stereotypes in the media

Over the past couple of decades the usage of offensive stereotypes have played a big role in popular films, TV shows, music videos, and comedy routines today. In fact one can only argue that these offensive stereotypes have increased considerably and will only continue to grow. There are many reasons as to why these stereotypes have only increased and have led to the creators of these films making millions and millions of dollars.

The main reason behind this is making fun of race, color, poverty, and other cultures and using straightforward offensive words to do so is humorous to a large part of the US population. Although most of us would feel insulted if these offensive racial stereotypes were directed toward us. The purpose of comedy routines/films was to bring laughter for the media today, which was not the case decades ago. The reason why the media displayed much discrimination and stereotypes in the films was to portray minorities as dangerous, uneducated and unsuccessful.

Though now the media has showed much improvement in how they portray minorities, there are many films showing Blacks/Hispanics being the main character and successful such as Will Smith has played the heroic and professional character in many films such as Independence Day, Men in Black, Bad Boys etc. This has helped pave the way for Black’s reputation on the big screen and real life. Antonio Banderas is another actor who has been very successful in his career and received awards and nominations for his roles in movies where he has played famous Latin artists.

This is another positive way for minorities to be looked as equal to Whites in the media and not just be portrayed as the stereotypical characters. The media that helped make these diverse programs so successful for many years; the focus is on the entertainment rather than just the diversity and stereotypical views of minority characters. This has changed the mindset of many who thought that minorities were only to be displayed at delinquents on television. I believe Black and Hispanics characters will continue to grow on TV and the big screen.

On the comedic perspective, perhaps people will be able to see past all the stereotypical nd racial jokes because the media has gotten passed it. The film “Ethic Notions” was one of the first films that the media discriminated against black Americans from the early 1900s to the present. It showed the appalling ideas and thoughts that whites presented through the media about black people in America. As a result, blacks were depicted in the media as frightening savages. A Broadway play was introduced in which black males tried to attack young white virgins. Even black children were depicted as unruly savages. Whites created degrading nursery rhymes in which the children played violent games and accidentally killed each other.

Such images were put forth to suggest that blacks needed to be controlled and that America should return to the “good old times” with slavery. 20th century the images and the depiction of black Americans didn’t change at all. The only difference now is the hate is now on film. Blacks began to enter theater and they used it as a step in the right direction to get out of the south and start a new life with opportunities. Through the 1940s the blackface became discarded but its image left its mark on society. Soon cartoons became the voice for racism.

This way when any violence or mistreatment were occurring it would be entertaining and humorous. The cartoons had the power to influence young minds to see stereotypes as being entertaining by making references to black. Movies and crime shows have often show Black and Hispanic males as the offender, running from the police, being disrespectful or involved in hostile situations. The problem is not that they show this behavior but they show it constantly, over and over again, overwhelmingly portraying negative images, and therefore, racial stereotypes of Black and Hispanic males. This, in turn, perpetuates racial stereotypes.

Showing these images repeatedly creates a racial stereotype in the minds of those watching. Pretty soon the viewer believes all Black and Hispanic males act a certain way. Movies, in particular the ones about gang violence or living in urban areas, focus on black males committing crimes, running from the police, and being hostile or angry. A movie called Menace to Society, which was produced by Black men, was a complete disservice and totally negative portrayal of black men. These same producers could have produced a movie showing black men in a positive light, instead of getting caught up the desired “street life” and erpetuating the myth that there is something good and respectable about being a thug and involved in criminal activity. Other movies like Colors portrayed black men as animals, showing no emotion and knowing nothing more then to engage in violent, criminal behavior, a racial stereotype. They could be used to raise awareness for the following reasons: fight against the belief of these stereotypes, to show how hurtful these stereotypes can be, and the fact that they exist today and are causing harm one way or another.

On the other hand in most music video and comedy routines they are used to bring laughter, to show that offensive stereotypes sell, and lastly to show that we should not be bothered by these stereotypes because it is only those who are ignorant and negative that use these stereotypes to cause harm. The first one is because humor keeps society entertained and shows individuals to not take the issue so serious, and humor breaks tension between different races to not make feel people inferior to others. The second one shows that inter-racial skits in movies/shows do well in box office/television.

For example a hit show out now is Modern Family, they have a character played by Sofia Verger, who plays a Colombian woman and is married to a White man played by Ed O’Neil who is a remarried man alongside with her son from her previously marriage back in Colombia. This show demonstrated the life of an inter-racial marriage and their own comedic ways whether it be Sofia yelling at Ed and he does not understand a word she is saying because of her accent or Sofia dragging Ed to a Spanish fiesta also known as a Spanish formal party.

This is a very popular show that has received high ratings and does well for the ABC network. The last one is to show we are all in this country for the same opportunities and there are many celebrities from different races who have done well for themselves. Ultimately it is up to us whether we blame the media for reinforcing these stereotypes or we thank them for bringing this to our attention through comedy or documentaries and it does not matter who is producing the content but how we are influenced by it in a positive way.

