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It's okay to metafandom or link to this post. Feel free. My finals are almost over anyway.

One of my posts recently got metafandomed, and I had a commenter tell me that it's not a problem if women are inadequately represented on TV. This is a surefire way to get me to end a conversation, as I'll just throw my hands in the air and declare it hopeless. That discussion didn't really go anywhere.

But I do feel it's entry-worthy. As it's apparent to anyone that I'm feminist girl and getting awesome female characters on screen is one of my big wishes for TV. And it's not just because I, personally, want to see more. It's because, yes, it's important. It's important for the same reason it's important to show racially diverse characters or characters of various sexual orientations or gender identities.

There's a simple fact: TV influences our world.

I recently went into this a bit with a friend, but that was a digression, so here. It gets its own topic now.

TV is an incredible invention. Most of us watch it from the time we're children. It's there with us throughout our life. You do not live in a bubble. You are part of society. And society is affected by the media. Yes, even you.

How much does your average person in America know about China? Without TV? Maybe they learn something about it in school, though just in relation to the US. They might know someone of Chinese ethnicity, though odds aren't good on that. They might hear the typical stories about China. But the conclusions they draw will largely be based on ignorance. They've never been.

How about if that person watched TV their entire life and watched some shows that had episodes set in China? How much more would they know? Would they be any more knowledgeable than they were without TV?

In a way, they would. They'd have more information. But most of that information is fed to them through the glossified fiction that is TV.

TV shows us a warped view of reality. As TV affects our world, our world also affects TV. However, the media takes our world and glamorizes it, changing it so as to be "marketable" or more entertaining.

Odds are, most of us are not world travelers. And yet, we feel we have knowledge on the world. We've seen different countries on TV, and we base our opinions on these cultures partially due to those images.

I've never been to Italy. But I've seen countless depictions of the country in various TV shows and movies. Do I know anything about Italy? Not really. All I know is whatever fictionalized version of it I've seen on screen.

I realize that. However, not everybody does. Some people will take the common tropes as TRUTH. On top of that, while I recognize that my view of some things may not be correct, I've been watching TV since I was a child. Who knows how much I picked up from it that gives me a false view of the reality? Especially as there are so many experiences I haven't had to counteract any of those beliefs?

Okay, you do live in a bubble. It's a shared bubble. It's the bubble that TV has created. The bubble is the world as the media shows it to us. The real world is outside, and very few of us will actually move outside the bubble to experience it.

*has established that point, moves on to next*

Given how extensively TV affects our perceptions of the world, what do we make of the fact that women are underrepresented or poorly portrayed? Ditto with racial and ethnic minorities and people of minority sexual orientations.

The latter are often invisible. Gay people don't exist to some people because they don't exist in much of our media. I spoke to someone who honestly believed that gay people didn't "exist" until the 70s cause that's about when she started hearing about them.

Racial and ethnic minorities often get the burden of stereotypes. The urban gangsta, the smart Asian, the lazy Mexican (And now the terrorist Middle Eastern person). If that's what we see portrayed on TV, without real-world examples to show us differently, this is what will oftentimes be believed. And some people don't have real-world examples to tell them differently.

The same happens with female characters. If females are always being rescued or only there to be the love interest, this will affect people's perceptions of women. Even with women around them because, the sad thing is women aren't immune to this, either. It affects their perceptions of themselves, making them think the most important thing in life is for them to find a man to marry. Because that's all the media shows them. The highest station in life a women can aspire to is to find a good husband.

I used this example with my friend, but it's a good one, so I'll share it with the rest of you guys.

It's hard to comprehend how much of an influence TV has on us. We're immersed in it. Our society has been immersed in it for a very long time, now. We have no point of comparison in our own culture.

So let me give you something to think about in that respect.

Fiji is an island in the South Pacific well-known for its bottled water and as the place that Dave Lister was planning on living in Red Dwarf. It also lacked widespread access to TV until 1995.

Some really shmart researchers decided they wanted to see how Western media influenced the society, especially eating habits and body images. Previously, the people there supported a body image of full-figured women with robust appetites.

They surveyed young girls both in 1995, before TV was introduced, and in 1998, three years after. The percentage of girls indicating an eating disorder jumped from 12.5% to 29.2% in those three years. Additionally, the number who reported self-induced vomiting as a form of weight control rose from none to 11.3%. Finally, 83% of the girls surveyed reported that they felt television "had specifically influenced their friends and/or themselves to feel differently about or change their body shape or weight".

Becker AE, Burwell RA, Gilman SE, Herzog DB, Hamburg P. Eating behaviours and attitudes following prolonged television exposure among ethnic Fijian adolescent girls. The British Journal of Psychiatry 2002.

We are not immune to these influences just because we're special. We're not immune at all. We're in the bubble. Most people just don't recognize it.

This is why it's so important to me to see more and better depictions of female characters on TV. This is why the treatment of the women on AtS upsets me. This is why there's imbroglios about the depiction of racial minorities going on around the blogosphere. And this is why I'm actually happy with RTD's "gay agenda" in New Who, despite my lukewarm feelings about the show, itself.

