O'Shaugnessey_What do the media do to us

O'Shaugnessey_What do the media do to us - 3 What Do the...

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Unformatted text preview: 3 What Do the Media Do to Us? Media and Society The last chapter stated that media studies involves looking at social questions about the role ofthe media.This chapter looks at society and the media, and explores the relationship between the two. CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY 16; I put forward three initial assumptions on which the following discussion is based. 1 Change and crisis We live in a world that is undergoing huge social. and political change and turmoil. Such changes have been going on throughout the twentieth century, so it is short- sighted to see this as something new. Nevertheless, the rate of change seems to be accelerating. Currently we face the following major issues: a) an economic crisis of growth, consumption, and production; b) a political crisis in terms of power struggles fuelled by ethnic, national, and reli— gious differences that are fragmenting individual societies: for example, the con— flicts in formerYugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, and Rwanda; and struggles between countries (for example, East Timor and Indonesia, India and Pakistan, Israel and the Palestinians); c) an ecological crisis of pollution, global warming, and diminishing natural resources.The extent ofthis crisis is not clear but it hangs over us. 2 Inequality and difference Looking at the world globally, and at individual Western societies, there are major social inequalities. Societies consist ofa complex network of groups with differ— ent—sometimes competing, sometimes overlapping—interests. Some of these groups are advantaged (in terms ofsuch social goods as housing, education, and life opportunities) by virtue of their birth, their wealth, their class position, their skin colour, and even their gender. Consequently, there are advantaged and disadvan~ taged groups in society, or, to put this another way, dominant and subordinate groups.The three major areas ofsocial division are class, gender, and race. 136 C8 W: tie 210 SOI What Do the Media Do to Us? | 17 3 Maintaining consent in Western democracies If democratic Western societies are full of social inequalities, why isn’t there more social disorder and disruption? Why don’t the disadvantaged and underprivileged rebel more often? Why do so many people seem to accept their subordination? There is, ofcourse, some social disruption, particularly crime. However, crime is not usually understood as the actions of oppressed social groups who are struggling to redistribute wealth equally and who have a political agenda. Rather, crime is usual— ly understood as, and presented in the media as, the actions of deviant, psychologi— cally sick (or evil) individuals. In general,Western democratic societies have found ways of maintaining social stability at the same time as maintaining social inequali— ties; they have succeeded in winning the hearts and minds ofthe people so that they accept the status quo.There is consensus. How is consent maintained?This is a complicated question and here I will make some initial suggestions: ° Western liberal democratic systems give everyone the right (in Australia it’s a legal obligation) to vote. But in practice there are limits to democracy: in most democracies there are only two or three significantly powerful parties so your voting power is limited. In the USA only about 50 per cent of eligible voters actually vote at presidential elections. Do we conclude that 50 per cent of people don’t think it’s worth voting for the candidates? The general beliefis that we are given a say in how our society works. ° The West is built on an ideology ofirzdiuidualism that stresses personal rights, free— doms, and equality. Such beliefs are often legally enshrined in statutory rights and freedoms.This is in contrast to the restrictions ofcommunist countries and other societies such as China, who appear to limit individual human rights in the face of collective social good. As individuals, we may appreciate the freedoms that Western democracy offers us, and we are encouraged to believe they make the systemjust. ° Because Western societies are well developed economically, they are able to offer a relatively high standard ofliving: most people have access to, or possession of, a phone, a fridge,a television set, and a video recorder.This is backed up by welfare systems; many people receive benefits (in Australia and the United Kingdom it is possible not to work and still receive some money to live on, although this is get— ting more difficult) and health support. All these factors keep people relatively content and contribute to a belief that Western democracy is the best system available at present. Even ifyou do not believe in it, it is relatively easy to survive, and it is easier to go with the system than against it. Such ideas and beliefs are also maintained through a number of social institu— tions, one ofwhich is the media.The media are a central arena in which ‘consent’ is won and maintained.This argument informs many of the points made throughout this book and will be illustrated in numerous examples. It is based around theories ofideology, hegemony, and discourse, which are explored in Part 4 ofthe book and throughout the rest ofthe text. 18 I Media and Society HOW THE MEDIA WORK Here are five starting point positions: 1 The media show us what the world is like; they make sense of the world for us This is absolutely central to media studies: ° The media—press, radio, television, cinema, and so on—have become the place through which we