In today's media-saturated world where our daily intake consists of a deluge of films, television shows, and a plethora of content, the irrefutable effect of these platforms on our perspectives is impossible to overlook. We find ourselves at a crossroads in a time of ceaseless media consumption, where our insatiable thirst for information has — in many aspects — obscured our capacity to understand the genuine motivations and underlying messages within the media landscape.
Even the once-clear line separating portrayal and endorsement today is clouded by uncertainty. And this blurring of lines has far-reaching implications on how we view and interact with the world through media. Amid this debate, significant questions about the distinction between portrayal and endorsement emerge. What attributes set them apart, and how may we decipher their differences?
Portrayal, as defined by Cambridge Dictionary, refers to the description or representation of a person or thing in various art forms, including paintings, films, books, and other creative endeavors. Endorsement, on the other hand, involves expressing approval or support for something or someone. Two very distinct words with distinct meanings, yet many continue to blur the line between them, getting lost in an ocean of illusion.
Portrayal vs. endorsement
(Photo from Pura Luka Vega/Instagram)
In the media, human experiences and perspectives come to life. These are achieved through portraying people, organizations, events, or concepts in media like films, television shows, novels, works of art, and online content. By portraying the world as it is or may be, portrayals enable a more in-depth examination of the variety of human experiences. It is important to note that while portrayal does not usually amount to endorsement, there are instances where it can.
Take drag queen Pura Luka Vega as an example. The Filipino drag artist faced backlash over a drag performance to a rock remix of Ama Namin in a Jesus-inspired outfit. Despite the artist’s claim that they performed to challenge the notion of "praise and worship" and not intended as an act of blasphemy or disrespect, interpretations varied widely. While some may interpret the performance as insulting and disrespectful to their religious beliefs, others perceive it as an artistic expression. This particular instance vividly illustrates how a portrayal can be interpreted as both a depiction and an endorsement, contingent upon one’s perspective.
Vega embodying Jesus Christ by employing costume, performance, and creative interpretation amounts to a portrayal — an intended representation and depiction of a particular persona, although unconventionally and provocatively. But on the flip side, showing this portrayal can also be interpreted as an endorsement of the larger concept that artists possess the creative freedom to interpret and represent persons in various ways, challenging conventional representations through their art. The depiction of a queer person portraying Jesus encourages inclusion and asserts respecting and acknowledging varied identities within religious contexts.
From a consumer's perspective, questioning whether a piece of media endorses or merely depicts a certain idea is a prudent approach. Given that media content is meticulously crafted, this skepticism of both terms stems from the realization that creators diligently shape such contents with deliberate intentions, contexts, and purposes.
However, interpretations are relatively subjective. What motivates and inspires one person may discourage or offend another. Interpreting anything utterly free of bias can be challenging—if not impossible. Even when media creators go the extra mile for neutrality, consumers' prejudices, experiences, and beliefs still heavily influence their interpretation.
With all this, the line between portrayal and endorsement can be more transparent. Yet, there is often a way to know the intentions and context, as it is essential to reach a proper understanding. Akin to finding clarity in the ocean of illusion and ultimately discovering the clear sight of an unclouded seashore.
Error 404: Media literacy not found
(Photo from Oppenheimer (2023)/IMDb)
We already know that each piece of media holds a story, a message, or a perspective, whether it comes from a movie, a TV show, or the internet. But in the rush of consumption, we frequently miss out on its underlying meaning because of our haste to consume it.
Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Oppenheimer (2023), is a perfect case for this point. A film that waltzed its way through box-office dominance summoned heavy debates as many moviegoers failed to capture the movie's point.
In the sea of opinions, some saw it as a glorification of mass murder, and others just saw it as a biography that provided insight into the life of the American theoretical physicist. The R-rated historical drama seemed to be far more complex as it managed to fly over people’s heads since many interpreted it to be “a women-hater, pro-war, military propaganda film.” This complication emphasizes how interpretations can differ greatly, highlighting the difficulty of differentiating between portrayal and endorsement, especially in complicated storylines.
A screenshot from a deleted TikTok video uploaded on X–formerly known as Twitter—sparked critical discourse and conversation on media literacy in today’s generation. “He is not a hero and doesn't deserve our respect,” as stated in the TikTok video's final sentence, only demonstrates how frequently people struggle with comprehending such complex portrayals. This tendency to interpret every portrayal as applauding, romanticizing, or bolstering the behaviors and activities displayed on the screen can lead one to descend into the depths of misinterpretation. And in these trying times, where people lack the expertise and ability to evaluate media messages, media literacy may be an indispensable necessity.
As defined by The Center for Media Literacy, media literacy refers to the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, produce, and engage with communications in several formats, including print, video, and the internet.
In the case of Oppenheimer, the film primarily focuses a thorough and introspective look at Oppenheimer's moral quandaries, highlighting the toll that particularly significant breakthroughs in science may have on a person. It recognizes ethical concerns underlying Oppenheimer's discovery of the atomic bomb. The film does not technically approve of or glorify his actions or triumphs; instead, it simply portrays them as an intrinsic component of a historical narrative.
Other well-known films include *Fight Club *(1999) and *American Psycho *(2000), satirical critiques of the decline in morality that results from the pursuit of materialism, consumerism, and social expectations, are now misinterpreted as being ones that encourage and endorse the practice of toxic masculinity and “sigma” or “alpha” male ideologies. Both Patrick Bateman and Tyler Durden's violent, rebellious, and conceited portrayals are misconstrued as endorsements these days, with many users of social media platforms like TikTok criticizing those who dedicate their time to idolizing the faux and glamorized image of these characters.
More to it than the eye meets
Narratives are crafted with both meaning, intent, and purpose. Not every portrayal encountered in the media aims to endorse a specific agenda; for the most part, it only mirrors certain features of society, presents the world as it is, and gazes at various aspects of human existence. Knowing where to draw the line is unquestionably crucial, emphasizing the significance of context, the creator's message, and the complexities within the narrative.
In the digital age, people often seek a spoon-fed interpretation of portrayals, as many need more skills to think critically to decode them. When extensive media consumption is combined, the risk of falling into the darkest pits of misinterpretation is considerably high, as it impedes a deeper understanding of the various tiers within media narratives.
So when media literacy comes knocking, it provides the means to scrutinize these portrayals and enables us to interpret hidden meanings, fostering an environment that is not only well-informed but critically aware. By doing so, we may make sense of the portrayals we see and effectively traverse the occasionally murky waters of contemporary media.