In this complex society, with its mounting competition for attention, rising decibels of noise, confusion, and accelerating pace, individuals live vicariously and, for the most part, experience their world only indirectly through the mass media. Reality; in large part, is what the media say reality is. In this situation stereotypes and myths provide some perceptual short cuts to understanding. They are an economic means of ordering confusion, saving both time and laborer they are a useful mental filing system permitting an individual to sort and store experience with minimal effort.
Consider the nature of stereotypes. When some people hear “yuppies,” it immediately invokes media-enhanced images of upwardly mobile baby-boomber professionals who dress casually
but expensively, eat at fine restaurants, and talk about little other than work, money, leisure, and people. The stereotype also works in reverse. When those people see an under-forty man or woman driving a sporty car or engaging in any of the leisure time activities typically enjoyed by “yuppies,” they automatically think “yuppy,” and rightly or wrongly, that individual has been tucked into a pigeonhole of understanding. People carry all sorts of stereotypes around with them pertaining to politicians absentminded professors, hookers,” bankers, diggers, and rednecks.
Myths are related to stereotypes; indeed, they are institutionalized stereotypes. They generally refer to beliefs and situations rather than to people. There is the myth of the power of the press, or the myth of women’s superior intuition, both still prevalent. One thing noteworthy about”stereotypes and myths is that generally there is a sufficient modicum of troth in them to make them believable. This credibility, once established, holds them over long after the original model passes away
Like language itself, stereotypes and myths exist by consensus because a sufficiently large portion of society finds them to be a convenient shortcut to deeper, more analytical thought that also suits its particular world view. For the same reason, mass communication is replete, with myths and stereotypes.
News reporters similarly use stereotypes and myths as a kind of shorthand for their readers. As shortcuts to emotion, 88 well as shortcuts to understanding, myths ‘and.:stereotypes are put in the hands of mass media gatekeepers for exploitation, whether to further a cause, to attract a tention, or to appeal to the known prejudices of their particular audiences. Most likely, the use of stereotypes and myths may simply reflect the subconscious attitudes of a particular gatekeeper, or reflect the gatekeeper’s view. of audience orientation, They are not used perniciously to manipulate the unsuspecting public. Again and again in this text we will come back to the point that a successful media system in a democratic society depends upon audiences’ selection of media fare hat is consistent with their own values, beliefs, needs,
interests-and, indeed, stereotypes and myths .