Stereotyping In Media


Over the years, media representation and portrayals of Native Americans and visible minorities have come under increasing scrutiny. Negative stereotyping, under-representation and tokenism, which means making little or no effort to give minorities the same opportunities that the majorities are given, are the most common charges that have been brought up against advertisers and news and entertainment media. Mass media portrayals of Native Americans and racial minorities are as likely to inform and reveal, as they are to misinform, conceal, and evade. There is no shortage of examples about information whose one-sidedness borders on propaganda. While some suggest these flaws are unintentional and easily corrected, others have no doubt that the conventions of these media industries create an environment that is hostile to visible minorities and difficult to change.

When we consider the bulk of films, TV sitcoms, news and advertising that we encounter every day, the statistics show that visible minorities and Natives are still proportionally underrepresented in the mass media, both on-air and off. In advertising, for example, Natives and visible minorities remain virtually invisible. In a 1989 study on billboard advertising in Montreal subway stations, the researchers found that minorities were featured on only one billboard from a total of 163 on display . In a 1994 report titled Cover to Cover, Media watch found that while 20% of the ads of Maclean s, a canadian magazine, contained people of color, there were entire issues of Reader s Digest and L actualite which had no ads with people of color .

Entertainment programming is only marginally betterboth in the United States and Canada. Like advertising, film and TV programs also tend to ignore visible minorities and Natives, particularly as main characters. Instead aboriginal peoples and visible minorities are simply used as window dressing, seen in the role of the cop, the judge, or the store clerk, but are seldom in a role central to the story. Not even the popular Thunderheart avoids these typical stereotypes. The movie portrays Natives as always having visions and also shows the Natives talking to the wind and talking to the water. These portrayals of talking to the wind and water seem to go hand in hand with having visions. This characterization of natives occurs in many more movies like Little Indian in the cupboard, Pocahantos, Dances with Wolves and the more recent one Thunderheart. These characterizations are unrealistic compared to today s society.

Native Americans and minorities have long complained of media stereotyping. Historically, minorities were represented in a manner consistent with prevailing prejudices and attitudes. Images of minorities were steeped in unfounded generalizations, virtually to the point of near parody. For example, media stereotyping of Natives dwelt on themes of the noble savage , the savage Indian, and the drunken Native. We notice these stereotypes in many of the recent movies like Thunderheart, where most of the Natives are portrayed as savages. The movie Little Indian in the cupboard is another example of stereotyping in the entertainment industry, which portrays the natives as the noble savage. Other racial minorities were labeled as dropouts, pimps, and drug pushers, which is evident in the portrayals of African Americans in the entertainment industry.

The movie Thunderheart is a classic example of the stereotypes that the media and entertainment industry use to portray Native American people. In the movie Native American people are considered dangerous and are portrayed as weird because they talk to the water and the wind. Another stereotype of Natives in that movie is of natives having visions. The main character in that movie Val Kilmer who is a half-Indian FBI agent seems to be having these visions about his past and his dad, who was a full-blooded Indian. Towards the end of the movie Val Kilmer finally realizes that he has Indian blood in him and acknowledges the fact that he is a true Indian, after having several of the visions that were just mentioned.

The effect of this stereotyping on Natives and minorities is that they are often portrayed as unusual or negative, and thus this poses a problem to minorities trying to live a regular, normal life in today s society free from these stereotypes. In conclusion, this stereotyping of minorities and Native Americans by the media is totally unrealistic and coveys false information and steps need to be taken to correct that.

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