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.
CNN got #AltonSterling's mugshot quicker than they got Brock Turner's. Wow.