“Perception is reality,” as the saying goes. There is no denying media influences the views of its audience. There are innumerable examples of media, throughout history, portraying members of different “marginalized” groups in a negative light. There is also no denying this has had real-life consequences for members of each of these groups. There have been many campaigns over the years requesting the media to become more inclusive and positive in its portrayal of characters of varying race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ability, whether physical or mental. And the media has responded positively by demonstrating their commitment to these ideals, both in front of and behind the camera in a variety of ways[source]. In a lot of ways, the media tells society “we get it.” They understand the power of diversity as well as the destructive nature of negative portrayals and exclusions.
This is why the the fourth episode of ABC’s Secret and Lies was really bothersome. In the episode, Michael Beach’s character stated, “Turns out, hemophilia is a nasty byproduct of incest.” It is 2015. These ideas have been proven scientifically untrue almost on a yearly basis, yet ABC’s writers have chosen to perpetuate this myth. In the mid 1980s, AIDS was a disease widely associated with the gay community because it was first diagnosed among gay men. As more and more hemophiliacs became infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment, hemophiliacs suffered from the widespread fear and ignorance of AIDS.
As the bleeding disorder community has come together the last four days demanding an apology from ABC, I have seen, “Big deal,” and “It is just a fictional TV show,” comments from outside the community. Would these same comments be made if ABC had used autism? diabetes? sexual orientation? Or even, “Down syndrome is a nasty byproduct of incest.”
Perhaps we do not realize the media’s role in how we think or act towards stereotypes – or perhaps we simply refuse to admit we do recognize this and we constantly go against our better judgement in taking part in creating and reinforcing stereotypes.
Media is the most powerful means to influence the masses, providing their audience with a packaged message. The package that ABC delivers via television programming should be entertaining but not at the detriment of others. Misinformation isn’t entertainment. It affects those beyond the sound stage. And in this day and age, people unfortunately don’t educate themselves before believing what they hear through the media, whether it is television, radio or news feeds.