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Social Class and the media The powerful influence most denied in the United States.

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Presentation on theme: "Social Class and the media The powerful influence most denied in the United States."— Presentation transcript:

1 Social Class and the media The powerful influence most denied in the United States

2 Social stratification In all societies there is some form of hierarchy  Distribution of social rewards/values is not entirely equal in any society Hierarchy varies  How steep  Bases for hierarchy

3 Social Class Stratification within a society based on a number of variables  Income  Education  Breeding (Tastes)  Blood (Old rich v. nouveau riche)

4 Does class exist in America? Largely denied by U.S. culture  “Classless society” “The belief that the United States is a classless society or, alternatively, that most Americans are “middle class” persists... despite pervasive socioeconomic stratification” (Bullock, Wyche and Williams, 2001)

5 Reasons for denial Meritocracy  Market system Equal opportunity  Legal blindness to most demographic differences Upward mobility Overshadowed by other concerns  Race  Sex (Gender)  Religion  Nationalism

6 Yes—social class exists in America Vast differences among Americans in their incomes, property, power Life chances are significantly influenced by social class at birth  Education  Access to technology  Network of opportunities




10 But things are getting better, right?












22 What about social mobility? Mobility among classes is relatively common in the United States, but:  Children of the rich tend to be afforded a great deal of advantage in education, networking, ability to try and fail, etc.  People of different classes have fairly limited personal contact Geographic segregation  PRIZM Intermarriage across widely differing social classes is uncommon  Cinderella  Pretty Woman  Princess and the Pea  The Nanny  Old money tends to maintain the class position of the next generation  Greatest access to higher circles has been through technology

23 Social class affects: Media access/choice Content preferences Interpretation of media content Representation within media content Power over media

24 Social class and media use Access to media  More expensive media tend to be used more by the relatively well-to-do Digital divide  Literacy levels Written materials Taste cultures “High culture” v. “low culture” (popular culture)  Opera v. hip-hop

25 Internet use by household income


27 Source: Mediamark Research, Inc.

28 iPods/MP3 players are gadgets for the upscale. Fully 18% of those who live in households earning more than $75,000 have them; 13% of those living in households earning $50,000 to $75,000 have them; 9% of those living in households earning $30,000-$50,000 own them and 7% of those living in households earning less than $30,000 have them. (20% of respondents did not tell us their household income.) Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project

29 Content Preferences

30 Source: NEA 2002 Survey of Participation in the Arts

31 Source: 2000 Porter Novelli Healthstyles Survey

32 Interpretation of content Class-based worldview influences interpretations

33 Stereotypes Just as for African Americans or women, etc. there are stereotypes that go with being working class or lower class  Usually negative for those lower on the status hierarchy

34 What are lower-class women like? Trashy Oversexed Unsophisticated Domestic  Kids Dependant/“Golddigger” Focused on men



37 What are lower-class men like? Violent  Brutish Dominant Stupid Ignorant Focused on cars, sports, sex Racist Sexist Engage in hair-brained schemes to get ahead Lack taste





42 Representation Over-representation of professionals and relatively well-to-do on TV  Parallel situation in film, though more varied  Working class and poor ‘invisibility’ Except as cops and criminals Occasional representations are often stereotypic


44 When lower- and working-class people are depicted Tend to be portrayed as foolish or ignorant  “Trailer trash” can be portrayed in ways that would cause significant outcry if applied to racial minorities, etc. Archie Bunker Homer Simpson  Seen as sexist, racist, violent, unintelligent and entirely lacking in taste Jerry Springer WWE Blue Collar Comedy Clampetts go to Maui





49 Prime Time programming Early television included a number of working-class leads  Ralph Cramden  Marty More recent examples  All in the Family  Roseanne

50 However, the tone of Prime Time is heavily white-collar/professional or upper class The main exceptions are law enforcement personnel in “cop shows,” ‘reality’ shows and daytime talk shows  Often connect poor and working class with negative depictions, low culture

51 Soap operas “On soap operas, single mothers are typically portrayed as White, upper-middle-class professionals, with nurturing male friends and an abundance of reliable child care providers (Larson, 1996).”  “Teenage girls who were heavy viewers of soap operas were more likely than lighter viewers to underestimate the relationship between single motherhood and poverty and to overestimate the percentage of single mothers in high-paying jobs.”

52 Media facilitate “classless society” myth by: Presenting the interests of the well-off (e.g., stock, financial portfolios, and leisure time) as general concerns Downplaying the structural economic concerns (e.g., job security, income) of the working class and poor, and Emphasizing shared interclass concerns (e.g., safety, crime) Portraying the middle class as the norm, with little representation of interclass tension

53 Content analysis of Newsweek 1993-1995 De Goede (1996) found that “the language used in the articles reinforced strong ingroup- outgroup class-based distinctions, simultaneously extolling the moral superiority of the middle class while degrading the values and behaviors of the poor.”  Single African American mothers and teenage mothers often the focus of these negative articles

54 Depictions of drug crimes “Although the ‘typical’ drug consumer and dealer is an employed, high-school- educated European American man, the majority of arrests depicted on reality- based crime programs involve African American and Latino men in densely populated, urban areas (Anderson, 1994).”

55 Tabloid news shows Tabloid news shows tended to “focus on stories involving upper-class criminals, particularly celebrities, whereas “highbrow” news programs were more likely to focus on stories involving working-class, unemployed criminals.” Also tend to show “rags to riches” stories or the “hollowness of wealth”

56 Welfare Recipients “Welfare recipients are among the... the most hated and stereotyped groups in contemporary society” Only one among 17 stereotyped groups (feminists, housewives, retarded people, Blacks, migrant workers, etc.) that respondents both disliked and disrespected.  Lacking both competence and warmth However, most common group of welfare recipients is poor children Media representations concentrate on their mothers

57 Connection to race European Americans greatly overestimate the percentage of African Americans who are poor


59 Stereotypes in media and popular culture African American men—members of “threatening and violent underclass” African American women—welfare queens or as “ignorant, promiscuous women caught in a self- perpetuating ‘cycle of dependency’” Emphasis on African Americans tends to render white poor ‘invisible’ in popular culture

60 Popular music draws heavily from urban lower class and rural working class  Rap  Hip-hop

61 What does all this lead to? Blaming the victim  Personality failure rather than structural disadvantage Support for a heavily hierarchical reward system Low self-esteem among ‘lower classes’ Ability of the well-to-do to engage in modern “Social Darwinism”  Don’t have to face their own responsibility for poor conditions many live under Exultation of self-interest  Mean World (for real)

62 Their personal shortcomings lead to a need for care from professionals  Problems stem from personal failings (not society, actions of others)  Jerry Springer  WWE Implies that social policy should protect the populace from a dangerous, personally lacking group rather than treating a structural problem

63 “By dedicating little broadcast time or print space to stories that openly discuss class privilege, class-based power differences, and inequalities, the poor are either rendered invisible or portrayed in terms of characterological deficiencies and moral failings (e.g., substance abuse, crime, sexual, availability, violence).”










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