How many brands and logos can you name? How often do you see something you vaguely recognize and realize it’s from an advertisement you’ve seen? How often do you hear someone talking about a show or company or movie that you’ve heard of but haven’t really consciously been aware of?
How much do we internalize the media?
The media is a huge source of social norms and internalized behavior. Generally the mentality of big companies looking to profit is that if you see something enough times with some kind of positive influence, you’ll be more likely to choose something put out by that company. If it’s a really unusual advertisement, you’re more likely to remember it.
It’s also a huge source of our internalized social norms because of how often we see people and scenarios represented in those images and messages (overt and covert).
Given that we live in a very consumer-driven society, advertisements are almost everywhere. Entertainment media is not exempt from our conception of social norms. Movies, music, TV shows, video games – all of them are fed by and continue to feed our ideas of involve social norms and conceptions. It affects our language, our thoughts, our impressions of others before getting to know them, our actions.
Too often we see skinny, white women in scantily clad clothing promoting something that doesn’t require a lack of clothing or sexualized message. Too often we see men being portrayed as buff, dominating, suited up and in positions of power when advertising for the same products. Too often we see the token gay best friend character in movies and TV shows. Too often we see people of color in minor roles or roles with negative connotation. Too often being anything but straight is “just a phase,” or experimenting in college (often portrayed as a woman having tried being in relationships with other women) as a “sexy phase”. Too often we see Halloween or cosplay costumes rejected by children because that character was white or blonde or a different gender. Too often children are told to play with the “boy toys” or the “girl toys” and are assigned colors upon birth based on their sex. Too often we run into homophobia and transphobia that emerges as inconveniences and things to be ashamed of. Too often women who don’t shave are scolded for being too masculine, or men who put on makeup are scolded for being too feminine. Too often do we run out of space to list all the things that are wrong with social norms and roles that we see in the media and everyday life.
When did we decide all of these norms?
Representation matters. We are a world of many people – of many expressions, of many races, of many genders, of many sexualities, of many habits. We’ve begun to see a transformation of our norms and a transition into challenging the norms, but it’s still far from complete representation of all the people we have in the world.
The next time you see an ad, watch a show or a movie, play a video game, listen to a song, pay attention to who’s in it. How are they portrayed? How could it have been done differently? Changing these “norms” requires awareness of what’s wrong with it, and realizing ways to include more people and represent more identities. Pay attention to your surroundings, and realize what kind of society we live in so you can be part of the change towards equal representation!