Instigator / Pro
Points: 21

Diversity in media is a good thing

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After 4 votes the winner is ...
Athias
Debate details
Publication date
Last update
Category
Society
Time for argument
One week
Voting system
Open voting
Voting period
Two weeks
Point system
Four points
Rating mode
Rated
Characters per argument
10,000
Contender / Con
Points: 28
Description
Many people on the internet, mostly conservatives, can be found ranting about the increasing amount of women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT+ people in their movies, TV shows, and video games. According to many of them, we are being force-fed an "SJW agenda", whether or not we want it. However, I will argue that there's nothing wrong with representing different types of people in media, and the paranoia over "SJWs" is just silly. My opponent must argue that this push for greater diversity is either harmful, or completely neutral. We'll both be free to pull examples from modern media to help in our conversation. Best of luck!
Round 1
Published:
Hello, and thanks for accepting. My main argument here will be that portraying many diverse types of people in media - not only women and minorities but also people of different religions, sexual orientations, disabilities, ages, body types, and neurology - is a good thing for society.

In the 1950s and earlier, nearly every film protagonist was portrayed by a white male. There were exceptions, but those tended to fall into stereotypes about women or other races. Point is, this is a reflection of the fact that the straight white male, for hundreds of years, has been the dominant group in the Western world. They were the only people in positions of leadership or power, and thus, only their stories were told. Now, I’m not saying that “white males are evil” or anything of the sort. This is just a strawman argument that conservatives tend to put in the mouths of their opponents nowadays. However, there are a lot of different types of people out there, all with unique perspectives that might differ from a white man’s, and I think the world deserves to hear them. There’s nothing wrong with having a white man as your main character, but this shouldn’t be the only kind of protagonist we ever see, like it was back in the 50s.

We have made a lot of progress since then, but it’s clear that “white guy” is still the default option in our heads when it comes to stories. Many conservatives believe that “the SJW agenda” is forcibly taking over Hollywood, and every single movie nowadays is forced to celebrate women and minorities while demonizing white men. Studies on the matter tell a very different story. One study from the Annenberg Foundation [1] examined 900 films from 2007 to 2016, and found that only about a third of them have female leads, about a quarter of them have no black speaking characters, and only about 3% of the 900 films were directed by women, 5.6% by black people. This is a far cry from the narrative of forced diversity that we hear from right-wing pundits.

Another objection you commonly hear is: why does diversity matter? Shouldn’t the story you’re telling matter more than the color of your protagonist’s skin? These kinds of objections come across as naive to me. In our society, it’s a fact that people are judged based on race. We lump each other into stereotypes, and make assumptions about one another, conscious or not. And when you see a portrayal of a certain type of person in art, you subconsciously incorporate it into your idea of what those people are like in the real world. Maybe you think that sounds silly, because “it’s just a movie/TV show”, but this has evidence to back it up. A 2012 study [2] found that on TV, “Black male characters are disproportionately shown as buffoons, or as menacing and unruly youths, and black female characters are typically shown as exotic and sexually available”. In a survey of 400 children, the researchers found that black boys and girls experienced lower self-esteem after watching TV, while white boys experienced no change in self-esteem. Children, as well as adults, notice the characters who look like them, and this affects the way they see real-life people, even themselves. I’m not suggesting that we should remove all negative portrayals of African Americans from the media, but that we should balance it out with a lot of positive portrayals too.

The ideal goal of creating a fictional character, in my opinion, should be to make them as well-rounded and complex as a person in the real world. And what’s the opposite of a complex person? A stereotype. To give an example, gay people have been portrayed in the media as perverted, predatory, and villainous for a long time. But in the 90s, we started to see some of the first positive portrayals of gay men on TV. The problem was, most of them fell into the stereotype of lisping, flamboyant, effeminate, “Fabulousssss!” dandies. Just look at, say, Will & Grace. The audience was encouraged to laugh at them simply because they were gay, and their only personality trait was “gay”. At the risk of sounding overdramatic, one could compare this to the minstrel shows of early 20th-century America. The portrayals of black people were arguably positive in nature, but still displayed stereotypes like their supposed lack of intelligence, playful trickster personalities, and love for watermelons, and audiences were encouraged to laugh at them for this. Thankfully, there is an increasing amount of complex characters of all races, genders, and sexual orientations appearing on the screen nowadays, not just played for laughs. Hopefully, it can introduce these people’s stories to those who are ignorant of them. There’s nothing that kills prejudice quite as well as meeting someone you like from a group you dislike, but for those who never venture outside their circle, a relatable and humanized fictional character can be the next best thing.

