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The Media Gaze: Representations of Diversities in Canada by Augie Fleras (review)

From: Canadian Ethnic Studies
Volume 45, Number 1-2, 2013
pp. 276-277 | 10.1353/ces.2013.0014

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Positioned at the junction of two of today's inescapable realities—media saturation and diversity in our society—Augie Fleras' new book, The Media Gaze, explores the representation of diversities and difference in Canadian media. The book challenges the notion of media neutrality—the idea that media are conveyors of objective information—and aims to explore the logic and dynamics of media representation of race, ethnicity, aboriginality, gender, sexuality, class, age, and religion. To the author, such an understanding is important as media are our primary source of information in this media-saturated world we live in, and thereby shape how we understand ourselves and the world around us. Especially, in the absence of "meaningful first-hand contact with diversities and difference" (3), our perspective on the "other" is largely constructed by media messages.

The book is organized into 14 chapters within four parts. Part I provides a theoretical framework for the book by deconstructing and defining the concept of the media gaze. Part II explores media as conveyors of socially constructed discourses through various types of media gaze, with case studies of the mis-representational process following in Part III. Finally, as a response to mainstream representation (Parts II and III), Part IV introduces the oppositional gaze from social/online media and populist media, that is, "media by, for, and about those demographics that public and private mainstream media tend to ignore or distort" (7).

The author argues that consistent with mainstream institutions in general, the institutional principles and priorities of mainstream media embrace dominant ideologies that define what is "normal, acceptable, or desirable" (3). Mainstream media project mediated social reality through the media gaze, defined as "a media tendency to impose a specific view of the world without announcing its intention or underlying biases" (37). Various media gazes that derive from different ideological dimensions or a combination of these dimensions (corporate, racialized, Eurocentric, gendered or androcentric, classed, ageist, and secular) and media processes (news-casting, advertising, film, etcetera) are identified and analyzed. The author argues that through these media gazes, mainstream media construct "mediacentric" images in which marginalized demographics are continually "underrepresented in areas that count, overrepresented in areas that don't count, and misrepresented on both accounts" (4). Evidence of improvement in representation of racial minorities in news (Chapter 8), women in advertising (Chapter 9) and working-class men in sitcoms (Chapter 10), for example, are not absent. However, such changes are not transformative enough to challenge the status quo (media's foundational principles) but rather reinforce it. Thus, the underlying messages are consistent with those of the past: marginalized demographics are "troublesome constituents" (viii). The cumulative effect of such biased, mono-cultural, and one-dimensional mediated projections on audiences is a concern: audiences begin to "see like the media" (37).

In contrast, the oppositional gaze from social/online and populist media (Part IV) offers the other side of the story. Aboriginal media help the silenced voice of aboriginal people to be heard (Chapter 13). As well, ethnic media, as hybrid spaces of inward/outward and reactive/proactive dynamics, contribute to, rather than harm, Canada's commitment to multiculturalism and social integration of new members of society by facilitating bonding within and binding across communities (Chapter 14).

The author concludes that the construction and distribution of mediated images are "fundamental to the exercise of power in society" (262). Therefore, misrepresentation of minorities will continue, and continually support "majority interests at minority expense," unless challenged (ibid.). The author argues for the importance of media literacy skills on the part of the audience as a tool to "see through a seeing like the media" (252). On the part of mainstream media institutions, institutional transformation, specifically, media workers and media structures, is critical. This may help "prevailing media gazes move beyond an 'us versus them' framework" (264) and move toward "living together" with diversities and difference (249).

While the politics of representation of marginalized demographics have been studied in various disciplines, The Media Gaze makes a unique contribution. First, it has brought together various marginalized groups under one roof, from racial and aboriginal minorities, women, and working-class people to gays/lesbians, youth/older adults, and religious groups. Especially, the...



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