Stereotyping is a mental activity that is neither natural or necessary; however, due to laziness, upbringing or coincidental experiences (Lester, 1996, p.1), the stereotyping of individuals results in harmful generalisations that ultimately deny an individual's 'unique contribution to humanity' (Lester, 1996, p.1). When the mass media engage in stereotyping, misleading representations concerning members from diverse cultural groups are confirmed. In this essay, a broad range of texts will be used to examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age, as well as how the media shape one's imagination though direct images.
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In addition, they are more likely to be portrayed in a recognisable occupation, demonstrating to audiences that males are more career orientated and dedicated to work, and emphasising stereotypes that they are the traditional 'bread winners' of the household. Alternatively, females are cast into the role of the caregiver (Thompson and Zerbinos, 1995, cited in Newman, 2000, p. 136). Despite the fact that women make up a majority of the population, most prime time characters on television are male (Smith, 1997, cited in Newman, 2000, p. 136), and are still portrayed as powerful and rational. Women express emotions more easily and are more likely to be flirtatious in order to get their own way.
Similarly, in print advertising, women were seen to be in the home, being dependent upon men, and not making 'independent and important decisions' (Creedon, 1989, p. 249), and are often viewed by themselves and by others as sex objects. In addition, the symbols involved in advertising often have a more profound influence on social behaviour than the stated messages the advertising wishes to put forward. Thus, gender divisions are often symbolised in 'what goes on in the setting or the background of a commercial' (Giddens, 1989, p. 446), rather than what it is explicitly selling. In many advertisements, men appear mentally and physically alert, while women are shown gazing into the distance in a dreamy way (Goffman, 1979, cited in Giddens, 1989, p. 446).
A central gender concern is that advertising is a 'shorthand form of communication' (Creedon, 1989, p. 249) that must make contact with the consumer immediately, in order to establish a shared experience or identification, and is most popularly undertaken through stereotypical imagery. In turn, these images form the 'cores of [one's] personal tradition, the defenses of [one's] position in society' (Creedon, 1989, p. 249), thus reinforcing the social stereotype.
Children also receive gender lessons. Understandably, most research about the influence of television and the media has concerned children, given the sheer volume of their viewing and the 'possible implications for socialisation' (Giddens, 1989, p. 444). In their literary pursuits, books have the capabilities to teach children what other children do in their culture and what is expected of them. In a study undertaken in America analysing preschool books, boys played a 'more significant role' in the stories by a 'ratio of 11 to 1' (cited in Newman, 2000, p. 135). Together, boys were portrayed in adventurous roles or undertook activities that required independence and strength, whereas girls were likely to be confined to indoor activities and portrayed as 'passive and dependent' (Newman, 2000, p.135).
Similarly, the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around ethnicity, particularly through their stereotypical images and portrayal of ethnic groups performing certain roles in society. Sociological approaches which attach particular...