The Mass Media and Cultural Influence
The Mass Media and Cultural Influence
The mass media’s influence upon popular culture is undeniable. This connection hearkens all the way back to the 16th century in Europe and early efforts to provide news to the public. That developed into the advent of large scale news reporting with the beginning of bias and slant toward media opinion – opinion that would quickly become popular opinion. This has only become more pervasive as media outlets and genres have grown. Many of these have now gone through a change of purpose.
Rather than just providing news, the media now controls entertainment opportunities for the masses. This has only yielded greater opportunities for control of enculturation. Television and print media began to take existing popular cultural views and make them widespread, and would create cultural views where they didn’t exist. Consequently prejudices became nearly the norm, and then those norms were no longer prejudices. That is the possibility and power of the mass media.
Primarily, the influence of Mass Media upon the popular culture of America can be found in three expressions: enculturation through delivery of values and opinions; advertising directly to audiences; and globalization of culture through the internet and its effect upon interpersonal relationships. The mass media of any country greatly determines how its citizens view themselves and others. This is especially true when it comes to establishing opinions regarding other cultures.
Despite living in a world where the globe is shrinking – more availability and ready transportation and movement of citizens – the great influence of intercultural knowledge comes from perceptions received from various media outlets, including film, television, internet and print. This is certainly true in the United States. From coast to coast and north to south, the cultural heritage is not only showing itself, but is growing stronger with a recent flow of new immigrants. Each wave of large numbers of people can bring with it stress and anxiety as they begin to mix and/or assimilate within country.
It is amazing to see just how peaceful a transition this can be. Expressions and events of racial unrest are still relatively uncommon in America and are more anomalous than not. How can this be? Much of this has to do with expectation. Whereas it used to be that one would have to travel the world to come into contact with various cultures, it is now the norm to see and experience this daily within our own country. From educational institutions to common everyday shopping, it is expected to interact with citizens and former citizens of countries as diverse as Iraq and Japan.
And yet the culture shock does not overwhelm as this is turning quite nominal. What accounts for this? Largely the media is the reason. It has become a cohesive, centralized provider of opinion. Naturally, that can become overwhelming – if all outlets provide the same opinion. This is what has become commonplace. Where once there were many different companies and competing media ‘products’ there are now only five such distributors (Nentl, 1999). Time Warner, Viacom, Vivendi Universal, Walt Disney and New Corp account for the control of an estimated 95% of the country’s media exposure.
This explains for a strong education on cultural expectations. The media can build bridges between peoples in this manner; it can also destroy or prevent these bridges when it comes to intercultural understandings. What are the greater implications of this? It means that these news outlets have a great influence on our daily thinking. We are not only instructed as to what to buy, invest in, enjoy, and do; but now we are being informed to interpret and value cultures a similar way.
In my personal life I do not have to look far for this ramification. During the Iraqi war it was the media that shaped my opinions of Muslims in the Middle East and in Southwest Asia. Despite the prior existence of normalized cultural prejudice, the media has begun to shift public opinion toward and against people of Middle Eastern descent in general, and Muslims in particular. The average American has begun to see all Middle Easterners as potential threats. Again, this is despite a lack of this preconceived notion.
The media has created it. This also extends to such things as popular cultures, too. For example take the constant and frenzied media attention given to Hollywood actors and actresses. These individuals are in no way important to the average citizen as far as security and peaceful living go. Yet the media has decided that these stars and starlets must be followed for their every word and action – these are important people. And the average citizen has bought into this. The latest media frenzy has been about Ms.
Lindsay Lohan going to jail; this extravaganza is being reported like the end of the world. The world was forced to learn about her addiction, sentence and family life which they say is the cause of her problems; we also learned about the people who are going to aid her in her recovery. Is this necessary or important the daily living? No. Is it really entertainment? No. It is an ugly, personal affair and it should stay that way. It is only the media that have convinced people, through constant and cohesive coverage that it is in their vital interests.
Examples such as these show the huge impact that the media outlets have upon creating a country’s cultural values, whether they are valuation of ethnic cultures or popular ones. It is difficult to ignore and/or escape this enculturation. The formation of these normative cultural values is associated with more than just media exposure. It has also to do with the ties that media has formed with advertising. The result is that not only are the cultural norms presented to the public as important, but that these norms are also valuable and desirable, not just important.
This combination goes a long way toward convincing a susceptible public to accept these normative values. Media and advertising have long been associated with each other. In the early 16th century England, media outlets were primarily in the form of printed news sheets. These were known as Gazettas. This form of media did not use advertising but presented just news stories. In the early 1700s, however, as newspapers grew in popularity, publishers began to turn to advertising as a source of revenue for the company itself.
Due to a growing connection with the common populace as opposed to the elitist and wealthy, there was likewise a vast market for advertised wares. Newspapers took advantage of this through media advertising and marketing. Over time this became accepted practice for all forms of media, from the original newspapers to magazines, wireless radio transmission, televisions and movies. More recently that has turned to the internet, as well. However, one of the very first examples of this took place at the American Marconi Company, an early radio pioneer.
David Sarnoff, one of the early inspirations for the radio, promoted his idea of a “Radio Music Box” (Wilson & Wilson, 2000, p. 256). He attempted to gain backing for this by using the concept of advertising profit to try and convince his boss at American Marconi Company to develop his idea. He stated within a memo to that boss: “Aside from the profit derived from this proposition, the possibilities for advertising for the company are tremendous for its name would ultimately be brought into the household, and wireless would receive national and universal attention” (Ibid).
