Tell Me, What Do You See?

Consider the definition of representation:

“Representation refers to the construction in any medium (especially the mass media) of aspects of ‘reality’ such as people, places, objects, events, cultural identities and other abstract concepts”.

The ‘reality’ that we perceive to be true is generally constructed, in other words, fabricated, based upon the author’s point of view, and is not always, in fact, in some types of media, rarely, based upon the truth of a situation. For instance, throughout social media, we often see news articles discussed and shared, but often the truth of the situation being discussed can be lost as individuals who ‘share’ or ‘tweet’ the news construct their own interpretation of events, or the truth of the situation is obscured or untrue based upon the original news article on a news website such as or

Often factors such as age, ethnicity, gender, occupation and class can change our understanding of a representation we see in the media.

Take images for example, as an indication of this trend in the media. When we see an image, we decode the image differently. The fact is an image has no express interpretation; it holds no implicit meaning that is communicated in the same way to everyone.

This is the case in how the welfare and health of Asian, and more specifically, Chinese workers is represented throughout the media, particularly in images. If we see an image, for example, of a Foxconn worker bent over an Apple product in a standardised uniform that is published on a petition website, or on a news website, the text accompanied and the environment of journalistic expression that we expect this image to be accompanied by may lead us to construct ideas such as ‘This worker must be disadvantaged, this worker must have been working for hours on end’. This is probably the way you, a Westerner, have been conditioned to understand the situation of workers in Asia. Based on other factors as listed above, you will begin to develop your interpretation. The fact is, some demographics would look at an image such as the example below and accept that it is the only reality of workers throughout Asia, or possibly that this is the lowest standard of working conditions, therefore misinterpreting the reality of workers welfare, for example, in China, where there is a large range of working conditions maintained throughout the country according to the parent company controlling one or the other. This representation, in fact, may be an example of some of the best working conditions found throughout China.

In opposition too this interpretation, an individual working in an Asian country may see this image in a completely different way. They may see this on a company’s brand website, job offer ad, in a newspaper etc, and based upon age, ethnicity, class, occupation and gender, could respond to the image on a number of levels that are completely different to how we see it.

Representation determines our response to many types of media, the image being just one of them. The important thing to understand is that media is always a representation, not the reality of the situation; which is often a truth that we forget.


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