Tracking the Reproduction of Discriminatory Ideologies Through The Media

Media has consistently been created and disseminated by those in the ruling class, as they are the ones who own the means of producing it (Marx 9). Therefore, media will reproduce ideology that reinforces the domination of the working class and the ‘naturalism’ of capitalism, as those are the ideas that allow for those who are in power to remain in power. Through the discussion of television, online social media and new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) I will discuss how media reproduces ideology that works to remove power from the larger working class through divisive stereotypes, consumption of culture and ‘colourblind racism’.

Media operates as an ideological state apparatus, presenting images that reinforce the ideology of the ruling class, which reinforce their domination over the working class (Althusser 81). Domination over the working class requires that those within it do not realize that they have an advantage over those in power. Due to the construction of capitalism, the working class is significantly larger than the ruling class, and if working in unison, the working class could overthrow the ruling one. Therefore, tensions are played up, portraying sub-groups as so inherently different from each other that there is no common ground to work on. This can be seen in the way that people of colour, women, LGBTQ2S+ groups and the individuals who comprise those groups have at one point or another been deemed ‘violent’ or ‘mentally feeble’; in order to evoke fear and naturalize police monitoring of those groups. This is despite White males being responsible (both historically and currently) for greater numbers of crime than any other demographic (Malka; U.S. Department of Justice).

Television reproduces ideology both explicitly and implicitly. Explicit examples include stereotypical characters who normalize representations of groups, while simultaneously degrading them. One can consider the treatment of transgender, queer, and homosexual characters on the show Friends (Lang), or the stereotypical representation of Asian characters on 2 Broke Girls (Nussbaum). However, the reproduction of ideology through television can be more implicit, suggesting that what is being shown is ‘normal’ or ‘natural’. Both aforementioned shows as well as many prime-time/popular shows have all-White main casts, with actors of other races being delegated to token characters that not only provide narrow representation but also uphold the “invisible norm” of Whiteness (Benjamin 2). This serves to normalize the domination and voices of White people, while also casting groups who are already marginalized as ‘side characters’ in life, whose values and voices are not appreciated or important. 

Online, this same ideology of White supremacy and domination is reproduced through the portrayals of people of colour by White actors who utilize the anonymity of social media platforms to ‘play a role’. Digital Blackface refers to the use of images and speech online that create caricatures of people of colour. This can include reaction gifs that play into the idea of the ‘angry Black woman’ as well as White writers anonymously performing as people of colour online through the use of African-American Vernacular English (Jones). This consumption and proliferation of stereotypical reductionist images functions as a way of “eating the other”, as it allows for White people to ‘dress up’ as people of colour without having to address the disadvantages that they live with (hooks 380). This performance serves to place culture as a costume that can be removed, which allows for racist ideology to be reproduced both in placing White as ‘neutral’ and ‘natural’, as it the base on which the costume is placed as well as reducing people of colour into further marginalized stereotypes. 

Finally, new technology has allowed for what Benjamin refers to as the “New Jim Code”, where supposedly neutral technology becomes instilled with racist ideology thereby speeding up and deepening discrimination (4). Technology such as AI and facial recognition software is presumed to be neutral and fact based, however, like all previously discussed mediums, it is created by the ruling class and is therefore instilled with their ideology. Cultural coding, such as people of colour being considered ‘criminal’, becomes embedded in programming, which can be seen through search algorithms that are more likely to associate Black names with criminal records than White ones (Benjamin 5). In the movie Coded Bias, facial recognition software is shown to leave out people of colour, as this technology is predominately created by White engineers. Therefore, the software has difficulty recognizing and differentiating Black faces, and either will not be able to see them, or will have a higher likelihood of mistaking them with someone else. This was shown in the London application of AI by the police force which misidentified and racially profiled individuals, attributing people of colour with criminality. 

As media is created by those in the ruling class, it leaves out the vast majority of people, who are either underrepresented or misrepresented through stereotypes. This allows for the use of media to reproduce ideology that ‘naturalizes’ the domination of those in power, as theirs are the only voices who are given attention. Those in power continue to diversify their outlets of spreading ideology, such as television, social networking and new technology. Resistance against this messaging involves critically examining what message is being received through a medium and who it ultimately benefits. 

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Media and Cultural Studies: Key Works, edited by Gigi Durham Meenakshi and Douglas Kellner,Blackwell, 2006, pp 79-87.

bell hooks (1992). “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” Media and Cultural Studies: Key Works, edited by Gigi Durham Meenakshi and Douglas Kellner,Blackwell, 2006, pp 366-380.

Coded Bias. Directed by Shalini Kantayya, 7th Empire Media, 2020.

Jones, Ellen E. “Why are memes of Black people reacting so popular online?” The Guardian (July 8, 2018). https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/jul/08/why-are- memes-of-Black-people-reacting-so-popular-online

Malka, Adam. “Why law enforcement has a blind spot for White male violence.” The Washington Post, 12 Aug. 2019

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. “Ruling Class and Ruling Ideas” Media and Cultural Studies: Key Works, edited by Gigi Durham Meenakshi and Douglas Kellner,Blackwell, 2006, pp 9-12.

Lang, Niko. “Here’s Your Reminder That ‘Friends’ Was Really, Really Homophobic.” Out. 1 October 2019. https://www.out.com/television/2019/10/01/heres-your-reminder-friends- was-really-really-homophobic

Nussbaum, Emily. “Crass Warfare” The New Yorker. 21 November 2011. https:// www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/11/28/crass-warfare

U.S. Department of Justice. ” OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Estimated number of arrests by offense and race, 2019.” 16 November 2020. https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/ ucr.asp?table_in=2

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