Ch. 5 Media and Ideology • What is ideology? A set of assumptions used to explain and justify some form of social relationship. • An ideology is basically a world view. • An ideological analysis of a movie would examine what messages that movie contains about ourselves and society. • It would examine how that movie depicts men, women, children, racial minorities, rich and poor, old and young etc.
Ideology • There are numerous ideologies used to explain and justify specific social relationships: sexism, feminism, racism, egalitarianism, capitalism, communism, individualism, collectivism, classism, etc. • Ideologies are inherently political. They justify how power should be allocated and which groups, if any, deserve more power than others.
Dominant Ideology • Within any society, some ideologies will be more widespread or dominant than others. • The dominant ideologies are those that are most accepted and visible in mainstream society. • Dominant ideology stems mainly from elites. • They have the most power to spread their world views and to censor alternative or competing ideologies. • Dominant ideology tends to be taken for granted by members of society as the “normal” way to view people. • Dominant ideology is rarely challenged. It tends to be accepted as Truth.
Examples of dominant ideologies • Capitalism is the dominant economic ideology in the U.S.. • Christianity is the dominant religious ideology. • Democracy is the dominant political ideology. • Individualism is the dominant social ideology.
Group superiority values • In the 19th century group superiority values supported various dominant ideologies in the U.S. that are controversial today. • Racism (both by color and ethnicity) • Sexism (against women) • Ageism (against youth) • Classism (against the poor and working class) • Homophobia (against gays) • Species’ism (against non-humans) • Religious persecution (against non-Christians) • Regionalism (against rural people)
Dominant Ideology Because of the power of dominant ideology to influence consciousness, most of us would have been racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, etc if we had lived during the 19th century. • We tend to be indoctrinated into dominant ideologies by the agents of socialization in our society. • Just as the Chinese pledge allegiance to communism, the Americans pledge allegiance to capitalism – with most people never thinking deeply about what it really means.
Dominant Ideologies are not accepted by every member of society. • There are some who reject the dominant ideology, perhaps because they are victimized by it or because it is inconsistent with certain principles. • The United States was founded on notions of freedom, justice, and equality. Consequently racist, sexist, and homophobic beliefs and practices are inconsistent with these principles.
The 1960s Culture Wars brought a decline in group superiority values. • Until the 1960s, racism and sexism were the dominant racial and gender ideologies. Today these ideologies are more controversial.
Dominant Ideology • The media are at the center of modern culture wars over how various categories of people should be portrayed. • The mainstream media tend to promote dominant ideologies at the expense of other ways of looking at the world. • This is not just a media controversy. It is a political/social policy debate across institutions. • We do not all view women or racial minorities the same way.
Capitalism Individualism Christianity Sexism Racism Ageism Myth of eternal progress Rags to riches Myth of the rugged individual Myth of Christ The beauty myth and the myth of opposite sex (polarity) Myth of polarity Myth of eternal youth Dominant ideologies are legitimized by powerful cultural myths.Dominant IdeologyLegitimizing cultural myth
The dominant ideology of corporate capitalism • Normalizes certain ways of thinking: • What is good is what sells. • Material things/beauty are more important than abstract things/beauty. • Life is about individuals in competition with each other, guiding by self-interest. • Private property is sacrosanct. • The importance of consumerism and keeping up with the Jones. • Rich people are better than poor people. • Corporate authority is to be respected. • What is good for General Motors is good for America.
Features of the corporate capitalist lifestyle • Consumerism • Materialism • Suburbia • Credit purchases • Hedonism • Status consciousness • Fear of failure • Every man for himself • Obedience to corporate authority
Media and dominant ideology • Most corporate media producers argue that their images are merely reflections of our society, and that they are not purveyors of an ideology. • This argument is inaccurate. • By selecting some images and ideologies over others, they cannot help but promote specific world views at the expense of others.
Media and dominant ideology • This does not mean media producers are consciously promoting one view over another. • Many producers take dominant ideology for granted as the only legitimate ideology by which to frame a story. • They don’t even consider that there might be another way to frame a story.
