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The Role of Privilege in American Talent Shows

Looking at the link between the media in the US and in the UK, there is a number of significant differences, especially in content that has not been imported but rather adopted from the US into the UK and vice versa. The American media is notoriously patronizing in the way the shows are doctored to keep viewers from analyzing them. The American media showcases content with dramatic background music and narratives in a bid to prevent viewers from having to digest the content for themselves and be objective about it. When adopted for the UK audience, these shows are often toned down and left for viewers to analyze and understand, and even critique. What we see here is that the media industry is not limited to creating socio-cultural contexts, but rather to portraying what exists, unlike the American version which labors tirelessly to create images that are not entirely real (Kellner 9). When these American shows are compared to their British versions, it is often clear about the agenda of the American media. The idea is to create a perception that covers up the real embarrassing truth on subjects like racism, gender equality, and meritocracy among others. Thus, it is quite important to note that the American media is more fictitious than truthful in aspects of social, cultural, historical, and political contexts.

Political economy can be defined as the way in which the state controls the means of production through labor laws and taxation among other things. In this context, there is quite a number of ways through which the media plays the role of a regulator by showing content that compels the audience to think in a certain way (McIntosh). The media is solely responsible for propagating so many unproven notions about policies and proposals in a bid to sway public opinion in support or against these. Over the past decades, the media, especially in America, has been credited with a great influence over the general public with regards to the nation’s political economy. The government controls the media in a discrete and indirect way. The media is a business that needs to be profitable, and the government has the corporate machinery to make these media houses rich (Shohat & Stam 56). This thus means that the government officials have a say in the kind of content that is aired based on their interests and connections in the capitalist world. The capitalist world for a country like the US is basically the entire government given the fact that it is largely run by corporate and not the elected leaders. In this sense, the media is held on puppet strings and is led to create content which suits the interests of the government and the corporate bodies (Baran 67).

A good example is seen in the way the media has treated the issue of racism and prejudice against the colored people in the United States. Racism has been extensively featured as a theme in movies and TV shows for a long period of time. The reason as to why the racial card is still widely played is that there are no shows that acknowledge the way other people actually benefit from this vice. Every show is focused on portraying racism as a bad thing, but no one wants to talk about the way the other side is profiting from it. Showcasing this reality would probably clear the air and enable better strategies in fighting racial discrimination in this country (Dines & Humez 83). It is important to not only look at the disadvantaged, but also the advantaged who have the power to turn the situation around. The media, however, focuses on the helpless and highlights their plight without really doing anything practical, viable and sustainable about it. The media keeps bringing stories and content on how the minorities are being maltreated, but they do not highlight how the majority is gaining from this. This is a smart way of maintain the status quo by pretending to be sensitive to the problems of the minority while ignoring the fact that the majority is actually benefiting even though they have the power to change the situation.

Considering the famous subject of the American Dream, history has repeatedly shown that this dream is just a dream. People have worked so hard over the years, especially the immigrants and African Americans who labor tirelessly in the homes and industries as unskilled laborers. The American dream speaks of hard work as the key to a better life, and yet these individuals work hard all their lives and continue to languish in abject poverty (Dines & Humez 92). The media through such reality TV shows only select cases of exception like Barrack Obama among other successful individuals from minority groups. Considering talent shows, the media emphasizes on the subject of equality beyond physical disability, racial classification, gender, and social status. This is basically the reason why it is easy to find so many exceptional cases in the reality TV shows. One such case is of a disabled girl who was allowed into a talent show despite her disability. The idea for this was to gain the empathy and support of the general public for the girl, the show, and its corporate sponsors as well. This particular case was scripted to convey the message that the American dream is applicable to everyone and that the American society is indeed a kind of society with equal opportunities where each individual has a chance to be the best they can be if only they work hard (Shohat & Stam 76).

Another example is how these shows describe perfect human species, which is coded as white, male, handsome, straight, and sings rock music. This implies that a white male who is handsome and straight is at such a great advantage over any other person. This is in one way or another discriminatory against people who do not fit the description. The question thus becomes what about a black male or female, a white female, or a gay individual? In these instances, the media propagates an image of perfection without really pointing it out audaciously (Hall 91). The end result is that people with the lauded traits start feeling superior over those not lauded. This idea is dumped onto the American public in disguise such that the media remain ‘innocent’ while people are criticized for their ‘prejudice’ and ‘stereotype’ thoughts.

Another typical example of media privilege can be seen in the video where a very likable, talented gay guy with an opera voice and a sad life story is presented and asked about his family. What the audience may not realize is that this guy’s sad life story is probably the reason he was chosen to be on the show in the first place. The contestants are asked about their lives and their families before the show begins, and the media probably just wanted to appeal to the gay community and pretend that they are sensitive and open-minded to the sexual orientation of individuals (Shohat 32). By pretending to empathize with this guy, the media only sought to gain the support of the gay community and straight members of the society who are against discrimination based on sexual orientation. This was a maneuvered move to win the compassion of the audience and stir support for the show.

Also, when the media attempts to bring out the issue of race, they always bring it out as a good thing. For example, when there is a black judge on the show, it is termed as diversity. Almost each show has one black judge, and while the media may intend to show that they are not racists, this fact only shows that they are friendly towards black people, thus implying that the blacks are not like them and thus they need to ‘bribe’ them in some way to make them feel comfortable and a part of the audience or contestants. These shows tend to romanticize the idea of having a black representative in powerful places, all in a bid to clear their conscience and state that they are not racist, yet they end up doing the exact opposite if analyzed in-depth and objectively (Lull 63). Having a black judge, like voting for a black president is simply a way in which the American media, as well as the American people, can try to prove to themselves and the rest of the world that they are not racist. Yet, this is such an open statement on their prejudicial mindsets that make them guilty if they do not seek to appease members of the minority races.

There are also shows that seek to push on to the audience a specific construction of femininity as delicate, sweet, submissive, and in constant need of protection and support. This may be true, but it is not a universal definition and is thus not a standard to which females in the society should conform to. The media once again shoots its own foot in trying to create stereotypes through its patronizing TV content.

Considering all the facts discussed above from the way the government uses the media in its political economy strategies and the way media messages are used to impose certain notions on the society in a bid to construct a reality that may not always be truthful, it can be said that the media, especially in America is a tool for influencing the way the masses think and perceive certain subjects like racism, social class, the American dream, gender roles and gender equality, and marginalization of the minority groups among other things. This is often done through publicizing carefully orchestrated success stories in a bid to keep the hope alive.

Works Cited

Baran, Stanly. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. New York: Cengage Learning. 2011. Print.
Dines, Gail & Humez, Jean. Gender, race and class in media. New York: Sage Publications. 2003. Print.
Hall, Stuard. The Whites of Their Eyes: racist ideologies and the media. London: penguin. 1990. Print.
Kellner, Douglass. Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and the Post-modern. New York: Taylor & Francis. 2003. Print.
Lull, James. Media, Communication, Culture. Washngton: Columbia University Press. 2000. Print.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” Amptoons. Amptoons. 4th June 2012. Web. 10 2013.
Shohat, Ellan & Stam, Robert. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (Sightlines). New York: Routledge. 1994. Print.