The Influence of Media
Today’s society and culture in the Western world are partially shaped by the huge influence media has on it. Whether it is television or radio, or print journalism or pop music, mass media both influences and demonstrates how our society and culture are intertwined with how we produce and consume media.
We can understand media culture by looking at how media is produced as well as why it is produced in such a way, how it chooses to represent different people, places and ideas and present them to us, and how we receive and interpret these things in different ways.
The Production of Media
The production of media is the way that media is produced in a particular country or society, and the reasons that this media is produced in such a way. It is possible to see how the production of media can shape media culture in today’s society.
David Harvey (2005) describes the neoliberalist society in which we live and its means of production as one that is very focused on the free market, having little state intervention or regulation and being driven by economic capital. It is an ideology that strives for the privatisation of public resources and assets and thrives through large corporations and the world of commerce. We can see this in the world of media, as more and more media outlets are owned by large, private corporations (Harvey 2005).
Noam Chomksy and Edward Herman (2002) describe how these large corporations and their owners can shape the production of media through the propaganda model and its five filters, ownership, advertising, sourcing, flak, and anti-communism. While a lot of the main media outlets in a neoliberal world are not owned by the state, the corporations that do own them can use mass media to create propaganda in a similar way that an authoritarian state might use state-owned media.
This leads to the media being directed in the way that the large corporations desire, promoting the views of the elite and manufacturing support for a world in which these corporations can continue to grow and profit (Herman and Chomsky 2002).
As these media giants prosper in a capitalist society, it is in their interest to keep the status quo. The propaganda model shows us how some opinions in the media are preferred over others, and how these can be pushed by the media in order to defend the status quo. The media is controlled in a way that allows the elite to set the boundaries of public discourse.
By choosing these boundaries, it allows free discourse in the permitted areas but dismisses any points of view that are considered to be outside of this, and in turn, allows the elite to use media to shape public opinion to favour a society in which they can flourish (Herman and Chomsky 2002).
Media and Its Place in Culture
We can understand more about media culture by looking at how it represents different people, places, subcultures or ideas in the media. The way the mass media chooses to portray these things can tell us a lot about its motives and intent.
From looking at Foster’s (2011) writing on the representations of Arab and Muslim Australians in the media, we can see how the media has created several discourses that contribute to how they are represented negatively in the news or in movies and television and, therefore, how they can be represented negatively in society. The discourses created about
Arabs and Muslims have managed to distance these people from the ideal average Australian should be like, according to the media, even if these people have been born in and consider themselves to be Australian. Consequently, this distancing creates a division between Arabs and Muslims, and the stereotypical white “anglo-celtic” Australian that usually represents the average Australian has become normal in the media.
Foster’s (2011) writing describes how the choice of language and wording in the media when talking about Arabs and Muslims has partially helped forge their negative stereotype, and the simplifying of their defining features has led to the lines being blurred between what it means to be Arab and what it means to be Muslim. All this creates an “Us vs Them” feeling in society, as it clearly defines who the “Us” is and who “They” are (Foster et al. 2011).
Similar to this, Devereux (2014) talks about how Asian Americans are represented in magazine advertising in the US. He looks at how the advertising uses typical stereotypes in their advertising and how through this media discourse, it can continue to create a divide within society. “In a white centric society, media discourse typically constructs ethnic groups through the use of negative media constructions (Devereux 2014)”
Here, Devereux (2014) talks about how through the media’s use of stereotypes, it makes the white American the standard ethnic group, something for other ethnic groups to be compared to, and how this is done by the streamlining of what are considered to be the defining features of Asian Americans.
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He then goes on to say that in recent times, the stereotype of Asian Americans in advertising has changed from being a negative one to the representation of what he calls a “model minority group”. While this may seem like a more positive stereotype, he argues that this still instills the idea that Asian Americans are still part of the other. Devereux (2014) also talks about how this stereotype paints all Asian Americans with the same brush and ignores that there are different cultures and ethnicities within the blanket term Asian American.
The other problem that he talks about is that by labelling Asian Americans as a positive ethnic minority stereotype in the media, this itself admits that there is a hierarchy on which different ethnic stereotypes can be placed and that the hierarchy is based on how similar the minority groups are to white Americans, or at least how white Americans have categorised themselves within society. Devereux (2014) claims that this categorisation is that they are “enterprising, high achievers and successful” (Devereux 2014).
Representations In Media
In another text, Devereux (2011) looks at another example of media representation, but this time through the stigmatisation of an area and its people as opposed to of a race. Here he looks at the area Moyross in Limerick and how it has been portrayed negatively in the news. He talks again about how by simplifying its headlines and language, the media can create enough ambiguity to enforce a stereotype about something, whether it has truth to it or not.
He discusses how the area in question is often reported as being ridden with crime and drugs, but in reality, most of these problems are concentrated only in a few parts of Moyross. This simplification of names and areas has led to a popular discourse that Moyross as a whole is a rundown area that is inhabited by gangs and drug users (Devereux 2011).
In John Fiske’s (2006) readings about “The Popular Economy”, we can see how he explains media culture and the reception of media in a capitalist society. He discusses the idea that, while the media may have certain set discourses that they have put forward, they may not always be received and interpreted in that way by the consumers.
