7: Tokenism vs invisibility

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
7: Tokenism vs invisibility

Today, we’re talking about representation. Specifically…

Is an inaccurate token representation preferable to no representation?

Show notes & links:
The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (Hays Code)

The Media and Modernity (Stanford University Press)

Full episode text

Between 1930 and 1961, the Hays Code declared exactly what was and was not acceptable to be represented in American motion pictures. While the Hays Code has long since been dismantled, the tradition it enshrined — which had already and continues to be built on racism, classism, social stratification, and more — still has an impact. The public sphere is one where representation is extraordinarily powerful.

John B. Thompson’s Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media, outlines the importance of fighting the “spiral of silence” and gaining visibility in that social sphere when he says:

Struggles for recognition have increasingly become constituted as struggles for visibility within the non-localized space of mediated publicness. The struggle to make oneself heard or seen is not a peripheral aspect of the social and political upheavals of the modern world; on the contrary, it is central to them.

Yet that visibility often does not come in the form of a fully fleshed out, entirely accurate or thoughtful representation. So, if forced to choose between no representation at all or a token representation that is likely stereotypical and inaccurate, could one really be better than another?