Theoretical Roots of Ideological Analysis • Early Marxist Origins • Marxists tie dominant ideology to the notion of false consciousness. • False consciousness: when a subordinate group accepts the (dominant) ideology of the dominant group. • Examples: • When women accept they idea they are the weaker sex. (dominant ideology of sexism) • When the poor claim to believe in the virtues of capitalism. (dominant ideology of capitalism)
Karl Marx • Argued that capitalism had emerged to become the dominant economic system, and that capitalism had become the most dominant ideology of Western culture. • The capitalist world view tends to be promoted across all the institutions that capitalists influence – which means most of the major institutions of culture: politics, media, education, work, and even the church. • Alternative ideologies, like democratic socialism, had been virtually censored from these institutions.
Hegemony • Antonio Gramsci extended the ideas of Marx by developing the concept of hegemony. • Hegemony is where the flow of information in society is controlled by a ruling elite. • Gramsci was concerned about how the media may serve as a propaganda tool to promote the dominant ideology(s) of the power elite.
Hegemony • According to Gramsci, elites try to manufacture consent to their policies by promoting specific values and messages in the media favorable to their interests. • At the same time, opposing views are censored. • In Nazi Germany, the (capitalist) German media served as a virtual indoctrination mechanism for the virtues of the dominant ideology of Nazism. • Gramsci was aware that people can be manipulated when the flow of ideas is hegemonic.
Is the American media hegemonic? • In the U.S., given corporate concentration (and the agenda of media moguls like Rupert Murdock), the danger of hegemony is real. • Our capitalist mass media tends to portray the world of corporate capitalism as a healthy world of competition in which everyone benefits. • They do not advertise the fact that 60% of goods and services produced in the U.S. are produced by monopolies, oligopolies and other anti-competitive systems. Poverty is largely censored too.
Is the American media hegemonic? • The corporate media coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was almost entirely one-sided. • It emphasized President Bush and the Generals’ point of view while largely censoring dovish viewpoints. • To the extent that the FCC allows greater concentration of media ownership, it opens up the danger of hegemony.
What does a capitalist news media tend to censor? • Pro-labor news. • News that challenges the legitimacy of corporate capitalism. • Anything that challenges the dominant ideology of capitalism and its corresponding values. • Marxist ideology is nearly totally censored. • Aside from Marxism, this censorship is not total – we still have a relatively free press and there remains a fair amount of editorial diversity – but the capitalist media are clearly biased.
News media biases • Toward elites and the powerful – at the expense of the powerless. • The news media generally reinforce the status quo stratification systems. • The myth of eternal progress is often reinforced, especially by ads in between news segments. This is the notion that our economic system creates limitless opportunities and it is perpetually expanding in a wonderful way. • Therefore, if you have not made it rich it is your own fault – not the fault of the system. • The myth of technological utopia – the idea that life will get better with new technologies.
News media biases • The news media like to present themselves as the voice of moderate reason – as though they are balanced. • They tend to present their news to make it seem like common sense. • In fact, they are biased toward the wealthy, toward whites, toward males, toward established leaders, and toward large corporations.
Economic News as Ideological Construct • The capitalist media rarely portray corporate takeovers and mergers as a “social problem.” • Instead, they often let the corporate executives define the meaning of their own behavior. • The executive will typically call it healthy progress, despite the fact that it is harmful to competition, consumers, and workers. • Similarly a workers strike is often portrayed through the lens of the corporate executive more than the strikers. The striker is often branded a trouble maker.
Action-Adventure Films • #1 Hollywood movie export. • Understandable to anyone. • Ultimately, these are stories about good and evil – heroes and villains. • Myth of polarity – it’s us vs. them. • The hero typically represents the forces of civility and goodness, while the bad guy represents uncivilized, debased society. • Ultimately the hero kills or domesticates the bad guy,restoring security. • Hail to the status quo! Hail to the hero! Hail to the rugged (male) individualist!
Hal Himmelstein – Myths Exploited by Action Movies • Myth of the frontier. • Rural frontier: wild regions beyond civilization. • Urban frontier: inner city lawlessness. • Myth of polarity. • Myth of the individual. • The rugged individual stands beyond the law, the group, the bureaucracy, beyond society. • Myth of manifest destiny. • To the extent the story is about expanding the “civilized” empire to new territories.
War Movies: Pre-1970s War Films • Patriotic and hawkish. • Manifest destiny promoted by the Westerns. • Moralistic – we’re the good guys! • Myth of masculinity. • A real man is a fearless rugged warrior. • Myth of polarity. • Positive war conditioning. • Examples • “They Died with their Boots On” (1941). • “The Green Berets” (1968).
