Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gross Underrepresentation as Symbolic Annihilation

In keeping with the theme of media literacy, the representation (including the under-representation) of black people on television is important to consider. Edward Wyatt’s article No Smooth Ride on TV Networks’ Road to Diversity addresses how even after we have elected our first black president, television still doesn’t reflect diversity as well as it could.

“In October two prominent cable networks — CNN and Comedy Central — began new programs that featured black hosts, a development that was notable because so few current programs on cable or broadcast channels have minority leads” Wyatt said. Unfortunately, five months later, both shows have been or will soon be discontinued. “In a report issued last December, the N.A.A.C.P. said that the number of minority actors in regular or recurring roles on three of the four major networks had decreased markedly in the 2006-7 television season from their peaks several seasons earlier. Only ABC showed an increase in the number of minority roles during that time, according to the report, which lamented the ‘gross underrepresentation of minorities’ in scripted entertainment.”

That gross underrepresentation also relates to the phrase “symbolic annihilation,” which suggests that when a group of people (in this case African Americans) are so underrepresented that they are excluded by the media in representation. When we don’t see black people on TV, it’s as if to say black people don’t matter enough to be included in the media’s idea of what society looks like. It will be interesting to see what the new pilots involving African Americans will be like. As one sign of an incentive, NBC has worked to give extra money to those developing shows that include minorities in the production and writing staff.


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