As popular culture in the form of media has grown throughout the decades, along with our ability to access it, the effects it has on our society and the way we view the world have morphed with it. In a culture that is so in tune with what is going on around us near and far, through apps like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, or access to the Huffington Post, New York Times and Washington Post on our phones, it doesn’t take long for opinions and ideas to develop. But a new danger that lies in this double-edged form of communication and media consumption is misrepresentation. Misrepresentation comes in many forms. Under-representation or exclusion, discrimination, and even the words we use to label individuals and groups of people all fall under what I’m going to refer to as the umbrella of misrepresentation.
I was inspired to write about this subject after tweeting a joke about a Manic Pixie Dream Girl character, which then turned into a discussion of women’s representation in media. The MPDG is described as a female character whose only purpose is to help the male romantic lead grow and develop as an individual. The MPDG is also not given much depth as a character and given very little backstory — I always think of Zooey Deschanel’s character in the movie “Yes Man.” While speaking with a friend about the existence of the MPDG, I began to realize it was just a small cog in the machine of misrepresentation of women in mass media. I found myself upset, and almost in tears by the end of our conversation because I realized how much I felt that the effects of this misrepresentation affected my daily life. When women are misrepresented, the standards that are developed for how these female characters should act, look and speak are then mirrored onto what we expect from real women. And this is a major problem.
We live in a society that has been shown to uphold its members to unrealistic standards all because of how concepts and ideas are presented to us through the media. How are the ways we are discussing black lives changing the way we treat black individuals and other marginalized groups of people? We’ve all heard words like thug, gangster and vicious used as stock words to describe black individuals on the news, by politicians, in music — everywhere. But how seriously are we taking this? Do you think it is a problem? When the only images we are creating of these individuals are of violent criminals, how does this affect how we approach each other in reality?
I find it a problem, an even bigger one than we might think. The use of this kind of language in mass media, which is so accessible and influential in this day, is a form of violence. This is an issue that is not being taken seriously. This form of misrepresentation is leading to the perpetuation and strengthening of racism, and racist apologists. This form of misrepresentation is leading to violence in the way we speak about each other. This form of misrepresentation is creating a fear that millions are using to justify the murder of thousands of Americans during the last five years alone.
When we preach to the world that terror is spreading through our nation and we find a group of people to point our fingers at in blame, we are creating a death sentence for those people. It is our job to break down these stereotypes and misrepresentations within our communities. One of the only ways we can attempt to change the representation of others in media is to first correct how we represent others.