War Movies: Post-1970s • The culture wars of the 1970s challenged traditional assumptions about identity and values. • Myth of polarity (racism) was questioned. • Manifest destiny questioned. • Rugged masculinity questioned. • Hawkish patriotism questioned. • The traditional Hollywood Western became unpopular. The new Westerns were different. • Examples: “Little Big Man” (1970) and “Dances with Wolves” (1990) either debunked the traditional myths or even inverted them, making white males “the bad guys.”
War Movies: Anti-Vietnam Films (1970s to mid-1980s) • Less patriotic. Move dovish. • Implied criticism against manifest destiny. • Moral confusion. • Are we really the good guys? • Less polarity, more complex, deeper probing into the human condition. • Negative war conditioning. • Examples • “The Deer Hunter” (1978) – surrealistic (the fog of war) • “Apocalypse Now” (1979) – very surrealistic • “Platoon” (1986) – surrealistic • “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) - surrealistic • “Hamburger Hill” (1987) - realistic
War Movies: Pro-Vietnam War Films (1980s – the Reagan Era) • The 1980s brought a return to traditional values, and along with it returned some traditional war themes. • Patriotic and Hawkish. • Manifest Destiny. • Moralistic – we’re the good guys! • Myth of masculinity. • A real man is a fearless rugged warrior. • Myth of polarity. • Positive war conditioning. • Examples • “Uncommon Valor” (1983),“Missing in Action” (1984).
Television, Popularity and Ideology • TV is central to our mass mediated culture. • A single national TV show is viewed by 15-20 million American households. • TV mediates reality in seemingly realistic images, but they are not that realistic. • Because most TV seems real, the viewer routinely suspends disbelief. • The ideological work of TV lies in the ways it defines normalcy. • Portrayals of sex, race, class, age, etc generally reinforce dominant ideologies.
Television, Popularity and Ideology • TV producers have adopted the strategy of “least objectionable programming.” • Programs are intended to avoid controversy and remain politically bland in order to please sponsors and gain the widest array of viewers. • The result has been an emphasis on stereotypes. • Stereotypes are simplistic generalizations about different categories of people. • They tend to emerge from dominant groups to affirm dominant ideology. The dominant ideology reassures people that the system works. • They are not true, but are believed because they are taken for granted as “common knowledge.”
Television, Popularity and Ideology • TV ideology is mostly determined by the strategy of using conventional images, dominant ideologies, and stereotypes as the backdrop to most programs. • Hence, TV “normalcy” is disproportionately • White • Male • Upper middle class (affluent) • Relatively young • Trim and fit • Eurocentric definition of beauty
TV depictions of the Family • 1950s TV portrayals of the family were found in shows like “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” and “The Ozzie and Harriet Show.” • These shows depicted the “normal” family as white, nuclear, suburban, middle class, happy, secure, and patriarchal. • There were no serious family conflicts. • In reality, 1950s families were more complex and diverse.
TV depictions of the Family • The 1960s culture wars brought the rise of feminism and pluralism. • By the 1970s media capitalists finally recognized these values by creating competing domestic images of family. • “All in the Family” featured an ideologically polarized family that portrayed the new debates related to civil rights and empowerment. • “Brady Bunch” and “Partridge Family” depicted blended or matriarchal families that were happy and secure in their suburban middle class lifestyles. These shows reassured people that the system works despite the 60s changes.
TV depictions of the Family • One key to the changes in TV family images lies in the network desire to attract new markets – particularly young, urban, affluent consumers who are desired by sponsors. • By the 1970s, these younger consumers did not buy into the traditional 1950s family images.
TV depictions of the Family • By the 1970s, images of the family were not so blissful anymore. • A new version of the family appeared in the world of work: • MASH, Taxi, Mary Tyler Moore, Barney Miller, WKRP, and similar shows depicted workplace employees as the new surrogate family. • The workplace was where people could find support, community, loyalty and love. • The workplace family was intended to be read against the social backdrop of divorce and the bureaucratic sterility of corporate jobs. • Here, work life was warm and family-like.
