Mis? Under? Not Represented

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Fiona Murphy, Editor

     Media representation is essential to the development of children. Seeing people who look and behave like you on screen is incredibly important to young people. Unfortunately, representation of people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community and the neurodivergent community in the media are sorely lacking. Because of this, stereotypes and incorrect conjectures surrounding these communities have arisen. These stereotypes can be damaging to the outer perception of these communities, but they can cause extreme damage to the psyche of young, uninformed people who get most of their information from the media. Underrepresentation of groups in the media can lead to widespread conjectures.

     Representation of disabled people in the media is sorely underwhelming. A report published by the Ruderman Family Foundation finds that eighty percent of the disabled characters portrayed on television are played by non-disabled actors. The Ruderman Family Foundation, established in 2002 in Boston, Massachusetts advocates for the disabled community. The media has not done the same for the disabled community. Very few characters in modern media are disabled, and even fewer of them are played by actual disabled people. While the number of disabled people represented in the media has grown significantly in the past five years, only 3.1% of the characters on television are disabled, according to a report on the 879 series broadcasted on regular programming by GLAAD. Another example of people belonging to the disabled community being left out of the media is in Sia’s upcoming film, Music, which follows a young autistic girl. There was quite a controversy over the casting of the film because the main character was played by Maddie Ziegler, a neurotypical person. Instead of casting an intellectually disabled or neurodivergent person, Sia chose to aid the media in overlooking the disabled community simply because it was easier. The number of disabled actors on television is small, but growing. 

     Because of this lack of representation in the media, false conjectures or inaccurate conclusions about underrepresented groups have been drawn. These can manifest and become dangerous stereotypes about these groups. One widespread example of misinformation surrounding these communities is the belief that the “R-slur” is still an appropriate term to use regarding the disabled community because it was a medically diagnosable term. That is not true. According to Resolution 024 passed by the American Medical Association House of Delegates, the term “R*********n” was not medically accurate and promoted an unhealthy stigma surrounding the disabled community. Within the resolution there is a reference to the updated DSM-5 terminology regarding the neurodivergent or intellectually disabled community; specifically the updating of the term “R*********n” to “intellectual disability” on the grounds that the updated term provided a more comprehensive reflection of their condition. Even though the term has been proven to induce derogatory stigmas surrounding the intellectually disabled community, the slur is still used in day to day conversations and thrown about without any recognition of the damage it may cause. The term “R*********n” is also typically used as an insult, which can also be extremely degrading to the disabled community. Because of the lack of representation from the media, members of the public who are uneducated on this subject may not know the harm they cause when using the word. 

     There is a way to solve the problem, which is misrepresentation or representation using uninformed sources. The first thing to do is educate the public on issues that may not be very well known about. Some examples of these issues which have received more public attention in the past few years include pronouns, voting registration/discrimination, and educational opportunities. One of the biggest issues regarding media and representation in the 21st century is representation in television. Most tv shows targeted for young children are centered around cis, straight, white children. This means that the characters on these tv shows do not represent major groups in America, such as the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color, disabled people, immigrants, and members of non-Christian religions. This is especially harmful because the majority of the American population is not straight, white people anymore – it’s people of color, immigrants, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and they deserve to be represented on the big screen. 

     Media – it has become one of the biggest players in the modern American landscape. Be it the news, television, or social media – we all interact with the media in different ways. Much of a young adults’, child, and adult’s lives are spent on social media, making the impact it may have on their psyche even more influential. The media has also become extremely important in a young childs’ development in many ways, but one of the negative effects the media has on young people can be under- or mis- representation. Young children who come from minorities are not seeing themselves up on the screen, or if they are it’s in minor roles. Minorities are often underrepresented or misrepresented in the media, and as we are seeing more and more of this every day, the dangerous impact this is having on people becomes clearer.