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John Sinclair notes that the Frankfurt School first brought to surface the ideological critique "that the media, taken together, form an institution within capitalism which serves to reconcile the exploited class to its fate. "12 In laymen terms, this theory claimed that the media was disguising reality from the working class with misleading media content which made them believe that their place in a capitalist world was desirable and inescapable13. Modern day citizens would perhaps believe that this Marxist theory still stands, and possibly, is even more dominant than before.
We cannot deny that today, the majority - if not all - of the western world live in a capitalist society, where our desires and needs are continually created by the large corporations and their advertising schemes. The correlation between our economic status and the culture of society is most certainly interlinked by the advertising we see today. Media studies allows us to use techniques to dissect each ad to their bare minimums, using methodologies derived from theorists such as, Ferdinand de Saussure - who was famous for his development of 'Semiology', Jacques Lacan and Claude Levi-Strauss14.
All three theorists were part of an intellectual movement based in France, called Structuralism15. This newly developed idea of structuralism gave us the opportunity to study media not only as an amalgamation of industries and technologies, but placed more emphasis on the media text itself16, with particular interest in semiotics - 'the science of signs systems'17, which is used in 99% of today's advertising schemes.
Advertising is the major source of media revenue and the essential link which brings together media and our current economic status18.
The idea of political economy places emphasis on the corporate structure and ownership of media, as well as the relationship between media industries and capitalism19. Canadian political economist, Dallas Smythe once said that "media messages were no more than a free lunch which media companies used to attract audiences, which they in turn sold as a commodity to advertisers"20 Concurring with this statement, Bill Bonney believes that our culture has developed to the point it is today through "commodity production"21, meaning the production created by capitalism.
The list of commodities however, is endless, and forever expanding due to the creation of new markets, products and ideas. An example of such "commoditisation"22 is Australian Rules Football. People have always played the game of football in some form or another and presumably, enjoyed it as the popularity of the sport grew and modified throughout the years. So when did the 'commoditisation' of football begin? To pinpoint a specific year or date is considerably difficult.
However, currently the commoditisation process is increasingly obvious through examples such as television networks competing against each other, year after year, for the rights to broadcast the season, paying to see AFL matches and the endless array of merchandise which accompanies the game. All this production obviously results in a large profit as capitalism suggest. However, we can also say that, despite the product not being a material product, it has become a cultural product. We can then state that capitalist production becomes cultural production23.
We can also safely conclude that media organizations play an enormous role in creating the culture of any advanced society. J. B. Thompson suggests that self formation is a "project that the individual constructs out of the symbolic material... available to him or her... [to create] a narrative of self-identity"24. He notes, however, that not only will our influences continue to change, but the same resources will not be available to everyone, depending on factors such as wealth, skill and knowledge25.
Based on Thompson's idea, we can presume that there is a large difference in the culture of advanced societies and third world countries. For example, our society is generally governed by materialistic things such as brand names, celebrities and generally what we see in the media. In contrast, the culture of a hillside province in North Vietnam (presumably untouched by mass media) would be influenced by things such as religion, traditions and "face-to-face interaction"26. Thompson's theory of self formation gives us an understanding of how our, and other, cultures are formed.
Media studies gives us the opportunities to discover "how people are making sense of this world"27 through analytical methodologies such as semiotics, the theory of structuralism and content analysis derived from European and American traditions. These techniques not only teach us to examine media, but it gives us back the self control we so seemingly lost whilst living in such a profit driven world, so that we still have the freedom of choice, albeit a more educated and intelligent one. There is no doubt that we all will be involved with the media at different points in our lives, whether it be politically, economically or culturally.
We may be a parent trying to determine what exactly is 'valuable viewing' for our children, a business owner wanting the most 'profitable' television advertisement, or we may even be involved in the politics of the country.
Either way, having studied media studies, we will be able to approach future relations with the media with more confidence and knowledge. 1 Tiffen, R. , "Political Economy and News" in Cunningham, S. & Turner, G. (eds), The Media & Communications in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2002, p. 42 2 Windschuttle, K., The Media:
A New Analysis of the Press, Television, Radio and Advertising In Australia, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 1988, p. 324 3 Ibid 4 Windschuttle, The Media: A New Analysis of the Press, Television, Radio and Advertising in Australia, p. 325 5 Balzalgette, C. , "Why Media Studies is Worthwhile" in D. Flemming (ed. ) Formations: A 21st Century Media Studies Textook, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2000, p. 10 6 Sinclair, J. , "Media and Communications:
Theoretical Traditions" in S. Cunningham & G. Turner (eds), The Media & Communications in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2002, p. 28 7 Ibid p. 27 8 Barrett, Dr.B. , 'Beating Up: A Report on Police Batons and the News Media at the World Economic Forum, Melbourne, September 2000', http://pandora. nla. gov. au/pan/21947/20011112/vcepolitics. com/parties/barrett-s11-report-2000. html, 28th November 2000 9 Ibid 10 Ibid 11 Bazalgette, Formations: A 21st Century Media Studies Textbook, p. 10 12 Sinclair, J. , "Media and Communications: Theoretical Traditions", p. 25 13 Ibid 14 Sinclair, "Media and Communications: Theoretical Traditions", p. 27 15 Ibid 16 Ibid 17 Rayer, P. , & Kruger, S. , "Image Analysis", Media Studies: The Essential Introduction, Routledge, London & New York, 2001, p.30 18 Bonney, B. , & Wilson, H. , Australia's Commercial Media, Macmillan, Sydney, 1983, p. 125 19 Sinclair, "Media and Communications:
Theoretical Traditions", p. 27 20 Ibid p. 28 21 Bonney, Australia's Commercial Media, p. 40 22 Ibid 23 Bonney, Australia's Commercial Media, p. 41 24 Thompson, J. B. , "Self and Experience in a Mediated World", The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1995 25 Thompson, "Self and Experience in a Mediated World", p. 23 26 Ibid 27 McKee, A. "A Beginner's Guide to Textual Analysis" in Metro Magazine, No. 127/128, 2001, p. 144.
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