The Mass Media Promote Narrow Definitions Cultural Studies Essay

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According to Italian communist Antonio Gramscis theory on cultural hegemony- through which he broadens the materialist Marxist theory- the ruling class within a culturally diverse society superimposes its values, whether it is social, economical, political or religious, upon the lower classes, who in turn buy into the status quo operating against their established social structure (Dines and Humez, 62). This dominance of one culture over another can be used to explain the way in which media is used as a tool by the 'elites' to "perpetuate their power, wealth and status [by popularizing] their own philosophy, culture and morality" (Boggs, 39). As a result, through analysis of the history of all forms of media leading up to the 21st century, one can easily stipulate that European features and fair skin are more pervasive, no matter the race, youth is more accepted and beauty is whatever and whomever can approximate to both these ideals. A correlation can then be made between media and the Black ugliness/white beauty binary of imperialism and slavery that has spawned a racialized beauty empire (Rodríguez, Boatcă, Costa, 196). And it is this correlation that highlights the conditions under which black people must perform in order to be successful; the same correlation that stipulates black beauty in the 21st century is a paradox.

"The American standard of beauty is an optical illusion that has mesmerized the world…Most women were convinced early in childhood by subliminal messages in the media that their natural hair and facial features were substandard" (Jones, 2007). While it will be a gross mistake to state that black people are not represented in the media, it will be an even grosser one to declare that those who are successful do not possess some Eurocentric features in one way or another. Thus, the roles given to those of a darker hue possessing more Afro centric features and their lighter complected counterparts were immensely stereotypical (Belgrave and Allison, 223). Poor, ghetto, uneducated, loud, these are just a few of the negative, antagonistic roles given to black actors and actresses of a darker complexion while at the other end of the spectrum those that are fairer skinned are educated, sophisticated, ambitious…beautiful. This dynamic that has existed within the Black race has pushed an even bigger wedge through the already divided perceptions one has of oneself and it has seeped into the lives of Jamaicans.

Marcus Garvey advocated for Black Nationalism whereby he encourages African people to be proud of their race and see the beauty in their own kind (Caravantes, 2003). This movement de-centered white beauty's iconicity through anti colonialist aesthetics focused on natural hair and black self-love so as to redefine Blackness through positive valuation (Rodríguez, Boatcă, Costa, 198). In collaboration with Rastafarianism, these Black Power Movements promoted ideologies like "Black is beautiful". However, when mainstream media daily bombards the population with images that say otherwise, what is this country "Out of many, one people" supposed to believe? The idea that political, social and economical institutions have bought into this perception of superiority/inferiority within the African race only serves to reinforce this long standing belief.

Advertising agencies have projected this standard at all levels in the Jamaican society. Family oriented advertisements display images of a dark skin father and light skin mother with a dark skin son and light skin daughter (Cooper). "Social ads also show the same thing. They big-up all the light skin girls them. Yuh can't leave yuh house without seein' them brownins' on billboards, in the news, on party flyers, in magazines. They dominate the industry," says a 23 year old "cocoa coloured" female interviewee who resides in Trinidad pursuing her bachelor's degree at the University of the West Indies. Gender difference in skin colour bias outlines the fact that Black men are not as affected by skin colour, hair texture and facial features as their female counterparts (). As a result, these representations subliminally transmit the idea that dark-skinned African women are not ideal. Yet, with supermodels like Iman and Waris Dirie, who are among the dark skinned black women used as models for their beauty, one would think that Pigmentocracy no longer matters. However, with Eurocentric facial features, such as light coloured eyes, straight noses and thin lips, can young black girls and women really identify themselves with what they see? Continuous manipulation has even distorted the appearance of dark skinned African people so that they can be more easily and readily accepted.

Even more so, can young Jamaican girls and women identify themselves with the women who are chosen to represent their country at international events? From the year 2000, 75% of the Jamaican contestants sent to the infamous Miss Universe Competition with the hopes of becoming 'Queen of the universe' are of a 'higher complexion.' Of that number, two of the highest complected representatives- Yendi Phillips (2010) and Christine Shaw (2003) - were able to move further along in the competition than any of their past and future counterparts. These women, however, only represent a small portion of Jamaica's population and yet they are the ones chosen to depict 91.4% of a predominantly Afro-Caribbean population (http://www.uwi.edu/territories/jamaica.aspx, 20/01/2013). Eurocentric aesthetics are preferable in these competitions and Jamaica buys into this by sending women bequeathed with these Anglo-Saxon features.

Indubitably, when one references Jamaican media, its music is highly influential. Beginning with the infamous reggae artist, Bob Marley, who sang for peace and black unity. However, when Buju Banton came out with his song "Love me browning" in 1992, consisting of the following lyrics: "Me love me car, me love me bike, me love me money and ting but most of all me love me browning," it caused an uproar within the Jamaican society who accused him of "promoting a colonial mindset and denigrating the beauty of dark skinned women," (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buju_Banton, 05/03/2013). Even though he sang "Love Black woman" within that same year as a response to all the negative comments he was receiving, it didn't hide the fact that he was expressing the views of many Jamaican men who had a penchant for lighter-skinned women.

Likewise in contemporary Jamaica, with the popularity of skin bleaching in songs from Vybz Kartel, who has also bleached his skin colour, Jamaicans are bombarded with the views that having a lighter complexion is the way to go. Music videos use women that are "fairer" in complexion when the song is about love and for dancehall music the predominantly darker skinned women are used to gyrate. Objectified as sexual creatures a darker woman isn't seen as someone a man would want to build a life with because she is considered only within a sexual context. While there have been some transitions, the majority of music videos shown still illustrate the European influenced 'cookie cutter' image of women to sell their songs.

"You can't force anyone to think black is beautiful when the evidence around them testifies to the contrary.  And which of our leaders are going from a rich mahogany to a high yellow shade? The poor can only afford bleaching creams, but the well-to-do have other means..." (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120226/news/news4.html, 25/01/2013) With particular attention to the Jamaican government ministers and officials, one sees that darker hued representatives are a minority. While it is not the fault of these officials to possess the education necessary that would allow them the chance to enter into such high esteemed positions the questions remain: Were they offered more opportunities due to their skin complexion? With such a high percentage of those who were given questionnaires saying "Yes" (82%) a lighter skin hue does open more doors for you, doubt still lingers. However, when newspaper ads highlight the fact that there are still proprietors "requesting that trainees be brown or light-skinned as a prerequisite for employment in their firms" (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110911/lead/lead1.html , 02/02/2013) it supports the idea that discrimination persists to this day. Certainly, the government has spoken out against any form of skin prejudice and promised to take action, even urging people to "boycott businesses lacking black faces", but "few express confidence that the culprits will ever be named," (http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/09/jamaica-wanted-light-skinned-only-please/, 02/02/2013).

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