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Media Impact on the Society Analyzed Using Conflict Theory Essay

According to the Conflict theory of sociology, the defining quality of human societies has always been the existence of different classes of people in the society and conflicts of interest between these classes of people.

In the United States, wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a comparatively few wealthy families. The interests of this relatively small but wealthy and politically powerful class of people is always under threat from the masses at large, therefore institutionalized mechanisms exist in the government and society, that allow the rich to retain their wealth and power and the poor to remain poor and non-influential (Mantsios).

The media is one such tool for perpetuating the power of the rich. More than half of all the mass media outlets such as newspapers, magazines and movie studios are owned by just 23 large corporations which are in turn, under the control of the upper class. It is not surprising therefore that the media engages in advocacy for the rich and for the continuance of the status quo in the economic, political and social order (Mantsios).

The basic strategy followed in the media in order to prevent the masses from rising against the inequalities of the political and social system is ‘divide and conquer’. This does not necessarily have to be a conscious decision on the part of the media administrators; rather it may simply be a manifestation of the ideology that drives media owners.

The media engages in inciting the larger part of the lower classes, which are relatively better-off sections of against those sections of the society which face extreme poverty and destitution. They are painted as threats to a common person’s security, as parasites living off the taxpayer’s money and in general as people who are poor through their own bad lifestyle choices (Mantsios).

The rich on the other hand are portrayed as benevolent although their corporations engage in practices which are greatly harmful to the common person and are often responsible for the destruction of the livelihood of the poor especially small businesses. Their wealth is portrayed to be the result of hard work and effort even though the rich receive a far larger share of the taxpayer’s money in the form of agricultural subsidies etc. (Mantsios)

The media humanizes the rich by exploring minute aspects of their personal lives and dehumanizes the poor as a violent, lazy and criminal class (Mantsios).

The rich are depicted as people with interesting personality quirks and eccentricities but ultimately harmless, those few among the rich who are convicted of criminal behavior are written off as ‘a few bad apples’. In this way the harmful effects of the endemic social stratification in American society and the harmful actions engaged in by upper class oligarchs are glossed over or ignored (Mantsios).

Social Stratification

Social Stratification is the division of the individuals in a society in observable classes in accordance with their societal influence and wealth. Different societies have different levels of rigidity in their social order. The more socially stratified a society, the less common it becomes for a person born in a lower class to rise up to a higher class through their own efforts (Domhoff).

An extreme example of social stratification was the traditional caste system in Hindu society. This system forced people to adopt the trade of their ancestors. Thus priestly families would only produce more priests, soldier families would produce soldiers, servant families would produce only servants and the untouchable outcast families would produce only outcasts.

In the United States, one of the manifestations of social stratification can be observed in the education system. The effect of social status can clearly be seen in students’ performance in standardized tests. On average students from high income families have much higher SAT scores than students from low income families (Mantsios, Class in America: Myths and Realities).

Another aspect of social stratification is in the job market, people whose parents were blue collar workers are far more likely to be blue collar workers. The people in the upper class on the other hand tend to remain upper class (Domhoff).

According to Marxist thought, social stratification arose out of the unequal economic infrastructure of a society; one class owned the means of production and the other class was forced to sell their labor to them.

In Marxist thought, the social classes were in perpetual conflict. Marx viewed history as one long struggle of the under classes against the privileges in societal infrastructure that the over classes had built for themselves.

Marx viewed the abolition of monarchy as one step in the destruction of over class privilege, now it was no longer acceptable for an upper class to assert its right to rule everyone else based on divine authority, however ‘wage slavery’ persisted i.e. the lower classes’ were still obliged to sell their labor to those who owned the means of production, in order to survive.

According to Marxist thought the abolition of private ownership was the next step in evolution of a society without social stratification.

Revolutionary, Reform, Conservative and Reactionary Social Movements

Social movement can be divided into four typed in accordance with their primary characteristics:

Revolutionary social movements are movements that intent to bring political upheaval and radical social change to the society. Revolutionary movements often seek to bring about greater social equality and to remove one individual, family, ethnicity or social class’ monopoly on power and wealth. For example the Abolitionist movement in the American South sought to bring an end to the endemic social institution of slavery.

Reform movements seek to bring about positive changes in the social order while not attempting to radically threaten the existing social hierarchy. An example of a reform movement would be a movement that called for better treatment of slaves rather than an end to slavery.

Conservative movements seek to perpetuate the existing social order and to resist the influences which they view as threatening to the status quo. The work of pro-slavery preachers in the antebellum American South may be viewed as a conservative movement.

Reactionary movements are radical and often violent expressions of opposition to changes taking place in a society, the Southern insurrectionist movement is an example of a reactionary movement.

The Hip Hop movement among urban African Americans cannot be neatly fitted into any of these molds. Hip hop may be regarded as reactionary to the extent that it was a reaction to the destruction of the traditional African American social order by outside capitalist forces (Rose).

Hip Hop can be regarded as revolutionary movement due to the often radical message of black empowerment that some of the song lyrics convey.

Hip Hop can be regarded as a reform movement due to the fact the main exponents of the movement have neither the means and nor the serious inclinations for bringing about radical change.

Hip Hop may be viewed as a conservative movement due to the fact that it seeks to perpetuate some social inequalities such as patriarchy (Rose).

In short Hip Hop is merely a tool for the voiceless to voice their frustrations and concerns, its value as a cohesive movement to bring about any positive change in the African American community is doubtful.

Gender Socialization

Gender socialization is the progressive assimilation of a person into the society by adoption of behaviors which the society considers appropriate for his or her gender.

The process of gender socialization is initiated at a young age and little girls and boys are taught to behave differently (Lorber).

Often the means of gender socialization are quite subtle and may not even be realized by parents or guardians who oversee and enforce the process. A classical example of gender socialization is parents getting dolls for little girls and guns for little boys. This insidiously teaches little girls that their role in life is to be nurturers and to dress well and look nice while boys learn that resorting to violence is a socially appropriate behavior for them.

Being male and female is thus an adopted societal role that is forced upon an individual by society and to be socially appropriate an individual must constantly “do gender” (Lorber).

This process of “doing gender” is especially exhausting to those individuals who do not feel sufficiently male or female, do not strictly identify with any gender or identify with a different gender than the one considered appropriate for them by the society (Lucal).

In “What It Means to be Gendered Me”, Betsy Lucal, a tall female with a male appearance faces many difficulties. She is challenged when trying to use the ladies toilet, service staff addresses her as ‘sir’ and she is suspected of fraud when attempting to use her credit card (Lucal).

She finds that when she is with her brother, young women try to flirt with her, believing them to be two unattached young men, and when she is with her female friends, people tend to think of them as a heterosexual couples (Lucal).


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