Monday, November 18, 2013

Media and Ideology by David R. Croteau

David R. Croteau unravels common stereotypes that are portrayed by dominant ideology in many means of media in Media and Ideology.  He examines different forms of media including the news, action-adventure films, Vietnam films, television, rap music, and the advertising industry.  As a journalism major, I found the article to be completely in-line with much of what I had learned at UMass Amherst under the tutelage of renowned communications professor and documentary writer Sut Jhally.  Jhally taught a course on the objectification of women through the use of the media, and back then, we examined ads, TV shows, and music videos.   I remember a poignant video of Rod Stewart thrusting his microphone between the legs of a gorgeous female model, completely paling in comparison to this year's MTV Music Video Awards as self-proclaimed feminist proceeded to "twerk" using a foam finger pointed seductively at herself and at Robin Thicke.  The point is, that even in our more media-savy culture in 2013, we are still often subjected to the same images and ideas of the culturally dominate white, straight, male "machine" that runs our American society. I would argue that we have made some major societal strides since Croteau's article was written that I believe even he, more than a decade since its publication, would acknowledge.

In Media and Ideology, Croteau finds connections between media and the real world.  He writes, "Research on the ideology of the media has included a debate between those who argue that media promote worldview of the powerful- the 'dominant ideology'-and those who argue that mass media texts include more contradictory messages, both expressing the "dominant ideology" and at least partially challenging world views."  I am a member of the latter camp.   I believe that since this publication in the early 2000's, in which Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian on her original sitcom, Ellen, and films such as The Last Temptation of Christ challenged puritanical views of a wholesome Jesus, we have seen more media diversity in even the past five years on mainstream TV.  Back then, I remember crying during that airport scene when Ellen came out.   I was so proud of our society and how far it had come; I had, after all, recently graduated from UMass and studied the perversion of the media during all four years.  Shortly after that scene, Ellen was abruptly cancelled, leaving me with a sense of sadness and loss.   Since that dark age in the world of sitcoms, we have had some greater representations of our diverse society on television including programs like Ellen, Anderson Cooper 360, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Will and Grace, Glee, Modern Family, Orange is the New Black, and Sean Saves the World, in all of which gay people are portrayed as regular people.‎

Croteau writes that in our culture of  the "dominant ideology,"   "... the fear is that the media images normalize specific social relations, making certain ways of behaving seeming unexceptional.  If media texts can normalize behaviors, they can also set limits on the range of acceptable use." The limits have been in place since the inception of the media, and in my opinion, very much remain in place.   In spite of the aforementioned programs, we remain in the midst of a "civil rights movement" for gay people. Advertising tells us that we should aspire to purchase more things, portraying the "norm" as middle upper class.  Our "buying power" provides our happiness and freedom. We are still fighting against a dominant "business" worldview.  Women's magazines and many movies depict images of women with thin bodies and beautiful makeup and clothes.  In many sitcoms today, the overweight, middle-aged white male has a beautiful, thin wife. Women are still objectified in every aspect of the media, but finally, some magazines have begun to depict plus-sized models.  Finally, some newscasters are more than 30 years old and 120 pounds. 

Race and foreigners are still taking a back seat in media portrayal. Ads depicting white families traveling to foreign places instill the "mystique" of foreigners and the power of white people.  While minorities are more represented through advertising than they were back when I took Sut Jhally's courses, as a society, we are far from fair in our portrayal of all Americans.  We have come a long way since the late 1990's and early 2000's since this book was written, there are many gaps that need to be filled.  Action, adventure, and war movies still tend to portray the "white" male hero.  Rap music was newer at the publication of Croteau's book; we now have a myriad of black musicians who are mainstream in every genre of music.   Croteau writes that while rap still continues to objectify women and black culture, it is also perceived differently among black people and white people.  In a certain sense, the music itself is divisive and reflective of our split society.

The media is a powerful tool in shaping ideas of people and images of "normalcy."   While popular culture has come a long way in debunking stereotypes of women, minorities, and gay people, we still live in a society that discriminates against race, gender, and sexual orientation.  I am confident that the media outlets are taking strides to uncover old stereotypes, and I'm hopeful that ten years from now, my own children will be exposed to an even more level playing field for all people.


  1. Which came first the chicken or the egg. Is it the ideology of the people who create the media or is it aimed at the people whose ideology or thought process watches the movie, reads the article or purchases the product based on what they see.

  2. Hi Amy,

    I think you make a good point, the media is at least trying to weed out the old stereotypical white bread sitcoms that dominated prime time for so long. However, I'm not sure if the media's attempt at adding diversity and different types of gender roles is more harmful than productive. I have yet to see a television show where people of color aren't cast in a particular way. Black men are still portrayed as lazy, sex crazed and less intelligent than their white male co-stars. Women are often conniving, deceitful, selfish and obsessed with appearance. Latinos have thick, over dramatic accents (think Gloria on Modern Family). Gay men are flamboyant and dramatic. So, we have seen some progress in that a diversity of characters are now cast, but the progress really stops there. Until the media starts portraying minorities and women in a way that is more realistic and less stereotypical, I think there is still a lot of work to do.

  3. I agree with you when you said that media shapes our sense of normalcy...yes TV shows and movies are guilty of this and just look at commercials. Advertisement is a huge contributor. If we buy the next best whatever, it will make our lives so much better.

  4. In Croteau's Media and Ideology, he tried to make us understand that the way we view things may not be entirelly the way it should be. For instance, if we continue to view woment as a group of people who are nothing but house wives, those whose job are to make kids, we may never realise that women can do exploits in politics, music world, academics & so on. same way if the media continues to portray Afrians as lesser humans than white, it will become difficult if not impossible to realise the potential in them. Again if the prominent people around the glob became ideological about the media as purveyors of violence, it will not let them understand that to achieve any meaningful development in our world that the media must be at the forefront. Even those who criticise the media for being the cause of the Colorado High School shooting in 1999 still use the media to do so. Therefore, I see the media as indispensable so far human existence is concern because they sell ideas, products, worldview of personalities etc.