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The influence of media on society Essay

The media is a powerful force in contemporary society, which determines our actions and identities. With reference to relevant sociological theory and evidence, discuss media effects.

Society relies a great deal on technology for news, entertainment and education. Mass media is seen as one of the greatest influential factors on the opinions and viewpoints of society in the modern world. Media includes a range of sources, for example, Magazines; Internet; Television; Books and Radio. All of these sources are what contribute to the beliefs of what society believe life and culture to be, which is sometimes heightened to unrealistic standards. Although media provides speedy access to various forms of communication, as with anything else, negative ones closely follow its positive attributes.

Socialisation and society is one of the main features in partnership with mass media. As seen in the contemporary society, norms; values; and way of life have changed to a great extent in comparison to the generations gone past. A crucial aspect that a large media society has embraced is that it brings to the surface great awareness of the world around us. The media has exposed individuals of all ages to different aspects of the world that previous generation had no exposure to. This vast revelation has educated the youth, thus making them more aware and resourceful about the world today. Media delivers messages ‘across the globe’ in a matter of minutes, providing us with information about the most current events around the world. Media is actively transmitted on a day-to-day basis via millions of people and their access to resources.

An example is in the fashion world: it is media that creates the trends and genres of different types of clothing, also considered as ‘identity’. _The fashion world markets their clothing to society through the media_ (Crane, 2012) using various sources such as, television, Internet, and print sources like newspaper and Magazines. Today’s society faces constant debate about women’s body image. Size ‘zero’ has become not only a fad in the world of high-end fashion modeling but also a fad in smaller castings of modeling. The size zero topic has caused a revolution with women around the world trying to enter the modeling industry, harming their bodies in countless ways in order to achieve the “ideal” body image.

Women today face extensive criticism about their appearances due to the superficial ideology created by the media. This has brought plenty of criticism from feminist individuals, groups and organisations around the world whom state that women have died from starvation simply for a short-lived career in the modeling world. A way in which media has positively impacted upon the notion of the ‘size zero’ topic, is through the use of TV commercials by popular companies like Dove, to empower women, this was done through Doves ‘Be Beautiful’ campaign which showcased women of all shapes and sizes labeling them as all equally beautiful.

Today’s world has stereotypes made from different forms of media. Stereotypes have been created on different ethnicities and cultures. As individuals growing to a more open-minded mentality, we see distinct relations between the two. When we see a particular ethnicity portrayed in a certain way, judgments tend to be established and therefore we then relate them to an entire culture of people.

Analyses of media in modern and post-modern societies have concluded that media are the society’s storytellers, repeatedly confirming and modifying the society’s image of itself (Anderson, 1991; Condor, 1988, Fairclough, 1995; Hall, 2001). In and through those stories, whether in the factual or fictional genres, we get to meet and ‘know’ our fellow citizens and, consequently, consistently distorted depictions stigmatise those so portrayed (Nairn, 1999; van Dijk, 1993).

Eventually many individuals tend to conform to those stereotypes, thus following the self-fulfilling prophecy. This can be dangerous as people’s self-esteems can ultimately be affected, not forgetting this activity can be harmful to society. For example, many African American people are portrayed as criminals and, therefore, displayed as “dangerous” people in the media and its various forms; many fear them as they are known for causing harm and disruption. As this stereotype changes the view of this particular ethnicity, they tend to act the way they are seen in the media as society already believes that they are that particular stereotype.

The hypodermic syringe theory states that the media feeds society what they want and society accepts it without any questioning; it is a medium of the message that can cause changes within a time span of a few minutes. The results can be drastic and cause massive changes in society, as adolescents may apply these standards and values in their adult lives. Mass media is a fast growing field; the commercial world has experienced immense amounts of developments in this sector due to rapidly increasing demand.

The media can also be subjected to creating illusions and perceptions about particular situations or events to convince a specific audience or group of people (Atwood, L. E. (1994). But when an individual experiences it for themselves they will see how different it is compared to how the media portrays it. For example, when someone is exposed to how television broadcasting takes place in reality, they realize that the media may exaggerate the event in order to create emphasis on a particular situation. Furthermore, the media creating the illusions may be one of the most important responsibilities of modern education. As media may not portray the data in the way it was, inequalities about validity are created.

Theorists have various, different and conflicting ideas on the effects that mass media has on contemporary society. Functionalist believes that each part of society has a function that they are to perform in order for society to function to its full potential, and there are particular functions society has to reach in order to maximum capacity(Giddens, A., Duneier, M., & Appelbaum, R. P. (1996). Functionalists believe that society conforms to a lot that they see in the media by enforcing laws and regulations, which keep order and control in society. Functionalists believe that Conformity is what reinforces the norms and values of society. Therefore, this is what teaches the new generation how to adapt to society.

The media enforces and teaches society the rules and regulations, not to mention provides social circumstances of individuals disobeying the laws and regulations. This acts as a reinforcement to conform to society’s rules. For example, cop shows provide an example of social situations where individuals of our society act out and the punishments they receive. This enforces rules and conformity within society. Children of today’s society are being an agent of socialisation and thus expose them to countless amounts of media at a very young age (Arnett, J. J. (1995), they learn their standards and values form these sources thus acting as sources of socialization.

