03 October 2009
Sunday Salon: Books and Ideology
Jen at Multi-Genre Fan posted an interesting discussion about stereotypes in television, and I found myself wondering how the issue translates to books. Jen writes: "I think it’s important to notice what the stereotypes are and realize how they impact others. If show after show after show portrays people of color, women or people with disabilities a certain way I do believe viewers are influenced more than they’d like to admit." I couldn't agree more. While Jen was focused primarily on negative portrayals of race, gender, and ability, my thoughts extended to ideologies in general. The ideology of a culture is disseminated through, perhaps even created by, its media through a process of normalization. That which we see everyday we accept as inevitable truth whether it's a belief like 'women are objects for male pleasure' or an action such as opening a door for an older person.
Are the ideologies portrayed in books as influential as the ones seen on television and in movies?
I think to truly address this question we have to look at the extremes, works of fiction that have reached a large number of people, and the first books that popped into my head were...Harry Potter and Twilight. Millions of people throughout the world have read these books; many have read them multiple times. Are the morals and standards of behavior in these books affecting the real world? Do readers adopt the ideologies of the texts?
For example, a prominent theme in Twilight is "no sex before marriage". Will readers adopt this philosophy? Will the popularity of this book cause a change in teens' views of premarital sex? Or in Harry Potter, readers learn that rules sometimes have to be broken for the greater good, and that secrets sometimes have to be kept from adults. Is this going to carry over into the young reader's real life interactions?
I hate to be posing all of these questions, but the truth is I just don't know the answers. I think television and film are more influential as a rule for a variety of reasons:
1) I think there is a greater homogeneity in visual media. TV and movies, especially the "popular" shows tend to carry similar ideologies. There isn't much differentiation in views on women, race, physicality, sexuality, etc. from Criminal Minds to CSI to Eastwick to Grey's Anatomy to etc. etc. etc. Because of this, viewers are consistently bombarded with the same messages. Books on the other hand are more varied, partially because there's just more of them.
2) TV and film reach more people than books do. I think we can all agree that the world is full of more tv watchers than book readers. 3) And those who are watching are (mainly) passively taking in the messages being portrayed. Reading, on the other hand, is a more active process requiring a mental effort on the part of the reader that is absent for the viewer. 4) This mental effort also provides the opportunity for personal interpretation and hence manipulation of the ideologies within the text. Again, this ability to affect meaning is not as apparent in visual media, so the ideologies are being placed on rather than created by the viewer.
I hesitate, however, to say that books aren't influential. The Bible, Koran, Talmud, and other religious texts disprove that theory.
So what do you think?
On a Side Note: I have a new email address: email@example.com : trillian_lalienvaliel will still work but I'm slowly switching over.