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Critical and Cultural Theories of Mass Communication

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1 Critical and Cultural Theories of Mass Communication
Challenges to Minimal Effects Theory

2 Cultural Studies and Political Economy Theory are alternative theories on media and society.
Rooted in Marxist Theory Argues that mass media support the status quo and interfere with efforts of social movements to bring about useful social change (true with social networks?)

3 They also say media provides “pluralistic public forum” (like Twitter) where power by dominant elites can be challenged. Examples of this?

4 Many theories we have looked at were POSTPOSITIVIST – this approach doesn’t consider value judgments. Some CULTURAL theory though is CRITICAL theory which necessarily makes judgments.

5 Critical Theory is based on a set of specific social values.
Critical theorists critique existing social institutions. They look specifically at institutions (like media) that undermine or marginalize important values. Let’s think about how alternative movements are framed by the media.

6 Newspapers and television networks have been rebuked by media critics for treating the movement as if it were a political campaign or a sideshow — by many liberals for treating the protesters dismissively, and by conservatives, conversely, for taking the protesters too seriously. The protesters themselves have also criticized the media — first for ostensibly ignoring the movement and then for marginalizing it. In the initial coverage, “I saw almost nothing that talked about our reasons for being there, and that trend has largely continued,” said Patrick Bruner, an organizer for Occupy Wall Street in New York. He said the group welcomed investigations of “our ideas, why we’re here, what we’re saying and talking about.”

7 Days after the protest began in New York, the liberal filmmaker Michael Moore appeared on MSNBC, asserting that the mass media had a tendency to play down left-wing protests.

8 Conversely, L. Brent Bozell III, the president of the conservative Media Research Center,appeared on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox telling other media outlets to “put their pompoms down for a minute.”

9 Erin Burnett on CNN Wall Street apologist?

10 Any time there are misstatements of fact — on Thursday the Fox News affiliate in New York falsely reported that protesters planned to “shut down” the subways, and “CBS Evening News” reported that hundreds had turned out for an afternoon rally when in fact many thousands had — questions about bias are raised.

11 Do social networks help provide an accurate portrayal free of internal and external bias?

12 Cultural Theory looks at how the media might produce changes in social life through subtle influences on social practices that are the foundation of everyday life.

13 Cultural theory argues the media can intrude in our lives and alter how we make sense of ourselves and our social world. Media could alter how we view ourselves and our relationships to others.

14 Early Marxist Theory focuses on the idea that elites control media.
Neo Marxists think media is more of a pluralistic public forum- BUT they recognize that elites have an advantage because media content implicitly or explicitly supports the status quo.

15 Critical Theorists reject simple ideas of powerful negative effects on audiences.
Even when media content supports the status quo- audiences can reinterpret or reject this content.

16 James Carey: Sees media as central to the representation of shared beliefs.

17 American Cultural Studies
James Carey - Transmission versus Ritual Perspectives on media Reinterpretation of British and Canadian Theory Minimal effects research is too focused on transmission effects. Media do much more than transmit information from point A to point B Media are central agents in the rituals that make up daily life News reassures us about continuity of social order TV allows routine escape from daily problems

18 Ideas of Marshall McLuhan are based on the research of Harold Innis.
Their ideas underlie much of cultural and critical theory.

19 Canadian Cultural Studies
Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innis Technological Determinists? Focus on media technology not on the content delivered by media Looked at the role of media over great time and distances Speculated about impact of media on culture and social organization

20 Harold Innis Canadian Economist Key Concept = Bias of Communication
Traces media history: oral, written, print, broadcast Time-Binding Media Space-Binding Media Center and periphery Communication dependency

21 Marshall McLuhan Early Ideas
Mechanical Bride = Printing Press Reading is private, individual act not social and leads to the breakdown of orality based social orders - tribe Media is the Massage; Media are the Message Media extend the senses Print media extend the eye = literacy problematic - linear Oral media extend the ear = tribal drum = Nazism Electronic media extend central nervous system = post-literacy = ??? But what type of social order will emerge when electronic media become dominant? McLuhan extoled the virtues of the Global Village

22 Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects which are its unique message.