receive most of our information (and entertainment) about the world, so they are the primary source for how we see the world. For example, most of us have some idea of what the Himalayas are and even what they look like, but this knowledge is most likely to be gained not from our actual experi— ence of going there, but through reading about them, hearing and watching media stories told about them, and viewing pictures ofthem. ° In their representations, the media give us explanations, ways of understanding the world we live in—they take on an interpretative role. ° In so doing, they teach us how to understand the world, other people and our— selves, how to ‘make sense’ of the information about the world that we receive. We can understand this in relation to gender and ethnicity/race. The media ‘teach’ us about masculinity and femininity, what it means to be a ‘normal’ man or woman; they ‘teach’ us about ‘blackness’ and ‘whiteness’, about non—European and European cultures, about the supposedly typical characteristics of these groups. In the social roles that they assign to men and women, non—Whites and Whites; in the desirable and undesirable stereotypes that they continually present, they give us a structure, framework, and pattern for understanding ethnicity and gender issues. I’m not saying that the media set out with this educational——‘teaching’—agenda in mind, or that they are necessarily even conscious of what they are doing, but that the effect they have on us as we grow up, reading and consuming the media, is to give us these patterns that explain how we will see ourselves and others, how we will understand gender, race, and our own identities as men or women, non—Whites or Whites.This is the politics of representation.As Richard Dyer says,‘l-Iow we are seen determines in part how we are treated, how we treat others is based on how we see them; such seeing comes from representation’ (Dyer 1993, p. 1). Of course it is possible for the media to give many different explanations of the world, many contrasting ways of making sense of masculinity/femininity, but this book argues that across the major media outlets there is a tendency to give broadly similar views ofthe world, what I will call later a shared or dominant ‘discourse’ on masculinity/femininity that outweighs other viewpoints. 2 Media products do not show us the real world; they give us constructions Many media products re—present the real world but these media products are not the real world itself; they are re-presentations or constructions of the worldThis is also crucial and is explored in depth below (p. 31). Media studies shows how the media What Do the Media Do to Us? l 19 are constructions, and then explores the values, beliefs, and feelings that these con- structions present to us. 3 The media are just one of the ways by which we and society make sense of the world, or construct the world The media are not the only social force to ‘make sense of the world’ for us, nor do they have total control over how we see and think about the worldThere are other forces of socialisation that they combine with. Most significant for children will be the socialisation they receive through the family and education systems, which ‘teach’ them how to understand and act in the world. As we grow up, other views about how to behave, about social morality, are disseminated through a whole set of legal, cultural, and political forces. The media are just one arena in which these views are presented and popularisedThe media generally act to reinforce values that are part ofthe whole society. 4 The media are owned, controlled, and created by certain groups who make sense of society on behalf of others Those people who own, control, and create the media are media producers.They are not a totally separate social group, since they are also part of the audience and society as a whole, but they are a small, elite group.They are a complex group of people including: ' owners and business managers, who are concerned primarily with the need for the media to make profits ' creative personnel: writers, directors, camera—people, and so on ° technicians who run the equipment and machinery. Even these categories overlap in a number of ways: for example, many technical jobs are also creative, some managers have creative interests, and most creators are aware offinancial needs and constraints. But note that: - despite the fact that there are a small, limited number of media producers, they speak to, and on behalf of, the whole society ° those people with most media power—particularly financial and creative power~are an even smaller group ° there is limited access to the media ' those groups who make sense of society on behalf of others are predominantly White, middle—class, and male.Without suggesting any conspiracy here, it seems obvious that they prioritise White, middle—class, masculine values as the norm, since such values are natural to this group. Consequently, the media have a ten— dency to make sense ofthe world from this particular point ofview. 