For over a hundred years, Westerns and documentaries have shaped the public’s perception of Native people. The wise elder (Little Big Man); the drunk (Tom Sawyer); the Indian princess (Pocahontas); the loyal sidekick (Tonto)—these images have become engrained in the consciousness of every North American.
Objectivity and accuracy are among the most important journalistic values. Consistently, however, Canadian news media has underrepresented and stereotyped visible minority groups.
Persons with disabilities might best be described, in the media at least, as an invisible minority: though a large segment of the population has a physical or mental disability they have been almost entirely absent from the mass media until recent years. Moreover, when persons with disabilities appear they almost always do so in stereotyped roles.
Broadcasting Act: Canada’s Broadcasting Act, last amended in 1991, outlines industry guidelines for portrayal of diversity.
Social justice activists and writers have built on Peggy McIntosh’s original essay on privilege in 1988, by adding to and modifing the original list to highlight how privilege is not merely about race or gender, but that it is a series of interrelated hierarchies and power dynamics that touch all facets of social life: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, education, gender identity, age, physical ability, passing, etc. These categories will be further discussed below.
Canada is a diverse and multicultural nation, but a major criticism that can be leveled at Canadian media’s treatment of religion is that it does not reflect this diversity. Lack of representation is, for some religions, as considerable an issue as misrepresentation is for others. Media recognition of Canada’s ‘religious mosaic’ and increased coverage of underrepresented religions is the first step towards accurate media portrayal.
How things have changed in thirty years: more than ever before, queer people have a media presence. No longer relegated to the realms of innuendo and secrecy, we now see lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people represented on television and in mainstream film. Queer people see their reflections on screen in a largely positive light: stable, employed, charming, attractive, well-liked, and successful. And yet, there remain many challenges. The following sections will examine how media produces and legitimizes or delegitimizes queer sexualities, as well as how queer media differs from its heterosexual counterpart. To begin, though, it is worthwhile to examine the trajectory of queer media criticism over the past thirty years.
Part of stereotyping is the attitude that all members of a particular group are the same, or else fall into a very small number of types. This is particularly true in the few cases where persons with a disability appear in media
As in other media, queer people have gained a greater and more widely visible presence within the advertising world, with ad agencies courting the “Pink Dollar”. This is not surprising, considering that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community is a multi-billion dollar target audience, estimated to be worth around $835 billion.
Queer people have been involved in producing their own media for as long as alternative media has existed. This landscape has traditionally been dominated by print media such as zines (small-circulation, generally low-cost, publications) and pamphlets or queer film, but with the advent of the electronic age and cheaper and more accessible electronic devices for production, there’s been an explosion of queer-produced media of all kinds. The following section explores the ways that queer people have sought to claim space for themselves within media and culture.