Interesting piece on a Bernie Sanders campaign stop where he shows a connection with reality but a disconnect with media realities
At a forum in Cedar Rapids Iowa on Sunday, Bernie Sanders fielded a question from a young Mexican-American woman who says that she developed self esteem issues because she did not see enough cartoon protagonists who resembled her racial group. His answer goes deeper than race and touches the media's other bias: class.
"We are a country where millions of people are in despair," Sanders said. "Black, white, brown. They want to see a reflection of their life, of their reality, in media, and in many respects, they are not."
"And then they say, who the hell is talking about me? Who knows about my life? Why should I vote? No one cares -- No one even knows what's going on in my life."
The problem with Bernie's take is that people might not want to watch people struggle with poverty.
It's very true that minorities (with the exception of gays, who might well be over-represented) don't have their percentage of the population portrayed on TV. That's been a long-term issue that the film industry hasn't addressed all that well. There's far less of a issue of casting whites in minority roles than a half-century-ago, but there is still a shortage of minority roles, especially in lead characters, vis-a-vis their market share of society.
Blacks make up their shortfall on the screens by punching above their weight in music. I scanned the play-list I have going on my laptop, and noted 28 songs by black artists out of 93, and that's without any rap or hip-hop (well, you might count DC Talk if you want to press the issue) in the mix; only a country-centric or classical mix would likely be under-Afroed. Hispanics tend to be underrepresented in there as well, although the gap is closing.
However, Hollywood is even worse about showing poor folks. The most successful black TV show was The Cosby Show, which had a doctor dad and a lawyer mom; they were 5%ers if not 1%ers. It wasn't all that representative of black America, but Dallas wasn't representing the average Texan all that well, either.
There haven't been too many blue-collar shows and most of them were comedies. I'd have to stretch my brain to recall a blue-collar drama on TV unless you count cop shows, and the cops are generally more middle-class in income. None that I can think of addressed poverty all that well.
TV and movies tend towards escapism. Poverty is usually only touched on in the crime shows as a part of the milieu of the crime of the day, but one that is addressed tangentially. The epilogue of the show might have the cops get the victims (or a redeemable perp) some programatic help, but it isn't the focus of the episode typically.
The struggling Latina might want to see more Hispanic faces on TV, but she might not want to see a drama about the life of the gal pulling out a food-stamp debit card at the grocery store. It might be informative, but it's not generally going to be enjoyable unless you're looking to be informed.
I'm reminded of the root of the word amusement. To Muse=To Ponder, Think. Amuse= Not Musing=Not Thinking. The entertainment side of TV is design not to be thought of that much, to put your mind on autopilot and escape from your problems. Some dramas give you other problems to make yours look good, like shootouts or folks with problematic love lives, but going to a homeless shelter or filing for unemployment aren't the problems you will want to see dealt with on the big or small screen.
In the humanities, there has been a push towards social history, looking at the every-day lives of commoners rather than the movers and shakers, thus getting at the lower-half of the income bell curve more than otherwise. However, that seems not to translate well to the entertainment industry, since those issues aren't all that entertaining.