From The Editor: When The Media Reeks Of Privilege
A large part of The Unedit’s mission is to encourage media outlets to consider language and its power a lot more carefully. I say this because newspapers, magazines, online publications and other outlets play such an important part in the way that we take in and process news and the subliminal messages that they send us through words and imagery. Admittedly, our company, Unedited Media, focuses primarily on the way that we’re made to feel about our bodies as a result of what we’re told by our favourite titles, but the influence of media language goes beyond that.
Yesterday, for example, a man, Stephen Paddock - equipped with 42 fully-loaded high-capacity guns - was responsible for the worst mass shooting in modern American history, killing 59 people and wounding over 500. Media coverage has been constant since news broke of the attack, but one thing that I immediately thought about was that terrorism hadn’t been mentioned once amongst the dozens of articles that I had read. What I did read, instead, was about his career as a wealthy real estate investor and gambler. I read about how his brother described him as ‘not an avid gun guy’. I read about how he was a ‘very friendly’ neighbour. I read nothing, however, about how he was a terrorist, or where he could’ve been radicalised to perform such a clear act of hatred and, well, terror. When 49 people were killed and 58 injured at Pulse nightclub last year, it took no time at all for the media to label the shooter, Omar Mateen, a terrorist. So why is Paddock not being branded the same? Because, quite simply, he’s white.
Even beyond race, privilege dictates the commentary when it come to how different events and the people involved are discussed.
Another example stems from a case of gender; female entrepreneurs face more abuse and bitterness than their male counterparts. It’s that typical bullshit ideology that’s lodged into the core of society where men can be The Boss but women can only ever just be bossy.
In April of this year, Newcastle United and West Ham United football clubs were raided by HM Revenue & Customs over player transfer probes. A few arrests were made, including Newcastle’s managing director, Lee Charnley, and his arrest was reported by sports outlets immediately. When it came out that West Ham’s vice chairman, Karren Brady, hadn’t been arrested and faced no direct action, hateful comments towards Brady came thick and fast. ‘Leave Charnley alone, I hope that bitch Brady gets what’s coming for her’ came from one commenter, and those of a similar narrative followed. In the words of good ol' Ronan Keating, 'you say it best when you say nothing at all', so even when the media say nothing, readers are often encouraged to read between the lines, thus adopting certain attitudes. So when keyboard warriors and angry (and not to mention sexist) football fans took to the Internet, their words were rallied by many of the ideals that the sport industry - and in turn, sports media, perpetuate - namely that there is no place for women in football, even more so a woman that's successful in it.
Then comes the tiresome anti-fat campaigns that come in all different shapes and sizes (just like bodies, ironically enough) in the media. I remember being in my pre-teen years and opening up a newspaper and seeing a celebrity in a bikini on the beach. She’d noticeably lost some weight and the headline was ‘Sexy On The Beach’. That’s all well and good I guess, if an 100-word article on a woman’s body is considered newsworthy enough to make the daily paper. But what struck me wasn’t so much the headline, but the caption of an inset image of the celebrity pre-weight loss, also in a bikini on the beach. The caption simply said, ‘beached whale’. I remember thinking that I personally thought she looked beautiful in both pictures, but that the caption printed in the newspaper meant that I was wrong. I - even at that age - knew that my body didn’t look that way and became terrified to wear a bikini. Even more so now, the media pit thinner bodies against others, creating a diet culture rhetoric that convinces us that the way we look isn’t good enough.
There are motives surrounding the media and why they say or endorse some of the ideals that we absorb on a daily basis. At the risk of sounding like something out of High School Musical, it’s about sticking to the status quo (and don’t forget, making money). It also doesn’t hurt to know that the big-shots sitting in their senior positions in media companies are all predominantly male and white, so the day that they properly address oppressive systems in a genuine way is a day that they feel their power slipping away (don't you just love fragile egos?). Not to mention, many corporations that fund print - and online - media hold the very values that are coincidentally reflected by their investments. Funny that, isn't it? So to encourage anything else runs the risk of money disappearing, and nobody wants that. Similarly, when we look at thin privilege and diet culture being packaged up and sold in the media, it becomes more than a matter of being scared of fatness. Once again, the profitable nature of bringing in advertisers and sponsors, as well as spurring further content is a top priority. In short, privilege makes bank. But that's not to say that it's just the investors and advertisers that are to blame for the way that white men are depicted in the media versus a woman, a black man, an immigrant, or other. Our society has a lot to answer for, and tackling issues such as systemic racism, sexism, fatphobia and everything else that's fucked up in the world is going to take more than just socially-conscious or woke media, but that doesn't mean it's not a great place to start.
White, male, and thin privilege are just three of the many kinds of privilege that our society has to offer, and listing examples of all of them would make this article a pretty hefty read. But just because they’re not specifically listed here, please don’t get it twisted that they don’t exist within media commentary, because they definitely do. It’s important that we as consumers are aware of the agendas that media outlets have beyond sharing the news, and for us to see through the transparency of their bullshit.