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Lull Ideology and Consciousness

Lull Ideology and Consciousness - | 2 Introduction to...

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Unformatted text preview: | 2 Introduction to demonstrate the limits of structure and the vitality of agency in routine social interaction: Each speaker of a language is both constrained and empowered by the ' code that informs his language use. He or she has no choice but to accept the way in which distinctive features have been defined and combined to form phonemes. He or she has no choice but to accept the way in which the phonemes have been defined and combined to form morphemes. The creation of sentences out of morphemes is also constrained, but here the speaker enjoys a limited discretionary power and combinatorial freedom. This discretionary power increases when the speaker combines sentences into utterances. By this stage the action of compulsory rules of combination has ceased altogether. (1990: 63) About this book Moving forward then with an overarching philosophy that life’s vital trajectories are not predestined, we shall now explore the dynamic interaction of three themes that will make up the core of this book: mass media and information technology, patterns and processes of human communication, and the social construction of diverse cultures. The book is international, multicultural, and multidisciplinary. Many of the examples refer to cultures outside North America, the United Kingdom, and continental Europe. We study capitalist and communist systems, the First World and the Third, the rich and the poor, the mainstream and the margins. We evaluate media, commu— nication, and culture stretching from California to China, by way of England, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, and scores of other places. Theorists from outside the northern loop are prominent contributors to the points of view that evolve in the following pages. We will travel theoretical terrain that encompasses key concepts and issues from communication studies, sociology, cultural studies, political economy, psychology, and anthropology. We visit the premodern, modern, high modern, and postmodern eras. No facile, easy answers to complex, tough questions will be found in these pages as we strive to explain the forces of structure and agency in contemporary media, communication, and culture. Given the choice of privileging structure over agency, or agency over strucv ture, however, I choose the latter. I prefer to stand in the sunshine, not in the shadows, and I hope that by the end of our journey together readers of this volume will be inspired to do the same. 2 Ideology and ”ea-mam»: , Jar, __ .1 n, a _ .1 Consciousness , , (apoo 'S'n u emu) Mm mBuKdoo lq paranoid eq flew leuaww sgqi :aouoN We move forward with this critical analysis of media, communica— tion, and culture now by exploring concepts that should be part of any college student’s working vocabulary. Ideology and conscious— ness are the subjects of this chapter, and a related idea, hegemony, will be the focus of the next. We will refer to ideology, consciousness, and hegemony throughout this book. The concepts are complex and overlapping, though each has a unique emphasis and role in social theory. To introduce the first two, we can say that ideology is a system of ideas expressed in communication and consciousness is the essence or totality of attitudes, opinions, and sensitivities held by individuals or groups. Ideology In the most general sense, ideology is organized thought - sets of values, orientations, and predispositions that are expressed through technologically mediated and interpersonal communication. Ideolo- gies are internally coherent ways of thinking. They are points of view that may or may not be “true,” that is, ideologies are not necessar- ily grounded in historically or empirically verifiable fact. Ideologies may be tightly or loosely organized. Some are complex and well integrated; others are fragmented. Some ideological lessons are temporary; others endure. Some meet strong resistance; others have immediate and phenomenal impact. But the varying character bf ideology should not obscure its importance. Organized thought is never innocent; it always serves a purpose. Ideologies are implicated I4 Ideology and Consciousness by their origins, their institutional associations, and the purposes to which they are put, though these histories and relationships may never be entirely clear. In fact society’s power holders often prefer that people don’t understand or question where ideas come from, or whose interests are served by ideologies, and whose are not. Ideology is a term we can use to describe the values and public agenda of nations, religious groups, political parties, candidates and movements, business organizations, schools, labor unions, even pro— fessional sporting teams, urban gangs, rock bands, and rap groups. But most often the term refers to the relationship between organized thought and social power in