Media Matters: Stereotypes and Social Change in Popular Media

Department: Sociology

Instructors: Erica Bender and Stacey Livingstone
Instructors' Emails:;
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

We all consume popular media, yet we can often overlook how they depict a biased view of social reality. This course will introduce students to how popular media portray particular social groups. The course will familiarize students with these issues while providing the analytical tools to critically interpret media representations. We will investigate how television, films, music videos, and magazines depict and recreate stereotypes based on socioeconomic class, race, and gender. We will discuss why the media sells these kinds of representations, the effect these representations have on us, the role of the media in reinforcing inequality, and how the media can be used for positive social change. The course is designed for young learners with little to no experience in sociology or media studies.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

Overall, there are two overarching goals for this course. The first is to demonstrate how popular media project a biased representation of social reality. The second is to give students the ability and confidence to critically analyze and engage with media in their own lives. These skills are especially crucial for young students, who are coming of age in a social environment saturated by media. The class will also provide an introduction into the sociological perspectives on race, class, and gender as well as familiarize students with methods for critical media analysis. While the course will offer a robust academic discussion of a contemporary social phenomenon, students should come away from the course feeling prepared and empowered to engage media environments in their daily lives. More specific course objectives include:

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the sociological perspectives of race, class, and gender.
  • Have practice using critical media analysis methods
  • Understand and be able to critically engage many common issues with representations in the media
  • Recognize the commercial, political, social, and cultural incentives behind particular media representations
  • Articulate this media literacy clearly and coherently to peers

Topical Outline

Each week, we will delve into a ‘realm’ of sociology (i.e. class, race, and gender). Students will learn how to think sociologically about these issues, then we bring sociology concepts to life by observing subsequent representations in the media.

Tentative Course Schedule

Week 1

Day 1 (Monday)

  • AM: Intro to Media Literacy and Core Sociology Concepts
  • PM: Conducting a critical media analysis and media analysis practice

Day 2 (Tuesday)

  • AM: Intro to Class, Class-based inequality, the classless society?
  • PM: Class reproduction, cultural capital, and meritocracy

Day 3 (Wednesday)

  • AM: The invisible poor the abundant middle class in primetime sitcoms
  • PM: Meritocracy and class in reality TV – whose reality?

Day 4 (Thursday)

  • AM: What are media makers selling? Explaining representations through cultural, social, political, and economic lenses.
  • PM: Student Presentations – class in your media; Quiz #1

Day 5 (Friday)

  • All day: Field trip to Chapman University, Dodge College of Film and Media Arts (Orange, CA)

Week 2

Day 6 (Monday)

  • AM: Intro to race, race-based inequality, the colorblind society?
  • PM: Race and meaning: stereotypes vs. identities, ascription vs. assertion

Day 7 (Tuesday)

  • AM: Old news? Race, crime, and power mass media news outlets
  • PM: Race and the American blockbuster film

Day 8 (Wednesday)

  • AM: What are media makers selling? Explaining representations through cultural, social, political, and economic lenses.
  • PM: Student Presentations – race in your media; Quiz #2

Day 9 (Thursday)

  • AM: Field Trip – Media Arts Center San Diego & screening of a film from the Latino Film Festival
  • PM: Intro to Gender, gender-based inequality, essentialized difference

Day 10 (Friday)

  • AM: Hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity, ‘men are from mars’
  • PM: Selling gender in advertising

Week 3

Day 11 (Monday)

  • AM: Gendering children through media – Disney films and children’s shows
  • PM: Gender in music/music videos

Day 12 (Tuesday)

  • AM: Media and women’s power: Miss Representation
  • PM: Media, violence, and men’s life chances: Tough Guise

Day 13 (Wednesday)

  • What are media makers selling? Explaining representations through cultural, social, political, and economic lenses.
  • PM: Student Presentations – gender in your media; Quiz #3

Day 14 (Thursday)

  • AM: Field trip to San Diego State University, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film
  • PM: Using the media as a tool for social change

Day 15 (Friday)

  • Group Presentations – class/race/gender in a media genre
  • Conclusion: practicing media literacy outside the classroom

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