"Discuss the role of Media Studies in making sense of the political, economic and cultural meaning of everyday life".
“Discuss the role of Media Studies in making sense of the political, economic and cultural meaning of everyday life”
“Do violent video’s cause crime? Should large numbers of television channels and newspapers be owned by one corporation? Should European governments subsidise their film industries to protect their culture and language from American imperialism?” (Bazalgette, 2000; p.6) These are just some of the questions that are constantly provoking endless arguments within the media and wider society. Media Studies is controversial for many reasons, one being that it is still new, as well as the point that it generates challenging and threatening questions about the information we receive through the media. Sure, majority of people know that we are constantly emerged in a society largely dominated by the media world, but does it actually have an effect on the political, economical and cultural meanings created in society? Through media studies, we can gain a stronger understanding of these effects, and therefore use it to make sense of our everyday lives.
For many people in developed countries, the media has become so much a part of everyday life that it is often taken for granted. Individuals could easily partake in as little as five different forms of media within the first hour of waking up. Many individuals wake up to advertisements or the news on their radio, watch television or read the newspaper during breakfast, pass by billboards on the way to work or school, walk past posters on buildings and signposts, and even have advertising such as brands on their clothing. The media now has such an influence on individuals lives, that it now seems to go unnoticed, as most people don’t know any other lifestyle. Generally, prior to becoming involved in media studies, many people think it simply involves analysing how the media can manipulate and delude others, simply to gain ratings and profit, however there is much more involved. By looking at media influences at the macro rather than just the micro level, we gain a stronger understanding of the social, economic, political and cultural conditions within which the media operate. “Newspapers, film, radio, television and, increasingly, computer software and communications networks… are consequently blamed for all kinds of social ills, political problems and cultural degeneracy. Each of these media has also, in its time, been seen as the harbinger of apocalyptic change – for better as well as for worse” (Bazalgette, 2000; p5)
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As each new medium of media is created, so are questions and theories about the effect it will have. When cinema was first created in the 1900’s, it also aroused many thoughts and critical ideas. These involved political theories such as if cinema could be used to persuade a whole class or nation to respond in a pre-determined way, economical questions regarding how much demand there would be for it, and what was the most profitable way of supplying it, and philosophical and cultural theories by questioning the experience viewers are undertaking. (Bazalgette, 2000) Through analysing a medium such as cinema, we have been able to observe how the media influences the political, economic and cultural effects of society.
Every investigation of a media form, regardless to its size, potentially leads to larger questions about power structures in society and how they are organised. By questioning ownership and production of certain television channels or programs, as well as different newspapers, we come to realise how important these questions are. However its not only about who owns what or who finances the mediums, but it is just as important to question who doesn’t own what, and who wouldn’t finance a certain medium and why (Bazalgette, 2000). These political and economical ideas can give individuals an incite as to why a certain television show will be produced over another, or why certain topics are exposed in one newspaper or program and not another. Harold Lasswell coined the question “Who says what, in which channel, to who, and with what effect?” (Sinclair, 2002; p28). “What these effects really are, how powerful they may be, and how they may be challenged or changed, is part of the business of media studies and a major reason why this subject is sometimes regarded with suspicion” (Bazalgette; p10). The political, economic and cultural influences of media cannot however be completely separated, that is, they are not mutually exclusive terms and are constantly overlapping.
It has now become conventional to contrast the main theoretical differences behind media studies as either ‘European’ or ‘American’ methodologies. Using this characterisation, ‘European’ generally takes a macro perspective, looking down on society as a whole, and is critical of society, as it exists, however the ‘American’ approach prefers a micro style. It is not so much interested in ‘saving the world’ but remains more conservative (Sinclair, 2002). Sinclair also discusses ideological critique and Marxism. According to the ideological critique theory, “the media forms an institution within capitalism which serves to reconcile the exploited class to its fate” (Sinclair; p25). This view argues that through diversion and misinformation, the media induces ‘false consciousness’ so that the working class never realises their historical fate, which is to unite capitalism. They are made to believe that capitalism is both desirable and inevitable, and they should therefore simply accept their place within it. European Marxists tended to rely and focus upon the meaning of media messages, however the political economy approach puts its emphasis on the production and distribution of media content, rather than regarding its meaning. Political economy is closer to a “less ‘cultural’ Marxism, which focuses upon patterns of ownership and control of the media; strategies of corporate concentration and expansion, and the links between the media industries and capitalist structure in general” (Sinclair; p29).
During the war, the US Government continuously tried to maintain its neutrality, and therefore established the use of ‘propaganda’ to build popular sentiment and public opinion, to invoke a certain concept (Sinclair). In the 1940’s a new angle was created whereby opinion leaders mediated between the media and the wider audience, especially for matters of voting intentions. Influential individuals would form their views from newspapers and radio, and then passed them on to others (Sinclair). It is only through observing techniques and the effects they have, that we come to see how individuals can be influenced in their views, without even consciously realizing sometimes.
The idea regarding ownership of media mediums is not only a political perspective, but also economical. The financing of newspapers, radio and television stations all have an effect on the economy at large. There are some highly publicised cases where executives who sell the advertising space and time in media companies have pressured editors not to run stories which they regard as unfavourable to important advertisers (Windschuttle, 1988). By advertising in the media, companies are seen as simply trying to gain profits, however a lot of the time, they are simply trying to establish brand loyalty (Windschuttle). This also ties in with the cultural effect placed on our lives. For many companies, there are many other brand of the same product, and they are therefore generally all around the same price, hence the reason for seeking brand loyalty.
It is extremely hard to differentiate between political and economic influences. On one hand, there is the political side which involves the power hierarchy and why individuals are only shown certain perspectives, depending on ownership of the medium, and on the other hand, there is the economic side which involves politics, how it affects society, as well as selling the industry. Tied into both of these is the cultural aspect which shows us how our lives are becoming progressively controlled by the media.
According to Sinclair (2002), the Australian tradition is seen to be considered as ‘quirky’. This is because it bring bits and pieces from everywhere together to create a certain culture. As a country, Australia continuously compares itself to other cultures, perhaps because it is commonly seen as less significant, geographically being so far away from other continents that dominate the global media. For the past few decades Australia has been known for its native animals, rural outback and television personalities like Steve Urwin (the Crocodile Hunter) and Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee). It is through the media that stereotypes like this occur and are reiterated (Curran & Gurevitch, 1996) After the 2000 Sydney Olympics, it is possible that the international image of Australia changed to show a much more advanced country.
Looking more closely at a micro level, media studies can give a clearer idea of our individual identity, as well as the difference between generations (Thompson, 1995). For example, anyone born in the first half of the twentieth century is unlikely to have seen a television until they were about five years old, and have probably never played a computer game (Bazalgette, 2000), whereas today younger generation are brought up on computers, television and other forms of media, and therefore almost everything is done with technology. Through media in general, individuals gain a sense of other lifestyles around the world and use them to compare and critically reflect on their own conditions of life (Thompson).
Media Studies largely focuses on social outcomes, and therefore the social, economic, political and cultural conditions within which the media operate are also closely examined. Through studying such an interdisciplinary subject, individuals gain a greater understanding of how to make sense of the meanings of our lives. The media is now an unavoidable part of everyday activities, therefore understanding the influences of it is invaluable. The media not only provide entertainment, but provide and shape much of the information we act on in our daily lives (Giddens, 2001). Individuals and society are at large subject to what the specific media choose to tell us, and how. It is up to the individual though, to look beyond the first piece of the puzzle and seek a true understanding.