"Does the Mass Media Influence Youth Culture?"

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Does the Mass Media Influence Youth Culture?

A    S o c i o l o g i c a l    S t u d y    a n d    S u r v e y

1 . . . Introduction

What is the mass media?

The dictionary tells us that it is:


        "those means of communication that reach and influence large numbers of people."

                                                                (Collins Pocket English Dictionary, 1981 edition)

To many people, however, it is something much more sinister – a monster that seeks to manipulate and control public opinion. A flotilla of highly entertaining novels and films draw upon the idea of a tyrannical government secretly controlling zombie-like citizens, using the mass media as its weapon. Ironically, these conspiracy novels and films themselves are simply another aspect of the media.

But perhaps – especially now, when we are more exposed to forms of mass media than any other previous generation – the seeming fantasies are not as fantastic as we might think. Certainly times have changed significantly since George Orwell first wrote his chilling novel, 1984. For example, Hitler's government proved that it was possible to persuade an entire nation to ignore – or even to condone – horrific acts of inhuman cruelty on a huge scale. This could be done only because of the recent expansion of the mass media to include radio, film and television, meaning that there were now more potential ways of influencing the general public. And making the most of this in numerous propaganda campaigns, it proved frighteningly easy to control what was considered to be a sophisticated and intelligent population.

2 . . . Hypothesis

The question I have been posed asks:


        "Does the mass media influence youth culture?"

Through a series of questionnaires, surveys, and experiments, I hope to be able to provide as accurate an answer as possible to this question. However, before I even begin to obtain any evidence I can hazard a guess as to what the outcome of my investigation will be. Having briefly explored in my introduction the power the media already wielded some sixty years ago, I think that it is inconceivable that any age group – be they young or old – are not at all influenced by the mass media today. For me, the real question is “to what extent does the mass media influence youth culture”. The digital revolution has produced a new form of media that only a few decades ago was unheard of – the Internet – as well as providing hundreds of extra television channels. Therefore, as the media physically reaches more and more people in an increasing variety of guises, so too, inevitably, will its influence over our lives. I believe that the results of my study will reflect this and all my views on the subject.

3 . . . Methodology

In order to answer the question “Does the mass media influence youth culture?” it is necessary for me to conduct a series of surveys concerning the mass media within the culture I am studying, to gather evidence that is vital for me to prove – or indeed disprove – my hypotheses. There are, essentially, three different ways in which I as a sociologist could gather the required information. In this section I will individually look at each of these methods in turn and weigh out their advantages against their disadvantages in order to decide which would be most appropriate for my particular survey.

Participant observation is generally the most intimate method of studying a persons or a group of persons. It may require the researcher to be directly and closely involved with the subjects for study – this applies particularly to the complete observer (known also as “fly on the wall”) in which the researcher watches and records the activities of the study subject without the subject being aware of the observer's presence. An example of this is Margaret Hammond's studies on young children engaged in play, the evidence she gathered for which was by use of a two-way mirrored room which allowed her to be the perfect “fly-on-the-wall”.

“Patrick Smith” (a pseudonym) employed a different method in his research on gang culture in Glasgow. By becoming a member of the gang of a friend of his – without the gang knowing that he was in actuality only joining in order to conduct a sociological survey on their behaviour – he became a complete participant. This meant that he was very much involved with the subject group and had a unique, what might be described as “first person”, insight into how the gang functioned.

David Hargreaves provides an example of the third kind of participant observation: observer as participant. He studied some year 10 students using this method, by accompanying them during their school-day – recording anything note-worthy there and then – and interviewing them by night. This means that the researcher can be “up, close, and personal” to the subject but does not actually become one of them, and with the subject being aware of the researcher's presence and observation.

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There are a number of advantages and disadvantages with the participant observation method of research. As an observer as participant, for example, the researcher can involve themselves with the subject and record any events as and when they occur – though this is usually not possible as a complete participant, as the researcher cannot easily make notes in front of the subject without evoking suspicion and/or unease, which leads to the obvious disadvantage of the potential neglect of recording important details. Another advantage is that if, as in the complete participant method, the observer becomes a trusted member of the ...

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