How Media Constructs Identities and Influences us

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Media uses language to construct public perception through style, structure, and images. It also presents an implicitly biased perspective to a wide audience on certain issues and sometimes, defend its position in the name of protecting the rights and responsibilities of its citizens on grounds of neutrality, balance, and objectivity. For example, Black men have long been portrayed as intellectually inferior and violent. Seattle-based Chhavi examines the role of media in furthering the biases and prejudices, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

Media plays an inherent role in the society. It has the ability to socially construct meanings of our own identities and also the identities of others. It has the ability to reinforce beliefs, norms, practices, and influence our opinions about ourselves and the world around us. Media holds the power to perpetuate dominant paradigms, which seem not to encourage a new understanding of cultural differences in many aspects of life. It also presents us with the image of how the society perceives us as individuals as well as how to behave in society.

It may be said that media informs us about the world using various cultural, political, and social lenses. It chooses the kind of frame needed to enhance our understanding of different cultures or nations (Baldwin et. al., 2014, p. 206). For example, when I came to the United States, I expected the country to look like the places in Hollywood movies with tall buildings and rich neighborhoods because of the popular movies based there. I also tried to fit this frame of America to all the other countries. This shows how media played a critical role in slanting my way of thinking.

Media uses language to construct public perception through style, structure, and images. It also presents an implicitly biased perspective to a wide audience on certain issues and sometimes, defend its position in the name of protecting the rights and responsibilities of its citizens on grounds of neutrality, balance, and objectivity. For example, Black men have long been portrayed as intellectually inferior and violent. These images are constantly reinforced by media through magazines, the internet, and fiction shows, such as The Big Car, etc. to shape how the public views men of colour. Such mediated images hinder the societal advancement and make these images look “natural” without ever being questioned. In addition, the large number of black achievements such as Martin Luther King Jr. are not enough to counterbalance a distorted emphasis on their failures (Donaldson, 2015).

Mainstream media “frames” certain groups in comparison to dominant groups both positively and negatively. For example, the TV show Blackish portrays an affluent African-American family, who tries to create a sense of ethnic , breaks the stereotypes surrounding black people, and prompts the audience to think about their validity through positively articulated ways (Blackish, 2014). But these “frames” can also be negative as media tends to use “frames” that resonate with popular culture usually sponsored by the elites. Likewise, in his bookPrivilege, Power, and Difference, Allan G. Johnson highlights how dominant groups use labels such as “other” to differentiate themselves from subordinate groups but when someone from the “other” tries to draw attention to such differences, they are referred to as being “divisive.” In these instances, dominant groups use media as a powerful tool to pay minimalized attention towards such differences, thereby reaffirming their privilege (Johnson, 2005, p. 136).

Media’s framing process is a deliberate and active process focusing on certain inherent limitations and prejudices and being biased in favor of the status quo preferred by the elites. Thus, pandering to the well-off, educated, urban classes, leaves the underrepresented with little to no ability to voice their own opinions. Johnson (2005) also talks about how media intentionally overlooks issues of privilege and oppression, fearing it might question the ideal status quo (p. 139). Although the dominant cultural ideology portrays the United States to be a classless society, media content primarily focuses and highlights the privileges of white, heterosexual, and middle-class men (Johnson, 2005, p. 147).

Mediated frames also deepen our understanding of cultural differences within our own society. For instance, media frames Latino immigrants in the United States as hardworking people striving for a better life or as an asset to the or even render them as illegal due to social ills. In this scenario, media plays a critical role in representing the Latino immigrants with various levels of difference, some of which can influence policies. All these frames are, therefore, important as they point to various immigration policies as being appropriate (Baldwin et al., 2014, p. 206).

Media plays a role as an important institution of the society. It holds power in the production and reproduction of our culture (Baldwin et al., 2014, p. 206). Often times, we come across how media reproduces the ideology of“The American Dream” focusing on the achievement of through hard work and determination. While it may be guaranteed to dominant groups, it might not be for marginalised groups who have limited or no access to opportunities. In addition, media also creates the assumption that “America is great” or “America is a land of opportunities.” It can be useful, as it uses an individualistic model promoting self-worth and praising the individual endeavors, in other cultures the emphasis is on the groups’ achievements. The concept of “The American Dream” can also be damaging as it might not promise a bright future to the non-dominant groups who have limited power. This reflects ‘cultural imperialism’ where media portrays Western values reflecting popular culture (Baldwin et al., 2014, p. 239).

I believe that I consume popular culture through popular music, clothing, images, and religion because I adopt latest trends which reinforce popular cultural ideals. While media conditions me to adopt dominant ideals. I constantly have to maintain parallel identities to be accepted in the dominant culture and not lose my own identity within my Indian culture. I refrain from listening to certain genres of popular music because it promotes superficial values, such as the extreme promotion of self and the importance of materialistic things. I also resist popular culture by addressing people through specific cultural attributes. This distinguishes me from the dominant culture as does my wearing traditional Indian clothing to constantly remind myself of my heritage.

Works Cited

Baldwin, J. R., Means Coleman, R. R., González, A., & Packer, S. S. (2014).
     Intercultural communication for everyday life (Vol. 1). Wiley-Blackwell.

Blackish [Television program]. (2014, September 24). Retrieved from
     http://abc.go.com/shows/blackish

Donaldson, L. (2015, August 12). When the media misrepresents black men, the
     effects are felt in the real world. The Guardian. Retrieved from
     https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/12/
     media-misrepresents-black-men-effects-felt-real-world

Johnson, A. G. (2005). Privilege, power, and difference (2nd ed.) Boston:
     McGraw-Hill.

©Chhavi Mehra

Photos from the internet.

#Multiculturalism #SearchOfIdentity #Bias #Prjudice #PortrayalOfCharacter #MediaConstruction #AmericanDream #DifferentTruths

Chhavi Mehra

Chhavi Mehra

Chhavi Mehra is an international from India completing her Associate's of Arts degree in Communications and Media at . She will be transferring to a university in California for her Bachelor's degree in Journalism. Chhavi hopes to write quality pieces reflecting the integrity of publications like The New York Times.
Chhavi Mehra
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