Another hit show mentioned by S. Robert Lichter and Daniel R. Amundson, was I Love Lucy, with the character of Cuban band leader Ricky Ricardo played by Desi Arnaz and his wife played by Lucille Ball. This show was based on Lucy’s schemes and adventures going wrong with a touch of Ricky’s comedic way and displays of “Latin” temper. I Love Lucy was the most-watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons. Even though this was not the break-through for Hispanic characters on television it had high ratings and Ricky’s character was not displayed as a villain, criminal, or threat to society simply as an ordinary man trying to make a living as an up and coming Cuban singer in New York.

Lichter and Amundson mentioned that this and other show shows with Spanish characters such as Chico and The Man did not explore the Latin culture or Hispanic contributions to American history, ethnic comedies became the hottest new TV trend in the 1970s. It is not surprising that Latinos were depicted in stereotypic negative ways by the mass media when they are also denied access to positions of employment where they might help to produce more realistic and humanistic portrayals of themselves.

When the media refers to or are revolved around offensive racial stereotypes there will always be an argument as to whether the film should reinforce or subvert the stereotypes. It would be nice to think that we can all be influenced from childhood to not judge or take offense from stereotypes that have been made by the media but rather laugh it off and not take insult from it. Our nation abides by one of the most important amendments, which is freedom of speech that is protected by the First Amendment to the United States of America and by many state constitutions, state and federal laws.

Judgment of the government and advocacy of unknown ideas that people may find offensive or against public policy, such as racism, sexism, and other hate speech are generally permitted in the media. There are many organizations that support the first amendment, one being The Creative Coalition, which was formed for the charitable and educational purposes of bringing together artists and entertainers to learn about pressing issues so they can better teach and influence the community and our nation.

Their programs focus on their special services to its members to help prepare them for public roles as advocates and spokespeople for The Creative Coalition program. The Coalition believes informed advocacy is the way to be an effective advocacy, and encourages the continuing education of its members as they exercise their rights as citizens in public settings I must admit it does not help when the media focus on crime, drug use, gang violence, and other forms of anti-social behavior among African-Americans, it presents a misconception of all African-Americans.

When a Black actor is chosen to play the villain in a violent movie, this plays into the hands of those who believe the stereotypes. The consequence of this; was that it brainwashed and influenced society to have their set perspective on Blacks/Hispanics on who they were in America. This was unfair and unreasonable for minorities; this left many to think whether it was safe to be around minorities. For example in the documentary “Ethnic Notions” it takes you back in time when Blacks were used as slaves, and why the evolution of racial stereotypes started in America.

The media can have control of this stereotype that has grown into the minds of White American if they continue to use a diversity of actors/comedians and movies based on different cultural experiences from each individual. With the continuation of using a diversity of backgrounds in storylines of movies and educating our children to not fall into the racial stereotype beliefs, we can decrease this misconception portrayed in our media today. For example like Justin Lewis and Sut Jhally used The Cosby Show, as a form to reconstruct race and role of social class should be looked at in television.

As Bill Cosby was a physical education teacher, which help pave the way for African Americans as he represented that his race can also become part of the middle class. The episodes brought some humor, but the show concentrated on bringing out intelligent character studies and real-life situations. The Cosby show was created to change the ways African Americans were portrayed on television and was the turning point for racial tolerance for white viewers that Blacks have become ordinary and could be successful professionals. The Cosby Show had much success with high ratings on television from 1984-1990.

This show was a proof that the media did not need stereotypes to be funny it actually challenged stereotype. In the media today Hispanic characters were less likely to play the villain than they were in the 1992 network prime time schedules. On a positive note, according to Lichter and Amundson, the drop in criminal portrayals is down 63 percent, which is better than it was before 16 percent. For new reality series some of the highest changes were seen in shows such as COPS an America’s Most Wanted in 1994-1995 the crime rate for both Hispanics and Blacks lowered down from 45-16percent for Latinos and from 50-20 percents for Black criminals.

This is a huge improvement for society and minorities. In conclusion, from the information provided above the media has came a long way from representing minorities on the big screen/TV as the typical stereotype such as the villain, criminal, or from the lower class. The media did help characterize minorities into a negative character on television but has also paved the way for much success for the minority celebrities in the media. Therefore we can sit and take offense on racial jokes or stereotypical characters but it should not be instilled in us to judge or take offense on this.

The media has actors such as Ricky Ricardo and Bill Cosby who have shown much success in their careers; also two actors from different races such as Antonio Banderas to Morgan Freeman have shown success today. These actors today have been portrayed, as the heroic and villain character in movies but this should not give a reason to stereotype their race. As much as these stereotypical materials are used in the media, it is only used to entertain audiences and to continue to bring back their targeted audiences.

The same also goes for comedians with their racial jokes, it is simply used to attract their audiences and keep them entertained through laughter, that why we have seen comedians such as Eddie Murphy, Dane Cook and George Lopez mocking not only those from their own race but from other races, because they know this will sell and bring back their audiences. Society has come a long way from setting stereotypes and making judgment on how minorities are portrayed in the media by the changes made in the media and the success it has brought to TV as well as to prove on reality shows.


1. Freedom of speech that is protected by the First Amendment to the United States of America and by many state constitutions, state and federal laws ( First Amendment wikipedia 2010 par. 1) 2. Gallager, Charles A. (2008) Rethinking the Color Line: Television and the Politics of Representation, Distorted Reality: Hispanic Characters in TV Entertainment 302-320 3. Riggs, Marlon (1986) Ethnic Notions

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