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Symbolic Annihilation

Robin R. Means Coleman and Emily Chivers Yochim

Subject Communication Studies » Feminist and Gender Communication Studies
Culture » Popular Culture

Key-Topics ethnicity, minorities

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Symbolic annihilation is used to highlight the erasure of peoples in →  popular communication. George Gerbner coined the term to describe the “absence” (1972, 44; Gerbner & Gross 1976 ; →  Gerbner, George ), “condemnation,” or “trivialization” ( Tuchman 1978 , 17) of a particular group in the media. Generally applied to women and racial and sexual minorities, symbolic annihilation points to the ways in which poor media treatment can contribute to social disempowerment and in which symbolic absence in the media can erase groups and individuals from public consciousness. To illustrate, popular communication often overlooks, stereotypes, or ridicules black people, who have been confined to the roles of coons, mammies, jezebels, brutal bucks, etc. ( Bogle 2001 ). Language use in the media also contributes to the trivialization and condemnation of racial groups such as black people in popular communication. For example, in a critical, cultural analysis of the →  news , it was concluded that reporters may ignore the effects of (neo-)colonialism by describing African countries as “third world” and “underdeveloped” rather than “overly exploited.” Comparatively, the US and western Europe are referred to as “first world” and as “superpowers” ( Moore 1992 ). Survey research has exposed how Native Americans also experience symbolic annihilation through absence (→  Survey ). However, when ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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