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The notion that a representation in any medium reflects, or ought to reflect, ‘the way things are’ in everyday reality. It is based on the metaphor of the mirror: the goal of art, as Hamlet observes, is ‘to hold… a mirror up to nature’. Certainly, from a phenomenological perspective, people do seek, and psychologically seem to need, reflections in the media of people like themselves, of familiar experiences, and of their world (see also personal identity function). The concern of constructionist critics is to avoid the assumption of naïve realism that reality is wholly independent of, and pre-existing, its representation rather than as in any way constructed by it. On this basis, reflectionism is often dismissed as a fallacious assumption in relation to fictional literary genres. However, this does not invalidate a concern for examining relationships between the world and its representations. For instance, the reflectionist rhetoric of accuracy and distortion is wholly understandable in evaluating news coverage (if at times naïve about news values). Reflectionist assumptions are unavoidably embedded in criticisms of stereotyping; more loosely, they figure also in the stance that the mass media reflect dominant contemporary values. Here the concern is not the extent to which ‘reality’ is ‘reflected’ in a representation, but whose realities or values are represented and whose are erased. See also magic window; mimetic theory.

Subjects: Media Studies.

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