5 The need for popularity As an antidote to the notion ofa powerful elite in charge ofthe media, note that the media have to sell themselves successfully to large numbers of the population: they have to win big audiences in order to be economically viable and surviveThis need 20 | Media and Society for popularity complicates, and adds a twist to, the power of theWhite, middle—class males. If people do not like a product, they will look elsewhere for one. So the media must satisfy their popular audience, which is predominantly working—class and is about 50 per cent female.When commercial television was first introduced into Western societies, audiences quickly turned to those channels that offered the most popular entertainment (particularly game shows and soap operas).There was a major move away from public television stations—the ABC in Australia and the BBC in the United Kingdom~that offered many programs with middle—class and highbrow values.These channels have continually struggled with the need to main- tain ratings and the need to present programming that satisfies its mass audiences. The ABC is still regarded by many as elitist. Consequently, there may be an interesting contradiction between the values of media producers and their audiences’ desires, a contradiction that is revealed in the course of satisfying the imperative to popularity; there is thus a recognition of the powers of the audience/consumers to determine which media products succeed. We could argue that audiences influence, ifnot control, media output through their choices over what media products to consume. To analyse the role and position of popular culture in a way that considers both its products and the way audiences/consumers use them is complex. The media were described by the Frankfurt School as a ‘consciousness industry’ performing a kind ofsocial control in keeping the masses ordered, but some cultural studies crit— ics see them as a source ofpotential democracy and empowerment for the people.9 This contradiction is illuminated by two different ways of defining popular cul— ture.The first defines popular culture as those cultural pursuits that are of, or from, ‘the people’; that is they are produced organically, by ‘the people’ themselves (this definition was most often used when describing earlier folk—culture activities such as songs and dances).The second defines popular culture asfor ‘the people’; this sug— gests that something is handed down to them that they accept.There is a big differ— ence between that which is of/from and that which is for the people; this difference is useful in thinking about the power of the media and whether it lies mainly with the producers or the users/audience/consumers; whether the content of the media derives from the culture of social elites or from the culture of larger social groups, ‘the people’. As usual, there is no simple answer in media studies; we may find ele— ments ofboth bound together. THE ACRONYM ’CRASH’ Looking at the social role of the media means being interested in the social values and beliefs of media texts—their ideology. The acronym ‘CRASH’ foregrounds social issues and social differences. Each letter stands for a way of socially categorising people, and each category usually includes both the socially advantaged and disadvantaged. ‘C’ stands for class. Modern societies have been described as consisting of three classes: the upper/ruling class, the middle class, and the lower/working class.The upper/ruling group is the smallest in numbers and is the most socially advantaged or privileged, while the lower/working group is the largest in numbers and is socially disadvantaged. Definitions of class are usually framed in terms of either the What Do the Media Do to Us? l 21 power (and wealth) or the cultural values ofa person.These definitions are com— plex, and are more difficult to use today than previously, as societies have become much more fluid in terms of social class. In other words, it is less easy to categorise people according to class. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that modern industrial societies, in the wake of increased and continuing high levels of unemployment, now use the term ‘underclass’ to describe a significant portion of the population, and it is clear that society still has broad divisions both in terms of wealth, money, wages and in terms of what are regarded as acceptable cultural values. So it is still useful to use this category in understanding society. ‘R’ stands for race. The world is made up of different ethnic groups and most modern societies are multicultural or multi—ethnic. Historically, however, some races or ethnic groups have dominated and exploited others, in particular through colonialism and imperialism. Racial inequalities and conflict persist, and we can see the existence of dominant and subordinate racial groups, as well as negative atti— tudes and stereotypes being directed at some ethnic groups. ‘A’ stands for age. Society is made up of all ages, but many societies have ‘ageist’ aspects to them in that older and younger people are treated as second—class citizens. ‘8’ stands for sex and sexual orientation. In comparison to women, men are a socially advantaged group in modern societies. Men have more social power and control than women, and there is discrimination against women.There is also dis— crimination on the basis ofpeople’s sexual preference or sexual orientation—that is, who they are sexually attracted to. Heterosexuality is seen as the norm, while homosexuality, lesbianism, and bisexuality are seen by mainstream culture as deviant, thus making those who are not heterosexual another disadvantaged group. ‘H’ stands for handicap. Handicapped and disabled people (also known as differ— ently abled people—note how different words or labels carry slightly different asso— ciations) are another social group who are disadvantaged or discriminated against in various ways. I could use other categories (height, weight, and hair—colour, for example) as markers of normality or deviancy, but these five (class, race, age, sex, and handicap) are particularly useful for drawing attention to social discrimination. I want to add one more letter to CRASHz‘E’, which stands for environment. Our society at pre— sent faces a global environmental crisis above and beyond purely human social issues. It’s important to see how the media portray the environment today, how they encourage us to make sense of the world globally. It is interesting that the media seem to celebrate the natural and non—human world in many ways—notice how often animals are used positively in advertisements.Yet human growth contin— ues to threaten the planet. You can now use the acronym ECRASI—I to analyse media representations and to understand your own social position. 