Whiteness in the Media
Prejudice ideology is an inherent part of the social world, but in western culture its effects are more apparent in film and on the television. The media’s depiction of ethnic groups, women and religious factions has a dynamic influence on the way in which these groups are perceived within their communities, and the orchestrates behind these depictions are as connected to the public as the stereotypes themselves. The perspective of the media can be seen as a reflection of the views held by the multimedia moguls who own the conglomerates.
They promote the ideals they believe in an attempt to shape the culture of society towards consumerism. The media is more concerned with ideals of capitalism than any genuine cultural understanding. This concern leads to the promotion of white affluence in the media in opposition to blackness and difference, as well as a predominance of whiteness on the screen. Whether it’s on the film screen, television screen, or the computer screen, if there is an attractive admirable image being projected, it most always will be white. More daunting than the predominance of whiteness in the media is the promotion of inherently white ideals.
These ideals imply stern condemnation of opposition, anything different from the images projected through the media become socially condemned in an indirect manner, simply through the media’s disillusioned denial of their existence or value. Deeply inherent in the politics of the United States of America is a divide on ideals about race that can be signified as the core difference between Republicans and Democrats. This conflict stems from the era of the Civil Rights movement in America, and basically boils down to a genuine belief in racial equality by the Democratic party and an opposition of this view by white conservatives.
The idea of the Republican party being the racist party has been contested by the current Bush Administration’s appointment of many minorities to public office. Despite these attempts, it is undeniable that the Republican party represent the affluent, and the group that is often recognized as the American Ruling class. These pundits most always often tend to be white males, which places the Republican party as the political group most prone to promote white male ideals. It is no surprise that the same political group that holds 90% of the wealth in America, also controls 10 out of 12 of the multimedia conglomerates of the world.
The most prevailing example of the Republican party’s dominance of the media can be seen in assessing the history of the Fox News Network. There is an implied opposition to blackness through the promotion of White affluence. No media outlet more authentically promotes the ideals of wealthy white America than The Fox News Network. It has become the highest rated cable news network capitalizing off a public belief in the American Dream. While there is much criticism of the network for being so devoutly conservative, it claims to be bipartisan.
The Fox News Channel (FNC) is accessible to 85 million households in the United States. They are said to be viewable by evenmore internationally. Based in the U. S. , the network broadcasts primarily out of its studio in New York City. The Fox News Channel is currently the highest rated cable News Channel. It was founded by Australian-American mogul Rupert Murdoch in 1996. Since then, the FNC has grown to become recognized as the most influential cable news network of this era. Murdoch declared that he created the Fox News Network to represent the conservative point of view in America.
At the time, in 1996, Murdoch felt media was predominantly liberal. The Project for Excellence in Journalism, in 2004, did a survey. In their article they cited Fox News as the single news outlet that strikes most journalists as taking a particular ideological stance (2006). Corresponding with this, the Democratic National Committee identified Fox News as a rightwing outlet (York, 2006). On CNN’s Larry King during a Jan 17, 2007 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, King spoke on his opinion of the Network, “They’re Republican a brand.
They’re an extension of the Republican Party with some exceptions, [like] Greta van Susteren. But I don’t begrudge them that. [Fox CEO] Roger Ailes is an old friend. They’ve been nice to me. They’ve said some very nice things about me. Not [Bill] O’Reilly, but I don’t watch him (King, Jan. 17, 2007). ” Further criticism of the networks are made in the 2004 documentary, Out foxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, where the allegations of bias in the network’s reporting are looked investigated.
In 2007, the MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann renamed the network the Fox Nothing Channel, and then the Fox Noise Channel. This is a significant example of White prevalence in the Media because it exemplifies the core nature of the media structure. Rupert Murdoch is a devout conservative promoting the ideals of a political party that is historically recognized for standing against the civil Rights Movement in America. While Murdoch has never made any direct statements on his views pertaining to race, he has also never had to, because his views are implied through his actions.
