Representation: Why Does It Matter and What Are Its Limits?

Years ago I wrote about representation in media. I think I made some good points, but I also feel like it was a bit vapid. My thoughts on the subject weren’t much deeper than “representation is good, and there should be more of it”. Yes, that’s absolutely true. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve reflected more often on what it actually means. I’d like to talk about the value of representation here, as well as its limits. I want to emphasise what it means to see yourself in media, but also what it means to boil systemic issues down to this purely cultural conflict. Basically, representation is complicated.

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On Representation


Broadly speaking we tend to see society become a little more open towards different groups over time, and with that comes slowly but surely increasing media representation of them. A cynical way to look at this is that it’s simply because their existence has become profitable, and that’s certainly a very valid way to look at it given the slew of middlebrow oscar bait exploiting historical prejudice and hamfisted tokenism. A more positive way to see it is that media representation gives us a platform to humanise different groups, to become aware of their existence and their validity as individuals. I believe both perspectives can be true at once, and in that sense there needs to be conscious thought about how representation is implemented.

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