1 How are you placed in relation to these six categories? How does it feel to be in these positions, and how well-represented are you in the media? 2 How do the media represent the world in relation to these six categon'es? Ask the fol- lowing questions of specific media texts/images, using ECRASH as an approach: a) How does each media text/image represent the environment, class, race, age, gender, and (dis)ability? ' 22 | Media and Society b) What would each media text/image look like to a working-class person, a person of non-European descent, an old person, a woman, a homosexual person, a handi- capped person, a person concerned with the survival of endangered species? c) 00 the media give a privileged view to some groups over others, showing some groups as advantaged, others as disadvantaged? 3 Look at Figure 1.2. What view of age is presented in this advertisement for Levis jeans? Figure 1.2 Advertisement for Levisjeans Source: Levis jeans circa 1990 MEDIA AND SOCIETY The big question I keep returning to is how, or whether, the media affect and influ— ence us. I like the way the cartoon in Figure 1.3, by Millard, presents both sides of the argument. Figure 1.3 Millard cartoon Source: Kerry Millard 1996; 50 l: Said . HQW ) published in Australian Lawyer, ViolCnCC on TV November 1996 ’ make PEOPlt / violent? " ___/‘ What Do the Media Do to Us? | 23 Looking at media influence relates to a wider philosophical question that recurs, in various forms and situations, throughout this book: are we automatically affected and controlled by forces outside of ourselves (the cogs—in—the—machine view of human beings) or do we have freedom and autonomy (literally the right of self— government or self—determination) to make our own decisions (the free—will view ofhuman beings)? In relation to the media, are we controlled by the media or do we have freedom and choice over how we use them? In Chapter 12 I explore various theories of social construction that suggest we are unconsciously positioned and determined by forces outside of ourselves. I argue here that we are programmed and controlled by forces outside our control (including the media), but through our own rationali— ty, our feelings, and consciousness we have the ability to question and change things: we can make choices. The key to our autonomy is our awareness and understanding, our conscious— ness, of how the world works. Sometimes our awareness of the world may be dor— mant: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is a well—known adage, so if things seem to be working OK, if people are happy with life, then society can continue as it is, we don’t need to think about what’s happening, our awareness can be asleep. But when things go wrong,break down, fracture, then we have to look for new ways ofliving. We have to make an effort to understand what is happening and look for new solu— tions and systems. Social change occurs at these moments offracture and crisis. The Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania can be seen as an example of how moments of social fracture, in this case a horrifying and apparently inexplicable massacre, force people to question social rules and norms that were previously accepted as a natural part oflife. In the case of the Port Arthur massacre, attempts to answer the question of why one person would go on a random killing spree pro— duced various theories. One course of action was to challenge and change Australia’s previously accepted laws of gun control. To open up this issue of free will, ask yourself these two questions. Generally do you see people, and yourself, as ’cogs in the machine’ or as self-determining individuals with free- will? In relation to the media, how much do you think the media affect the behaviour of people, or yourself; how much are you free of their influence? Write down your thoughts on these questions, drawing on your understanding of people and the media, and using examples from your own experience. Ask other people these ques- tions and record their views. Try to include both general views and particular examples to illustrate these general views. Do the media reflect or affect the world? Traditionally two models have been suggested as ways of understanding the rela— tionship between media and society. The first suggests that the media reflect the realities, values, and norms ofa societyThus ifwe want to study a society we could turn to its media—its films, novels, television series, and popular stories.They will reflect to us what people feel and think, how they behave, and so on.The media act as a mirror of society, or a ‘window on the world’, which can be used as a resource 24 | Media and Society to understand the society. The second model suggests that the media affect how people think, believe, and behave.The media construct our values for us and have a direct effect on our actions. I will examine both models. The media as a reflection of society The main arguments against the notion that the media reflect the norms, values and realities of society are that the media construct and change events rather thanjust reflect them. As an example, think about events that happen in the real world but that are presented extensively in the media—events