Every week, with each new episode of Glee, I see a stream of posts criticizing the show and its dubious stances on different minorities (the use of the word “tranny” in the Rocky Horror Show episode, perhaps the most representative of these blunders). However, I rarely join in the criticism. It is reprehensible and quite insulting, but it is nothing more than just a reflection of society at large. Offensive stuff in media seems to be de rigueur these days. Or probably it has always been. Ableism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, racism: pick your poison and I will find you a dozen media representations depicting it every day. Especially, if, like me, you are checking out news in three different languages, representing three very different cultures each (English, Dutch and Spanish). These media representations matter because they normalize hatred, because they give a voice to alienation and to the systematic oppression of entire groups of people. However, I contend that they only reflect what is already there, that they are a mirror of what society at large already believes in. It is another case of what came first, the chicken or the egg. Did media representations shape the way society treats “the other” or does media just mirror the belief systems of society at large?
And that brings me to the title of this post: I am a social liberal leftist because of Glee. Well, not really because of Glee, but probably because of 99% of what is depicted in mainstream media. Mainly, I believe that, in a democracy, it is the obligation of the State to provide a legal and social framework that protects minorities from alienation and discrimination. The market doesn’t really care about “the other”. The market (and I use the term in its purely capitalist definition) is not in the business of social justice or inclusion. That’s what the State is for. It is the obligation of the legislative and justice systems to provide the protection and enforcement of rights through legal means. If such systems are in place, media will have to follow suit. If there are laws that grant equal rights to everyone, media will have to represent that or face sanctions. If the protections afforded by laws are in place, media representations might take a while to catch up but will eventually reflect society’s fabric.
Perhaps I am very skeptic, but I just never expected the market to reflect or protect rights that are not already contemplated by laws. Sure, corporations will produce whatever sells (their sole purpose is to create profits), but I never expected them to take on causes of social justice, at least not if they have nothing to gain from it. Quite honestly, we cannot hold corporately owned media accountable for not representing rights that are not already in place. And if the state is failing us (which I contend in much of the Western World, it is), then we should take action. In the meantime, we can criticize media for not being inclusive but I suspect they have little incentive to change their ways unless the State is fulfilling its main obligations.
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