23 When you don’t have a physical body you have a very different relation to the world around you- a big effect of the digital age. Everything happens at once. The medium isn’t neutral The form is more imp than the content. Roughing up by a new medium

24 Listening Post - Of mediums and messages, Al Jazeera

25 McLuhan Pros and Cons Called attention to broad range of interesting communication issues Offered intriguing but highly ambiguous analyses of issues Sought publicity and played to audiences Wrote essentially non-linear texts - illogical, irrational Borrowed freely from Neomarxist theory but was widely acclaimed by Capitalists

26 Applying Cultural Studies Theory Today
The Internet even more potential to create a Global Village than satellite TV On the Internet messages can be tailored to audiences’ cognitive abilities and skills Will centrally controlled new media emerge or will control over media be widely held as it is on the Internet? Is the Internet a model for future media or is it just a transitional medium?

27 Do Social Networking Websites Influence Everyday Culture?
Simulate and/or displace other forms of everyday communication Foster many different communication rituals with varying consequences Foster new social roles and identities Reinforce some social changes Do we experience ourselves and others differently because of SNWs?

28 Culture-centered communication theory has developed as an alternative to limited-effects perspectives.  What do these two perspectives have to say about the role of media in politics generally or in transmitting propaganda?  Which perspective raises larger questions and concerns about the role of media?

29 What are the differences and similarities between cultural theory and critical cultural theory?
List some of the strong points and some of the limitations of McLuhan's ideas.  Indicate if you find any of his ideas especially useful or misleading.

30 Do you ever make judgments about people based solely on how they look
Do you ever make judgments about people based solely on how they look? What kinds of evaluations do you make? Why do you do this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this very human ability?

31 To what extent do you think media content fosters support for the status quo? Do you agree or disagree with critical cultural studies arguments that this tendency limits the growth of richer, more pluralistic cultures?

32 Many U.S. journalists found themselves in difficult positions in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Were they Americans or journalists first? Many opted for nation over profession. For example, CBS anchor Dan Rather told an interviewer, “George Bush is President, he makes the decisions and, you know, as just one American, he wants me to line up, just tell me where.” The issue is not whether you supported America’s action in the Middle East. The issue is that there was a variety of opinion on the best, most effective, most just, most humane response to the attacks, and media should have provided the forum for its debate. They did in mainstream media around the world, even that of our closest ­allies. Did U.S. media fail the American people by so obviously supporting the official government position, the status quo? Might you answer differently if reporters’ ­pro-establishment biases, on any topic, were in opposition to your own?

33 Discuss Frankfurt School assertions about mass culture and high culture. Can or should mass media be used to promote high culture? What about the notion of high culture itself? Is this concept inherently elitist? Why, for example, should a city fund symphonies, opera, and ballet companies and not jazz, rock ’n roll, and rap music?

34 Popular culture researchers assert the value of popular culture texts like television shows, movies, and popular music. Their argument seems valid when we talk about examples such as television series Modern Family, movies like Hurt Locker, and certain music What about other texts, things like television’s Gossip Girl,J ersey Shore, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, or movies like the Die Hard series or The Nutty Professor, or Barry Manilow music? Can you still make the popular culture argument using these texts?

35 Crisis of the Cultural Environment
The critical view of media is well articulated by George Gerbner in the Media Education Foundation’s ( The Crisis of the Cultural Environment.

36 Last Week

37 In cultural theory- CULTURE is central
In cultural theory- CULTURE is central. Media affect society because they affect how culture is created and learned and shared. Cultural theories look at the long term consequences of cultural change created by media….

38 Microscopic and Macroscopic
Microscopic theory deemphasizes larger issues about social issues in favor of looking at how media affect our individual lives and experiences. Macroscopic theory look at how individuals are affected because they want to understand how the whole society is impacted.

39 Microscopic theorists want to understand how regular life is transformed by media. Are we changing because of media? Are we becoming smarter, stupider, more social, more stressed, gentler, kinder, more aggressive? What happens when media are incorporated into daily life and how do they shape our social world? Do media enhance or disrupt everyday life?