The most predominate role the media provides according to a functionalist is entertainment. Besides all the social control and socialization factors, in the end the media is our predominate form of entertainment. This is a source of relaxation and a momentary escape from the hectic world that we live in. Conflict theory is obvious in this understanding as the media does perpetuate the ideology of the powerful and pacifies people. Researchers such as David Buckingham (Moving images, 1996) and David Gauntlett (Moving experiences, 1995) have evidenced through their research how even young children have a sophisticated level of media literacy and understand more about how the media works than adults give them accountability for.

This further reinforces the belief that conflict theorist Karl Marx has in that there are two dominates classes in society. One being the Bourgeoisie, they we’re the ruling class that controlled all the assets and controlled the modes of production, they owned most of the properly and land. The second class was The Proletariats, they we’re considered the lower working class. This class had no power at all and worked hard labor jobs which consisted of manual labor. Conflict theorist states that functionalist has not paid attention to the social inequality that the mass media portrays, that the mass media benefits some more than others.

According to conflict theorists, the mass media is controlled by a number of highly influential people. As the media is controlled by very few highly qualified people, they can deliver their views to the media and create false assumptions about particular opinions. Since the ownership of the media is not in the hands of many, creating profitability to them as producers and several different industries are interested in transmitting messages to the world via the approach these particular media industry individuals.

The subject of what influences the mass media involves the link between persuasive media messages and the indirect, actual behavior. (Gunther, A. C., Bolt, D., Borzekowski, D. L., Liebhart, J. L., & Dillard, J. P. (2006). The process of ‘ two-step flow of communication’ must take place. This process involves the communication between the media and the audience members. The first process involves respected individuals of society to evaluate media messages. These individuals tend to be highly educated or politically powerful in that community. As their status contains power and authority they usually conduct independent judgment.

The second step involves the leader’s impact on attitudes and behavior of others around them. This way media’s opinions are filtered by the leaders. This two-step process limits the amount of impact on society. The media influences society to perform a particular action; yet the leader’s power will determine whether society will perform that action or not. Symbolic interactionism represents media through social studies (Webster, J., & Trevino, L. K. (1995). In-depth interviewing and participant observation is used to study how people in a society truly interpret media messages. Social research does not only concentrate on the social meaning producers try to send, but the way in which the audience filter and understand mass media messages. Sociologist, Stuart Halls states that, audience members take an active part in consuming the products of the mass media. But, they filter and interpret the messages in the context of their own interest.

Every individual has developed their own way of thinking over their lifetime. Which implicates that the media does not fully impact individuals. (Katz, E., & Lazarsfeld, P. F. (1970). Society takes in the mass media’s information, in the context of their own experiences, interests, and values. So, any in-depth analysis of the mass media must take into the production and consumption of the data. In the initial stages, the meaning intended by producers must be studied. Further to that, we also need to study how the public consumes or evaluates media products. Audience members may understand media messages in ways other than those intended by the producer. The critical attitude of the individuals exposed to the media reduces the ability to identify strongly with many characters, personalities, and storylines.

Age also affects how we relate to the television or various different forms of media. For instance, the senior viewers tend to be selective and focused on their television viewing. In comparison to individuals who grew up with TV cable and remote control ( Katz, E., & Lazarsfeld, P). Individuals in that vein often sift through channels, engage in conversation and do a multitude of things that detract attention to the supposed object of focus. The media does not impact these modes of viewing. This is an example of the media’s effect on society and the extent to which it affects certain individuals.

Mass media is a tool that can cause great change and impact on society mostly. Although the mass media has afforded society negative instances, there are several high points that can be taken away from the existence of the media. If it were not for the media society would not be informed about world events and situations which are taking place in it. Many individuals criticise the media for it’s over exaggeration and creation of false delusions. However, many forget to give the media credit for the intense and immediate broadcasting around the world.

On the whole, the media has created many advantages for society and has created a whole new generation and way of life, yet, on the other hand, the media has corrupted the minds of children and adolescents. Not to mention its role in the massive loss of culture and tradition that dates back thousands of years ago. In the end has the media benefited society or corrupted it? That is for you to decide.


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(2) Harrison, K., & Cantor, J. (1997). The relationship between media consumption and eating disorders. _Journal of Communication_, _47_(1), 40-67.

(3) Nairn, R., Pega, F., McCreanor, T., Rankine, J., & Barnes, A. (2006).
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(4) Crane, D. (2012). _Fashion and its social agendas: Class, gender, and identity in clothing_. University of Chicago Press.

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(6) Arnett, J. J. (1995). Adolescents’ uses of media for self-socialization. _Journal of youth and adolescence_, _24_(5), 519-533.

(7) Giddens, A., Duneier, M., & Appelbaum, R. P. (1996). _Introduction to sociology_. WW Norton.

(8) Atwood, L. E. (1994). Illusions of media power: The third-person effect._Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly_, _71_(2), 269-281.

(9) Gunther, A. C., Bolt, D., Borzekowski, D. L., Liebhart, J. L., & Dillard, J. P. (2006). Presumed influence on peer norms: How mass media indirectly affect adolescent smoking. _Journal of Communication_, _56_(1), 52-68.

(10) Webster, J., & Trevino, L. K. (1995). Rational and social theories as complementary explanations of communication media choices: Two policy-capturing studies. _Academy of Management Journal_, _38_(6), 1544-1572.

(11) Katz, E., & Lazarsfeld, P. F. (1970). _Personal Influence, The part played by people in the flow of mass communications_. Transaction Publishers.

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