The history of humanity is a study of the influence of the media, a study of the influence of print, television, games, computers, and telephones. Most human beings are now consumers of popular culture, part of a global community of willing participants in the exchange of text dispersed by mass communication. Our opinions can be formed by media influences as our attitudes become affected by this relentless exposure.
Early Mass Media: The News Papers: newspapers derive from pamphlets printed and circulated in the 1700s. They are important in the history of modern media because they ‘packaged’ ideas and information in an easily dispersible way and as such had deeper impact on public opinion. The cheap daily press was pioneered in the US and soon copied across the globe. By the early 1900s most countries had ‘national’ newspapers relatively quickly and took The New York Times and The Times of London as their template. Since 1960 with the arrival of popular radio and television newspaper popularity and sales has been in decline.
Newspaper Publishing: Newspapers are normally (not inaccurately) associated with media tycoons. Newspapers are often owned and controlled by large companies and firms or families who also, in modern times, have control in other media outlets. Even local newspapers are now part of a chain owned and run by distant companies with little or no knowledge of ‘local’ issues. This concentration of ownership is a source of great concern to governments but they have achieved little or nothing worthwhile to change the situation. Advancing technology has made newspaper production and distribution much cheaper but electronic media also further threatens the continued success of the newspaper industry. Newspapers as a whole play less of a role in society than once was the case. They have been challenged by the spread of other media, first by television and now by internet.
The Impact of Television: The increasing impact of television is the most important development of the media in modern times. Virtually every household possesses a TV, which is switched on for many hours in the day with the average adult watching for three hours per day.
Public Broadcasting: TV is big business with the state involved in the administration of at least one major television network. These ‘Public’ television services are paid for by License fees and, in many cases combined with advertising revenue. The frequency of advertising on public (and private TV) is controlled by governments and viewing figures (ratings) monitored by TV companies can dictate whether or not a series continues. The arrival of satellite and cable TV has diminished the power and influence of major TV networks by dismantling audiences which is further effected by ‘self programming’ by people opting to watch what they want to watch and when they want to watch it by using recorders and DVDs. They can now construct their own viewing schedules. Public networks are under strain and the proliferation of new channels keeps adding to the problem.
The Effect of Television on Behaviour: Much research ahs been carried on the matter of TVs effect on audiences. Three commonly researched areas are effects on crime, nature of news and the role of TV on social and cultural life. Sociologists have carried on extensive research on TV and violence. Violence is defined as the threat or use of force, directed against the self or others, in which physical harm or death is involved. TV drama is high in violence; children’s programmes (especially cartoons) were also violent. However, does this violence effect audiences and, if so, how? There is no real evidence to suggest that audiences are affected by TV violence other than actually decreasing aggression. Themes of justice and retribution are enforced on TV (if you do the crime you do the time) demonstrates to viewers that violence is not really an option. More miscreants are brought to justice on TV then there are in real life and thus viewers are more likely to be influenced by moral themes rather than aggressive behaviour. In general audiences, children and adults, are passive and undiscriminating in their reactions to what they see. The same can be said of Gaming, which can act to develop skills that may be relevant in life and to wider participation in a society that depends more and more on electronic communications.
Sociologists Study TV News: Sociologists tend to study news more than anything else on television. TV news is a main source for news for the population. The ‘Bad News’ (1976) research project concluded that news about industrial relations typically was presented in a selective and slanted fashion. Using terms that were ‘anti-union’ in relation to the Miners Strike, this was on going during the research project. Strikes were depicted as disruptive to the public and film used depicted strikers as irrational or aggressive whereas in reality this was not the case at all. Bad News pointed out that those who constructed the news were acting as ‘gatekeepers’ for what gets on the agenda – what the public hears about at all. The views of the journalists reflect the outlook of dominant groups in society. These results were challenged; one argument is that millions of people were affected by the strike than took part in it and therefor the dominant group were the ‘innocent victims’ of the strikers and their side should be taken. Sometimes millions of people’s lives are disrupted by the actions of a handful of people and the majority deserve to know exactly why.
Television and Genre: television today operates on a continuous flow. TV is unending and most channels never go off air at all and apologise even if disrupted for a few seconds. However, while TV is a flow, programming is a jumble. A schedule consists of a number of genres such as game shows, comedies, dramas, soaps and so on. Each genre has its own rules and conventions, which mark it out and separate it from others. These are partly rules about content; soaps happen in domestic settings while westerns in 19th Century America. Characters and contexts also come into play with genre, which sets up different expectations for the viewers. TV producers know what TV viewers expect and so will operate with these boundaries. Cross-genres also occur sometimes for comedic effect and sometimes in Docudramas (re-enactments) for entertainment value.
Soap Operas: Soap is the most popular type of genre and has its own subgenres. Gritty soaps (Coronation Street and Eastenders) differ from American soaps like Dallas, which depict more glamorous lives, and Middle class soaps like Neighbours. Soaps are like TV in that they are never-ending and demands regular viewing and are more of interest to women, sensitive domestic creatures, than men. Sociologists contend that soaps are a means of escape for women who find their own lives dull and oppressive but the more plausible idea is that soaps address universal problems of a personal and emotional nature.
