Within the many sources of media available today, popular culture plays a critical role in terms of influencing and reflecting people’s views on society. According to John Storey, “…popular culture refers to cultural texts which are symbolic and whose main function is the production of meaning, for example a newspaper article, a television programme or a pop song,” (Milestone and Meyer 3). In the popular culture piece, “How to Get Away with Murder,” produced by Shonda Rhimes, the characters defy harmful stereotypical traits constructed by society and, instead, offer a realistic reflection of everyday individuals. The character, Oliver Hampton, is a homosexual Asian man who is not oppressed in terms of race, class, or sexual orientation. Instead, he defies typical stereotypes associated with his traits and is a powerful, intelligent man who is privileged in many ways. It is important to recognize this unconformity to stereotypes because stereotypes can place people into degrading social categories in which they may feel incapable of escaping from. This unique television series challenges common stereotypes, and proves that oppression from social power systems should not exist based on one’s traits.
In the television show “How to Get Away with Murder”, the supporting character, Oliver Hampton, is of Asian descent and lives with his boyfriend, Connor. Oliver is a quiet, smart man who occasionally helps out with murder cases. He is talented in terms of configuring technology, and oversees any technical issues for the company, such as hacking and coding computers. He has a very well paying job, and is considered to be privileged in terms of class. Although Oliver is a homosexual Asian, which are both traits usually associated with oppression rather than privilege; however, he is not represented as oppressed in the television show. Oliver is respected by all his co-workers and is not discriminated against in any sense based on his race. Our current society is white-privileged, so any race other than white is expected to be oppressed. “…The media constructs for us a definition of what race is, what meaning the imagery of race carries, and what the “problem of race” is understood to be. They help to classify out the world in terms of the categories of race,” (Hall 20). Although Oliver works around a population that is predominantly white, he is not faced with many oppressions in terms of his race. Media has created a specific image of what race is, and people are commonly seen as just their race instead of an individual. “How to Get Away with Murder” does not conform to this view, and does not represent their characters though stereotypes, but instead, recognizes the importance of diversity and represents multiple different races without representing them as oppressed.
Oliver is an open homosexual man on the show “How to Get Away with Murder”. He is in a relationship with one of his coworkers, Conner, and both men are comfortable with their workplace knowing about their relationship. In reality, homosexuality is sometimes seen as being shameful, or something that should be suppressed. Heterosexuality is the dominant, privileged sexual orientation, and any other type of sexual preference is oppressed. “The oppression of straight, gay and transgender people cannot be collapsed into a single account. Straight women do not have to hide their sexuality for fear of violence or discrimination…none of this can be taken for granted by lesbians, bisexual, or transgender persons,” (Murdocca 84). Although Oliver is homosexual, he does not suffer any obvious oppressions based on his sexual orientation on the show. The unique television series challenges the common ideology that society has on homosexuals, and portrays that any type of sexual orientation should be equally respected and privileged.
Oliver defies common stereotypes that are frequently associated with his specific character traits. It is stereotypical for oppressed groups to suffer in comparison to privileged groups. Popular culture and media have projected specific images of how individuals should be and act based on class, sexual orientation, and race. For example, the majority of male homosexual characters found in popular culture pieces are predominantly white. This television series shows a representation of homosexuality in multiple races, and challenges the stereotypes that media has on homosexuals. As well, in many popular culture pieces, homosexual men are portrayed as being feminine and weak, while heterosexual men are portrayed as being powerful. “Hegemonic men are associated with strength and power (physical, mental and social), being active and ambitious, tough and competitive, assertive and aggressive…men are represented as going to extremes, seeking success, enjoying excess and experiencing pleasure,” (Milestone and Meyer 20). Oliver does not conform to the typical societal image of being a weak and feminine homosexual man. Instead, Oliver possesses masculine traits. He is strong and intelligent, and dresses in a masculine manner. This television series assigns unique character traits that do not conform to stereotypes to it’s characters; thus, allowing the character Oliver to be represented as an individual rather than just part of a group. This lack of stereotypical traits is a unique characteristic of this television series and carries an important message.
There are a multitude of popular culture pieces projected in modern society today that reflect the opinions and beliefs of the population. Media can sometimes host harmful stereotypes constructed from these beliefs, that do not necessarily represent reality accurately. In the television series “How to Get Away with Murder”, the character, Oliver Hampton, defies many of the common stereotypes that are associated with specific traits he possesses, such as his race, class and sexual orientation. Oliver is an Asian homosexual man, and is privileged in many ways. This television series offers a unique perspective on popular societal views, and challenges the stereotypes that arise from categorizing social systems as either being privileged or oppressed. This defiance of stereotypes allows people to escape from the confinement of social groups placed by society, and be represented as an individual.
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Milestone, Katie, and Anneke Meyer. Gender and Popular Culture. Cambridge: Polity, 2012. Print.
Hall, Stuart. The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media. California: Sage Publications, 1995. Print.
Murdocca, Carmela. Race, Indigeneity, and Feminism. Toronto: Pearson Canada, 2017. Print.