CI’s Engstrom explores Marvel’s Avengers in a new book on media literacy
LEXINGTON, Kentucky (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 co-author Ralph Beliveau of the University of Oklahoma compare case studies of films and television shows that actively challenge social stereotypes – or, in Engstrom’s words, media that are “counter-hegemonial”.
“Hegemony” is the prevailing worldview of most social actors. This theory, first used by the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci in his critique of capitalism, suggests that most of what we see is created by those in power with selfish interests. In order to maintain this power, hegemonic actors strengthen the status quo and suppress voices of resistance.
In the entertainment media, hegemony is personified as overused character tropes: the virgin in need, the wise old man, the girl next door, the stoic muscleman and more.
“That’s why people are being marginalized,” said Engstrom. “The people who do the movies and the TV want you to keep watching. If something seems unusual or unusual, you don’t want to see it. “
However, Engstrom and film critics alike are feeling a subtle change in the industry. Thanks to streaming services, recalcitrant stories have slowly grown in popularity and are even influencing big box films like Avengers: Endgame – a case study in this book.
Unlike other movies in the Marvel cinematic universe, Engstrom thought Endgame was a great movie. Characters like Tony Stark, previously portrayed as hyper masculinized and one-dimensional, are now seen crying, going to support groups, and contributing to their households.
“They show real men as people; it’s counter-hegemonic masculinity, ”said Engstrom. “Resilient media do more than just diversify stories on the big screen, they contribute 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 have more people who can show their feelings, there would be no war, no violence against women.”
Although “Avengers: Endgame” questions society’s traditional image of masculinity, it is still hegemonic in some ways, especially when it comes to portraying women. Therefore, according to Engstrom, all media consumers need to be critical and question the media they love. To observe critically, says Engstrom, means to understand that you have a choice to do whatever you want.
“That’s what this book is about – let’s question what we know so we can resist hegemony,” said Engstrom. “That is my intention on this earth, to make it clear (to the people) that this is for the good of all.”
For more information on Gramsci and Media Literacy: Critical Thinking about TV and the Movies, see Rowman & Littlefield. The book is also available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Erika Engstrom is a nationally known gender and media scientist specializing in the study of the representation of gender, religion and weddings in the mass media. Prior to joining the UK in 2020, Engstrom was Professor of Communication Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as well as acting General Manager of campus radio station KUNV-FM.
Engstrom holds a bachelor’s degree in radio and television and a master’s degree in communications from the University of Central Florida. She received her PhD in Mass Communication from the University of Florida.
The University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media was founded in 1914. As one of only 114 fully accredited journalism schools in the world, UK JAM leads the way in educating students for success in any media field with an emphasis on practical application.