The Double Standard in the Outrage of Stereotypes and Representations in Media

By Bruce Thomas

The theme for my playlist is a combination of the use of stereotypes and representations in pop culture and the media and the double standard that has developed recently in our new “politically correct” society. Most of my clips are comedic representations of a stereotype that is “allowed” in society because it is done by people who “fit” that stereotype. For example, some of my clips are African-American males making fun of a black stereotype and one is of an African-American sports commentator criticizing a black quaterback’s “blackness.” The final text is a cartoon showing the double standard in acceptance of an openly gay professional athlete, Jason Collins, and an openly religious athlete, Tim Tebow. This theme stands out to me because since we are going to such great lengths to try and eliminate stereotypes, the idea that the stereotypes mentioned are okay only hurts the progress made and reinforces the same stereotypes we have been trying to eliminate. It doesn’t matter who he is reflecting these ideas: they should be criticized the same regardless.

This nationally known Key and Peele clip draws rave reviews for its comedic genius and for poking fun at some of the names of young black athletes in today’s society. The double standard comes in with this approach: If two white males had created and performed this skit, society would be up in arms about the racist ideologies and insults that were demonstrated. There is no doubt the NAACP would have its share of comments about how heinous this skit was towards the perception of young black people’s names. In Dyer’s “Introduction,” part of his Essays on Representation, he says that “how we are seen determines in part how we are treated; how we treat others is based on how we see them; such seeing comes from representation.  The representation of… other oppressed groups was, and by and large still is, a relentless parade of insults.” Also, Anna Holmes, in her article  about the show “Girls” that criticizes the lack of minority characters despite the New York City setting, mentions that “It did not seem like much of a stretch to say that one could draw a direct connection between the post-modern hipster ‘irony’ of someone who thinks that racial insults are amusing and the show’s (perhaps inadvertent) erasure of a large swath of the city’s inhabitants.” Dyer’s and Holmes’ comments bring up an interesting question: Why is this skit, performed by two black men, acceptable by society despite reinforcing racial stereotypes that come from how we see others, when Holmes’ amusing “racial insults,” as well as the show’s representations as a whole, are criticized and deemed unacceptbale ? In sum, this “text” is used in comedic form to reinforce dominant ideologies, but this is accepted because of who is producing it, hence the double standard.

“Dubstep.” Key and Peele. Writ. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Dir. Peter Atencio. Comedy Central, 2012. Retreived from YouTube. 28 Sep. 2013.

I chose this song by Jay-Z and Kanye West, but really, any number of songs could have been chosen that represent the use of the “N-word” in everyday society. In rap and hip-hop, as well as everyday culture, black youths, and, now a days, even some white youths, and some adults use the “N-word” numerous times as a term of endearment, greeting, and other forms. There is no need to go into the history of the word as being used as the ultimate insult to African-Americans, and the casual use of the word in contemporary society only adds to the confusion of not only what is acceptable in popular culture with regards to race, but why the “N-word” has been adapted as an acceptable word used by only African-Americans (usually) when talking about another person. Thinking oppositionally, one may argue that the producers of these multimedia texts, mostly white men, want the word to be used often in order to reflect the dominant ideologies. One could also argue that the word is used as sort of a reverse form of protests from African-Americans that want to change the meaning.

However, texts that use the “N-word” only blur the lines in society of what is allowed to be said and by who, and which messages should be interpreted negatively and which ones should be interpreted solely as entertainment. Brooks and Herbert note that “Media, in short, are central to what ultimately come to represent our social realities” (297).   Since media is central to our understanding of reality, what effect does the blurred lines of racial representations have on our critique of mass media and our acceptance of some media but not others?

West, Kanye and Jay-Z. “Niggas in Paris.” Watch the Throne. 2012: Roc-a-Fella Records, LLC/Shawn Carter. Retrieved from YouTube. 2 Oct. 2013.

This scene from “Grown Ups” is a little different than the previous two clips because, since it was from a movie, it was done much more collaboratively than the Key and Peele clip and the Jay-Z/Kanye West song. In this text, the characters of Chris Rock and Tim Meadows are playing on the stereotype of one black guy in a predominately white suburb, and they are arguing over whose town it is, and which one of them scares the white people more when they walk into a store. In Douglas Kellner’s work, he talks about the three levels of production in media: production, or who is producing and deciding what to portray in a cultural text, the text itself, or what is being said, and the reception, which is how different people and groups react to the same text.

