Also, gay characters have slowly become more prominent both on TV and in the movies.
In the 1990s, producers gave up on feeling that they had to challenge gender representations as models of masculinity and femininity had become less offensive and clearly defined. We can, for instance, refer to the hit sit-com Friends which presented three male characters, Ross, Chandler and Joey whose masculinity was placed within conventional models of masculinity without excluding qualities such as gentleness and sensitivity. Similarly, the female characters were clearly feminine but sufficiently intelligent in order to escape the housewife cliche. Furthermore, the context of the show was relatively innovative as the six main characters were linked by friendship as opposed to the more traditional family circle which had dominated the previous two decades. The model of equal genders appears in many shows from the 1990s onwards (Gauntlett 61).
Race is depicted in the media in two ways: "through the content of a message or program and through race representation of course included in a program or stor." (Coover 413). Research has shown that race portrayal on television tends to affirm White viewers' racial attitudes (Armstrong, Neuendorf, & Brentar, 1992; Vidmar & Rokeach, 1974 in Coover 413). This tends to suggest that the media play a minimal role in the process of shaping individual personal racial attitudes, and that in fact, media only reinforce these attitudes without truly influencing them. As far as media impact on racial-ethnic groups, the greatest amount of research has focused on the presentation of African-American on television. During the 1980s, the number of African-Americans being portrayed on television started to increase in order to reflect their proportion within the American population. Prior to the 1980s, African-Americans were underrepresented and typecast so that they could only play a very small number of roles. There are several examples here; for instance, in early American television shows such as Beulah, or the Jack Benny Show, the maid and respectively the valet were played by African-American actors.
Nonetheless, racial identity can also be understood as social identity. Let us first review the types of identity in order to acquire a better understanding of media impact on social identity. Identity operates on three levels. The personal level refers to the identity of individual that is shaped by unique and deeply personal experiences which are characteristic solely to the individual in question. The group level refers to the identities of individuals as members in a group whether the common element is race, ethnicity, or gender. Finally, the third type of identity refers to the supra-ordinate level at which individuals experience a collective sense of identity that is based on their "shared humanity" (Tajfel and Turner 1986 in Coover 415). The theory of social identity holds that people are motivated to "maintain positive social (group) identities" (Ibid.) for instance, even in the case of randomly constructed groups, the members of a certain group will manifest a favorable bias towards their fellow group members, and discriminate against those who do not belong to their group.
Race representation of Whites can be understood using the theory of social identity. As far as racial identity, Whites are defined as possessing more power as well as majority status. In addition, racial identity is part of early education when children are taught the significance of their race in the context of society. From this point-of-view, the contribution of media to the process of socialization results in a reinforcement of racial identity as social identity. There is another important point to be made while on the topic of racial identity. Most Whites do not acknowledge their racial identity as an important social identity ((Helms, 1990; Katz, 1978 in Coover 417). This also applies to most Whites' perception of their relationships with members of other racial groups. These two considerations can be explained by two factors. Firstly, in the case of Whites, the attenuated importance of racial identity is indicative of the lack of distinctiveness of the identity (Ibid). Secondly, Whites' reluctance to acknowledge the relevance of their racial identity occurs because of "an underlying motivation to preserve a positive social identity" (Ibid) that is directly related to the Civil Rights movement which generated a shift in social norms and an aversion to White identity.
The effects of the media stretch across a wide range of contexts. McGuire compiled a set consisting of the most commonly intended effects of the media. Thus, we can talk about the effects of advertising on purchasing, the effects of political campaigns on voting, the effects of public service announcements on personal behavior, and the effects of propaganda on ideology (McGuire 1986 in Perse 2). However, media influence has greatly decreased in recent decades even in the case of politics or consumerism.
In contemporary democratic societies, power resides in the hands of two institutions, namely government, and market economy. However, mass media cannot be excluded from any hierarchy of societal power. Although the media is not formally associated with government or economy, it is an integrant part of both; their relationship is one of interdependence because they both rely on mass media to function as they do (Marger 442). In the early years of research on the influence of media on public attitudes, the dominant point-of-view was that the media had a direct and significant influence. However, the 1940s brought about a shift in perception, and people started to believe that the power of mass media had been exaggerated. According to the new perspective introduced after World War II, consumers could no longer be regarded as a mass thus mass communication could no longer address populations in their entirety. Instead, consumers interpreted media presentations, and started to draw their own conclusions which were heavily influenced by factors such as social class, religion and other such social variables (Marger 450). In this sense, one can argue that these factors exert considerable influence over mass media, and not the other way around.
Coover, Gail E. "Television and Social Identity: Race Representation as "White" Accommodation." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 45, no. 3 (2001): 413.
Gauntlett, David. Media, Gender, and Identity: An Introduction. Routledge, 2002.