Thesis: Class Status and Power

Pages: 8 (2561 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication - Journalism  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Status, and Power

Mass media is one of the most powerful forces shaping public consciousness. In the United States, people spend approximately 30 hours per week watching television (Mantsios 99), and a considerable amount of their time going to the movies, reading newspapers, or listening to the radio. There is a wide consensus on the influence that media exerts on society. To a great extent, this consensus dates back to the interwar period, when many researchers, irrespective of political ideology, subscribed that the media exercised a powerful influence. In fact, it was during this period that the new technology of the rotary press was developed; this led to an unprecedented increase in mass audiences. Also, urbanization and industrialization had generated a society that was volatile and unstable, as well as alienated and susceptible to manipulation (Gurevitch, Bennett, Curran, and Woollacott 11). In the new context of urbanization, man was regarded as defenseless in the face of mass communication because the system of values was devitalized, and the network of social relations was highly unstable. Furthermore, post-World War II historians and social scientists argued that the Mass media had brainwashed people during World War I, and had contributed to the rise of fascism in Europe in the inter-war period.

One of the focuses of mass media studies has been the social, cultural, and psychological effects of media content and use. Although a highly controversial issue, there are several points to be made before embarking on an analysis of media influence over society. In the United States, the number of media companies is decreasing with twenty-three corporations owning more than one half of movie studios, newspapers, magazine, and radio and television outlets in the country. Considering the decrease in the number of small media companies which produce and package news, one can safely argue that the influence of these big corporations has increased considerably over the past two decades. In fact, in many ways, these corporations make the news; they also produce a large percentage of American entertainment programs. This paper looks at the effects of mass media on relations of class, gender and race in society, and strives to argue that in recent years, the role of the media has diminished considerably, and that nowadays, it is the media that are influence by social factors, and not the other way around. In addition, this paper supports the idea that media cannot fully and thoroughly reflect societal truths because of commercial constraints.

Although sociologists and communication experts cannot be certain as to the ways in which media affect audiences, it has become clear that people construct their versions of social reality based on what they hear, read and see in the media. There is, however, a very important aspect to consider here, namely the fact that the media select and interpret only certain events which they then offer to the public; this way, stereotypes are born in people's minds, and in turn, these preconceived ideas end up determining our view of social realities. From this point-of-view, the effects of the media are immense: "to edit is to interpret; to speak is to define, to communicate is to structure reality" (Paletz, Entman 1991, 22 in Marger 448).

One of the most important functions of the media is socialization. Socialization refers to the transmission of social values and cultural heritage. In fact, it is this cultural heritage with its shared cultural norms, values and experiences which links, and ultimately ensures the existence of a society. In this sense, mass communication has the capacity to display and reinforce these values and experiences. From this point-of-view, the function of socialization also plays an important part as far as the integration of immigrants because it allows them to understand and adopt these cultural norms. However, despite its function of socialization which can ensure societal cohesion, ethnic, regional and class subgroups in society cannot be ignored because the American society is a deeply stratified one (Mantsios 100) despite "illusions" (Ibid.) about living in an egalitarian society. These illusions are maintained, to a large extent, due to the fact that the content of mass communication often is not a multifaceted reflection of societal norms. From this perspective, mass media hides certain realities from audiences mostly because of the demands of the marketplace. These demands often lead to an oversimplification of media content which becomes stereotyped which could generate an improper process of socialization, one based on "learning inaccurate, slanted representations of societal values." (Perse 56)

Mass communication is centered on the idea of profit. To a large extent, media ignore the poor first of all because they represent an eyesore which makes audiences avoid the issue of poverty, and secondly, the poor are uninteresting demographics as far as advertisers are concerned. News, like any other media product, must be sold. In this sense, one can argue that the commercial imperative is stronger than the need of commercial media corporations to present reality in a thorough and critical manner (Marger 448). With over 40 million people affected by it, poverty is increasing twice as fast as the population growth in the country (Mantsios 100). However, mass communication ignores these people who get very little coverage; in fact, for instance, only one in a thousand articles listed in the Reader's Guide to Periodic Literature is on poverty. In addition, when covered in the media, poverty becomes nothing more than statistics; the poor are faceless, and the dimension of human tragedy involved in this social phenomenon is overlooked. The poor are presented as undeserving; in their search for sensational topics, the media present stories about welfare schemes, or drug users which contributed to the creation of a negative image of the poor.

The commercial media of television, radio and the press get most income and profits from advertisers, and not from their audiences. This is an undisputed fact which has determined theorists of capitalism to argue that power is actually in the hands of the advertisers, and that their demands have to be met by media corporations in order for the latter to exist. However, this does not imply that consumer needs do not matter since both media corporations and advertisers aim at increasing their number of viewers, and respectively of consumers. Nonetheless, this assumption is not as simple as it may sound for "advertisers are not equally interested in reaching all people. Some people have more disposable income, or greater power over corporate spending than others, and consequently are more sought after by advertisers" (Curran 246 in Gurevitch, Bennett, Curran, and Woollacott 145). This generates a distribution of advertising that is, in turn, based on the distribution of social wealth; at the same time, media producers focus on attracting either mass audience or affluent minorities which leaves the poor out of the equation. In this sense, much of the information presented by the media is focused on a very privileged class.

Media also influence gender relations in society. The mass media used to be stereotyped in its representations of gender. Men were depicted as being more active, courageous, intelligent, determined and resourceful than women. Moreover, male actors, and by consequence, male characters severely outnumbered female characters both on television and in movies. Furthermore, magazines and adverts aimed at women were also used to reinforce this stereotype, and presented women solely as housewives and mothers. As far as the printed press, this was all to change with the emergence of women's magazine, Cosmopolitan, which challenged norms, and asserted women's sexuality. Sociologist Anthony Giddens argues that intimate relationships have become 'democratized', so that the bond between partners does not abide by external laws, regulations or social expectations, but is constructed upon 'an internal understanding' which is, in turn, based on emotional communication. When the bond ceases to exist, modern society accepts that the relationship must also cease to exist. Thus we have 'a democracy of the emotions in everyday life' (Giddens, 1999 in Gauntlett 3).

There have been a considerable number of studies which focused on examining the assumptions related to gender roles in sample children and adolescents. For instance, a study conducted in 1982 found that television cultivated such notions as "women are happiest at home raising children" (Morgan 1982 in Bryant, Zillmann 53) whereas men "are born with more ambition than women." Rothschild argued that third and fifth-grade children who watched more television were more inclined to stereotype as far as both genders. In this sense, the studies concluded that children who watched more television were also inclined to develop gender-determined attitudes as far as chores, qualities and activities.

In the past decade or so, men and women have been working side by side, and have enjoyed similar privileges. Women have been cast as doctors, teachers, policewomen, and even heroines; in this sense, the spectrum of parts which are available to them has increased considerably with women now being able to play any character that was, in the past, restricted to male actors. Both movie producers, and advertisers have… [END OF PREVIEW]

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