Theories of Media: Communication refers to the transfer of information from one individual or group to another, whether in speech or through another medium. The more efficient the mode of transportation the greater the flow of information. (Stone age society could not communicate on rocks so information did not flow from one community to another). Papyrus (a form of paper) in ancient Rome allowed communications to occur by allowing messages to be carried across society. ‘The medium is the message’ means that the nature of the media in a society influences its structure much more than the content. For example TV is different from a printed book and thus the ‘immediacy’ of TV will inevitably create a global society because it gives more people access to global information.
Jürgen Habermas: The Public Sphere: He updated Marx’s thinking on the basis that he believed Marx had not given enough credence to the influence of culture in society. The ‘culture industry’ (film, print, TV, music and radio) with its undemanding products undermines the individuals capacity for independent thought. The media has all but eliminated the ‘public sphere’ where issues of general concern can be discussed. We only watch debates on TV but we rarely participate in them. The absence of such debate, according to Habermas, has led to the demise of public opinion, which is now formed, by manipulation and control.
Baudrillard: The World of Hyperreality: The impact of modern mass media is more profound than any other technology. The media has transformed the nature of our lives. TV does not represent the world but defines it. Hyperreality occurs when the ‘reality’ is a string of images rather than the ‘real’ world. TV presents the world in a hyperrealistic way and our perception is not of reality but of Hyperreality. For example, the Gulf War became a TV event and not really a war as history has taught us. We witnessed it in living colour and were enthralled by the events that kept us guessing what would happen next. A very long but always interesting TV event. The question is now, did it happen at all? In the real world the events that took place are not what we saw on the screen so it can be argued that we saw a war but not the war. The same can be said about an election candidate that we choose to vote for without ever meeting them. We vote for the ‘hyper-real’ person but not the real one.
John Thompson: The Media and Modern Society: Thompson analysed the relation between the media and the development of industrial societies. He argues that the media have always played a central role in the development of modern institutions. He felt that early sociologists paid too little attention to the media in the development of industrial societies. He felt the modern mass media do not deny us the possibility of critical thought; in fact, it provides us with many forms of information we never had before. Media messages are the source of a lot of discussion, telling and retelling, interpretation and reinterpretation, commentary, laughter and criticism. This will constantly shape and reshape our knowledge and understanding. His theory of the media has three distinctions; face to face interaction (Dialogical), mediated interaction (using technology) (Dialogical), and mediated quasi-interaction (one-way form) (monological). The third type tends to dominate the other two but all three intermingle.
Thompson Ideology and The Media: Ideology refers to the influence of ideas on people’s beliefs and actions. Ideology is about the exercise of symbolic power – how ideas become used to hide, justify, or legitimate the interests of dominant groups in social order. In short Thompson sees the media as a monological organ of society that reaches mass audiences and based and used to advance dominant social thinking.
The Globalisation of Media: World News is a daily, and sometimes, hourly occurrence on many TV networks. They have contributed to the globalisation of the media. We can watch events actually happening ‘live’ from distant countries and because we are absent witnesses we perceive these events in a hyperrealistic way. TV shows and films, with few exceptions, are for global audiences. This new world information order has developed unevenly and reflects divisions between developed and underdeveloped societies. – News: Flows of news are often dominated by small numbers of continentally based ‘news agencies’ which, in turn, interact with each other in news distribution. Between them the main agencies send out millions of words every day to television, radio, and print. – Cinema, Television, Advertising and Electronic Media: American sources are dominant in TV production and distribution of cinema, TV, advertising and electronic media.
Media Imperialism: A cultural Empire has been established across the developed world and control of the world’s news distribution systems is dominated by American interests. Media entrepreneurs such as Rupert Murdoch with his ‘News Corporation’ dominates developed society as does Silvio Berlusconi and his ‘Mondadore’ corporation and Ted Turner with CNN. This media imperialism is of deep concern to governments across the world; ‘too much power in too little hands’.
The Issue Of Media Regulation: Large imperial organisations can not only make money but also influence public thinking. Owners of such corporations are usually right wing and anti-Liberal. With advancing globalisation independent governments have little control of these ever-expanding media Empires thus the issue of media regulation becomes a more difficult task. To dictate who should own what is wrong and can effect a free economy and job creation and a further problem is who should do the regulating and who will regulate the regulators? Media owners are unelected and are a threat to democracy but they too may be under threat with the impact of multimedia and the internet, which they cannot seem to harness. Individuals are free to set up blogs and websites to discuss their points of view and with expanding followers can have freedom of expression to a global audience.
Multimedia: New communications technologies are behind profound changes in the global market. There are four main reasons for this; advancing capabilities, declining costs, digitisation, and satellite communication combined with fibre optics. The transformation of data into ‘bits’ converted by receivers back into data has allowed computers to send and receive all forms of media messages, audio, visual, written. Advancing speed of computers has made this machine the central point of reference for all forms of communication. Participants now have control over what they see or hear and the digital revolution has annihilated distance and created organised chaos.
The Internet: This is a global network of PC users all using an ‘un-owned’ resource that is only in its infancy. Fibre optics means that people can communicate, watch, hear, read, and write on one single device and if they deem it necessary can publish their work. No one can be sure what the future holds but developments are so rapid that they are at the heart of the future of communications. In cyberspace we are not longer people but ‘messages’ on computer screens. No one knows who anyone else really is and as such we may be losing our identities (Hyperreality).
Sociology (6th Edition)
Click On Image To Learn More.