Media Studies 10
20 September 2014
A few months ago, Time magazine issued its annual “100 most influential people” list, which included many of the most prominent and widely discussed figures in government, activism, arts, religion, sports, and science. Hillary Clinton, Pope Francis, and Vladimir Putin were a few of the public figures that made it onto this list. From the list, the person deemed the most influential person is given the cover page, and this year Beyoncé Knowles was awarded this title. While she may not have been the most controversial figure, her accomplishments in the media, as well as her entrepreneurship, have gained her the front cover on Time magazine. However, the reception of her portrayal on the page varied, with many agreeing that she seemed more an image of sex appeal than of woman empowerment. The ideologies of our culture are indicated in the subtext of the page, where race and gender are exploited. This text represents Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model, where production, circulation, distribution (consumption), and reproduction tie in to make controversy (128). Through the editor’s decision to put a visible and influential celebrity like Beyoncé’s on the cover of Time 100, the balance of power in the encoding and decoding model has been disrupted as the audience’s counter-hegemonic stance towards the magazine’s exoticism of her overshadows the dominant ideology of sexually empowered women. Ideology spreads through hegemony, and in this case, the dominant ideology of the cover page of Beyoncé is that women should be empowered and ambitious. Listed by Forbes’ as the most powerful celebrities and one of the world’s most influential people, she grossed a total $115 million the last fiscal year, twice the amount of her husband and rapper, Jay Z (CNN Money). But aside from being a rich and powerful superstar, she is also seen as a loving mother, a faithful wife, and an international superstar. The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg (who is a close friend of Beyoncé), stated in Time 100 that Beyoncé motivates and encourages people to inspire, lead, and be independent. Beyoncé is someone with enough “star power” to release a secret album without any promotion or publicity and obtain record-breaking sales. With lyrics that encourage girls to “run the world,” her presence on Time 100 can influence the views and decisions numerous fans that respect her.
The dominant-hegemonic viewpoint in the media attempted to portray Beyoncé as an independent and strong role model who exudes sexuality. One of the preferred meanings of the cover was to show how empowered women like Beyoncé can be influential, and that women can thrive in a male-dominated society. In response to the controversies surrounding the cover, talk show host Wendy Williams of the Wendy Williams Show on Black Entertainment Television (BET) mentions that out of the four featured representatives of the 2014 issue in Time 100, including Mary Barra, Robert Redford, and Jason Colins, the only cover that the public disagrees on is Beyoncé’s image on the cover. ESPN’s senior writer LZ Granderson enforces the idea that Beyoncé is dressed that way because that is how she presents herself; that is her brand (6:00). The dominant ideology that he enforces is that she sells herself on being explicit and embracing her sex appeal, and so it was only natural that she should be portrayed in such a light. This is the ideology, and it is rarely questioned and appeared as commonsense that Beyoncé should be portrayed sexually.
Nonetheless, the oppositional reading of this text is that her appearance on the cover enforces the idea that if we woman need to be objectified in order to achieve success. According to Hall’s encoding/decoding model, the audience acts as both the source and the receiver: the consumption and reception (129). Producers can often create controversial texts in