David Gauntlett’s “Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction”

There is much discourse in the design world about how much of an impact the media has on the individual, thereby having an effect on the masses. In No Logo, Naomi Klein argues that branding—or rather, over-branding—and over-consumption due to Capitalism-sown-greed has doomed mankind to be slaves of their own branded objects of desire; the corporate head-honchos are to blame for mass misery. Needless to say, my particular disdain for her piece of journalism will lean towards over exaggeration.

David Gauntlett’s Media, Gender and Identity, however, provides a less biased, and slightly more nuanced view of the media’s effect on the individual, as compared to Ms. Klein’s No Logo. My opinion of this fact itself is skewed, as I have only read the introductory extract essay to Gauntlett’s book, whereas I have read No Logo in its entirety.

Gauntlett takes a holistic, sometimes contradictory, view on the mass media, as he aims to “demonstrate, that popular media has a significant, but not entirely straightforward relationship with peoples’ sense of gender and identity.” I suppose it is unfair to compare Gauntlett’s seemingly obvious, easily proved claim to Naomi Klein’s more restricted, negative view of product branding, however, I feel that a more ambiguous position is required to be taken when talking about how products and media can affect humankind. As Gauntlett states, “Media messages are diverse, diffuse, and contradictory.” This being the case, a simple positive/negative stance on something so all encompassing cannot be taken.

In any case, Gauntlett’s thesis resides not in the fact that the media can and will affect people, but more so in how the media achieves this. He believes that the media is anti-traditional, pushing ever more “radical uncertainties and exciting contradictions,” thus capturing the interest of young people who Gauntlett states are more likely to rebel against old, or, traditional values, such as heterosexuality. Gauntlett frequently alludes to magazines—men’s magazines in particular—as they depict men as being “caring, good-humored, and interested in relationship and health advice.”  Although this anti-traditionalism is used as a selling point, not every reader of a magazine will agree with its progressive content, and therefore, will not take every word to heart. This creates, as Gauntlett says, the use of media “as tools which can be used in this work … [of] your life as your project.” The media is a tool for “knowing the social construction of identity.”

The Media, Gender and Identity extract/book covers a huge breadth of content and arguments, yet the idea of how the media dictates identity, or vice versa, is probably the most important in regards to graphic design, or design in general, as designers are heavily responsible for the depiction of the media. David Gauntlett’s idea that elements of the media are like an a la carte menu from which we pick and choose aspects to appropriate unto ourselves makes a lot of sense to me, logically. For designers, this means that regardless of what we create and put out for public viewing, it is ultimately up to the public, or the individual, of what they want to make of it. Designers do not dictate to people what to think; designers are merely giving the public options to do with what they will. I am not a slave to the media, as much as I choose what to make myself a slave of, so to speak.

One major point I would have to disagree with Gauntlett on is the fact that the media is ultimately anti-traditional. The Bauhaus modernists would probably agree with that statement. Perhaps this is so in the progression of ideology—for instance, the media is constantly updating what is moral/immoral, and what is acceptable/unacceptable as changes occur within culture, however, I would argue that cultural changes are still affected by history and the socio-cultural movements of the past. In a visual way, I would argue that the media is certainly not anti-traditional, as artists and designers are constantly looking back to designers/artists of the past for inspiration. If there is nothing in the past, how do we create a future, or have anything to compare to in order to know that we are moving ahead or making progress?



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