So read me maybe! (Or, Fifty Shades of Canadian Media)

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So what have I been doing with my time? Working hard to get Carly Rae Jepsen out of my head, mailing paperwork, crunching numbers, procrastinating by watching Girls under the guise of staying up-to-date with pop culture, and obviously not blogging enough. But while everyone (including Ellen) has been busy indulging in Fifty Shades of Grey, I have decided to take on a literary challenge requiring the intake of much more caffeine and the occasional googling of unknown terms…

That’s right, I’m reviewing a book for an academic journal. When I was visiting my hometown, one of my former professors suggested this would be a good move in order to add a newer publication to my CV next to my rapidly aging journal article from undergrad. That made sense to me, so here are the steps that have been involved so far:

  1. Identifying a journal within my area of research/academic knowledge and checking to see if they are accepting reviews.
  2. Browsing the assortment of books available to review. Keeping in mind that I’m still working 9-5, I had to balance my ambition with finding a book that had a reasonable number of pages and wasn’t so densely written that each chapter would require multiple readings (steering clear of any Judith Butler here…).
  3. Requesting to review a particular book as per the instructions on the site.

And voilà, it’s as easy as that. The publisher mailed the book directly to me with a complimentary bookmark and sticker on the inside cover that reads “REVIEW COPY – Not for resale”. So I feel like a big shot and I have 10 weeks to produce. It’s week 5 and I have rough copy that’s definitely suffering from my butchered writing style, which has mutated into bureaucratic sentence fragments infused with occasional theoretical jargon. It’s a byproduct of my four years away from academia and in a cubicle writing bullet points and summary boxes. Therefore, in an attempt to procrastina-clarify my thoughts, I’ll share with you:

Notable Points from “The Media Gaze: Representations of Diversities in Canada” by Augie Fleras

At first glance, one would think the Canadian media is pretty benign. I can’t remember the last time I was offended by anything on CBC (this is because Peter Mansbridge is a deity, though sadly I can find no links to prove this so you will simply need to have faith) but I also cannot remember the last time I watched CBC, so I was glad that when Fleras came out swinging at the media he used some pretty vivid case studies. That was probably the strongest aspect of this book: through multiple examples, he pretty much brought me up to speed on several years of Canadian media that I had missed while streaming Jersey Shore and using my TV as a dusty, retro decoration.

During my time outside of the classroom, I had forgotten the way that critical sociology often rips the veneer off of social artifacts to reveal their seedy, destructive and capitalist-driven underbellies. Fleras does not disappoint. He talks about how Little Mosque on the Prairie depoliticizes Muslims by making them slapstick characters. He rips apart the Canadian news coverage that painted all of the Tamil refugees who sought asylum in 2009 and 2010 as Tamil Tigers – remember that this was quite the controversy back then. He shows how the onslaught of working-class reality shows, such as the Deadliest Catch, reinforces a one-dimensional view of masculinity that depicts these men as rugged, macho heroes but steers clear of portraying the struggles they face as a result of their position in society (e.g. lack of job security or fair wages).

Fleras also takes down the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Remembering how the related time-lapse commercial was glorified in one of my classes as a commentary on the social construction of women’s ideal bodies, I really wasn’t sure how he would go about exposing the evils of advertising soap in a way that makes women feel better about themselves. Even so, the models in Dove’s campaign were all pretty much conventionally beautiful according to mainstream gender norms except that they were simply a little larger than the models you generally see (though still smaller than the average North American woman). Fleras argues that Dove still targeted women in order to sell products, it’s just that instead of selling them hopes of attaining normative beauty they are being sold self-esteem: you’ll feel better about yourself if you buy [Dove product] because then you’ll know YOU are truly beautiful. The largest criticism of the campaign seems to have been Dove’s attempt to use the ‘real’ beauty models to sell firming cream (something my thighs and butt never have and never will experience), which sent the message that you can be larger but your body cannot jiggle or act out/deviate from accepted beauty standards in any way – even in natural ways.

So yes, my bias toward thinking of Canadian media as upstanding in juxtaposition with American programming, such as the Man Show or the Real Housewives of… series, has been slightly shaken by this book. In fact, by the end of Chapter 11, you can’t help but hear someone’s disappointed grandma in your head exclaiming, “Oy, oy, what has this country come to?” And this is where a lot of critical sociologists leave us. I remember reading Adorno and thinking: well, that’s it, so long as capitalism exists we should all jump off a cliff because it’s not getting any better. Luckily, Fleras dedicates a whole section to the ways in which the ‘dominant media gaze’ is being opposed through independent media outlets, such as Aboriginal newspapers and ethnic TV channels (I loved Omni when we had cable) and, of course, the INTERNETS. Fleras’ chapter about Web 2.0 adequately discusses how individuals have now been empowered to create their own content and can do so in order to challenge hegemonic ideologies. However, he gives a bit of a simplistic overview with generalized and overused statements, such as the Tapscott quote “The Internet changes everything”. Though I guess this is to be expected for a book that covers so much ground. Ultimately, what I like most about the last section is that Fleras doesn’t paint an unrealistic picture of a ‘power to the people’ media utopia developing anytime soon, but he does highlight how individuals can contribute to a slow change for the better by challenging media bull when they see it. He also leaves us with a larger-scale view of the structural and institutional ways in which the media industry and society as a whole must change in order to truly accept, embrace and foster diversity.

A link will be posted if/when they publish my actual ‘academic sounding’ review – wish me luck!


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