Stuart Hall has a number of ideas about representation:
the idea that representation is the production of meaning through language, with language defined in its broadest sense as a system of signs
the idea that the relationship between concepts and signs is governed by codes
the idea that stereotyping, as a form of representation, reduces people to a few simple characteristics or traits
the idea that stereotyping tends to occur where there are inequalities of power, as subordinate or excluded groups are constructed as different or ‘other’ (e.g. through ethnocentrism).
Richard Dyer (1983) posed a few questions when analysing media representations in general.
1. What sense of the world is it making?
2. What does it imply? Is it typical of the world or deviant?
3. Who is it speaking to? For whom? To whom?
4. What does it represent to us and why? How do we respond to the representation?
Dyer (1977) details that if we are to be told that we are going to see a film about an alcoholic then we will know that it will be a tale either of sordid decline or of inspiring redemption.
This is a particularly interesting potential use of stereotypes, in which the character is constructed, at the level of costume, performance, etc., as a stereotype but is deliberately given a narrative function that is not implicit in the stereotype, thus throwing into question the assumptions signaled by the stereotypical iconography.
Dyer (1977) summed up the importance and concept of Representation the best. He said: “How we are seen determines how we are treated, and how we treat others is based on how we see them. How we see them comes from representation.”
Tessa Perkins (1979) says stereotyping is not a simple process. She identified that some of the many ways that stereotypes are assumed to operate aren’t true:
1. Stereotypes are not always negative, e.g:
Italians are very family orientated
Asians are good at maths
Homosexual men are stylish
(These are still over-simplified and take no account of individuality)
5. They are not always false This seems obvious, but stereotypes by their nature are based on some kind of reality and common experience. This is why people share these perceptions.
David Gauntlett (2002) argues that “identities are not ‘given’ but are constructed and negotiated.”
In 2007, Gaunlett argued that “Identity is complicated. Everybody thinks they’ve got one. Artists play with the idea of identity in modern society.”
Gauntlett is suggesting that:
the idea that the media provide us with ‘tools’ or resources that we use to construct our identities.
the idea that whilst in the past the media tended to convey singular, straightforward messages about ideal types of male and female identities, the media today offer us a more diverse range of stars, icons and characters from whom we may pick and mix different ideas.
Jean Baudrillard (1981) was concerned with the effect that the media was having on society as a whole, and representation was a big part of his theory. In his book Simularca and Simulation, 1981, Baudrillard argued that our media-focused society has become reliant upon representations.
Baudrillard discussed the concept of hyper-reality – we inhabit a society that is no longer made up of any original thing for a sign to represent – it is the sign that is now the meaning. He argued that we live in a society of simulacra – simulations of reality that replace the real.
This means that we have lost contact with the real, and we can no longer tell the real from the artificial. This state of affairs is what Baudrillard referred to as hyper-reality. The sign or representation of reality is now of more importance or has replaced what it was representing.
These simulations of reality that have replaced the reality itself were what Baudrillard referred to as simulacra.
The representation of the ‘thing’ comes to replace the reality - what we are represented with is now more important than what it is actually like. This is an example of simulacra. The copy is more important to most of us than the reality.
Were he alive today, Baudrillard would say that Facebook represents a hyper-reality. Our Facebook profiles are a representation of ourselves. However, we now live in a time where to many this representation is more important than their actual personality, and their interactions on Facebook hold more meaning than their real-life interactions. To some, their Facebook profile is a replacement for their real personality - a simulacra.