Last week I spent an entire day watching the incredible ABC series You Can’t Ask That, instead of tackling my ever-growing pile of university assignments…oops. For those of you who haven’t heard about it (which I assume is a lot of you, because who watches the ABC anyway), the premise of the show is simple. You Can’t Ask That is a documentary that asks anonymously submitted “awkward, uncomfortable or inappropriate” questions to groups of “misunderstood, judged or marginalised” Australians. It’s pretty much the questions we’ve all been too afraid to ask, but always secretly wanted to know the answers to.
Firstly, I think it is important to point out that I am writing from the perspective of a privileged, white Australian female – so I’ve never been a part of any minority. Of course I’ve gone through minor struggles, as everyone has, but I have never had an identifier that carries a negative connotation and suggests a certain stereotype. Personally, I found that You Can’t Ask That broke down the stereotypes surrounding certain minorities, and provided an actual insight into the lives of these misunderstood groups. It has really changed my perspective about marginalised Australians, though it has led me to question why so many of the stereotypes surrounding these minorities are incorrect, and why, as an educated individual, don’t I know the truth.
Being in one of the most multicultural countries in the world, Australia of all places should be used to numerous forms of diversity within a population. So why do we still have minority groups then? The answer is simple; changing the status quo is costly, as we all know from High School Musical.
Society’s dominant group, which is commonly white males, develop a set of values and beliefs that justify and rationalize existing inequalities. Once these ideologies have been established they are difficult to change. They become integrated within society and social structure, leading the majority to accept and reinforce these beliefs as they benefit from there existence. However nowadays, this dominant group within society has a more accessible platform to further reinforce their ideologies to a greater audience – and that is through the media.
Think of the media as Sharpay Evans, that girl who was the queen of the school. If you annoyed her or looked at her the wrong, she would have the power to destroy you by starting some horrible rumour that you would forever be associated with. However, Sharpay was always lovely to her friends and all the teachers in order to ensure she kept on the majority and dominant group’s side.
The media play a fundamental role in the representation of unequal social relations and cultural powers, due to their ability to construct who ‘we’ are, opposed to who ‘they’ are, creating a divide and marginalising groups within society. The most obvious example of which is the claim that all Muslim’s are terrorists, a culture related prejudice that arose after the 9/11 attacks. In recent films, the villain is commonly of Arabic decent, with a black curly beard and headscarf – a very distinguishable look has an automatic association with Muslims, and therefore terrorists. This shows how the media represent reality in a way that promotes a particular connotation of how the world works and why, in this case being a reflection on current societal fears.
These representations are chosen and created in ways that consistently encourage the status quo, and reinforce white supremacy, revealing how dominant views are embedded in entertainment and journalism. Therefore the struggle to breakout of stereotypes in order to be a part of ‘normal’ society can have extremely detrimental psychological impacts on an individual. Imagine the impact this had on Zeke, being unable to share his passion of baking, as he felt constrained by the societal pressures of a stereotypical Wildcats basket baller.
Now I know that was an extremely cheesy example, but its premise is completely relevant. These marginalised individuals become trapped within their stereotype, constantly being associated with negative connotations, without a chance to properly explain themselves. I honestly cannot fathom the effect that being typecast in this way would have on a person. Therefore it’s no surprise that the groups with the highest suicide risk include:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other sexuality, sex and gender diverse people (LGBTI)
- People experiencing mental illness
- People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
However, there is a small beacon of hope – and would you believe that the answer lies with the hipsters, through the power of alternative media. The Triple J radio station, home of the hipsters, is a great platform for discussing and sharing alternative views. It allows partially anonymous individuals and groups to tell their commonly silenced side of the story in order to remove the barrier created by the miscommunication from the media. The most recent issue that Triple J is tackling is the movement of their Hottest 100 countdown from Australia Day. This arose after the collaboration of BRIGGS and TRIALS in their song “January 26”.
This song was created in order to signify the annual frustration many Indigenous Australians feel on Australia Day, being the day their land was invaded. Triple J have not run away from the issue, continually discussing the topic and airing the song in order to raise awareness and start the discussion. Even though the Hottest 100 will remain on January 26 in 2017, the station is aiming to work in conjunction with the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience on this day, in order to create a significant connection between all communities throughout Australia. The media is often seen as an obstacle when facilitating societal change, however alternative forms can be utilised to encourage debate and breakdown these distorted perceptions about minority groups, encouraging us to be all in this together.
You Can’t Ask That does exactly this, challenging the stereotypical identities perceived and created through mainstream media. Therefore I encourage you all to go and watch this show! The entire documentary series runs for about the same length as High School Musical 1 and 2 combined, so it is only a small binging commitment. I guarantee it will change the way in which you view minority groups within Australia and reveal how unaware and naïve we as white Australian’s are about the daily struggles that these individuals go through.
Also published on Medium.