There are very few minority anchor men or women working on the Fox News Network, as well as very few women that aren’t blond. The Network has also become notoriously known for promoting issues that degrade the black community, such as referring to black hurricane Katrina survivors as refugees, or siding with white children on the Jenna Six controversy. All the media is just a tool designed to garner commercial capital. The image of the strong white male is used to promote this because it is white males who run the media companies.
While the tradition to promote White male strength over all else in film and television had died down and diversified over time, if one were to assess the Blockbuster flicks of the late 1980’s, they would find the blatant praise of white masculinity through the Media running ramoant. Richard Dyer addresses this concept and many others in his work. In Richard Dyer’s essay The White Man’s Muscle, he talks about stereotypes that have been enforced connecting as far back as the Greek era, and that now dominate film and television basically promoting the superiority of white masculinity.
Body hair is animalistic; hair¬lessness connotes striving above nature. The climax of Gli amori di Ercole has fighting a giant ape, who has previously behaved in a King Kong-ish way towards Hercules’s beloved Dejanira, stroking her hair and when she screams making as if to rape her; close-ups contrast Hercules’s smooth, hairless muscles with the hairy limbs of this racist archetype. (Dyer) Here Dyer recognizes how the uppermost admirable aspect of masculinity is equated with shaven white muscle, through its difference from hairy apes, who have been racially connected to blackness since slavery in America.
He acknowledges the racist aspects of this archetype, but also gives notice to the private boys’ club-like tradition that has formed from this prejudice. Iin Gamy Robson’s Millwall Football Club: Masculinity, Race and Belonging the author shows how Millwall Football Club is a devout fan based community. Along with the understanding of what it means to be a member of a devout fan-based community is recognizing a need to excludes those who aren’t born within it and those of different races.
This same concept of exclusion based on race is prevalent throughout the film community, and a large majority of society. No group more validly represent this type of organization in America than the Evangelical church. They reoresent what is becoming projected as a white Christian Nation. In western culture, muscular bodies are associated with much leisure time, discipline, and affluence. Dyer also makes the Christian connection that a muscular body connotes pointing out the ideal of finding salvation or purity through the experience of pain.
Despite this stigma, Dyer points out that historically body building culture has been an equal opportunity medium when he says, Bodybuilding as an activity has a relatively good track record in terms of racial equality. From the 1950s on, non-white men – and especially those of African descent – became major figures in bodybuilding competitions. Yet the dominant images of the built body remain white. Kenneth Dutton (1995: 232) points out that black bodybuilders are rare on the cover of Muscle and Fitness, the bodybuilding magazine now most responsible for establishing and promulgating the image of the sport.
(Dyer) Never the less, the image of strength most prevalent in the media is that of white male muscle. But, within the world of contemporary bodybuilding, this view has been contradicted. This can be seen with the current popularity of top African American bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman. Dyer does argue though, that unless a particular bodybuilder is a well known professional the chance of them finding their way on the cover of a magazine, or endorsing a workout supplement, or video is still very scarce if they aren’t white.
Thus pointing out that, bodybuilding culture is one of great prejudice. Dyer states that the culture itself in western society ideologically is connected as far back as the Greek era, when they believed that to improve the physical structure through body building was to bring it that much closer to divinity. While bodybuilding ideologically separates the white man from the beast, the black man is the beast. This creates the misconception that to be white is to be masculine and to be black is to be animalistic.
Dyer connects the theme of white superiority and masculinity dominating modern day film by connecting it with Arnold Schwarzenegger and his character in the film the Terminator. Schwarzenegger’s films contain nothing so agonised, and he has been cast as a machine in the Terminator films (1984 and 1991) rather than as a machine’s opponent. Schwarzenegger, as a multiple Mr Olympia winner, is always already a champion physique;… Schwarzenegger’s body is simply massive, his characteristic facial expression genial, his persona one of Teutonic confidence; (Dyer)
Here Schwarzenegger, as the Terminator, embodies all of the ideals cherished by males, white and black alike. But Dyer argues those promoted and cherished within the popular culture of western society stem from an inherent praise of whiteness. His militant and machine-like persona represents the upper echelon of masculinity. The irony is that while this film further enforces the misogynistic misconceived notions of the meaning of manliness, maintaining the edgy tradition common of the science fiction genre, it breaks stereotypes pertaining to females.