In summary, diversity is important because there are many different types of people in the world, so we should represent many different types of people in our art. But there is a difference between stereotyping and realistic, humanizing portrayals, and we should strive for the latter. Children need to grow up with role models who look like them, and everyone needs a reminder that groups of people like them are included and celebrated as a part of the world. We should recognize that our society is still in the grip of systemic racism, and our media has to evolve along with us if we are to make real cultural change.

Thank you, Con, and look forward to your opening argument.

Sources:
1. https://annenberg.usc.edu/sites/default/files/Dr_Stacy_L_Smith-Inequality_in_900_Popular_Films.pdf
2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254084555_Racial_and_Gender_Differences_in_the_Relationship_Between_Children's_Television_Use_and_Self-Esteem_A_Longitudinal_Panel_Study

Published:
Opening Argument

My opening argument will be, as they say, "short and sweet." It will be based on the premise that diversity in the media is either neutral or harmful as per the description of my opponent. The need/desire for increased diversity operates on the presumption that representation manifests from conveying corporate designations, i.e. race, gender, sexuality, etc, in equal proportions. The issue with that is these designations aren't equally spread throughout a nation's populace. Using the United States as an example, the "white" designation is given to about 76.5 percent of the populace--60.4 percent Non-Hispanic. If we are going to indulge numerical disparities and argue that disparity creates alienation, then it would stand to reason that risk of alienation disproportionately affects white audiences more than any other designation. We can demonstrate this by employing a simple calculus: let's consider the four largest demographics in terms of designation--i.e. "White, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian." Now let's determine that all films from now on will be released with equal representation, meaning that every one in four films will prominently represent each designation. By that very same token, this would also result in three out of every four films producing some form of alienation to the other three demographics whether mild or extreme. Let's do some calculations: "Asians" make up 5.9 percent of the U.S. population. So alienating 75 percent of them would result in alienating 4.4 percent of the population; "African-Americans" make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population. So alienating 75 percent of them would result in alienating 10 percent of the population; with "Hispanics" it would be a 13.7 percent proportion of alienation; and finally with "Whites" it be a whopping 45 percent proportion of alienation. What would that do to the film industry, especially its pricing and dissemination? Basic macroeconomic analysis would suggest that prices would increase and supply would decrease.

The other issue with this call for increased diversity in the media is the unsubstantiated assertion that a person can identify with and therefore be represented only by a person with an identical corporate designation. That is, an "African-American" from Manhattan New York, could be "represented" by an African-American from rural Louisiana solely based on the reason that they share a designation. A "White, Hispanic or Asian" could not possibly represent in any media the aforestated "African-American" from New York, even if  the actors, for example, are from the same neighborhood, went to the same schools, frequented the same recreational facilities. Not to mention, this possibly couldn't happen even if the film of which we proverbially speak has its plot and setting revolving around New York. Sharing a designation does not mean that another can "represent" a person, whether it be one's experiences, culture, character traits and/or mannerisms. Sharing the designation, in and of itself, is just sharing a designation. (*Note, this rationale can be applied to the other designations; for my purposes, "race" is the exemplar.)

In Round Two, I'll be rebutting my opponent's opening argument as well as any (counter) argument he presents in Round Two. Until then.




Round 2
Published:
Thank you for your opening argument, and for this round, I’ll give my counter-argument.

The first argument you make seems to be that, because whites make up a majority of the population, it’s okay to make them your main demographic. You seem to be misunderstanding what I’m saying. I’m not arguing that every single movie has to have a token black, Asian, and Latino character. But I do think it’s a good to have a diverse cast. And moreover, the idea of a “minority” in sociology refers to a social minority rather than a numerical minority, but this is forgivable since it’s a common misconception. The difference is, a social minority is a group of people which are discriminated against and hold less power in society [1], while a numerical minority is the common usage of the word. It’s important to keep in mind the difference, because the terms can contradict one another. For example, billionaires are a numerical minority, but hold a massive amount of power and influence, so are not a social minority. And women, despite making up at least half the U.S. population, are considered a minority group. So I don’t think your first argument is very relevant, unless you can connect it more to the debate’s resolution.

For your second argument, you assert that people don’t “identify” with characters from a similar background in media, and claim that this is “unsubstantiated”. You seem to be forgetting that in my first round, I provided scholarly sources which suggest that they do. Such as the study which showed that black children experienced lower self-esteem after watching TV, thanks to the negative and stereotypical portrayal of black people. There are more studies, such as this [2] one which has found that children seek out media with characters that are part of their identity groups, and this [3] one which explains how girls show greater appreciation for video games more when given the opportunity to play as a female. Even putting these academic studies aside, it seems obvious why people would identify with characters similar to themselves. People like hearing stories about people like them. That's one of the reason we tell stories, to live vicariously through someone else's life story. That’s why, when literacy spread to the middle and lower classes in the 18th and 19th century, books stopped being just about aristocrats and nobles, and told the stories of ordinary folk. We get invested in stories because we can put ourselves in the shoes of the main character, and this becomes easier when they come from a similar background to us.