He argues that the consumers, “the people”, are divided up into many different groups, classes, subcultures, and that all these clusters are capable of having different thoughts and ideologies to each other and can be independent in their interpretation of media. An example of this that he uses is that while western news outlets are some of the most prevalent and available throughout the
world, this has not resulted in western ideologies and values being adopted by everyone that consumers this media (Fiske 2006).
Fiske (2006) points out that while media outlets may group and select people as consumers, the people themselves do not look at themselves in this way, and their sense of identity does not revolve around being a consumer. In a similar way, what is and isn’t popular is chosen by the consumers, and the media outlets that produce content must be able to adapt to this in order to stay relevant (Fiske 2006).
For example, in relation to a television show, Fiske (2006) points out that the consumers will watch the show and then interpret it in their own way based on their ideology, experiences and from what they enjoyed about it. The producers of the show can aim to create particular meanings with their show, but they cannot ensure that the same meanings will be construed by those who watch it.
“The production of meaning/pleasure is finally the responsibility of the consumer and is undertaken only in his/her interests: this is not to say that the material producers/distributors do not attempt to make and sell meanings and pleasures – they do, but their failure rate is enormous (Fiske 2006, pg. 313)”. Fiske (2006) goes on to state that this lack of ability to deliver in meaning and pleasure results in the constant failing of many media forms, such as television shows being cancelled, movies not regaining their budget or records being discontinued (Fiske 2006).
Fiske (2006) talks about how the invention of new technology that advances media, such as satellites (we can also see this in new media and such with the internet), allows media to not only reach a much greater number of people but also reaches a broader range of social groups, such as different subcultures or ethnic groups. He talks about how this benefits advertisers when it comes to targeting specific groups, but also about how producers must also be careful to not exclude or alienate large social groups with their content if they want to reach the maximum amount of consumers they can (Fiske 2006).
Subcultures and Subcultural Capital
In Sarah Thornton’s (2005) writings on subcultures, we can see the reception of media in subcultures and what they do with the media that they consume. In particular, Thornton (2005) looks at the reception of media within “Club culture”. She states that “I would argue that it is impossible to understand the distinctions of youth subcultures without some systematic investigation of their media consumption”. The argument is made that the consumption of certain media, as well as the method of consumption, is essential in gaining subcultural capital (Thornton 2005).
Thornton’s (2005) look at subcultural capital discusses how it is built up through different things like, what music you listen to, where you go out recreationally and how you speak. Collectively these different aspects build up one's subcultural capital, which she describes as generally how “hip” you are. Another part of the reading explains that within a subculture, there is a different hierarchy than outside of it.
For example, someone that listens to punk music, speaks with a working-class accent and has a mohawk and a jacket with spikes on it would be considered more “hip” with punks than someone who had some punk records but had a middle-class accent and wore a shirt and tie every day. The more “hip” of these two would be placed higher up in the hierarchy of the punk subculture due to their greater subcultural capital (Thornton 2005).
Thornton’s (2005) analysis of subcultures goes on to say that within a subculture, class is not looked at with as much worth as it is outside of these, but instead, it is where you a placed on the subculture’s hierarchy ladder that displays your value and capital. This shows that through the way someone consumes media, their worth is evaluated within that part of society (Thornton 2005). “The difference between being in or out of fashion, high or low in subcultural capital, correlates in complex ways with degrees of media coverage, creation and exposure (Thornton 2005, pg. 203)”.
In conclusion, we can easily see that media culture is greatly affected by the production and reception of media, and we can see how it is represented in many different ways. Looking at the way media is produced, we can see that it is created for many different reasons and that when media becomes a commodity, these reasons can change drastically.
In a similar way, it is possible to explore how media culture can be changed by the different ways we receive media. The way different groups of people interpret media can have a direct effect on the aims of media outlets and is very closely tied with the production side of things. I think that the most useful way for me to look at and understand media culture is through representation.
I think that through looking at subcultures and their attachment to their media, as well as their representation in outside media, it is very easy to see how much they depend on each other. From looking at this, it is clear that subcultures thrive on media consumption, and that they need to produce more and more in order to continue.
Herman, E. & Chomsky, N., 2002. A Propaganda Model. In: Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. [online]. Available at: http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Herman%20/Manufac_Consent_Prop_Model.html [accessed 25/11/16]
Harvey, D., 2005. Chapter 1: Freedom's Just Another Word ( pp.5-19). In: Neoliberalism: A Brief History [online]. Available at:
https://www.sok.bz/web/media/video/ABriefHistoryNeoliberalism.pdf [accessed 25/11/16]
Foster, N., Cook, K.., Barter-Godfrey, S. & Furneaux, S., 2011. Fractured multiculturalism: Conflicting representations of Arab and Muslim Australians in Australian Print Media. Media, Culture and Society, 33, 619-629.
Devereux, E., Haynes, A., Power, M.J., 2011. At the edge: Media constructions of a
stigmatised housing estate. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment (26), 123-
Fiske, J., 2006 . The Popular Economy. In: Storey, J., Cultural Theory and
Popular Culture: A Reader. 3rd ed. London: Prentice Hall
Thornton, S., 2005 . The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital. In: The Subcultures Reader. Gelder, K., ed. London and New York: Routledge. [online] https://hiphopandscreens.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/thornton-subcultural-capital-200-209.pdf [accessed 25/11/16]
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