Though media representation discussions have increased as more people become angry about the lack of representation of people with varied identities, backgrounds, and life stories; the jump to accept all representation like the Coca-Cola Superbowl advertisement is a problem.
Our anger is absolutely within reason considering the ill effects of not seeing ourselves in the media we consume. For example, the Kenneth and Marnie Clark doll experiments showed that only having white dolls led to the African-American children suffering internalized racism.
Not seeing ourselves in media leads to internalized racism, low self-esteem issues, and other problems. However, the want for representation can lead to accepting anything that comes our way even if in reality the representation does not do anything to help change oppression.
One recent example of this problem is the Coca-Cola advertisement for the Super Bowl that had young women singing “America the Beautiful” in multiple languages depicted over various people of different genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and ages. Disregarding all the Ameri-centric and racist reactions to the advertisement, the first reaction was “Coca-Cola is so great at showing diversity!” The problem here is the similarity between the advertisement and how conservatives discussed the ad. Both were highly patriotic. The question we must ask is what does representation matter if the representation is, in fact, tokenizing minorities? Here, like the hijab-wearing person or the interracial gay couple?
More importantly what does representation matter if Coca-Cola is actually distracting us from the fact that the company uses sweatshop labor, steals water, and even contaminates water?
Also detrimental to oppressed communities are shows that purport to be liberal and authentic. Except they still utilize stereotypes to “explore” different lives.
Glee, Queer as Folk, and The L Word which all have great episodes are also known for being highly stereotypical and white-cis centric. They are important to the discussions we have about gender, sexuality, and race but all have problems in their representations.
Ms. Marvel Missteps
I ask these questions because as a South Asian I was excited when the news broke about Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. Then the first issue came out and I became highly apprehensive. There were plenty of moments in the comic that I appreciated. The dinner with her family was similar to what many of us Muslim kids go through when trying to figure out how to balance our faith.
Her imagining the superheroes as her conscience and helping her out what to do were great! The ridiculous jokes about Nakia’s hijab, Kamala smelling like curry (seriously), and Kamala calling bacon “infidel meat” was off-putting. These are scenarios many of us face, but they felt less like teaching moments than outright jokes.
Her autobiography The Butterfly Mosque had generalizations of Egyptian and other Arab women. And other “I’m special because I chose to be Muslim”sentiments… But, I am hoping that the second one redeems itself and I am definitely excited to see what happens with Kamala. I am a huge fan of the shows Elementary and The Fosters because they are currently handling representation pretty well.
I would rather have no representation at all than badly written, offensive representations of people. It’s important to interrogate the representation we do get.