and even films serve as our link to what is happening in the world, whether just around the corner, or on the other side of the globe. We turn to the media for late breaking news, to learn what the weather is going to be like, or just simply to entertain us. It provides us with a lot of knowledge and awareness of things outside of our own communities, but it is of course managed by human beings. This means that bias is inevitable. What kind of effect does the media bias have on us as viewers, readers, or listeners? Do the stereotypes we see on television everyday infiltrate into our personal opinions? Generalizations and biases in the media cause racial, gender, and many other kinds of stereotypes.
When we turn on the news to get information about current events, we expect to hear an accurate account of the occurrences. In reality, the media does present truth, but not the whole truth. The information is often skewed and cut to fit the agendas of the news stations or newspapers. News coverage varies by station because of these agendas and is often classified as conservative or liberal. With no other way to know what is happening around the world, we trust the news anchors and paper writers to inform us.
The media is a business, and as such, must do what is necessary to gain viewers or readers. They have to produce stories that will appeal to the emotions and interests of the people. In addition, media has to deal with slow days where there just is not very much news to report. In these cases, they are forced to twist stories to make them seem more interesting and important than they really are. The unavoidable bias and the need for good ratings causes the media to report news that may not be the most precise description of what is really happening.
The news, television shows, and movies inundate us with stereotypes based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or religion. For example, the coverage of the Los Angeles Riot in 1992 was molded to portray what the media wanted us to see and think. The riot was fueled by racial issues, but the media tended to focus on the involvement of African Americans. The fact that 60 percent of the people arrested were either Caucasian or Hispanic was not reported by many news stations (Balkaran). The National Association of Hispanic Journalists says that "Of 12,000 evening news stories aired annually by the three major American Networks, only 1% is about Latino people or issues. When Latinos are included, they are portrayed negatively 80% of the time" (Media Awareness Network). In television shows and movies, women often have roles as great housewives that have spotless homes and perfect children, or roles of beautiful women who are sexually objectified. Females are rarely shown as the heroes, but rather as the ones that the male hero falls in love with (Media Awareness Network). Men are usually depicted as tough, unemotional, people. Humans are very unique and different, and the media does not show our diversity.
According to the A.C. Nielsen Company, an average American watches about 4 hours of television each day (Television and Health). Our dependence on television is what causes us to believe what we hear and subliminally pick up on the underlying messages. A study in the Human Communication Research Journal says that we are affected by the bias of the media without knowing it (Medical News Today). Dana Mastro performed a study where people watched clips of Latinos who were shown in very different lights. First the participants were shown simulated scenarios where the Latinos varied in intelligence and amount of education attained. Next, people were shown real television clips featuring Latinos. The study showed that the people were affected by the way they saw Latinos portrayed in the clips they had been shown and therefore indicated that what we see on television can subconsciously cause us to stereotype people (Medical News Today). On September 11th, when we saw the horrific images of planes crashing into the twin towers and the tragic aftermath, we also saw countless images of Middle Eastern people as the guilty party. Seeing the Middle Eastern people connected with this tragedy caused many people to associate acts of terrorism with Middle Eastern people, rather than just the terrorist groups.
With so many hidden messages and stereotypical associations, we begin to accept what we see as truth. We begin to think that the way people are shown in the movies is how people really are. The messages sent by the media cause us to stereotype people that we do not even know. Humans have a need to categorize people, so when we encounter people that we are not familiar with, all we have to base our judgments on is what we have seen on TV. Years after September 11th, many Americans are still scared or intolerant of Middle Eastern people because of their association with terrorism. Because media caused us to make a connection between the terrible acts of a few people and their race, many Americans are fearful if they find themselves on the same plane as a person of Middle Eastern descent. While we know that small terrorist groups are to blame, and that many Middle Eastern people would never be involved with that, it is hard to shake the connections we have made.
The acceptance of the stereotypes we see in the media leads to further racism, prejudice, and inequality. America cannot escape racism if we are constantly seeing racial divisions on the news. Women will never be viewed as equal to men if they are consistently shown as the weaker, less educated gender in the movies. According to Mastro, "Just as people can develop their views about others through dialogue and interaction with others in society, the same types of outcomes can emerge based simply on watching television...Ultimately, even fictional TV content can perpetuate stereotypes which may promote real-world discrimination" (Medical News Today). Media stereotypes cause us to accept stereotypes in our own lives rather than fight against them. How can we avoid the influence of the media on our opinions of other people?
Today, more and more people are protesting the unrealistic portrayals found in the media, and as a result, the media is forced to show people more accurately. Magazines for teenage girls are talking less about dieting and being skinny and more about important social issues. More commercials are featuring women of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Movies are featuring people in more unconventional roles.
The key to avoiding the effects of the media is awareness. When watching the news or reading the newspaper, we must consider the spin being put on the story by the people who are trying to meet their own agendas or get good ratings (Media Awareness Network). Bias can be seen and understood if we learn about the same event from different sources, instead of relying on only one news station or newspaper to get information. By analyzing the similarities and differences between the sources, we will be able to come closer to uncovering the truth. Stereotypes are unfair, and in many cases, inaccurate. Based on the research provided and personal experience, the media causes stereotypes and inequality because the messages that they repeatedly show us are eventually absorbed. We should all strive to learn about people individually, instead of judging them based on what we see on TV.
Balkaran, Stephen. "Mass Media and Racism." (1999) 07 May 2008. http://www.yale.edu/ypq/articles/oct99/oct99b.html.
"Ethnic and Visible Minorities in the News" Media Awareness Network. 07 May 2008. http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/ethnics_and_minorities...
"Media Portrayals of Girls and Women". Media Awareness Network. 07 May 2008. http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/index....
"Resisting Stereotypes and Working for Change". Media Awareness Network. 07 May 2008. < http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_...
"Television and Health". Cal State University, Northridge. 07 May 2008. http://www.csun.edu/~vceed002/health/docs/tv&health.html#tv_stats
"Unfavorable Media Portrayals Can Affect Racial Judgments." Medical News Today. 23 Feb 2008. 07 May 2008. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/98109.php>.