such as Princess Diana’s funeral, the Academy Awards ceremony, or the Olympics.These events happen indepen— dently of the media, but the media build them into something more, into media events, constructing rather thanjust reflecting them (Wark 1994). In Australia the Melbourne Cup horse race is celebrated nationally (and more recently internationally, thanks to worldwide coverage by the media) as ‘the race that stops a nation’.This is presented in the present tense, as though it has always and will always be true. Historically, the race only dates back to the nineteenth century; but more importantly ‘stopping the nation’ only became a real possibility once media communication could transmit this event ‘live’ across the nation, through the telegraph, then radio, then television.At this point the media allow the possibility of a simultaneously shared, national event (the significance of the Melbourne Cup relates to Australia’s search for national identity). Events that bring the nation together into what Benedict Anderson (1983) calls an ‘imagined community’ help Australians to define themselves and their culture. One national character aspect celebrated in the case of the Melbourne Cup is the triumph ofleisure over work. The media hype up the significance of such events.The newspapers, radio, and television networks start reporting and speculating on the race several weeks in advance. (It fits neatly into the annual sports calendar by coming in early November after the Australian football and rugby seasons have ended, and before the cricket and other summer sports seasons are fully under way, so there is plenty of media space available for it.) It becomes a feature on non—sports media programs, becom— ing a major news event, so that, for example, Radio National news programs actually broadcast from the race meeting. The speculation about who will win is linked to betting and commercialism: participating in the event means being involved in some form ofa bet. Two points emerge from this ‘media event’: ° ‘Stopping the nation’ is only possible via the media, so we can say that the media construct this event rather than reflect it ' If you are a regular media consumer, you should ‘naturally’ be interested in this event, particularly ifyou identify yourselfas Australian. Indeed the media suggest that not being interested would mean being un—Australian. The second point relates to how the media construct and shape our actions, our sense ofwho we are, our daily and annual routines.This is an example ofthe way we live in what I call the media—worldThe media contribute to the construction ofa calendar ofannual events. Such constructions are not new; throughout history soci— eties have organised themselves around cyclical events, mainly religious holidays and festivals linked in some way to the change ofseasons and the practices and ritu— What Do the Media Do to Us? | 25 als offood gatheringThese practices have changed with the process ofindustrialisa— tion so that holidays and rituals are now organised to suit the needs of an industrial society. The biggest annual media event is Christmas (see Chapter 15), but other times also become media events.Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day are all becoming part of the social and media calendar. These three days are commer— cialised through the buying and sending of cards and presents; their media promo— tion is important financially. Gradually, almost every week and every day ofthe year is designated a particular event or linked to a particular cause, and the media are central transmitters and publicists ofthese events. Christmas comes earlier each year; occasions like the Academy Awards—a won— derful piece of media self-promotion and American imperialism—are increasingly big media events. Note how they become part of everyday conversation—‘Did you see the Oscars?’ people ask me. Knowing who the winners and losers are becomes an important piece of social knowledge, a sort of cultural capital, for social inter— course. Not knowing threatens social exclusion. Increased coverage is facilitated by improved technology (satellite link—ups) that allows the instant and cheap transmis— sion ofperfect images and sounds from continent to continent in a way not possible a few years earlier. Note for yourself how particular events have become media events and are developing each year. There is a process of selection at work here; some events are not promoted~for example in 1998 the African Football Cup of Nations, which is arguably the third most significant soccer competition in the world after the World Cup and the European Cup, received virtually no coverage or news reports in Australia outside SBS, the multicultural television channel. In c0ntrast,American football and world grand-prix motor racing receive extensive and increasing television coverage across the globeAre these selections made on the basis of audience desires and choice, or on the basis of commercially driven interests? Motor racing, one of the few arenas still available for cigarette advertising and sponsorship, is particularly interesting in this respect.There are big commercial interest groups supporting and lobbying for its media coverage. While the media thus construct and promote events like the Melbourne Cup, they also changeevents.The simple act of recording an event will alter it.This is most apparent with the camera.The presence ofa camera alters people’s behaviour. This may happen in small ways, but it is nevertheless a factor to take note of. It has been a major concern for documentary makers who try to record ‘real’ events objectively; many now recognise that their presence changes their subjects. See what