large-scale, political-economic contexts. Ideology, therefore, is fundamentally a large-scale, “macro”—level concept. Selected ways of thinking are advocated through a variety of channels by those in society who have widespread political and economic power. The ongoing manipulation of public information and imagery by society’s power holders constructs a particular kind of ideology — a dominant ideology which helps sustain the material and cultural interests of its creators. Ideology as a system of ideas has persuasive force only when such ideas can be represented and communicated. Naturally, then, the mass media and all other large—scale social institutions play a vital role in the dissemination of ideologies. Fabricators of dominant ideo- logies become an “information elite.” Their power, or dominance, stems directly from their ability to publicly articulate their preferred systems of ideas. Ironically, in today’s world many of society’s “elites” must depend on non-elite cultural forms — the mass media and popular culture — to circulate their ideologies in order to maintain their elevated social status. The origins of ideology as a critical concept in social theory can be traced to late eighteenth-century France (Thompson 1990). Since then, by one definition or another, ideology has been a central concern of historians, literary critics, sociologists, philosophers, semioticians, political scientists, rhetoricians — theorists representing virtually every niche in the humanities and social sciences. European intellectuals in particular have given ideology a sharp critical edge. British social theo— rists, for example — living in a blatantly class-divided society famous for its kings and queens, princes and princesses, lords and ladies — often define ideology in terms of how information is used by one socioeconomic group (the elite or “ruling class”) to dominate the rest — especially the poor and the working class. Raymond Williams, one of the most respected communication theorists of years past, called ideology “the set of ideas which arises from a given set of material interests or, more broadly, from a definite class or group” (1976: 156; italics mine). He was saying that ideology is closely connected to eco— .« firms: sewn-2w: ‘5’? . Ideology and Consciousness I5 nomic interests. Persons and institutions with political or economic power will try to use ideology to maintain their privileged position at all costs. To give a particularly consequential example, during the Vietnam War of the 1960s and early 1970s the corporate manu- facturers of military weapons, equipment, and supplies vigorously supported the ideological assertion, “My Country Right or Wrong!” in order to keep the profitable war going as long as possible. Because “systems of ideas” are used in ways that favor the inter— ests of some people over others, we must never trivialize the meaning of ideology. For this reason, the British sociologist john B. Thomp— son insists that ideology is best understood in the aforementioned, more narrow sense of “dominant ideology,” wherein “symbolic forms” including language, media content, political platforms, insti- tutional messages from governments, schools, organized religion, and so on are used by those with power to “establish and sustain rela- tions of domination” (1990: 58). However, Thompson argues, “spe- cific symbolic forms are not ideological as such: they are ideological only in so far as they serve, in particular circumstances, to establish and sustain systematically asymmetrical relations of power” (Thomp— son 1995 : 213). The socioeconomic elites can saturate society with their preferred ideological agenda partly because they have great influence, often ownership, over the institutions that author and dispense symbolic forms of communication, including the culture industries and the mass media. Ideology, then, is a very good place to begin a critique of media, communication, and culture. Our reflection begins with the term itself. Simply to refer to any system of ideas as “ideology” calls at— tention to the nature of that system of ideas, and opens the door for meaningful analysis. The expressions “capitalist ideology” and “socialist ideology,” for example, call attention to the fundamental principles that make up the two contrasting, often competing, political—economic—cultural systems. Using the term “ideology” directs attention to the values and practices of capitalism and socialism as political—economic-cultural schemas that are constructed and repre- sented rather than natural and self—evident. It problematizes capital- ism and socialism as sets of values, perspectives, and conforming social practices. A seemingly minor shift of language — from “capital— ism” to “capitalist ideology,” for example — thus facilitates analysis and debate. That is a main reason why ideology is a favorite term of critical observers and theorists. However, the term can also be used in a way that discourages critical reflection. Some American politicians, citizens, and media complain of the “communist ideology” of “Castro’s Cuba” or of “red China,” for example. When used in this pejorative manner, the term “ideology” nearly becomes a synonym for \ \ I6 Ideology and Consciousness as “communism. It is the communists who suffer from ideology, according to this interpretation, as if Americans and others in the “free world” don’t have to worry about any such political manipulations. Ideology and the mass media ome ideologies are elevated and amplified by the mass media, given great legitimacy by them, and distributed persuasively, often glamo— rously, to large audiences. In the process, ideas assume ever-increas- ing importance, reinforcing their original meanings and extending their social impact. Television has the unparalleled ability to expose, dramatize, and popularize cultural bits and fragments of information. It does so in the routine transmission of entertainment programs, news, and commercials. The bits and fragments then become ideo- blegical currency in social exchange. People talk a lot about what they read, see, and hear on the mass media and the Internet. Media frag- L,./ments don’t stand alomrnrot in the media, and not in Our conver- sations. Various bits of information often congeal to form ideological sets that overrepresent the interests of the powerful and underrepre— sent the interests of the less rich or simply less visible people. Although television may be the most obvious conveyer of such domi— nant ideologies, all mass media, including seldom recognized forms such as postage stamps, store windows, breakfast cereal boxes, auto- mobile bumper stickers, tee—shirts, grocery receipts, golf tees, match— book covers, restaurant menus, even the bottom of urinals carry messages that serve the interests of some groups and not others. Con- sider, for instance, the (dominant) ideological lessons given in these familiar American bumper stickers: He Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins. I Owe, I Owe, $0 Off to Work I Go. My Other Car is a Porsche. ‘ My Boss Was a Jewish Carpenter. Image systems Image . . . is everything. Tennis professional Andre Agassi in a TV commercial for a japanese camera manufacturer Image . . . is nothing. Professional basketball star Grant Hill in a TV commercial for an American soft drink company ,. l l l Ideology and Consciousness I7 / ———> \ / Technological mediation \ Social mediation Representational units ldeational systems Internal organization Suggested interpretations Mediational systems Figure 2.| Image systems The Sprite commercial, of course, is meant to be heavily ironic. The soft drink company depends on Grant Hill’s image to claim that “image is nothing!” Appearances are extremely 1mportant in a mass— mediated world. The effective spread of dominant ideologies — those mainstream sets of ideas that _r_einforce the status quo — depends on the strategic use of image systems, of which there are tWo basic types: ideational and"_ 352755.11 (figure 2.1). Ideational image systems refer to how ideas take form. Mediational image systems refer to how ideas circulate in society. The key word in both cases is “system.” Ideologies make sense because their internal elements hang together in systematic patterns. Those patterns then become familiar and accepted because they are delivered to us systematically via the mass media, and are further circulated in the personal conversations we have with our families, friends, co-workers, teachers, fellow students, neighbors, email correspondents, chat—room partners, and others. Image systems, therefore, refer to the articulation of layers of ideo— logical representation and the tactical use of modern communications technology to distribute the representations, which, when successful, encourage audience acceptance and reproduction of the dominant themes, thus reinforcing relationships of power that are already in place. We use the term “image systems” to emphasize that ideology depends on the patterned construction representation, and trans— mission of ways of thinking in order to be influential. ldeational image systems Let’s concentrate first on ideas. As we are learning, ideas are never neutral and they rarely stand alone. They are grouped together for I8 Ideology and Consciousness strategic purposes, refer to each other, and reinforce each other. A comparison with language may help clarify how systems of ideas work. When people speak a language, they utter sounds that are orga— nized into words, phrases, sentences, and so forth. Language as a system encourages certain responses and understandings, and not others. It is not a closed system — there is room for misunderstand- ing, disagreement, and invention — but it is a system that is structured sufficiently well so that people who share the code can communicate and coordinate their actions according to mutually intelligible assumptions and rules. The same basic process characterizes how systems of ideas take shape and move about. Let’s consider an extended example of an ideational image system — commercial advertising — a $200—billion industry in the USA alone. What commercial advertisers sell are not just products, services, or isolated ideas. Advertisers sell multilayered, integrated ideational systems that embrace, interpret, and project interdependent images of products, cheerful consumers benefiting from the products, cor— porations that profit from sale of the products, and, most important, the overarching political—economic-cultural structure — and the values and social activity it embraces — that presumably makes all the con— sumer activity possible. Advertisers want people not only to like the brands and product groups they put up for sale, but to believe in the economic system that underlies the very idea that “to consume is good.” Some ideas thus are acceptable to the economic elite who sponsor the advertising, while other idea are not. One idea that does not fit well with the ideational image system of advertising, for example, is the well—documented scientific claim that current patterns of natural resource consumption on a global scale — especially at rates evident in the more developed countries of the northern hemisphere — are destroying the earth’s ecological balance and threatening the planet’s very survival. Without much regard for'environmental or social consequences, advertisers try to turn media audience members into consumers. Through advertising people are encouraged to become personally involved with commercial products by imagining contexts — the phy- sical scenes, emotional circumstances, and actual social situations in which they would be able to use various products. These projected imagined situations are grounded in an overarching value structure with which the consumer is already familiar. Advertising’s success thus depends largely on the interpretative chemistry of plausible imagined consumptive situations interacting with familiar and accepted value structures. 50, for example, a Nissan automobile commercial encourages viewers to buy one of their sleek—looking but competitively priced cars “Because rich guys shouldn’t have all the Ideology and Consciousness l9 fun!” These eight words sell much more than Nissans. They are used to construct an imagined situation framed by a value structure that embraces unabashed materialist competition, a commodified defini- tion of pleasure, reinforcement of the “naturalness” of a socially stratified society, an assumption that social aggressiveness is the ter- ritory of men, and permission to use the product in order to deceive others into thinking you’ve got a car that reflects high socioeconomic status. This example demonstrates how the various internal elements of a television commercial — the audiovisual cues, cultural values, and r"- .__...e..« .1 asIsIuIrnptions — all work together to create an ideational image system. Repetition is extremely important. RepeateH—presentation'of'domi— nant ideological messages continues to define or “indicate” culture, particularly for people who are heavily exposed to media. For example, the “heavy viewer” of television (30 hours or more per week) tends to perceive the world in a way that is much more consi- stent with the images presented on the tube than those who watch less than ten hours weekly (Gerbner 1973; Gerbner and Gross 1976). Mass media greatly influence how people make sense of even the most basic features of their societies. The media give strong, repeated impressions about society’s racial and gender composition and roles, for example, as well as its vocationa a terna ives‘kpolitica,toptions, ....n_.w .... V. - <-»,er-‘r:lu>-v\... . w w._..........-.., , -w __.,, arfcl'level's'ofiviiolhce. 'In the United, States we see lots of white and black people‘on TV,"bu't‘ f‘eW""Lati'nos, Asians;"0r Middle Easterners. Most jobs apparently are quite glamorous, men are single and women married, very few children or elderly people exist, there are only two political parties, almost everybody is heterosexual, and the chances are excellent you will be shot the minute you walk out your front door. Television’s common themes regularly stereotype people and things, reinforce the sm'qUofafidi‘s‘up'porf—‘tfier’Jfiii'fi‘ant”ideology that is behiri‘dtli‘ésieiide'as'.iAst'e’i‘beerand Gross say, “TV is an agency of the established order and as such serves primarily to extend and maintain rather“ than alter, threaten, or weaken conmions, befiefs, EEBéHa‘defsf2“.”1‘fs'”'chiéf‘ cultural function is'to spread and stabilize social patterns” (1976: 175). Consistent with the perspective we are developing in this chapter, Gerbner and Gross consider the content of television to be an ideologically loaded “message system.” The flood of commercials capitalizing on the national mood in the United States following the Gulf War in the early 19905 illustrates well how culturally based value structures can be used to sell prod- ucts. In these commercials, sponsors positioned their products inside the emotional context of nationalism, patriotism, and militarism that swept ...
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