40 Macroscopic researchers don’t really care whether everyday life is enhanced by media. They think media turns culture into a commodity to sell- and they want to understand what happens when media culture becomes a part of the national economy. They look at things like: Have media disrupted the conduct of national politics and the impact on society?

41 Critical Theory Some cultural theories are referred to as CRITICAL theory because these theorists are critical of media and use their research specifically to create change and criticize the status quo.

42 Critical Theory A critical theory raises questions about the way things are and provides alternate ways of for the media to behave.

43 The Emergence of an Alternative to Minimal Effects Theory
Minimal Effects Theory suggests that media power is quite limited Only some people are affected under certain conditions Important effects can fade away quickly Media mostly reinforce social changes that are already underway But is media power really that limited? Why do advertisers pay so much for ads? Why do politicians bother to campaign?

44 Assessing the Role of Media
The Media Effects (Postpositivist) Research Strategy Identify independent & dependent variables Assess linear causal relationships Find empirical evidence of causal power of media The Critical Cultural Research Strategy Focus on audience uses and experiences Look for changes in quality of experience that take place over time Develop theories about changes in experience and consequences of these changes

45 Differences in Doing Research
iPod Effects Research Variables = iPod use and social isolation Does iPod use cause social isolation Do research to see if heavy iPod users have fewer friends than nonusers iPod Culture-based Research Focus on use and experience of music via iPod Talk to heavy iPod users and nonusers about music Draw conclusions based on differences in experiences of music

46 Critical Theory versus Cultural Theory
Critical Theory is more likely to combine normative theory with empirical observation Media should be used to achieve valued goals We should assess current media use to see if goals are being achieved We should criticize problematic uses and actively work to improve media use so that valued goals are achieved

47 Examples of Valued Goals
Western civilization involves key values and social practices that need to be fostered. These include: Democracy in which all citizens are equally informed and politically active A culturally diverse society in which there is understanding and respect for all Consumption of products based on real needs rather than media induced desires

48 Cultural Theory versus Critical Theory
Cultural Theory usually focuses on media content and experience of content It can be based on simple curiosity about why certain content is popular It often is concerned about why different social groups experience content differently- Examples? It isn’t concerned about the value of different uses and experiences Critical theory is about CHANGE.

49 Classic Critical Theory
Marxist Theory Grounded in ideal values = egalitarianism, mass democracy Elites use media to indoctrinate masses with ideologies that are inconsistent with their interests Change is only possible with a revolution that takes media away from elites and gives them to the masses

50 Classic Critical Theory
NeoMarxist Theory It is possible to challenge and overcome elite efforts to indoctrinate masses Elite ideology can be countered with populist (communist) ideology Elite misuse of media can be exposed and criticized Media literacy can teach masses to criticize elite misuse of media

51 Classic Critical Theory
Frankfurt School Theory of Media Earliest version of NeoMarxist theory Challenged by the rise of Nazism in Germany and seeks to explain why Media technology itself is problematic since it badly misrepresents the social world Symphony music versus records Masses accept poor quality simulations Media disrupt daily routines central to civilized social action - going to movies replaces opera Nazis use media to replace civilized high culture with pseudo-folk culture

52 Classic Cultural Studies Theory
Textual Analysis and Literary Criticism Good literature (High Culture) is central to development of civilization Textual analysis and literary criticism can identify a “canon” of ideal literary works that everyone should read Universal appreciation of High Culture would advance civilization

53 1980s Critical Cultural Studies Theories
British Cultural Studies Pioneered by Raymond Williams who reassessed cultural development in England Birmingham School Stuart Hall - Media Reception Research; Theory of Encoding and Decoding Media are a pluralistic public forum in which ideas are contested Elites have important advantages in this competition Elite advantages can be overcome by studying how audiences decode ideological content and developing new strategies for using media Focus on how nonelite groups resist elite ideologies embedded in media content

54 1980s Critical Theory Political Economy Theory
Capitalist elites are more interested in earning profits than advancing ideology so sometimes media content seems to contradict elite interests The rise of centralized, privately owned media is problematic - bad consequences are likely Culture becomes a commodity and is packaged in problematic ways Mass entertainment dominates at the expense of better forms of media content News is written from elite perspectives and is status quo oriented Alternate ways to structure and fund media are needed

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