This example shows the early thoughts on the importance of advertising to the media culture. Sarnoff saw that an avenue could be created for the media source by advertising to the public. He also foresaw that the media could keep themselves in business in this way by continuing to encourage the population to stay tuned. Since then, media and advertising have become almost one with each other in the present day. Almost all aspects of the media use the influence of advertising to increase the popularity and desire of its media source.
This is seen widely throughout all media outlets. This creates a formation of normative cultural values through product recognition and the use of the products being advertised; news stories of popular figures back this up and only create more desire to be associated with the products. This has become one of the most influence media tactics – that of using famous figures to create an illusion of greatness related to the particular products they use.
For example, when Tiger Woods became the predominant winner within the golfing world, advertisers jumped on the idea and created mass media representations of him using everything from Gatorade, to Nike, and to American Express just to name a few. Everything had his picture, his voice, and his inspirations. The advertisers felt the use of well-known figures would increase the amount of products sold. The mass media saw a person of success and felt a need to be associated with that success through purchase of the products he endorsed.
We have seen this over and over again with well-known figures and the increase of revenue for the companies and media outlets. And with this in mind, advertisers are quick to change the sponsorships when a new leader or star appears. The advertisers and the media know of the importance of keeping up with the current stars and use this to their advantage by continually creating new ads and representations of up and coming athletes, stars, political people, and anyone else that is of current interest within the media.
By doing this, media and its advertisers help form a normative cultural value among its targeted audience. Expectations and perceptions of cultural norms result from mass exposure to single ideas and opinions. Globalization and the invention of the Internet have had a profound effect on popular culture. People are connected to one another like never before and popular culture has become mass culture as continental divides are closed by satellites and the Internet. Popular culture is spread and sold to the public by advertisers that no longer are confined to regional or national television, billboard, and paper.
They sell popular culture to the global consumer with computers, cell phones, and virtually anything with an Internet connection through websites, applications, and search engines. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (2008), “Internet advertising revenues (“revenues”) in the United States totaled $21. 2 billion for the full year 2007” (2007 Fourth Quarter and Full Year Results, para. 1). That is nearly $22 billion dollars spent in the United States alone. The newspaper and television media can now reach billions of Internet users with the click of a mouse almost immediately as a story breaks.
An example of this is when the Dallas Morning News ran a story about Timothy McVeigh on its website in the afternoon instead of waiting for its morning print edition to run, leaving other journalists wondering about the direction of future news releases (Wilson & Wilson, 2001). The globalization of popular culture has started to cause cultural problems abroad. In 1998, studies in Fiji showed that American television had helped to cause a 12% increase in bulimia among the local women who wanted to emulate the western –style slim bodies that they saw on television (Wilson & Wilson, 2001).
The invention of the Internet has also affected the way we handle interpersonal relationships. Internet users can send video, voice, and e-mails to every corner of the world almost instantly. In the early days of the Internet, studies like the HomeNet project by Kraut et al (2008) and the large scale survey reported by Nie and Erbring (2000) concluded that Internet users were more likely to be depressed and neglect existing relationships. Nearly every relevant study done since then has reached the opposite conclusion (Bargh & McKenna, 2004).
Several studies have shown that people considered “heavy users” of the Internet do not necessarily use e-mail and other social media as an alternative to face-to-face communication, but as a way to maintain long distance relationships with existing friends and family (Wellman & Haase, 2001)(Bargh & McKenna, 2004). In fact one study shows that people with healthy socialization skills tend to make and maintain close interpersonal relationships on the Internet without sacrificing their face-to-face relationships, in what the study considers to be a rich-get-richer scenario (Sheldon, 2008).
This is certainly one of the pure success stories of mass media, the internet and resultant influence upon popular cultures. Popular culture continues to develop under the influence of mass media. Opinions are formed and then shared with a widespread audience that then perpetuates what they have seen and heard. Since Europe in the 1500s with the emergence of public news outlets to the rise and spawn of the Internet in today’s cultures, it would appear that the globalization of culture is inevitable.
The issue at hand is just how this planet-wide enculturation will encourage or discourage tolerance and diversity on a cultural level. References Bargh, J. A. , & McKenna, K. Y. (2004). The Internet and Social Life. Annual Review of Psychology, 55(1), 573-590. Interactive Advertising Bureau (2008). IAB 2007 Full Year Report. Retrieved from http://www. iab. net/media/file/IAB_PwC_2007_full_year. pdf Nentl, N. (1998). Media cultivation: The impact of the media on beliefs and attitudes about beauty. Ph. D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, United States — Minnesota.
Retrieved July 30, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 9903644). Sheldon, P. (2008). The relationship between unwillingness-to-communicate and students’ Facebook use Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 20(2), 67-75. doi:10. 1027/1864-1105. 20. 2. 67. Wellman, B. , & Haase, A. Q. (2001, November). Does the Internet Increase, Decrease, or Supplement Social Capital? American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 436-455. Wilson, J. R. & Wilson, S. L. (2001). Mass Media/Mass Culture: An Introduction. 5th Ed. New York: McGrawHill.