History: Terms

Now, I know that proper terms and definitions are not that fun, but it is important to have similar vocabulary when trying to share ideas. Most of my “jargon” comes from my communication background, sociology classes, and life experience. We’ll start with the communication/media related terms.

Media – plural of medium; channels or means of communication, such as radio, newspaper, television, magazines, or the Internet 1

(Media) Representation – how media present and re-create reality within them by how and how much they show or do not show

There are four stages of media representation according to A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication: non-cognition, ridicule, regulation, and respect.2  These stages almost always happen in that order. Harris & Sandborn refer specifically to minority group representation in their work. In very summarized terms, non-cognition—also known as symbolic annihilation by Gerbner & Gross (1976)—is the absence or exclusion of an identity group from media. The most common example of this is probably for Native Americans. Ridicule is seen when an identity group is put down or cast solely as villains. Today in American media, Arabic or Middle Eastern people are in this phase of ridicule. The next stage is regulation. In this stage, a minority group is in the position of protectors of existing order such as cops or detectives. According to Harris & Sandborn, Latinx people are in this role as of late. Lastly, comes the respect phase. This phase is the end goal for everyone. The respect phase includes playing the good guys and the bad guys. The minority group gets just as much variety in media representation as the majority group does.

When I use the term creators (of media), I refer to the combination of people and choices that went into producing a work. Creators can include writers, producers, investors, directors, casting directors, actors, artists, and editors. There are many decisions made for even a single episode of a TV show that will go on to shape the show, the audience, and overall media representation. I hold all of these roles accountable for their choices and what they contribute to the entire sphere of content. Related to the content is the term canon. Canon in the modern context comes from the definition of “an accepted principle or rule” usually in relation to holy books. 3 The modern definition is defined by Urban Dictionary as “a piece of work…that was written by the original author. Spin-offs, fan fiction, and any work not written by the original author of that fictional universe [are] considered non-canon.” 4 I will be using the terms canon and not canon to describe the presented content and the adaptations the audience has created. Audience adaptations—spin-offs, fan fiction, interpretations in other media, etc.—can offer a unique perspective to audience effects and what audiences truly want.

As for demographic labels, I try to take a liberal, “politically correct” way of identifying groups. This aligns with my own personal beliefs and helps me shape the most inclusive environment that I can. I plan to justify some of my current word choices based on the present times and I want to reserve the right to change some of these words as the world and contexts change. What do I mean by that? I will be using words such as black, queer, and Latinx. My current knowledge regarding social justice leads me to believe that these words are acceptable and encouraged. I won’t be using African-American because, even though most of the media I will be covering is American or Western media, not every black person on TV is African-American. Black is a more encompassing and acceptable vernacular that covers Afro-Latinx, African, and black identities that are not American. Latinx (Lah-teen-ix) is what I will use instead of Latino/Latina because it’s a more gender-neutral term for people with Latin heritage. I will also be using the term Native Americans—not Indians. Indian people are from India. Native Americans are the indigenous people of America. Pretty open and close reasoning in my mind, but you would be surprised. American Indian is also acceptable, but I prefer Native American. Another term I will be using is queer. The word queer has a long and complicated history. Because I feel that queer is the most overarching term for all gender identities and sexualities that are not cisgender or heterosexual, I will be using it. 

On that note, I will mention that I will not try to use these identities as a noun (i.e. queers, blacks, etc.). The exception to this, however, is for nationalities and sometimes gender (Canadians, Native Americans, women, etc.). I don’t believe that it is appropriate to make one identity more central by making it a noun because people are more than one identity and in certain situations, some identities are more salient than others. “There is no hierarchy of oppression.” – Audre Lorde 5 That is exactly why I will try to avoid using identities as a noun. The frequent histories of oppression and insult that tie into a lot of these words as nouns (i.e. queers) are another reason I will be avoiding using them that way. 

I hope this overview was simultaneously concise yet detailed enough to start our discussion. Again, I reserve the right—as everyone does—to adapt to the changes in context as words change meaning throughout time. Did you learn a new term today? Was there anything that surprised you? Let me know in the comments below!


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