Representation Theory Simplified

The media literally re-presents the world to us. Dominant and oppositional arguments conflict e.g. on one hand the media is showing us how things actually are, on the other hand they are telling us how things should be (dictating representations, not just reflecting society).

The main representations we study in the media are:

➢ Masculinity
➢ Femininity
➢ Social Class
➢ Sexuality
➢ Race and Ethnicity
➢ National Identity
➢ Age

Hegemonic Cultural Stereotyping

This theory suggests that the media reinforces and circulates traditional ‘old fashioned’ representations and then re-presents them to audiences as common sense e.g. men and women should behave in a certain way:

• Masculinity – Bruce Willis in Die Hard 4.0, James Bond
• Femininity – Weak female characters in Eastenders (female victim) or Wendy in The Shining (dominant meaning)
• Social Class – the stereotype of Hugh Grant as the middle class twit in Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’ Diary or Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping up Appearances (aspirational working/middle class).
• Sexuality – Graham Norton (hyper real camp representation), Bruno.
• Race and Ethnicity – Ali G (exaggerated Asian stereotype)
• National Identity – Combo in This is England (racist beliefs)
• Age – Grandad/Uncle from Only Fools and Horses (old codger)

The key problem with hegemonic stereotyping is it could lead to passive consumption e.g. young male audiences could aspire to representations of James Bond and believe men should act in this way. Audiences could also believe all gay men behave in a camp, sexually suggestive way.

Hegemonic representation can also be connected to ideology e.g. hegemonic representations of masculinity can signify patriarchal ideology (male dominated society).

Pluralistic Representations

• Masculinity – Mr Muscle
• Femininity – Lara Croft who exhibits both stereotypical male and female characteristics (post feminist icon theory)
• Social Class – Withnail in Withnail and I (he comes from a wealthy middle class background but is ‘dirt poor’ and lives a dirt poor lifestyle)
• Sexuality – Brokeback Mountain (positive, strong representations of homosexuality)
• Race and Ethnicity (think of your own examples in the media that go against the stereotype).
• National Identity (think of your own examples)
• Age – Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire (no-one expects him to win because he so young and inexperienced).