Term Paper: Magic Bullet Theory

Pages: 10 (3545 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication - Journalism  ·  Buy This Paper

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] 'Mass media can be defined as avenues for messages that are created for consumption by large numbers of people. These 'message consumers' are physically separated from one another (to distinguish a mass medium audience from, for example, attendees at a pro-football game). They are also diverse in terms of their interests, values, and other demographical characteristics."

Each time a new form of media is invented it typically becomes associated with power and prestige. Commonly, this is because new information technologies are rare and expensive to produce. This was particularly true of books prior to the Gutenberg press in Europe. Hence, the spread of knowledge has almost always been linked to positions of authority; access to knowledge is limited, so when an individual is in possession of it, his actions and conceptions regarding it are generally regarded with esteem. After the press made books and newspapers available to the public, many in power feared the new technology for its capacity to inject uniform responses into the public -- books became the first form of Mass media. In keeping with the premises of the magic bullet theory, monarchs and the papacy severely censored the information that was made public in all forms of print.

This trend has continued as more and more types of mass media come into existence. Whether it is with the internet, printable music, or television, decidedly firm measures have been taken to limit the suggestive power of widespread information. In this respect, the magic bullet theory is dependent upon the validity of the "powerful effects model." In other words, for it to be true that media is able to unilaterally shoot opinions into the minds of individuals, it must be established that the effects of information perpetuated by mass media are significant.

Essentially,

"The strong or powerful effects model states that mass media effects are significant in magnitude, uniform across audiences, immediate in influence, and -- too often -- harmful. Such effects generate false images of the world's nature in consumers' minds. They also encourage unacceptable behavior in the form of "copycats" who mimic what they see and hear, for example, drinking and smoking. These media effects are thought not only to be highly effective as tools of persuasion for both children and adults but also (in a negative way) to dominate our political system."

By assuming that people inevitably possess the same sort of traits and characteristics, it is inferred that information is processes in similar manners from person to person. Consequently, isolated individuals should exhibit the same responses to the same information. Basically, it is a stimulus and response model of human behavior; suggesting that people are almost immeasurably malleable, and therefore, easily manipulated by a central controller. Thus, to those who ascribe to this sort of reasoning, new information technologies stand as a constant threat to society; they are automatically associated with authority and privilege -- they are therefore more powerfully suggestive -- so they demand censorship. The powerful effects model of the media, clearly, still holds significant pull today and is the driving force behind the continual calls for the limitation of public information.

Yet, studies early-on in the formal development of the powerful effects model -- and accordingly, the magic bullet theory -- suggested that the influence of mass media was far less substantial than other modes of information transfer.

'In the 1940 presidential election, in Erie County, Ohio, sociologists Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet conducted a study on how media messages influenced voting. They found that, yes, such messages could persuade people but only in a select, limited fashion. The scientists discovered that the media of the time activated people to vote, that is, got them to do what they planned to do anyway."

Similar findings were reported by the United States Army during the Second World War. Propaganda films produced by Frank Capra, designed with the intensions of bolstering moral and a hatred of the Japanese, were found to only minimally alter the opinions soldiers held prior to viewing the films.

Both of these studies revealed that individual recipients of media were not truly isolated; they were influenced by friends, family, coworkers, and their particular social status equally, if not more, than the mass media. Fundamentally, the most powerful influence of the mass media was found to possess was the reinforcing quality it had upon preexisting notions. Therefore, the weak effects model has come to replace its predecessor as a more accurate theory concerning the influence of the mass media upon the public.

Considering this concept, it is possible to look at the event of the panic broadcast in a more accurate light. Notably, the vast majority of the public was well aware that the news broadcast was fictitious. Radio, by its nature, disperses information to a broad cross-section of society.

It can be assumed that those who perceived it as a cataclysmic event were predisposed to interpreting such an event -- they were calibrated to accept the idea that Martians had landed on earth. Undoubtedly, this frame of mind could not have singularly been instilled by the media, but instead, must have collaborated with all other forms of information these million individuals were accustomed to receiving. Although they may have been physically separated from one another, they entered the broadcast with a readiness to accept such wild notions, just as a crowd at a rock concert enters with a readiness to be moved by the performers. The panic broadcast played upon a fear that had been previously cultivated through other means. Essentially, "Propaganda is situational."

The listeners trusted the source of the information, and were driven to panic when their radical dreams were confirmed in such a way. Similarly, the mob mentality plays itself out only when members of the mob possess similar preconceived opinions.

Primarily, the magic bullet or hypodermic needle theory fails as an accurate representation of human response to mass media. Undeniably, the power of mass media is significant and cannot be overlooked. However, assuming the complete malleability of the general public ignores both the nature of individuality, and the multiple modes by which information can be received and interpreted.

Nevertheless, the theory still holds a firm grip upon the world's media sources, and the politics that permeate them. Consequently, approximately all forms of mass media are deliberately censored to amplify particular viewpoints or common perceptions. In China, for instance, the government takes the lead role in deciding what information is suitable to be broadcast on a large scale:

"The degree of press freedom China media enjoy is influenced by the role that the government ascribes to them as a vehicle for socioeconomic development. Noting that China's press freedom in China remains restrictive . . . At China's current stage of development, the government views the mass media as an important vehicle for national development."

China is not the only country in which the mass media is seen as an avenue by which advantageous ideals can be propagated; although it may be one of the only nations in which this aim is overtly admitted. In the United States, media neutrality has been the goal for generations. This approach reflects the power the magic bullet theory still wields over those delegated control of distributing information. Censorship and ratings are not the only methods by which Americans are protected from the power of knowledge, but the philosophies the broadcasters wish to perpetuate come across in more subtle ways as well. A rare departure from the prescribed formulas of sitcom television was Roseanne. The program depicted a poor family who did not fit the mold most television sponsors would endorse: "Roseanne thus flies in the face of pop culture establishment by its irrelevant and candid putdowns, as well as the face of series' sponsors, most of whose products the Conner family could not afford to buy."

The fact that Roseanne depicted a perfectly ordinary family, but was an extraordinary topic for mass media reflects the nature of the information that is commonly regarded as suitable for broadcast: the type of information that promotes a consumer culture.

Thus, it can be inferred that the magic bullet theory, although grossly inaccurate, is currently being employed to generate certain responses in American culture. Considering that the premise of Roseanne has yet to be duplicated reflects its colossal failure as a vehicle through which desires for products can be injected.

The magic bullet theory assumes that individual human beings will simply believe what they are told, if the information travels through an appropriate medium. The theory neglects to take into account people's ability to engage in rational though processes to question information with regard to knowledge obtained through other modes of transfer. The ultimate consequence of the magic bullet theory would be complete standardization of the information fed to the world, as well as a complete standardization of what the inhabitants… [END OF PREVIEW]

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