Media in Contemporary Culture Gender Roles in Sex and the City Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Media Communications

Representation of characters and role models in different media outlets is based on perceptions and preconceived notions held by the producer, co-producers, and audiences at large. Only those representations are drawn that largely resonate with current meanings given to people, characters, places, and objects.The paper presents two theoretical approaches to study media and its impact at large. Theory of social constructivism provides framework to assess the meanings given to gender roles, objects, and places. Social construction of ideals, role models, and images keep changing as their meanings constantly transform from one generation to another and from one society to another. Theory of agenda setting is another framework that explains media and its influence. Though widely criticized as well, agenda setting theory has been used by researchers to highlight media role in political as well as entertainment, news, and infotainment segments. Media has played vital role in promoting culture as well as consumerism across U.K and rest of the world.


Communication and representation through media is central to the life in modern times. From print, theatre, and television media to electronic media and internet-based social media, communication of message and portrayal of image is the goal of any activity in these mediums. As the popular media contains images and depiction of gender roles, political, and cultural roles, the identity of audiences of media is partly formed by relating to or loathing these roles. Such constant role depiction and representation creates 'role models' as well. Formation and representation of each role is impacted by social order of time and the media role leaves an impression and impacts its audiences. Thus, it's a two-way process where public and media together endorse old meanings as well as create new ones.

Patriarchal concept, feminist movement, post-feminism, and biological determinism all impact the creation of media roles. Chivalry of men and seductiveness of women is represented by almost all film media. Present research paper tries to investigate the role of media in giving representations to gender and social roles, creation of image, and about the notion of representation. Part II of the paper comprises of description of two theoretical models for media study. The study will also include two functions that media played in UK's consumer market. Part III explains examples of media images as an outcome of creative and social process. Part IV will analyze the notion of representation in context of media examples. Sex and the City will be used to critique the notion of representation. Audience responses, variance in role model, and image portrayal with respect to time-place change will be discussed. Image of modern women in industrial time shall also be analyzed. The last section of paper will report findings and conclude the paper by describing the study briefly.

Theoretical frameworks

Social constructivism has long been held as a framework through which researchers have tried to investigate human problems. Sociology, psychology, and media studies are usually analyzed through this framework. The theory holds true that sociological learning of man occurs in groups within the society and members of groups as well as different groups create knowledge for each other. The society and its problems that we see around are socially constructed, thus change is always taking place in the social construction of society. Meanings are derived from prevailing social orders and their interaction in form of smaller and larger groups. Language plays an important role in this social constructivism. Language uses signs and symbols that represent concepts of individuals and groups. These concepts are constantly changing and thus the meaning we give to a particular gender role, place, or object is socially constructed reality and may change. From this evolves the theory of media representation. The media representation theory refers to the construction of images of reality such as gender roles, places, and objects, through the use of different media such as mass media. The theory involves the process through which such images, portrayed as being natural and real, are created in media. Television, print, and speech are different sources used for such media production. Gender, race, ethnicity, sex, places, and objects, all are constructed through a process and ultimately leads to their representation in one or another media outlet. In a media representation process, the processes of text production, reception (impact on audiences), and reference image are important.

Agenda setting theory is another framework that was presented by Dr. Donald Shaw and Dr. Max McCombs in 1968. Though, originally presented in context of mass media's impact in setting the 'agenda' for public debate or opinion in political realm, the theory has been used in domains other than political. Researchers have tried to explain through agenda setting theory thatthe potential of media to influence public opinion is immense. It is both intentional as well as unintentional. The values, perceptions, and building of role model are influenced by the content that media plays. The placement of this content in prime time and its repetition sets the audience's 'mental agenda' (Littlejohn & Foss, 2009). It was in the backdrop of 1968 presidential elections that both McCombs and Shaw presented this theory after empirical investigation of 100 respondents that were asked to prioritize most important issues in their state of North Carolina. The issues identified by respondents exactly matched those raised by popular media such as Times Magazine, NBC, The New York Times, and CBS evening broadcasts. Though empirically tested, the theory has been criticized for neglecting the role of broader public opinion and 'policy agenda'. The co-relationship and interdependence of public and media agenda was also neglected, it is argued.

Media and Society

Mass media in U.K has played the primary and decisive role in promoting 'expressive' aspects of goods and services rather than functional or technical ones. The use of sensational images and exotic imagery has helped fuel consumption of goods. 'Lifestyle' is the buzzword used to promote stylistics in consumer's perception. It can be argued that 'images' and their representation in mass media, specifically for advertising purposes is intended to induce 'consumption'. U.K's media is one of the oldest and mature in the world. However, it also operates by the same rules as does the rest of the world.

The ideas and notion of 'role model' and 'lifestyle' are produced by media advertisement, mostly by the companies producing goods and services for consumption. In U.K, the most important function that mass media has played is the spread of British culture throughout the world. Popular media productions, both print and electronic have left significant impact on how people around the world perceive the British culture. The creation of reality into illusion and vice versa has been the hallmark of all contemporary media at one time or another. Mass media, specifically film (Featherstone, 2007) and theatre has been used effectively in U.K to promote both established order as well as introduce fiction, as in case of Harry Potter. The rolling stone and The Beatles are specific examples in music media of U.K. Another function that media has played in U.K is the creation of 'privacy free' society whereby media is not regulated through any British law pertaining to privacy. However, breach of confidentiality suits are brought against the media, lately against leading tabloids as well. Further, British media has aroused an 'instinctual anxiety' (Ewen, 2001) in social and cultural settings. Russell (2002) argues that plots and product placements in television shows have specific impacts on consumer behavior.

Media images an outcome of social and creative process

Communication media has been rightly termed as dominant medium that has co-created the world we see around us today. The most striking instance of media images being created as a creative and social process is that of Sex and the City characters. Steve and Miranda are two such characters being represented by the director. Miranda is represented as a lady conscious of her career and unwilling to compromise career over love. She is being depicted as a sign of 'feminist' authoritarian, thus this image is taken from social order of that time. Women were getting recognized as equals, though with considerable restraint. In the film she was represented as intellectual, financially independent, but submitting to Steve's desire of having sex. The series got incredibly popular and images were reflective of larger public sentiment about TV soaps. Creative process was the representation of female characters as 'cohesive' and friendly despite having opposing aspirations in life. The producer of content divorced the traditional image representation and tried to make a new but catchy image of female actors, namely Miranda and Carrie.

Notion of representation

In Sex and the City, there is significant representation of females as well as feminist ideology, however at numerous occasions the producer could not remove bias from the content (Brooks & Hebert, 2006), script as well as the image being created in 'audience's mind. In a specific scene in Mexico, all the female characters join each other where Samantha is quoted saying that she disbelieves that her life now revolves around a man.…

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