All three of these levels can be critiqued when it comes to the double standard of stereotypes. First, thinking from a feminist and oppositional perspective, one can argue that the producers and directors of films, like this one for example, who are still usually predominately white, can use a member of a minority group to reinforce existing, hegemonic ideologies, like, for example, that white people are and should be scared of the “one black guy” that lives in their suburb. Greg M. Smith notes as much when he says about the production of film, “Nothing in a final film is there unless scores of professionals have carefully examined it” (129). The text itself uses humor to touch on the subject of race relations in a predominately white suburb, and by its use of African-Americans jokingly fighting over the right to stake claim to the white people in the town, they are allowed to resort to the idea of scaring white shoppers in the store. The reception part is where the double standard comes in: the clip itself is a stereotype of white dominance in affluent suburbs, but because of the humor and who is speaking (African-Americans), the clip is portrayed and received as funny and acceptable. Had, for example, Kevin James and Adam Sandler commented on which black guy “belongs” to the town and scares them more, it is obvious that the reception would be received with much more uproar and disgust, even though they’re saying the same thing as what Rock and Meadows say.

Grown Ups. Dir. Dennis Dugan. Perf. Chris Rock, Tim Meadows, Kevin James, Adam Sandler. Colombia Pictures, 2010. Retrieved from YouTube. 3 Oct. 2013.

(I recommend watching the second part of this clip as well; very interesting). Let me first preface this analysis by saying that personally, as a white man, I am in no way qualified to speak on behalf of the black community and their everyday feelings and thoughts to this subject. However, with that being said, I felt like this clip was perfect for my theme of the double standard in racial stereotypes. Not only would a white man never be heard on the airwaves again for saying this, Rob Parker (the first man who spoke, who was later suspended from ESPN) and his comments only add to the difficulties of black Americans who are trying to make it in America everyday. To question someone’s “blackness” and their behavior only reinforces the idea that a black man should act a certain way, which is ambiguous in itself and obviously would mean acting in the way that black men are stereotyped, which reinforces hegemony and white dominance. Parker brought up Griffin’s fiancee and him being a Republican, and Parker’s comments reminded me of Miss Representation, where the women who spoke talked about the difficulties for women to advance and destroy stereotypes when they are constantly bringing each other down. Dines, as cited by Brooks and Herbert, “points out that although racial codings of masculinity may shift depending on socioeconomic conditions, black masculinity continues to be constructed as deviant” (306). The point is that since blacks are so often portrayed negatively in the media, when someone like Griffin III, who is educated, well-spoken, has a voice and has made it, has the ability to repel stereotypes, he should be applauded, not scorned. The equality that millions of black people strive for every day is all for naught if they attack one of their own for being himself and attempting to not be defined only by his skin color, which is one of the pillars in the fight for equality.

ESPN First Take. ESPN, December 13, 2012. Retrieved from YouTube. 3 Oct. 2013.

This cartoon says a lot about where we are at in society today. Jason Collins’ historic announcement last spring that he was gay had a huge impact on the sports world, as he was the first active openly gay professional athlete. Just like the cartoon says, however, Tim Tebow, who is known for his strong religious beliefs, is often times denounced because of his strong faith. This speaks to a larger problem in society today: It seems that as we rightfully become more and more accepting of homosexuals, we seem to be denouncing more and more Christianity and religious people. Isn’t the point to be able to be yourself, without having to worry about what others think? If we continue to ostracize religion in society, and disallow, for example their views on gay marriage, we are just flipping the script as to what it was like previously, when homosexuals could not speak their mind and be themselves without worrying about consequences.

Klein, in her chapter “Patriarchy Gets Funky,” says that “The more importance we placed on representation issues, the more central a role they seemed to elbow for themselves in our lives-perhaps because, in the absence of more tangible political goals, any movement that is about fighting for better social mirrors is going to eventually fall victim to its own narcissism” (109). The representation of these two athletes is a small part of the social movement we are experiencing today, and instead of criticizing an aspect of Tebow’s personal life while (rightfully) praising the historic aspect of Collins’ announcement, why not accept them both for who they are as people, and focus on their performance in their respective sports, not what they do in their free time?

Stantis, Scott. “Collins, Tebow, and the Media.” Photograph. Chicago Tribune. Taking a Stantis, 30 Apr 2013. Web. 5 Oct. 2013.