You give an example that a black person from New York couldn’t identify with a black character from Louisiana. Why not? African Americans share a common historical and cultural heritage. I never said that the character needed to be exactly identical to the person watching - it seems you have invented this notion in order to more easily attack my argument. People can identify with a character of any race or gender, but it has been statistically shown that people more closely identify with characters similar to themselves. Which is why it's important for stories to be about all sorts of different types of people, not just the unspoken default of the attractive straight white man. Whether or not a character of a certain color or gender can “represent” the whole group is certainly debatable, but one doesn’t have to look very far on the internet to see that people of color want to see better POC representation, women want to see better female representation, LGBT+ want to see better queer representation, and so on. Whether or not you think their philosophy is consistent, this is an issue people care about. As of right now, your argument is rooted in semantics, but I would like to see some real evidence that diversity is neutral or harmful, and that minorities don’t care about representation one way or the other, as you claim.

Sources:



Published:
Rebuttal

In the 1950s and earlier, nearly every film protagonist was portrayed by a white male. There were exceptions, but those tended to fall into stereotypes about women or other races.
And in the 1950's, the white designation was assigned to nearly 90 percent of the U.S. demographic (of course, the U.S. once again serving as an example.) Your argument defeats itself. If we extend your rationale, i.e. different individuals seeing others in the media with an identical designation is either necessary or "a good thing," then the logical conclusion would be the media's reflecting this "need" or "good" thing, even if there's a numerical disparity. Like any industry, the media targets and caters to its largest consumer base. And for the U.S., that's "white" people.

However, there are a lot of different types of people out there, all with unique perspectives that might differ from a white man’s, and I think the world deserves to hear them. There’s nothing wrong with having a white man as your main character, but this shouldn’t be the only kind of protagonist we ever see, like it was back in the 50s.
But how many other people can relate to those "unique" perspectives? Once again, if we apply your logic, then there's no substantial reason these "unique" perspectives ought to be disseminated through television/print/film to the same extent as the "typical" perspectives of those who share the "white" designation. It's a number's game. Because the numbers determines one's exposure and revenue.

Another objection you commonly hear is: why does diversity matter?
It's a question you are burdened and have yet to answer.

In a survey of 400 children, the researchers found that black boys and girls experienced lower self-esteem after watching TV, while white boys experienced no change in self-esteem. Children, as well as adults, notice the characters who look like them, and this affects the way they see real-life people, even themselves. I’m not suggesting that we should remove all negative portrayals of African Americans from the media, but that we should balance it out with a lot of positive portrayals too.

You seem to be forgetting that in my first round, I provided scholarly sources which suggest that they do. Such as the study which showed that black children experienced lower self-esteem after watching TV, thanks to the negative and stereotypical portrayal of black people. There are more studies, such as this [2] one which has found that children seek out media with characters that are part of their identity groups, and this [3] one which explains how girls show greater appreciation for video games more when given the opportunity to play as a female.
Where in these studies is family environment controlled for? Where in these studies is cause established? That is, have they eliminated the possibility that low self-esteem is the source and not the consequence?

The ideal goal of creating a fictional character, in my opinion, should be to make them as well-rounded and complex as a person in the real world. And what’s the opposite of a complex person? A stereotype.
Even if we were to concede that stereotypes ought to be purged, what does that have to do with the diversity of which you speak? If those with the "white" designation can be individualistic and portray a plethora of complex characteristics, then this "diversity" of which you speak would be achieved. If however, you're going to argue that these designations somehow shape the experiences of individuals, then stereotypes are the most useful because they invoke salient experiences that create an archetype with which an audience can relate. You can't have it both ways: people have either unique experiences or typical ones. And if you're going to argue that individuals have experiences unique to their designation, then sir, that would be very "stereotypical."

In summary, diversity is important because there are many different types of people in the world, so we should represent many different types of people in our art.
This is not sufficient because the justification for your statement is your statement. You're essentially saying "diversity is important because diversity exists."  Why is it a "good thing"?

But there is a difference between stereotyping and realistic, humanizing portrayals, and we should strive for the latter.
Stereotypes aren't realistic? How?

