Media Messages
eBook - ePub

Media Messages

What Film, Television, and Popular Music Teach Us About Race, Class, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

Linda Holtzman, Leon Sharpe

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  1. 558 páginas
  2. English
  3. ePUB (apto para móviles)
  4. Disponible en iOS y Android
eBook - ePub

Media Messages

What Film, Television, and Popular Music Teach Us About Race, Class, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

Linda Holtzman, Leon Sharpe

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The new edition of this widely adopted book reveals how the popular media contribute to widespread myths and misunderstanding about cultural diversity. While focused on the impact of television, feature film, and popular music, the authors reach far beyond media to explore how our understanding, values, and beliefs about race, class, gender and sexual orientation are constructed. They analyze how personal histories, combined with the collective history of oppression and liberation, contribute to stereotypes and misinformation, as well as how personal engagement with media can impact prospects for individual and social freedom. Along with updated media examples, expanded theories and analysis, this edition explores even more deeply the coverage of race in two chapters, discusses more broadly how men and boys are depicted in the media and socialized, and how class issues have become even more visible since the Great Recession of the 21st century and the Occupy movements. Special activities and exercises are provided in the book and an online Instructor's Manual is available to adopters.

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The Connections

Life, Knowledge, and Media
Once you have learned how to ask questions—relevant and appropriate and substantial questions—you have learned how to learn, and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.
—Postman and Weingartner
When individuals engage diversity, tension can result from new information about others that is contrary to the learner’s previous understanding of their identity, the world and the relationship between the two … if we find that the others are not who we thought them to be, perhaps we are not who we define ourselves to be.
—Institute for Public Media Arts
We learn about the characteristics of the groups we are part of, including our religion, our gender, where we were born and grew up, our race, our socioeconomic class, and our sexual orientation. We also learn about the identity and characteristics of individuals and groups that are different from us. This learning occurs at a time in our childhood when the sources who provide the information are well-meaning people who love us, so the information gets translated as “the truth” in our minds and in our hearts. Invariably, some of the observations we make and the facts we receive are solid and accurate, but other information is based on misunderstanding, misinformation, missing information, bias, and ignorance.
Using this book, together we will explore the variety of information we’ve observed and received about human diversity. We’ll investigate and evaluate the sources of both the accurate information and the misinformation. We’ll use some observational, academic, and media skills and tools that will allow us to question this information and these sources and develop our own independent conclusions, our own “truths.” We will investigate three major sources of information:
• Personal experience and informal knowledge
• Academic knowledge and formal learning
• Popular media
Each of these sources provides us with rich and varied, often contradictory, and frequently confusing elements of our beliefs and values and “knowledge” about diversity. As you explore the information and perspectives in this book, the tools you learn will help you assess the credibility of the material we present. These tools and strategies will allow you to access some of the highest levels of intelligent pursuit: active exploration and careful consideration of a wide variety of information, skills, and strategies to develop your own independent thinking, values, beliefs, and understanding about human diversity. Our hope is that this book will offer a dynamic approach to learning that will give us all permission to be open to new information, to adjust our thinking, and to grow and change according to our own well-informed internal compass.
Each chapter begins with an inquiry about your personal experience so that you can explore what you were explicitly and implicitly taught, how you were socialized, what you absorbed, what you resisted, and ultimately what you learned to be “true” about gender or class or race or sexual orientation and identity.