Playlist Analysis

People may argue that this playlist is only trying to play devil’s advocate and make excuses as to why there have been poor and nonexistent representations of minorities and oppressed groups in the past. That is not the case, however. It is important as consumers to recognize and understand what the new representations in popular culture are telling us. It is difficult to do that, however, when what has been “changed” still reflects the same ideas that we are trying to prevent.

All of these texts create a dichotomy in popular culture as to what is acceptable and what is not. Whether it is the use of the “N-word” as a casual term or calling a fellow African-American a “cornball brotha” (First Take), the idea that stereotypes are allowed if conveyed by someone who is a member of that stereotype only blurs the lines of what is being represented and what should be accepted in popular culture. Kellner mentions that “[w]e are immersed from cradle to grave in a media and consumer society and thus it is important to learn how to understand, interpret, and criticize its meanings and messages” (9). Couple that with Dyer’s work that states that “how social groups are treated in cultural representation is part and parcel of how they are treated in life, that poverty, harassment, self-hate and discrimination (in housing, jobs, educational opportunity and so on) are shored up and instituted by representation” (1), and one can see how it is difficult to decipher what these messages mean to individuals. Why is the use of the “N-word” by African-Americans okay if it stands to represent them so horribly? In order for us to truly move forward in regards to popular culture and representation, we must not allow stereotypes to be reinforced at all, regardless of who is doing the talking. Similarly, why must one man’s beliefs (Tim Tebow) be told to be kept silent while we simultaneously praise one man’s (Jason Collins) courage for being himself? Isn’t the point in the fight for equality that we don’t ostracize somebody for their beliefs, or skin color, or sexual orientation? We must praise both Collins and Tebow for being themselves, and focus on the fact that they are a face in the media that people can look up to and see themselves being represented.

So who is to blame? Well, according to these various texts, there is plenty of blame to go around. First, people in the production level, who have a hand in the production of texts, like Grown Ups for example, can use this double standard in order to circumvent criticism yet still reinforce hegemonic ideologies. Second, activists who want to change representations of people in popular culture need to look in the mirror and recognize the double standard that exists. Key and Peele’s skit should be criticized the same way as other forms of media have been that are stereotypical of African-Americans. The people who are most important in seeing the forest through the trees are us as consumers. We must A) not be defined by what we see and B) recognize that it is irrelevant who is doing the talking if they are saying something stereotypical and detrimental to an oppressed group. Bausinger, as cited in Lull’s piece Hegemony, talks about how the influence of mass media, and therefore hegemony, often goes “undetected” because information and entertainment technology “is so thoroughly integrated into the everyday realities of modern societies” (63). With that being said, it is imperative that we equally criticize whatever stereotypes we see represented of people in media, because, as we have seen, there are many ways these ideas can still be reinforced without being criticized.

Bibliography 

“Dubstep.” Key and Peele. Writ. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Dir. Peter Atencio. Comedy Central, 2012. Retreived from YouTube. 28 Sep. 2013.

Dyer, Richard. “Introduction.” The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation. New York: Routledge, 1993. 1-5. Print.

ESPN First Take. ESPN, December 13, 2012. Retrieved from YouTube. 3 Oct. 2013.

Grown Ups. Dir. Dennis Dugan. Perf. Chris Rock, Tim Meadows, Kevin James, Adam Sandler. Colombia Pictures, 2010. Online. Retrieved from YouTube. 3 Oct. 2013.

Holmes, Anna. “White ‘Girls.’” The New Yorker. April 23, 2012. Web.
<http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/04/lena-dunham-girls-race.html&gt;

Kellner, Douglas. “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in
Media: A Critical Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011. 7-18. Print.

Lull, James. “Hegemony.” Media, Communication, Culture: A Global ApproachNew York and Chichester, UK: Columbia University Press, 1995. 61-65. Print.

Miss Representation. Dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom & Kimberlee Acquaro. Perf. Christina Aguilera, Michele Bachmann, Chris Baker. Girls Club Entertainment, 2011. Online.

Smith, Greg M. “‘It’s Just a Movie’: A Teaching Essay for Introductory Media Classes.” Cinema Journal
41.1 (2001): 127-134. Web.

Stantis, Scott. “Collins, Tebow, and the Media.” Photograph. Chicago Tribune. Taking a Stantis, 30 Apr 2013. Web. 5 Oct. 2013.

West, Kanye and Jay-Z. “Niggas in Paris.” Watch the Throne. 2012: Roc-a-Fella Records, LLC/Shawn Carter. Retrieved from YouTube. 2 Oct. 2013.

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