Children need to grow up with role models who look like them, and everyone needs a reminder that groups of people like them are included and celebrated as a part of the world.
And there are more children exposed to the media with the "white" designation (in the US); therefore, they make up a larger portion of the media industry's consumer base. Thus, the media disseminates content which appeals to their needs for "role models who look like them" to a large extent.

You give an example that a black person from New York couldn’t identify with a black character from Louisiana. Why not?
No, I did not. This was my statement:

The other issue with this call for increased diversity in the media is the unsubstantiated assertion that a person can identify with and therefore be represented only by a person with an identical corporate designation. That is, an "African-American" from Manhattan New York, could be "represented" by an African-American from rural Louisiana solely based on the reason that they share a designation.
I stated that it was unsubstantiated to presume that a person can identify with and be represented by someone based on the designation alone. That's the reason I used an example with two individuals exposed to different environments heavily influenced by their regions.

African Americans share a common historical and cultural heritage.
Which historical and cultural heritage do they share?

I never said that the character needed to be exactly identical to the person watching - it seems you have invented this notion in order to more easily attack my argument.
This is a non sequitur. The identicality of which I spoke was in reference to corporate and government designations. I haven't used the adjective outside of that context.

People can identify with a character of any race or gender,
Then case closed, right?

but it has been statistically shown that people more closely identify with characters similar to themselves.
And it has been statistically shown that those with the "white" designation are the predominant patrons of media content (in the U.S.) So if people "closely identify with characters 'similar' to themselves" then the extent to which certain properties are distributed will reflect these differences in demographics. Why? Because it's more lucrative.

but one doesn’t have to look very far on the internet to see that people of color want to see better POC representation, women want to see better female representation, LGBT+ want to see better queer representation, and so on.
What's "better" representation? And what's stopping them from creating their own content?

As of right now, your argument is rooted in semantics
As of now, my argument is rooted in logic. The argument is rather simple: diversity is either harmful or neutral because: (1) alienating (according to your own rationale) would stifle consumption of media content would reduce supply and/or result in the increased price of the final product, and (2) it's presumptuous to conclude that two people sharing a designation can identify with and represent one another.

but I would like to see some real evidence that diversity is neutral or harmful, and that minorities don’t care about representation one way or the other, as you claim.
No. This is argument is not a referendum on whether "minorities" care about representation. This argument as you've named it is about whether Diversity is a "good thing." I never once presumed that about which one cared.
Round 3
Forfeited
Published:
My opponent has forfeited the third round. I ask that if my opponent has no intention of continuing this discussion, then he'd do both me and the onlooking readers the courtesy of conceding sooner rather than later--sparing us the length of a week. If my opponent wishes to continue, then there should be no issue continuing where we left off.
Round 4
Forfeited
Published:
My opponent has forfeited the fourth round. I sustain all previous arguments.
Round 5
Forfeited
Published:
My opponent has forfeited the final round. All arguments are sustained. Vote well.
Added:
--> @Phenenas
Once my current debate ends, I might accept!
#4
Added:
I would be more than willing to hear out an opponent who argues that it is neutral. I'll edit the description to reflect that.
Instigator
#3
Added:
--> @Phenenas
Racial diversity in media is neutral, not good. Also, diversity does not contribute to economic success. If it did, then Latin America would be among the richest regions in the world, but it is not.
#2
Added:
I feel like the argument by consveratives including me is mostly that we don't need more diversity, it's not necessary, it is neutral in my opinion
#1
#4
Criterion Pro Tie Con Points
Better arguments 3 points
Better sources 2 points
Better spelling and grammar 1 point
Better conduct 1 point
Reason:
Conduct awarded for the forfeits.
While pros argument had promise, and would have been interesting had it gone all 5 rounds; predicated on the idea that diversity is good due to the influence it has on individuals on children from various different demographics; while supported by a study that was challenged by con - two main components of cons case were unanswered by con: pros case that relating to archetypes are beneficial was challenged as inherently stereotypical - and the idea that it is presumptive to assume identification based only on race, where various other cultural factors could play in too. While I do t think these were strong arguments, they were unanswered; and as a result - arguments must go to con.
#3
Criterion Pro Tie Con Points
Better arguments 3 points
Better sources 2 points
Better spelling and grammar 1 point
Better conduct 1 point
Reason:
FF
#2
Criterion Pro Tie Con Points
Better arguments 3 points
Better sources 2 points
Better spelling and grammar 1 point
Better conduct 1 point
Reason:
Pro ff the majority of the debate, that's poor conduct!
#1
Criterion Pro Tie Con Points
Better arguments 3 points
Better sources 2 points
Better spelling and grammar 1 point
Better conduct 1 point
Reason:
3.5 forfeit, neither side convinced me