In the United States one of the most represented groups in popular culture of people is young male students. This is due in large part because of the fact that the demographic of males from ages 5 to 24 makes up 27.4% of the population of the United States according to the Census Bureau. Intelligibly, this demographic is very large and widely represented on various mediums of popular culture. With such a wide representation there leaves room for various portrayals of young male students in mass media. Seeing as though I am a young male student it would be prudent for me to focus on those depictions and portrayals in popular culture. While there is an array of portrayals available to from media, there seems to be an emphasis on the “manly” or “joker” type character. Stereotypes and media depictions affect all groups of people, oftentimes negatively effects the stereotyped demographic in question. For the young male demographic, this negative effect can be seen due depictions and expectations set by mass media.
In film, there is often a portrayal of the arc archetypical young masculine male, from war films to movies about cowboys; there is often a character who fits the mold of “the strong, silent type”. This type of character is a simple perpetuation of the idea that males ought to disengage from certain emotions and tap into ‘concrete’ actions like being strong or being brave. The problem that develops though is with this comes a discouragement of expressing various emotional pains which seems to lead to anger coming out “sideways” from a buildup of emotion. While there are certainly has been excellent steps taken recently in order to facilitate further equality amongst the sexes and a limiting on prior gender roles and norms, there is still promotion of some of these ideals. Lea Winerman sums up this phenomena far better than I would be able to by writing, “Many boys, he says, learn from their parents and from other children that they are not supposed to express vulnerability or caring. They learn to suppress their emotional responses–like crying or even sad facial expressions–so much that, by the time they are adults, they are genuinely unaware of their emotions and how to describe them in words” (Winerman). Logically this bottling up of emotions cannot be healthy, though it is clear that a large number of men are essentially ignorant to their emotional/mental health. Perhaps this is why the majority of prisoners are male (Department of Justice).
In advertising, the encouragement and promotion of the typical male stereotype is highly prevalent. When turning on, for example, a football game or a basketball game, you are likely to see a number of ads for beer, cars, and general encouragement of stereotypical male “fun” and interests. While it is plain to see why these ads are placed and why they are effective, it has the propensity to discourage male achievement past the media emphasis on simply getting a girl, getting money, and having fun with your “bros”. Similar tactics were used to encourage smoking with the use by Marlboro of “The Marlboro Man”. Recently, perhaps correlated, perhaps not, there has been a noticeable drop nationwide in the attendance number in male’s enrolling/enrolled in college (Lopez and Barrera).
Source: National Center for Education Statistics’ “The Condition of Education 2011”
In order to analyze this trend of a dropping in male attendance in college there are a couple of films, which serve as lenses into this theme. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a film that was released in 1986 and which has become a culturally significant film in the United States. Ferris, a high school student, is seen with much disregard for school and decides to skip school for the day. The depiction of the student and the principle in a captive/captor relationship is revealing, as is the notion that school is difficult to conform to in the face of the grand scheme of things. As well, the movie presents the idea that although Ferris is not an ideal student, things will generally end up working out in the end. While this may seem insignificant, it is an example of media’s theme that education/school is not so important as long as you are seen as ‘cool’ (Ferris is depicted as a jokester type with a pretty girlfriend and a friend with access to an impressive car).
While this next artifact is not strictly based on students, the 1999 film Office Space, written and directed by Mike Judge, depicts the downtrodden Peter Gibbons in his work environment. This film, being a comedy, is aptly funny with a sort of ‘cult-following’. Of the jobs I have held in my life, I have been able to riff with co-workers with lines from this movie. While on the surface the many characters in this film have comfortable lives, it explores a type of mundane yet comfortable existence experienced by many, particularly the American ‘middle-class’ or ‘white-collar’ workers. With the tagline of this movie being “Work Sucks”, it is an example of what not to do for work and later in life. There is underlying promotion of individuality as opposed to complacency eventually leading to Peter and co. conspiring to steal money from their company by implementing a computer virus into the workplace’s system. There is an anti-establishment message quite prevalent in this film coupled with the expectation to acquire money as a means to demonstrate capability in society, that makes Office Space a decent mirror for the many males in America who turn to various crimes and legally circumventing activities as opposed to hard work (which is mundane and subservient). Some quick numbers from the U.S. Department Of Justice reveal that in 2009 males accounted for 93% of all prisoners (West and Sabol).
Further, and much different from Ferris Bueller and Office Space is the story of Chris Herren. Chris Herren is a man from Fall River, Massachusetts who is a former professional basketball player. He was the subject of an ESPN Films video titled Unguarded, a 51 minute “30 for 30” (docuseries that explores the intricacies and background of various sports stories and figures) that was released in 2011. Herren was a somewhat typical ‘jock’ growing up who focused primarily on sports/basketball despite being in school. Along with this, he had a ‘dark side’ of drug addiction and ‘off-court’ trouble. Despite getting into trouble a number of times growing up and in high school, Herren’s innate ability on the basketball court enabled him to circumvent traditional support. External influences, focused on his ability, planned out his roadmap for him, in large part due to the fact that Fall River is considered a kind of “tough” town of which not many people “make it out”. This storyline is of Chris Herren’s life is telling because despite seemingly obvious limitations and “inner demons”, he was pushed and enabled by those around him, eventually making it to the NBA where he played for the Boston Celtics, simply because of his physical/athletic ability. This demonstrates the value placed on some males in terms of their value and worth. Herren felt unable to express his troubles and ask for help because he knew many of his external influences (family, peers, coaches) were pushing him to focus strictly on basketball and not necessarily taking care of himself. While Ungaurded was the singular story of Chris Herren, this is an effective lens into the emphasis put on some males in terms of the expectations put on them, particularly surrounding the idea of athleticism and masculinity in terms of sports and the overlooking and/or suppression of emotional aspects of males.
While there is much to be said about trials and adversity of other demographics, though this paper does not seek compare or contrast those sociological differences. In short, it is clear that stereotypes, regardless of the target, have the propensity to be harmful. For young males this stereotyping in media is so common and accepted that there is not much discussion in regards to this topic. It is important to be aware of the various stereotypes and depictions that are used for the various demographics. As we progress as a society it will continue to be an important thing to be aware of.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, John Hughes, Paramount Pictures, 1986.
Lopez, Mark Hugo, and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera. “Women’s College Enrollment Gains Leave Men behind.” Pew Research Center RSS. Pew Research Center, 06 Mar. 2014. Web. May 2015.
Office Space, Mike Judge, 20th Century Fox Productions Company, 1999.
Unguarded, Chris Herren, Jonathan Hock, ESPN, ESPN Films
“United States Census Bureau.” USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. U.S. Census Bureau, n.d. Web. May 2015.
West, Heather, Ph.D., and William Sabol, Ph.D. “Prisoners in 2009.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice, 27 Oct. 2011. Web. May 2015.
Winerman, Lea. “Helping Men to Help Themselves.” Http://www.apa.org. American Psychological Association, June 2005. Web. May 2015.