TV is a powerful tool. It takes our world, replaces the "fat" women with beautifully flawless ones, white-washes the racial minorities, relegates the gay people to the background and then sprays a bunch of glamor polish on it to make it "palatable" to the masses. It reflects our world in the most twisted of ways. And we accept that depiction and take it to heart. When a subject comes up that we have no personal experience on, we turn to what we've seen on TV to fill in our knowledge. We don't even know we're doing it. It's subconscious. "Facts" learned from TV are mixed in with years and years of other bits of knowledge, and we can't even distinguish one from the other. When we meet something in reality that contradicts what's been drilled into us by the media, we cling hold to our old perception and think of the real thing as the "exception".

You're wrong. Let me explain my lifelong experiences with television to demonstrate why.

I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about society.

Even in Fiji, 2 out of every 10 girls would tell you that TV didn't affect her. Congrats. You're one of the 2. But your existence doesn't negate the 8 girls who were affected.

Fine. There's a problem. What are you gonna do about it?

Whine and bitch on my LJ.

Listen, the problem is simply this: We're filling our ignorance with distorted information. The easiest way to rectify this is to find other ways of learning about the world. Reading books, talking to people, traveling. Instead of trusting the depictions of South America that we see on TV, read a book about South America or, hell, take a trip. Instead of learning all you need to know about Japan from anime, read about the country or visit, yourself. Talk to gay people. Know no gay people? Visit a PFLAG meeting. Odds are, there's one in your area. And read about feminism. Yes, women are all around, but we're stuck in a morass of discriminating perceptions and "traditional" ideas of gender roles. In order to break out of that, you need to educate yourself about the problem.

I still prefer watching guys more than girls.

Fine. I don't care. But don't fucking tell me it's not a problem that there's so few women on TV.

You are not the world. It's not "not a problem" if it doesn't bother you.

Isn't it reverse sexism to want to watch women more than men?

Don't make me smack you. Seriously.

Well, this entry has been fun. It was nice to take a break from studying Sociology to...talk about sociology. *headdesk* I am such a nerd.



May. 11th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
When it comes to women in media, British television series were like a revelation. I hardly watched any German TV, even when I was a kid (most of the good stuff is geared towards older people anyway), most of what I watched was American TV until a few years ago. And then I figured out how to illegally download episodes, and a few people on my flist loved these British shows.

Et viola: The women there actually looked like real people! They didn't all have "perfect" bodies and were still gorgeous. Not all of them were young and yet still hot. It was surreal, at first, because it was such a different world for me, despite the fact that these series were actually so much closer to my reality. They just clashed with the imagined reality that is still very much alive in my head. That reality was shaped by American TV shows and teen magazines. To me, at least, it is just as real as reality, and that's fucking scary.

Re Culture: I have no idea where the American ideas about Germany come from, but no, not all of us are Bavarians. In fact, I don't know any German who has ever been to the Oktoberfest. We don't all wear lederhosen either. And no American I talked to about it knew any of the weird German customs I grew up with.
May. 12th, 2009 01:15 am (UTC)
Oh, there is such a difference between American TV and other countries' shows. Unfortunately, American TV is so much more prolific and well-known, and it has the most insane standards of beauty. That's something that's always struck me because I did grow up watching British TV on our public television channel. I always noticed the difference between the "The look like real people" actors on those shows and the "Damn, I wish I could look like that" actors of the American shows.

We don't all wear lederhosen either.

Germans don't all wear lederhosen? You do all drink beer, though, right? ;)
May. 12th, 2009 01:27 am (UTC)
Unfortunately, it's not just TV either. The press starts speculating once an actress gains a bit of weight and makes rude remarks about it, and I think it's bleeding over into a lot of books as well. The female main character does of course have to be an attractive woman, especially if the PoV character is a man. (I don't know if it's different in books that are written mainly for a female audience, I don't generally read them.)

You do all drink beer, though, right? ;)

Well, we don't all drink beer (I hate the stuff), but there's a lot of local patriotism attached to it. I'm from around Bremen, so I am of course convinced that Becks is the best beer of the world. ;-P
May. 12th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
The press starts speculating once an actress gains a bit of weight and makes rude remarks about it,

Oh yes. Jessica Simpson got mentioned above. That and Britney Spears. Yes, her VMA performance that year was...bad. But dear word, she wasn't fat.

Not too sure on books, honestly. I read mainly non-fiction nowadays so I'm not up on what the trends are.
May. 12th, 2009 02:08 am (UTC)
That and Britney Spears. Yes, her VMA performance that year was...bad. But dear word, she wasn't fat.

She was, however, quite stoned.
May. 18th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
I don't know if it's different in books that are written mainly for a female audience, I don't generally read them.

I think there is a difference. I don't read massive amounts of books written for women, but I do read some, and it's quite often that they have women who are fuller figured (or even overweight) and otherwise don't look like the Hollywood image of beauty. Just think of Bridget Jones's Diary (and I KNOW I'm not the only person who thinks Renee Zellweger looked healthier with the weight she put on to make the film of BJD...)

Edited at 2009-05-18 10:29 pm (UTC)
May. 18th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
I KNOW I'm not the only person who thinks Renee Zellweger looked healthier with the weight she put on to make the film of BJD...

No, you're not. That was the first film I saw her in and I never got used to her being really thin.


The One Who Isn't Chosen

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