Take a journey to your childhood and think about what, if any, holiday your family celebrated in December. Think of the kind of celebration it was. Remember the foods, the smells, the people, the decorations. What was everyone doing? Was there a religious element to the holiday? Was there gift giving? Did the family gather together? Were there songs or prayers? Were there any special family traditions involved? Do you have other significant memories associated with this holiday? Write or tape-record your answers to these questions.
Groups that are predominantly white, middle-class, and Christian often assume that Christmas is the December holiday. Often people in such homogeneous groups will preface their answers to the above questions with statements such as “It was your average Christmas” or “We ate the usual foods” or “The only thing different about my family was we ate duck instead of turkey” or “We were pretty typical—nothing exciting.”
Yet there are many other possibilities for holidays and celebrations in December. Jews celebrate Chanukah; many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa; Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha; and the Winter Solstice is celebrated by many individuals who are part of organized religions and many who are not. During Chanukah, candelabra known as menorahs are lit for eight consecutive days, latkes—potato pancakes—are eaten, and a game is played with a top called a “dreidel.” During Kwanzaa a new candle on the ki-nara is lit each night to represent one of the seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith (Salzman, Smith, and West 1996, 2475). During Eid al-Adha, families that can afford it often sacrifice a goat or a sheep and share the meat with other families to commemorate the faith of Ibrahim (known as Abraham by Christians and Jews). Since the Muslim and the Jewish calendars are different from the Western calendar, Chanukah and Eid al-Adha do not always fall in the month of December (ReligionFacts 2006). For some faiths, agnostics, or atheists, there may be no traditional December holiday.
If you grew up celebrating Christmas in the United States or another predominantly Christian location in the world, most likely you understood your experience to be the norm. Perhaps you never heard of Chanukah or Kwanzaa or Eid al-Adha until you were much older. Perhaps you still are not completely sure what those holidays are about and why Christmas is not celebrated by everyone. Perhaps you felt sorry for people who did not have Christmas trees. Or perhaps you thought that people who celebrated other, non-Christian holidays were interesting, exotic, odd, or even un-American. As part of the dominant Christian culture in the United States, your early holiday experiences were part of the construct of what you believed to be average and normal and how you understood the “other,” or people and groups that were different from you.
If you grew up non-Christian in the United States, you knew, at least for a month or so, what it was like to be different. You heard Christmas music and saw lights and Santa Claus everywhere you went. In stores, schools, and offices, people with the warmest of intentions wished you a “Merry Christmas.” Maybe you smiled and nodded politely or maybe you said, “I don’t celebrate Christmas.” Maybe you went to a school where students sang Christmas carols and you had to decide whether to join in the singing. These examples illustrate the media and cultural saturation of Christmas images and messages and their acceptance as “normal.” If you were part of a minority group in a predominantly Christian culture, you learned early on what it was like to be different, to stand outside of the norm, to be the “other.”
In fact, there is great variation in how Christians observe Christmas. Some celebrate Christmas as a deeply meaningful religious holiday, while others celebrate it as a secular midwinter holiday of gift giving, food, and festivities.
Your position in this December scenario was a critical element in the establishment of your personal identity and your sense of where you belonged in your neighborhood your school, and in the larger community and culture. Depending on how the adults in your life helped to explain your experience, you may have had a mix of positive, negative, and neutral feelings. But whatever your experience was, it contributed to shaping how you see yourself and people who are different from you.
Exploring how we see ourselves and others is an important first step in understanding human diversity. Later in the chapter we will examine related issues in reconstructing knowledge and entertainment media and make the important connections between your personal experiences and your formal and mediated learning.
Your place as inside or outside the “norm” of the Christmas holiday will contribute to how you regard what you learn in school and the workplace. For example, most public and private schools in the United States are organized around the Christian calendar. School breaks and holidays usually correspond with Christmas and Easter rather than Yom Kippur, Kwanzaa, or Ramadan. This schedule conveys to us that the Christian holidays are “normal,” while the other holidays are, at best, for minorities and, at worst, seen as unusual or strange. On a more practical level, Christians generally have time off from school and work to celebrate important holidays, while people of other faiths have to figure out how to accommodate their religious observances. Non-Christians often have to ask, “Should I miss an important test, blow my perfect attendance record, or take a personal leave day to observe my holiday?” Your standpoint in the holiday scenario above also has an enormous impact on how you see the “holiday specials” on television, hear the Christmas music on the radio and in department stores, and feel about the release of December seasonal films. For Christians, these media events may seem like either an overcommercialization of a deeply religious holiday or wonderful examples of holiday spirit. For non-Christians, the media saturation may be disturbing and disorienting. Some non-Christians may feel almost invisible during December. To continue this process of understanding diversity in an experiential context, we invite you to take the multicultural quiz in Personal Inventory 1.1.
After completing the quiz, total your score. The highest possible score is 130 points If you scored 117–130, you have lived in a highly multicultural world. If you scored 104–116 points, your life has been filled with diversity. If you scored 91–103 points, you have been exposed to people who are culturally different from you. If you scored 78–90 points, you have been exposed to some diversity but have primarily lived among people much like you. If you scored below 78 points, you have lived primarily among people who are very much like you in race, religion, sexual orientation, and social and economic class or you have been in the minority among others who were quite similar. And, most importantly, if you did score under 78 points, you are similar to more than 90 percent of the people who have taken this quiz—you have lived in a unicultural world.
What does this all mean? Some people, after taking this quiz, have come to the conscious realization that they have grown up among others who are in fundamental ways very much like them. This simple and unscientific quiz underscores that U.S. society is still largely structured in a way that separates and segregates people who are different from each other. Many people actively and explicitly choose to live among others who are similar to them. Some people make residential choices based on the limits of their income or as a result of discrimination in real estate or lending. Yet, just as often, the choices for diversity continue to be exceedingly limited in this society. People who have lived in communities with great diversity have generally made very deliberate choices to do so, in order to expose themselves and their families to a multicultural world.
If most Americans’ experiences are, in fact, unicultural, how do people learn about the nature of difference? Young people learn about people and groups that are different from them in several ways: from their families, from their peers, from their religious institutions, from their schools, and from the media.
Through the process of socialization, we grow up learning the values of our culture. The vast majority of us grew up with little diversity, and the values and beliefs we were taught seemed real, central, and “normal.” Often we experienced no sense of a pluralist community that included different foods, religious practices, beliefs, or customs. Rather, these invisible norms instilled a sense that our way was the right or only way and that other ways were unusual, weird, abnormal, or wrong.
This exercise is not intended to provoke guilt or to evoke the specter of political correctness. In fact, since most of the United States is quite segregated residentially, particularly by race, ethnicity, income, and religion, the exercise points out that cultural isolation is a common experience shared both by groups in the majority and by groups in the minority. This isolation denies most of us the personal opportunity to be neighbors, friends, peers, or classmates with people who are different from us. This cultural isolati...