happens when you point a camera, whether a photo camera or movie camera, at someone, or they point one at you. It is likely that the person being photographed 0r filmed will do something in response to the camera, but even if they don’t do anything dif- ferent on the outside you and they will be feeling something different inside, emotional- ly. The event has thus been changed. Media recordings have also begun to determine how and when real events will take place.The links between sport and media are significant; each lives offand sup— ports the other, and this relationship means that sports tailor themselves to fit in with and benefit from media coverage. So, for example, when a goal is scored in 26 | Media and Society Australian Rules Football in televised matches, the umpires wait to see a light from the television channel indicating that the television advertisement is finished before restarting the game. Matches are also scheduled over the weekend to fit in with and maximise television viewing times. The Olympics coverage is organised around getting good television coverage and being able to present this across the world for peak—time viewing; because of this imperative, the marathon has been run at times best suited not to the athletes but to worldwide television audiences.10 The media can become an important player in more significant events. One of the most celebrated examples is the media coverage of the Vietnam war. Television pictures ofAmerican atrocities and injuries became a major factor in the develop— ment of the anti~war movement in the USA and Australia, resulting in popular protests that helped to end the war. So far the arguments about reflection have considered how the media influence real-life situations; they cannot mirror or reflect them innocently since they become part ofthe events and change them.When we consider fictions, however, is the reflection model useful? D0 fictions show outsiders what life is like in any par- ticular society? Can we gain an understanding ofAmerica,Africa, or Australia by looking at their television dramas? The reflection model is unsatisfactory here if it assumes that media products transparently reveal the truth about any society. Using this approach you would assume that the television soap Neighbours gives an accu— rate reflection of Australian daily suburban life! It is clear, however, that while it may reflect some current social attitudes, we need to understand Neighbours more fully by locating it in its overall social context, in particular by looking at who produces it and in what constraints. Furthermore, we need to understand the actual social situ- ation ofAustralia (or the United Kingdom) at the time of the production and con- sumption of the program to understand how the program fits the popular imagina— tion of its audience. That is, we need to try and understand why Australians and Britons might watch Neighbours: how its particular depiction of reality gives these audiences certain pleasures, and how these pleasures relate to the actual reality of the audience. This is particularly significant when trying to understand why Neighbours is so popular for a British audience. Is it that its utopian, sunny, and clean lifestyle offers escapist pleasures to an audience living in the stressful environment of a bleak, urban, British landscape?“ However, if we were trying to understand British or Australian society in the 19805 and 90s, Neighbours, given its extreme popularity, would be one useful source, amongst many others, to try and get a picture of how those societies worked, what their beliefs and values were. It could, in other words, be partially used as a reflection of this historical period. The effects model: what sort of influence do the media have on audiences? Let’s now consider the effects model. Part of the problem here is what words to use to describe what the media ‘do’ to us. ‘Effects’ is often used scientifically to suggest there is a precise response triggered by the media: we watch something and it makes us do something.The word ‘influence’ is more useful in that it allows flexibility: we watch something and it encourages us to do or believe somethingThe word ‘aflect‘ is also usefulThis suggests that the media produce some kind of emotional response What Do the Media 00 to Us? | 27 in us.This is certainly true: we go the cinema to be stimulated in pleasurable ways, to experience affects (ofcourse different people will experience different responses). My argument throughout this book is that the media can and do influence us in many ways. I will therefore prefer that term. Nevertheless I will use ‘effects’ some— times and we certainly need to be aware of this term because it is the word and the framework that is most often used in the debates about media power. How is the effects issue popularly presented? In 1998, a story in the West Australian newspaper with the headline ‘Cartoon Triggers Illness’ reported that: ‘Hundreds of children have been rushed to hospital across Japan after feeling ill while watching a popular television animation program on a nationwide network. The cartoon . . . triggered convulsions in children . . .when a bright red explosion flashed for five seconds on television screens’ (VVest/lustmlian, 1998a). There seems no doubt that this program did produce responses in many viewers but this can be understood in terms of the physiological effects ofpatterns offlash— ing light being received as signals to the brain. Similar effects are found to occur as a result of stroboscopic flashing lights, which can produce epilepsy in some viewers. So we are not talking about the content of television here, merely the electronic transmission