The Terminator launched the career of former body builder and current governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but more importantly, it is the quintessential science-fiction film, countering many contemporary stereotypes. A young woman named Sarah Connor is hunted down by a cybernetic killer, who has traveled back in time from the year 2029 to kill her unborn child. In the future war between the Robots and humans, it is believed Sarah Connor will give birth to a heroic general in the fight for the human race. On top of this, Sarah Connor is also heralded as a great military hero herself.
A character by the name of Reese initially is sent back from the future to protect Sarah Connor. Unbeknownst to either of them, he inadvertently becomes the father of the baby he is sent to protect. Reese is still mortal, and continuously reminded of this fact when confronting the Terminator. Sarah Connor is mortal, but she is also destined to be a great war hero. Sarah Connor’s character is empowered in this film and Reese is actually effeminized; by this, I mean that Reese is actually the weaker of the two.
In the greatest measure of manliness against the ultimate destroying machine, Connor manages to survive; and in the end, she is the one who kills the Terminator. While Reese, dead, has failed as a protector and the only purpose he served was to produce offspring. The man and the woman switch roles in this way. This is a prime example of the evolving nature of female representation in the media. In this case, one might be prone to believe that western audiences are more comfortable seeing a masculine woman than letting go of dyer’s ideal of the white muscle man and seeing a black model of supreme masculinity.
The heroine in cinema has come a long way since the origin of the medium. It can be argued that this is a direct reflection of societal change. The performing arts have evolved from not allowing blacks, or women to perform, to having minorities in lead roles where they play everyman/woman characters. From the villainously empowering days of the Femme fatale, to the current science fiction roles in which women save the world without any male assistance, the female in cinema is on the verge of equal empowerment.
But this journey has been long fought, and only makes up a small portion of the images of women projected in the media. For the most part, women are presented as objectified means of pleasure for the white American male. While put on a sexual pedestal as a trophy off limits to any other racial group, the white female in the Western media is still being exploited. Despite this, some actresses have based their careers on opposing this stigma. This is most apparently true of those female celebrities who have established themselves as capable to play a broad range of roles.
Actresses like Angelina Jolie, Demi Moor and Sigourney Weaver have played everything from action adventure heroines to pregnant mothers. These women have contributed to the tradition of expanding societal expectations of women through film; but as these signifying lines of identity expand self identification within society has a tendency of only becoming more confusing. Though these actress have created alternative identities for women to model after, as Claire Dwyer reveals in her essay Contested Identities, the real path for female to negotiate her identity is not as cut and dry as it is depicted in the movies.
Dwyer’s essay focuses on the Muslim woman’s struggle to establish identity within British culture, and in the media. Ideologically outsiders to the society, stereotypes are projected on the women that are misconceived and complicating cross cultural understanding. As Dwyer argues, young Muslim women seek to define their own identities and resist dominant representations of `Muslim Women’… the articulation of their own identities requires the negotiation of dominant representa¬tions and stereotypes and a challenge to existing discourses (Dwyer).
The author does credit the media as a very important factor to the challenging of existing discourses; but, she also acknowledges the unique social conflict pertaining to the particular circumstance of the Muslim women. As pointed out by Dwyer, these women find themselves trapped in between two cultures, one of Asian expectations, and the other of the British ideals; both pertain to their identities in the community as Muslim women. If they do not wish to adhere to the criteria set out for them by what Dwyer calls the dominant representations of Muslim Women, then they may find themselves subject to exclusion.
This is a prejudice whose specifics are reliant on location, but tends to produce the same results across communities. A direct comparison to the plight of the Muslim woman searching for identity in Britain can be made to that of the American Black in the south. Dr. Susan Opotow is a professor at Columbia University, who specializes in Dispute Resolution. In her publication, Social Injustice, she does an in-depth analyses of some of the key correlating conflicts within the Black Man’s burden.
