Getting a good rep

The process of representation between the reference, production and reception

Representation within media texts has always been a source of contention within a number of groups in society. For a good representation, you need it to be as true as possible. But, that also means that it must be able to be negative as well as positive. Likewise, reinforcing bad representations can cause a lot of controversy. It’s a fine line and there’s no easy answer.

Generally, a positive representation is designed to encourage a group of people. Disabled people for example – positive representations can empower. However, on the flip side, the negative ones (again, generally) are designed to highlight the problems faced by real people in the social group – a gritty look at what they have to cope with on a daily basis.

A whole host of stereotypes: Forrest Gump - the "super-crip" and "sweet and innocent", Lt. Dan - "aggressive avenger", "outcast" and the "pitiable/pathetic"

Representation of women in films can often be a very sore subject. Some argue women fit neatly into stereotypes, a list that excludes women from being anything other than a damsel, a femme fatale, a sexual object, etc… There are arguably some “girl power” movies, but I’ve heard that even then, they perpetuate myths about women. It’s understandably a contentious issue – after all the very nature of the need to “represent” is to arrange people into groups and label them. And it’s also true that one of the few “groups” to not need representation is white, middle aged males (since they represent “anyone”). We find ourselves in a predicament – to have representations in the first place is to label and stereotype, either negatively or positively, thus anyone outside of the white, middle aged males will automatically be reduced to an archetype.

An example of this is Terminator 2. One feminist argues that it strips down the femininity of one of the main characters – Sarah Connor. Ergo, in order to actually have a woman capable of fending off a robot bent on destroying the future and killing your son, you need to masculise her – turn her into a him (metaphorically). I can see that point. But by the same token, put in the femininity and the motherly love back into Sarah Connor. How do you show this and have her firing guns and physically protecting John from the T1000? It doesn’t seem particularly feminine to me.

Sarah Connor, almost mirroring the look of a Terminator - sunglasses, big gun and unemotional

But gender is just one of the “representation groups”. In fact, anything can be a group, so long as it’s different from the “white, middle age males”. Each one can be argued to reinforce negative stereotypes, either by “normalising” them or by not “normalising” them. So long as we think in stereotypes, we’ll see in stereotypes.

So what’s the way out of this paradox? Accepting that a character can be just a character. To stop reading in groups altogether. Everything has representation, so long as you want it to. The time to look out is when the filmmaker themselves has created something with a stereotype in mind. And there are those that do that.

This is a person writing this, not a mid 20’s British white guy.


2 Comments on “Getting a good rep”

  1. Emily says:

    I whole heartedly agree with you on this. And I will add that this seems to be steering into a bit of Queer Theory territory, which is a good thing.

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