Mediated Deviance and Social Otherness: Interrogating Influential Representations

By van Elteren, Mel | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview

Mediated Deviance and Social Otherness: Interrogating Influential Representations


van Elteren, Mel, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Mediated Deviance and Social Otherness: Interrogating Influential Representations Kylo-Patrick R. Hart, Ed. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.

This volume focuses on representations of social deviance from mainstream society in a diversity of media, including popular books, films, television programs, musical forms, Internet sites, news accounts, and advertising. It aims to offer a critical understanding of the various ways in which media representations influence and shape widely shared notions of deviance and social otherness that often have negative effects on real people. Most of the essays concern case studies of such representations in US media and culture from the 1890s to the present, with emphasis on the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Needless to say, these representations have, to a varying degree, also influenced other societies within the American cultural orbit. The contributors to the volume look more particularly at how members of various social groups (e.g., men, women, adolescents, senior citizens, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, gay men, lesbians, etc.) and/or various social phenomenon as experienced by individuals in a society (e.g., poverty, HIV/AIDs infection, etc.) are differentially portrayed in the media offerings concerned. They also consider how these representations in turn influence the ways in which recipients of those media contents perceive, and respond to, members of the groups or the lived realities of the social phenomena in question.

As the editor explains well in his brief introduction, the cumulative media messages about members of various social groups and social phenomena experienced by individuals in a society contribute substantially to the social construction of the historical and social reality in question. The resulting social constructions do not necessarily correspond to "social reality" in an objective sense, but they do influence the way in which individuals perceive their world and behave within it, whether these social definitions are "objectively" valid or not. Research in the mediarepresentation tradition generally seeks to answer the following related questions: What kinds of media images are presented of specific groups, and what do they reveal about their position in a culture? Who constructs these media images, and whose interests do they ultimately serve? What are the potential social consequences of the typical strategies used to represent these groups? What kinds of stereotypes are conveyed in such representations, and how can they be undermined or ultimately eliminated? (1-3). Understandably, not all of these questions are answered in each and every case described in this volume.

The book consists of six parts, focusing on age and generation differences (the greaser in juvenile delinquency films of the 1950s and the gangsta in ghetto action films of the 1990s; Lizzie Borden's archetypical wicked stepmother); crime and criminals (life in male prisons as depicted in the TV series Oz; Mike Leigh's 2004 film Vera Drake on backstreet abortionists in 1950s London; journalistic coverage of maternal infanticide); disease and disability (social and ideological implications of representations of AIDS in Kids, a popular teenage film, in African films, and in American film melodramas such as Philadelphia (1993) and Safe (1995); people with disabilities in Otto Preminger's 1970 film Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon); gender, race, and class (masculinity and outlaw country music; early 1900s sexual advice manuals, differentially targeted to white and African-American audiences; pop-rap music and female empowerment; interracial sex and social and self-cannibalism; the media discourse on the OJ. Simpson case); sexual orientation (homosexuality and fascism in Italian cinema films; lesbians and women-centered experiences in Showtime's television series The L Word; gay male youth, their coming-out narratives, and vulnerabilities when entering gay Internet chat rooms); and a residual category of forms of mediated deviance and social otherness (Krafft-Ebing's literary invention of masochism; turn of the twentieth-century "electric-bulb sign spectaculars" and cultured upper class fears that these encourage debauchery; entirely detached depictions of cruel, and frequently senseless, sexual behavior as experienced by the female protagonists in the controversial French novel Baisse-Moi). …

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