She says, morals operationalize our sense of justice by identifying what we owe to whom, whose needs, views, and well-being count, and whose do not (Opotow,2001). It is Opotow’s view that we use this sense of morals to decide who we accept into our social circles. Those who do not fall into the specific criteria, be it a certain race, class religion etc.. , they are subject to exclusion. In William Faulkner’s classic novel Light in August, he confronts the racial stigma that is inherent in the American south.
Through the experiences endured by his fictional seemingly white but part black character Joe Christmas, he examines the same type of exclusion to which Opotow refers. After a long time of neither adhering to the popular western ideal of what is to be black or white, overwhelmed with inadequacy and in a fit of rage, Christmas kills his white girlfriend for demanding he join an all black law firm. He does this in response to his inability to claim a stigma within the community.
After he commits the murder, he is still disillusioned by his status, thinking that because he has refused to identify himself as black or white than he is invisible to the rest of the town. This is a detrimental miscalculation, as this townsperson expresses in Faulkner’s novel: He never acted like either a nigger or a white man. That was it. That was what made the folks so mad. For him to be a murderer and all dressed up and walking the town like he dared them to touch him, when he ought to have been skulking and hiding in the woods, muddy and dirty and running.
It was like he never even knew he was a murderer, let alone a nigger too. (Faulkner, 350). Opotow credits the type of social isolation and vilification which Christmas experiences to certain communities’ class and race stances on morality. Christmas is a undeniably a murderer, but he has become so as a result of a society that had no place for him. By there being no niche for Christmas within the community, he threatened its very existence, therefore making it a necessity that he be destroyed. Dwyer claims the prevention of incidences like Christmas’ lie in the media.
This is disserting when one considers the media as an entity with its own agenda. Pierre Bourdieu is a highly acclaimed French sociologist. Bourdieu’s believes that public opinion is a fabricated product of the media, and really doesn’t even exist (1984). This concept is addressed in his book, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, in that he feels there is a difference in class taste between the ruling class and popular culture. But, within this conflict, the public doesn’t exist, just a media mediating between big business and the popular culture which big business has constructed.
The entire relationship between the media and the working class is an illusion the reality ias that the media is the American ruling classes’ way of communicating to the rest of the world. This concept leads Bourdieu to argue that the popular culture is not a product of public perception as it is presented,, but really just the artificial persona created by the economic elite. The ultimate irony is that the economic elite, who are all predominatly white males own the media companies. These companies, like all corporations are designed with the intention in mind of producing wealth.
The only reason why they are entrusted by individual citizens, is because these corporations hide behind the veil of free speech. Their only real desire is to further enhance their accumulation of wealth, but through their continuous praise of the 1st amendent, they appears as though they might one day actually use it. Whatever stereotypes best feed into the capitalist nature of the western culture, those are the stereotypes that will be depicted on television. Currently and traditionally this image has been one of white descent.
In John Fiske’s critique on television, Television Culture he addresses the nature of what makes popular television. He concludes that the shows most successful gaining popularity tend to have many symbols and plot lines containing multiple meanings. He also states that remain within a duality of containment and resistance (1987). This idea stems from the reality that television producers are members of the upper class and political elite, and they are expected to produce material that relates to popular culture.
Fiske argues that elitist ideals are not directly promoted in television, but implied through the ploy of relating to the common man. Even when this relation to the common man is being made, Fiske argues it is being done through the promotion of the white family ethics. Black television shows that have tended to be the most successful throughout the years have promoted the white family ethic through black casts, this is most definitely true of shows like Family Matters, and The Cosby Show.
Very few shows are produced with the direct intention of relating to the black community. This can be seen as a result of the white media mogul’s view point that blacks aren’t an affluent enough market to invest in. Fiske argues that this view point is flawed considering that Asians statistically make the most money in the United States and they are hardly ever depicted in the media at all. The following charts are taken from the United States Census Bureau of 2005.