oflight signals. This is an example ofthe way the media can affect our behaviour.They can also produce effects in our behaviour through their technological forms. Our daily habits and lives have changed radically through the increase of media communica— tion systems. The development of the media has made our lives quicker, more sedentary, and more domestic: telephone and internet communication allows us to contact each other instantly; we can deal with problems, and communicate feelings, across distances in a moment; and people no longer need to be able to do simple arithmetic, as they have learnt how to use calculators.The use ofa word processor has had a major effect on my own writing practices, making it much easier to pro— duce material that can easily be copied, changed, and rearranged. SO the very pat— tern of our daily lives, in the media—world we live in, is structured differently due to media technologies.This is part of what Marshall McLuhan was getting at when he stated ‘The medium is the message’ (McLuhan 1987, p. 7). Rather than concentrat— ing on the content of messages, he wanted people to think about the media’s tech— nological forms and how these affected people. But, in relation to the question of effects, affects, and influence, it is the area of media content and the way it is presented that I want to focus on in more detail. This is the area that raises most discussion and controversy. Another newspaper report, with the headline ‘Suicide Alert on Film’, shows how this argument can be popularly presented: ‘The suicide scene in the latest film version of Romeo and Juliet has prompted concerns among psychologists and counsellors that the film romanticises suicide . . .“Anything that influences suicide (rates) to go up should be a big concern to society” ’ (Mst/lustmlian 1997). The implication here is that the film can directly encourage teenage suicide. Australia has one ofthe highest teenage suicide rates in the world in the 19905, with a particularly high rate among young males, and consequently Australian society is sensitive to this issue. However, moves to censor this film because ofits portrayal of suicide would be profoundly misplacedYouth suicide is the product ofmuch wider 28 1 Media and Society social conditions, and it is these that need consideration.At the same time the media can still be part of these social conditions. One ofthe statistics ofmale teenage sui— cide in Australia is that many gay youth attempt suicide. It is argued that this is because of their distress over the way society treats homosexuality: Between 20 and 35% of gay youth have made suicide attempts, the best available statis— tics show . . .Youthful gays often internalise negative stereotypes and images of them— selves. And when you have been told that you are ‘sick, bad, wrong for being who you are”, you begin to believe it (Herdt 1989, p 31). Alan McKee (1997) has argued that the media are implicated in this because they present so few positive images ofgay youth. He sees the need for popular gay repre— sentations as a way of helping raising self—esteem and combating these suicide fig— ures. In relation to this issue, and to most others, the relationship between media and society is complex. The effects issue is most often raised over questions ofsex and violenceThe sim— ple hypothesis is that media violence encourages Violent behaviour in the audience, and that sex portrayed by the media can corrupt the audience. Even though research about media effects is inconclusive, it is often suggested that criminal acts have been prompted by watching media violence or pornography, an argument that is often used in law courts.The logical answer for many people is to limit what can be seen through censorship. While accepting that the media can influence us, and that we need some forms of censorship, I make the following points against increased censorship and the use of the effects model tojustify it. 1 We have some autonomy (self—control, and self—determination) in how we behave; while we may imitate some things we learn from the media—what clothes to wear, styles of language and social interaction~we know what it means to be violent to someone and we are careful about such actions.We are rational beings who can think about and reflect on what we see and do.We also know the difference between, on the one hand, media representations, stories, and images ofviolence—that is, that they are stories/flctions—and the real thing. We can make judgements about what we consume from the media; we do not respond automatically to what we see. Blaming the media is an excuse that denies our responsibilities (and it is often used legally as an argument for a lighter sen— tence for those charged with violent crimes). 2 It is important that we have access to information about real violence and sexual- ity in the world because restricting such access and information can be socially and politically repressive.TheVietnam war is a great example of how media cov— erage can provide society with information that has political consequences. Media coverage of this war was a major influence in turning Americans and Australians against the war. During the GulfWar in 1991 theWestern media were much more controlled by the military, and the coverage, likened by many to a Video game, was heavily sanitised as part of the propaganda to support the war. We need to have full access to knowledge of events that have a direct public influence on us. There is also a question about how real violence is presented on television. So- called ‘reality TV’ programs have been criticised for the way they sensationalise What Do the Media Do to Us? | 29 violence.12 One of the things you will be aware of as media critics is how the language ofthe media—camera angles, music, editing, slow—motion, and so on-— can be used to present and manipulate events in particular ways, and this does need critical analysis. 