The mass media (television, radio, films, large-circulation magazines, newspapers, large-scale advertising) have often relied on stereotypes. In the early 1990’s, stereotypes still were common in the mass media, but progress had been made toward the eradication of stereotypes. Stereotypes contain assumptions that affect how society perceives a particular group; members of groups have protested, with varying degrees of success, stereotypical portrayals in the media. The number and varieties of stereotypes in the media is myriad and is not limited to stereotypes of ethnic or racial groups. Stereotypes may range from the perhaps merely annoying—the brainy boy in glasses (poor eyesight seems a requirement for intelligence in many forms of mass media)—to the most blatantly bigoted. One may argue that the mass media resists depicting life’s complexities generally, and that stereotypes are a part of the general pattern in mass media of the reduction of experience to what is most readily understandable.
Minorities are underrepresented in the mass media, and when represented, they are often portrayed in stereotypical ways. The television show Star Trek (whose episodes were first telecast from 1966 to 1969), for example, was groundbreaking in its casting of actors of various ethnic and racial origins. An interracial kiss in one episode was censored.
Despite the increase in representation of various groups, some taboos have persisted. Homosexuals, for example, or interracial romantic relationships have continued to be almost invisible in the mass media. Models from all racial groups have been involved in commercials and newspaper advertisements, but Arab, Asian, Latino, Native American, and other groups’ roles in the mass media have remained very limited. Stereotyping in the late twentieth century has persisted in other ways; for example, a police drama may feature partners who are white and black, but the black partner typically is not in the lead role.
Cursory research into the magazines, advertisements, radio shows, and films of the early twentieth century indicates that stereotyping was more prevalent and more virulent earlier in the century than it was later. The casual and prevalent presentation of stereotypes in the mass media of the early twentieth century, however, may concern those who look back upon it; they may ask themselves how their own time’s products of mass culture may look to the future. The social movements that began in the 1960’s, including the Civil Rights movement and the growth of feminism, and the awareness they generated among groups, are largely responsible for greater and less-stereotyped representation of different peoples in the media.
In television shows of the 1950’s to the 1970’s women were typically...
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In radio in the 1980’s and 1990’s, various hosts of shows, including Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern (both widely popular), jubilantly indulged in stereotyping, diminishing any sense that the displacement of stereotypes from the media is a matter of linear progress. These and other media figures have derided those who seek to end stereotyping, arguing that they are not obliged to follow the constricting rules of what is politically correct. That is, attempts to stop stereotyping may be viewed as acts of censorship, just as stereotyping may be viewed, because it denies people acknowledgement of their true experience, as a form of censorship. Strangely, then, those forms of communication that reach the most people are often involved in disputes about censorship.
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