LEXINGTON, Ky. (September 29, 2021) – How do Hollywood clichés perpetuate the status quo? Erika Engstrom, media content expert and director of the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information, explores this question in her new book “Gramsci and Media Literacy: Critically Thinking about TV and the Movies”.
In this compelling analysis, Engstrom and his co-author Ralph Beliveau, of the University of Oklahoma, compare case studies from movies and TV shows that actively challenge societal stereotypes – or, in the words of from Engstrom, the “counter-hegemonic” media.
“Hegemony” is the dominant worldview of most participants in society. This theory, first employed by Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci in his critiques of capitalism, suggests that most of what we see is created by people in power with selfish interests. To maintain this power, hegemonic actors reinforce the status quo and suppress refractory voices.
In entertainment media, hegemony is personified by tropes of overused characters: the damsel in distress, the wise old man, the girl next door, the stoic muscleman and more.
“This is why people are marginalized,” Engstrom said. “The people who make the movies and the television want you to keep watching. If there is something that looks a bit unusual or out of the ordinary, you won’t want to watch.
However, Engstrom and movie critics are feeling a subtle shift in the industry. Thanks to streaming services, resistive stories slowly grew in popularity, influencing even big-box movies like “Avengers: Endgame” – a case study in this book.
Unlike other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Engstrom thought “Endgame” was a great movie. Characters like Tony Stark, who were previously described as hyper-masculinized and one-dimensional, are now seen crying, going out to support groups and contributing to their home.
“They show that real men are people; it’s counter-hegemonic masculinity, ”Engstrom said. “Resistive media does more than diversify stories on the big screen, it contributes to the evolution of our culture. The normalization of human emotions can change society and our relationships with others in our daily lives.”
“If we had more people who could show their emotions, we wouldn’t have war; we wouldn’t have violence against women.”
While “Avengers: Endgame” challenges society’s traditional view of masculinity, it remains hegemonic in some ways, especially in its portrayal of women. Therefore, Engstrom argues, all media consumers should look critically and question the media they love. To look critically, says Engstrom, is to understand that you have a choice to do what you want to do.
“This is what this book is about – let’s question what we know so that we can resist hegemony,” Engstrom said. “It’s kind of my goal on this earth, to make (people) understand that it is for the good of everyone.”
For more information on ‘Gramsci and Media Literacy: A Critical Reflection on Television and Film’, visit Rowman & Littlefield. The book is also available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Erika Engstrom is a nationally recognized gender and media scholar specializing in the study of the portrayal of gender, religion and marriage in mass media. Prior to joining the UK in 2020, Engstrom was Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as well as Acting Managing Director of campus radio station KUNV-FM.
Engstrom holds a BA in Broadcasting and an MA in Communication from the University of Central Florida. His doctorate, from the University of Florida, is in mass communication.
The University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media was founded in 1914. As one of 114 fully accredited journalism schools in the world, UK JAM paves the way for training students to succeed in all media areas, with an emphasis on practical application.