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Social Science: Mass Media

17 Nov 2017Essay Samples

Sex and violence

According to John Berger in Ways of Seeing, “publicity increasingly uses sexuality to sell any product or service…. It is a symbol…for the good life in which you can buy whatever you want.” 1 Berger says there is also an “implicit message, i.e. if you are able to buy this product you are lovable.” 2 Sex stands for desirability and lovability, of being wanted and needed and of being ‘somebody’. A product that is associated with sex is associating itself with power and influence and implying if you have this product you are lovable.

In the same way programs that feature sexuality are offering the same fantasy. The majority of television programs show people of above average income, wealth and beauty. The viewer imagines himself in their situation: The viewer imagines himself surrounded by beautiful, young women (because he is powerful and desirable). Men also get a sexual thrill from the images that gives them immediate appeal.

This same model can be applied to violence. Violence ‘is a symbol…for the good life in which you can do anything you want.’ The implicit message is if you are able to buy this product, or if you were this character, you would be living the good life in which you can do whatever you want: You are influential and powerful and in control is the fantasy that violence feeds into.

This analysis is patriarchal: It refers to male viewers. This is not necessarily because men watch more television programming and advertising than women. It is because men control more wealth and make more spending decisions than women. Television content, programs and advertising, are directed at men primarily because men control spending and the delivery of advertising is the ultimate goal of commercial media such as television, radio and many elements of the web.

Of tremendous concern is the impact of this sex and violence throughout media. It is undeniable that violence in society, in Canada and the United States, has also increased during this period, since 1970, that sex and violence have increased in the media. However, that does not necessarily prove that an impact of violence and sex in the media is increasing violence and sexuality in society. It could be the exact opposite.

Changes in the media could be an impact of changes in society. Therefore, the Vietnam War might be the reason for increasing violence in media (and in society). Other changes like the ‘Sexual Revolution’ and feminism might be the cause, and increasing sexuality in the media might be the consequence. 

That said it is impossible not to be concerned that children see hundreds of guns and weapons, and shootings and killings, animated and involving actors, before they spend a day in school learning to read and write. The impact of this violence and sexuality on young children is an issue of great concern. So is the whole system that ‘feeds’ children hundreds of minutes of advertising every day when they are very young and imprints the consumer mentality. Essay on Mass Media is a part of academic writing tasks. We know how to write it

Media Models

Models of the communication process are important to the analysis of mass media for many reasons. For mass media analysis to develop academic discipline it must evolve a methodology in terms of techniques that is scientific and consistent and repeatable. It must also identify the specific process to be analyzed and the questions to be asked.

These developments can only occur if theoretical models are being developed, employed and modified. This is true of any discipline whether it is scientific or social scientific. In this sense media analysis has a great deal of methodologies developed. There are the Nielsen ratings of viewers, advertising rates and all kinds of statistical tools.

However, theoretical questions about the meaning of all of this datum and analyses are less clear. Mass media is a very difficult subject to analyze in terms of culture and content. Analysis of advertising revenue, budgets and even viewer ratings provide a great deal of insight into the making of mass media and the economics of mass media. However, determining the impact of this mass media on its audience is more difficult. Even more difficult and arguably more important is identifying the processes by which this mass media content influences its audience.

The question of audience response and impact because of its difficulty has been a focus of much communication modeling. All of these models, in contrast with the earlier, historical models of mass media, acknowledge that any media message becomes multiple messages once it has been taken in and interpreted by each individual member of the audience. Historically mass media models looked for a ‘magic bullet’ an equation or theory that would identify how to transmit the message, perfectly and completely, from the media ‘into’ the viewer or listener or reader.

These simple models have been discarded. Contemporary models emphasize that a multiplicity of messages will result from given media images. This is true in two important senses. First, the individuals receiving the message represent different segments of society. Individual politicians are frequently more popular with men than women or vice versa. An advertisement for a male cosmetic product might be designed to make a man say I want that product. However, it might be more successful if it is designed to make women, who are more likely to purchase a cosmetic product, think I want my boyfriend/husband to use that product. These are the divisions that lead marketers to identify market segments, demographic cohorts and other groups and also determine political polling and campaigning.

However, even within these large groupings there are profound individual differences in the way media images and messages are interpreted. This is the most important point that communication models have made. Any message no matter how simple—‘I ♥ New York’—can and will be interpreted in different ways by different individuals. As recent events illustrated the meaning of the message can also change over time (i.e. post 9/11). Emphasizing the gulf between message and viewer is the key role of models of mass communication.

Communications: Political Economy View and the Cultural View

Comparing the two grand theoretical views of communications (Political Economy and Cultural) is like the question of the chicken and the egg. Is media a result of capitalism (political economy) commodifying information or is it a result of cultural expression, voices, spontaneously generating a media for transmitting these messages. In other words, is media principally a chicken, a product (the political economy view) or is it the egg, the idea or ‘art’ (the cultural view)?

In another important sense this argument is not at all like the chicken and the egg issue. It is not necessarily framed in black and white or extremes. Media could be both. However, that said, media might be both, but also be essentially or primarily one or the other. Nonetheless, the essential question remains is media a product seeking a market or an idea seeking a viewer or reader?

The political economy view, as the name implies goes beyond the simple argument that media is product and within the capitalist system driven by profit seeking and economics. While this is true media is also information and knowledge, itself a valuable commodity, particularly in politics. In this view media (as information) is still a product. However, power and influence not directly money, is the profit.

This is what the term ‘spin’ refers to. It is why politicians hire image consultants and speechwriters. In politics today a good idea is not enough: It must be presented, sent through the media, right. According to Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky the mass media is used to ‘manufacture consent’. That is to say that it is not a forum for freedom of speech and debate but rather, one huge advertisement for the American way of life, from automobiles to attacking Iraq.

The cultural perspective argues that media and communication are culturally mediated processes and that socio-cultural factors not political economy are the fundamental elements of communication and media. In this viewpoint the fact that Michelangelo painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel reflects the influence of Roman Catholic theology at the time. In the same way Rembrandt’s portraits of the Dutch bourgeois speak to the Protestant Reformation and Max Weber’s ‘spirit of capitalism’.

A synthesis of these two viewpoints is necessary. This is true in terms of processes and practices and in theory. In practice, mass media is a cultural creation filtered through political economy. Even a program as simple as “The Simpsons” is a cultural product—its content and characters reflect our society. Its popularity also reflects its cultural relevance: viewers want to watch it because they identify with it. However, at the same time it is a political-economic proposition. If it were not appealing it would not attract viewers and if it did not attract viewers it would not earn advertising dollars and it would be cancelled. Simply put, mass media is both a cultural expression and a manifestation of the political and economic structure of society. A meaningful theory of mass media must recognize these dual perspectives.

References

  • Berger, John Ways of Seeing Penguin Toronto: 1972.
  • Herman, Edward S and Noam Chomsky Manufacturing Consent Pantheon Books New York: 1988.

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