The media, as a force of society, is extremely influential; and it grows more massive and more influential all the time. I doubt this is a trend that can be slowed, stopped, or reversed.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that there is something profoundly wrong with today’s society: people rarely think for themselves. If a movie, or a book, or a song depicts something as “good” or at least not “bad”- they accept it. Being someone’s ‘true love’ forever is always good, no matter what the person has done to you, your friends, or your ambitions. This is a theme I saw again and again.
Another is that all Arabs, Mexicans, feminists, or whatever “threatening” minority are always something. There is bias everywhere, from the racist themes of Pocahontas and the helpless females of Disney fairytales we grew up with, to Twilight’s complicit acceptance of domestic abuse (“preventing me from seeing my friends is all right because Edward loves me”). This goes nicely with the sugarcoated racism in The Help (note: the result of “the help” isn’t justice for the maids, but a new job for Skeeter, the white woman). How I would love to ban absolutes. Many people don’t see where these theories could be wrong; or worse, they do, but refuse to acknowledge it. This would mean changing their minds, which may prove difficult.
Currently, the media has been caving a little—only a little—to outside pressure advocating the accurate portrayal of the world and society. Gender roles and race stereotypes are often exaggerated for comedy, but some people have trouble figuring out where real-life representation ends and fiction’s dramatization begins. Also, all too frequently, there are “token characters” that are empowered in some ways, but hindered by stereotype in others (ex. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: she can be a brilliant assassin, but she still has to wear sexy, gender specific clothing with a lot of cleavage.
Despite this, I don’t believe we need to work against the media. It would be better if we worked from within the media to promote healthy and non-stereotypical representations of all people.
We’ll never be able to eliminate bias or wrong-headed themes in the media. And unlike most social activists, I think that’s okay. If we don’t have some problematic theories out there, people won’t be able to learn how to question them (see an ages-old argument for press freedom). My proposal is: when biased media comes out, speak out! Be the one to bring up its flaws and misrepresentation. Not in a buzz-killing, “This is wrong because…” way, but as questions. For example: Is it right of Edward to prevent Bella from visiting Jacob? Does this sound like a protective mate concerned for her safety, and why can’t Bella protect herself? Oh, and don’t forget the jealous boyfriend wanting to control her friendships, so there’s no threat to his monopoly on her life.
Okay, maybe that’s a little strong to start out, but critical thinking—enjoying the fantasy while at the same time realizing its flaws—this is the most important tool we have in creating a thoughtful and equality-oriented society.
And we have one great advantage in reducing stereotypes—the media itself. After all, the word stereotype implies a traditional sameness. And doesn’t the media want to be current, fresh, and envelope pushing?