TV depictions of the Family • In TV shows like Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld, the family is either absent or dysfunctional. • The hidden message is that your friends are your only true family. • The TV show Frasier depicted the family as warmth and love, but it was an unconventional blended family (counting Daphne). • This award-winning show explored all three historical images of family: • 1. Family as Haven (common depiction until 1970) • 2. Family as Fun (common depiction from 1950-70) • 3. Family as Encumbrance (relatively new depiction)
TV depictions of the Family • The desire of media corporations to reassure viewers reflects their conservative ideological support for the American Dream. • Despite the real world, at least on TV we can see happy endings and satisfying social relationships. • Mainstream TV promotes the dominant ideology that the system still works, that consumerism is normal behavior, and that if you play by the rules you will be successful in life.
TV depictions of the Family • Recent TV images of the family have been more diverse and inconsistent. • While the Cosby Show and The Wonder Years idealized a race-neutral, upper middle class, suburban nuclear family, Married with Children,The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, and Arrested Developmentsatirized the suburban American family. • These satires debunked what Himmelstein calls the myth of the suburban middle landscape with its emphasis on the suburban nuclear family as the ideal form of family.
Rap Music Ideology • Rap music originated mainly out of young, inner city, working class and poor black males. • Given this demographic, the music tends to reflect a different version of the American Dream: survival in a hostile world. • This music takes advantage of the post-1965 era of freedom of expression, with emphasis on dance, rhythm, and lyrical expression. • Today there are many types of rap music, from heavy to light, from political to commercial.
Rap Music Ideology • The mass media generally reinforces status quo stereotypes, but media messages are not ideologically uniform. They may be contradictory. • Given the commercial emphasis on profit, whatever is profitable will generally be endorsed by the commercial media – even if it conflicts with dominant ideologies. • According to Tricia Rose, rap music should be understood as a mass mediated criticism of the dominant ideology of racism within the America power structure.
Rap Music Ideology • Rap criticizes traditional institutions like the police, the justice system, education and the job system because these systems are seen as oppressive to blacks and the goal of equality. • Rose argues that much rap music rejects dominant ideological assumptions. • Rap affirms the experiences of inner city black youth while criticizing the social institutions that contribute to their ghettoization. • Rap bands like Public Enemy and Wu Tang Clan were critical of the white power structure and its portrayal of the American system as fair and meritocratic.
Rap Music Ideology • Tricia Rose argues that rap music has been empowering to black youth by providing them a way to express themselves and their critical ideologies. • Yet at the same time, rap is full of ideologicalcontradictions. While some rap challenges racism, the lyrics and imagery are often misogynistic, depicting women in degrading ways. • Thus rap music may challenge some oppressive dominant ideologies (racism) while affirming other oppressive dominant ideologies (sexism).
Rap Music Ideology • Similarly, many rap artists who become rich and famous flaunt their capitalist lifestyle – thus implicitly reaffirming the very institution behind slavery itself. • As rap music became lucrative, the message of the commercial rapper was less challenging of the status quo. • Part of this is due to the commercial media’s exploitation of particular forms of rap music over other forms. • The industry prefers safe commercial rappers over all others.
Rap Music Ideology • Commercial rap is devoid of messages that are critical of capitalism. • Indeed, this music is a celebration of capitalism, consumerism, materialism, and the good life. • Today, rap music has crossed over into the white culture. Why are so many young, middle class whites attracted to rap?
Rap Music Ideology • In general, whites use slightly different ideological filters than blacks. • It is therefore unlikely that a white person will be attracted to rap music that labels white people as racists. • But that same white person, if they see themselves as young and hip, is likely to identify with other messages found in rap: • Non-conformist messages related to youth culture, gangsters, and youthful deviance. • Conformist messages about the good life, sexy babes, traditional masculinity, etc.
Rap Music Ideology • Rap music offers something for everyone depending on how commercialized it is and how cool it is perceived within specific subcultures.
Rap Music Ideology • 1. Liberation messages can be found in themes of black power, youth culture empowerment, and being real. • Alternative rap prefers deeper, more liberation oriented messages, but is largely rejected by corporate media. • 2. Conservative dominant ideology messages can also be found in rap, especially commercial rap. • Sexist images of women (myth of polarity), combined with the myth of masculinity that portrays real men as tough guys. • Celebration of the good life of capitalist materialism. • Myth of the urban frontier is exploited, complete with “gangsters.” • Myth of the Puritan Ethic – Look out for #1. • Myth of eternal youth.