3 The case around fictional sex and violence raises different questions. Censorship laws in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the USA all underwent extensive lib— eralisation in the 19605. Explicit sex and violence have become commonplace in fictional media, helped by improved technology and special effects that have made graphic portrayals, particularly ofviolence, ever more realistic and detailed. Reactions to this, and campaigns against media sex and violence, have been around since the 1970s, and there is continuous debate about these issues.These developments raise the following questions: Do we need censorship? Are there certain limits to what should be shown? Who should be allowed to see what? What lines and boundaries do we need to draw? I am inclined to libertarianism. In an ideal world we would not need censorship, but this is not an ideal world; we need to protect people, particularly children, against images that abuse and harm them, or encourage this—we need some cen— sorship and restrictions. However, I make two arguments against censorship213 ° The first relates to the value and importance of fantasy. Fictional stories, like dreams, allow us to explore and indulge in fantasies. Dreaming of attacking someone is not the same as doing it, yet many of us do dream of this at some time. Fictions allow us to explore and understand our sexual and violent feelings (see p. 140—1). ° The second suggests that censorship of violence or sexuality won’t work. Censorship reflects a belief that if we control media images, we can control human behaviour; if we stop showing violence, people will stop acting violently. However, people act and feel violently to one another for a variety of reasons. If people want to watch a lot of violence/anger in the media it may be because there is a lot of violence/anger felt in the real world (the media are therefore reflecting these feelings). Anger caused by social oppression might be one such reason.The way to deal with such violence is not to censor the media, but to examine what is actually happening in society and try to deal with the deeper causes of anger and violence. Focusing attention on media violence and censor— ship distracts us from looking at the social problems that determine Violence. If the violent feelings are really there, censorship won’t make them go away anyway. The same arguments apply to images of sexuality. _ In an ideal world we would spend time understanding what people are feeling sexually and emotionally rather than resorting to censorship ofthe media. It is dis— turbing that people want to sexually abuse children or want to watch such repre— sentations,but the fact that they do points to the sexual problems in Western society. The media sometimes celebrate sexual feeling, but they also often point to the sex— ual problems and repression felt by many people. Censorship or fear of media images of sexuality draw attention to the need to look more closely at our sexual feelings, to deal with these openly in the real world.We might argue there is actual— ly too little sex in the media, too few programs (like Sex /Lyfe) that attempt to bring aspects ofsexuality into more open debate. 30 | Media and Society A circular model I hope you are beginning to see some ofthe complexities ofthe media—world rela— tionship. I suggest the following model (Figure 1.4) as a way ofshowing the media both reflecting and influencing society. MEDIA / media texts \ refl/egting/influencmg afiecting/influencing \ media producers audiences \ / WORLD reflecting/influencing @W/mfluencmg \ popular common sense Figure 1.4 Model of the media—world relationship In this model, media producers, media texts, and media audiences are separated from popular common sense. The media producers, in constructing their images and stories, are reflecting various social ideas and beliefs, held by different social groups.The audiences consuming these texts are partially influenced and affected by what they see. These influences then contribute to the overall social fabric of popular common—sense ideas. But media producers, texts, and audiences are all part ofthe social whole; they are not separate entitiesThe media are one of the social forces that produce popular common sense, the general social beliefs and feelings ofa society. 14 In turn, these social beliefs and values influence the media, who reflect them. Like the chicken and the egg, there is no simple solution as to which comes first, media representa— tions or popular common sense; the two are permanently intertwined. What is more, in today’s media—world, media images and reality often blur together: we begin to see real events in relation to familiar media images. For example, the Gulf War could look like a video game, and an observer of a real-life police raid can comment,‘It wasjust like NYPD Blue on the TV, mate’ (l/VestAustmlian 1998b).15 CONCLUSION This chapter has put forward a number ofassumptions and arguments about society and the media, and about the relationship between the two. These should form a useful starting point for your analysis and understanding of the media. It may be useful to return to these arguments from time to time, to remind yourself of them and to see how your understanding ofthem is developing. ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course CMN 101 taught by Professor Mcclish during the Spring '08 term at Northeastern.

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