In “Tongues Re-tied” Riggs spoke of how critics refer to his film Tongues Untied as an affront to “community standards.” (p. 187) Riggs goes on to ask: “Whose community and whose standards?” In this, Riggs touches on the fact that media which pushes to represent anything departing from the heteronormative white experience is seen as inappropriate, while pervasive white and heteronormative representation in media is seen as neutral.

It is far from neutral.

As Riggs himself wrote, “mainstream American media […] serves merely to consolidate the myths, power, and authority of the majority: minorities might be granted the right to speak and be heard, but only if we abide by the “master codes” of courteous speech, proper subject matter, conventional aesthetics, and “mainstream” appeal.” (p. 187)

The mainstream media has such power in implicitly defining to a wide audience what should be seen as normal, and in that what should be seen as “deviating” from the norm (read: blasphemy, insulting, inappropriate, unfair). Further, it has the power to shape what representations of minorities we do see, and usually these still come from a hegemonic lens.

This reminded me of the way the media chose to represent Alton Sterling and Brock Turner, and the tweets below highlight this: the media used Turner’s yearbook photo instead of his mugshot, and would always emphasize his achievements as a swimmer at Standford and the bright future his conviction as a rapist got in the way of. Conversely, when news outlets reported on Alton Sterling’s death, they used an old mugshot of his (that had nothing to do with his murder) and immediately brought up his old criminal records. This is one of many examples of how the media, in the “subtlest” of ways, is led by and reinforces white supremacy.

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5 responses »

  1. carlywinant says:

    The comparison of how these two men are portrayed in the media is just disturbing. It makes me wonder how different Brock Turner would be treated by the public, the media, and the justice system if he were a person of color. They certainly wouldn’t be using that photo or talking about his swim records.

  2. ariatung says:

    This is just more proof of how the media is really harmful when presenting and covering news stories. How do news outlets feel ethical and okay making POC look like repetitive criminals while almost celebrating White men who commit crimes? It really makes me sick

  3. maddieglouner says:

    I have seen these posts on Twitter before and it is so appalling to see how much our media skews stories in a way that media literate people can recognize as being blatantly racist, but really manipulates the reactions of people who do not understand how the media is twisting their reports. I saw a tweet about how relaxed the justice system, punishment, and media reports have been on Brock Turner that stated “I have been using this tube of mascara longer than Brock Turner served time in jail”. The white patriarchy clearly still dominates our society and justice system which is really disheartening.

  4. I’m reminded of the Ryan Lochte incident in which he vandalized a gas station in Brazil, told the media he had been a victim, and when the truth was found out, the media acted as if it wasn’t a big deal. His white male privilege made him think there would be no consequences to his actions and while initially this seemed to be the case, many of his sponsors dropped him. Even with this outcome, this incident is an example of how untitled some people feel to a particular form of treatment. In addition to his actions in the gas station, Lochte contributed to a stereotype about Brazil being a dangerous and poor country, affecting people of color.

  5. lenapearlcole says:

    It is truly unbelievable that this type of slandering still takes place today. There was one hashtag justice campaign entitled #whichwouldtheychoose where people would post one picture of them looking neat and tidy, and another in a larger state of disarray–often exhibiting partying or intoxicated looks. This was a form of portraying how differently our perceptions get built by the imagery involved with a human image.

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