Are the concepts of “ideology” and/or “hegemony” useful in understanding the role of the mass media in society?

 

In this essay I intend to prove how hegemony is one of the most important and useful words in the lexical field of ‘modern and mass media.’ To understand this word, one must also explore the concept of class and culture in society. I will also go on to discuss the concept of how the media uses ‘Framing’ and various other techniques, be it direct or subliminal messaging, in order to create a simulacrum for the general public. I disagree with the concept that ideology is merely something ‘spontaneous’ and created through life and experience. In my opinion this may have been the case before the invention of the printed press, however since then, people have been led to believe that they make their choices based on their own ideologies and ‘common sense.’ While there is a lot of good in the media, the hegemonial aspect has helped oppress minorities, breed systematic racism and create a numbing to real world issues in favour of promoting a commercial and materialistic tumour that has latched itself onto the millennial society.
Firstly, in order to understand their role towards mass media in society it is important to first break down the definitions of both ideology and hegemony. French philosopher Louis Althusser provides an interesting approach to ideology as he states that, “All ideology hails or interpolates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject. … ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals” This suggests that we are all born with a consciousness that is tainted by the ideas of society. Indeed, there are a number of categories in society which we associate our identities with that have nothing to do with mass media, for example the ideologies that are associated with the country we are born in or even the ideologies which we extrapolate from our family name. However, as we grow up, we are placed in public institutions such as schools and we listen to news and media which has an effect on our own individual ideology. This can be interpreted where Althusser explains how it is the ideologies which ‘recruit’ the individuals, furthermore, we can also suggest that Althusser believes we do not choose our own ideologies, but rather, the ideologies that we are presented with are the ones that choose us. This particular definition of ideology is the one in which I wish to associate with mass media in society.
Secondly, the view of Horkheimer and Adorno suggests that, ‘Culture today is infecting everything with sameness. Film radio and magazines form a system, each branch of culture is unanimous within itself and all are unanimous together. ’ Stuart Hall also seconds this notion in his book ‘visual culture: the reader’ by stating, “culture comes into play at precisely the point where biological individuals become subjects, and that what lies between the two is not some automatically constituted ‘natural’ process of socialization but much more complex processes of formation” This implies the idea that media corporations in any given country or region work together to instil and mould the type of culture in its demographic. This gives substantial weight to the argument stating that words in the lexical field of culture, ideology and hegemony are highly useful when considering mass media.
The word hegemony is associated to mass media on a number of different levels. The definition of Hegemony is leadership and control by a state or social group over others. The clearest example of this is Rupert Murdoch and his ownership of major news and media companies such as Fox and Sky. It is no secret that many tabloids and news networks are owned by wealthy old white men, this adds a considerable amount of speculation towards the agendas that are pushed by mass media. Therefore, does the mass media contribute to splitting society through race and wealth? Does it contribute to keeping the different social classes at bay? And does it contribute on deciding major political decisions such as US presidency campaigns and Brexit? The argument suggests the theory that while we all believe we are living in a world where we have total control of our own thoughts and ideas, we in fact do not. As a society we are all subjected to the same culture and ideology that is provided to us by the mass media, we grow to form similar popular and common ideas while never knowing any different.
The role of the mass media has typically been to inform the public of the news, enlighten them, keep them aware and also to entertain them. For years, mass media has been trusted by the public to do just this, and it is only in the past couple of decades that people have began to lose trust as a form of rebellion to the corporate elite. Jonathan M Ladd expresses that “A 2008 poll result shows that 45% of Americans voted to having ‘hardly any confidence’ in national news media.” It can be argued that societies further understanding of the hegemonial role in mainstream media is a contributing factor to this decline. Lee Artz writes in his book ‘globalization of corporate media hegemony’ that, “Social groups find their movements increasingly guided, constrained, or even sometimes enabled by a world capitalist economy, which increasingly penetrates all parts of the globe and touches all media.” The evidence supporting the fact that hegemony and ideology are useful words when understand the mass medias role in society is overwhelming.
Stephen D. Reese writes in his book ‘Framing public life’ that, “When a topic is framed its context is determined, its major tenets prescribed; individuals, groups and organisations are assigned the roles of protagonist, antagonist, or spectator.” The fact that the mass media are able to use such a method, as framing, in order to change the perception of the news suggests that hegemony is rife. Reese explores this idea in more detail in his book and goes on to explain how this makes advances more difficult for social activists and campaigners as they are put under a certain scope which determines how the rest of the world see them. An example of this can be seen with feminism, the medias frame for the feminist movement is centred around radical ‘man hating’ activists because they create more discussion and outrage which in turn means more profit for the media company. This however puts a strain on the rest of the feminist movement who are attempting to make real social progress. In my opinion this is one the reason why the mass media has lost trust and popularity. Hegemony is now becoming associated with mass media because of a different reason. With the growth of media platforms such as YouTube and online blogs we are seeing ‘counterhegemony’ whereby people are using the media in order to report the news without any direct financial or political motive.
Furthermore, owing to this more positive note, it is important to note the online platforms when discussing mass media. Does the word hegemony become less useful when understanding mass media in the modern world, considering the fact that it is much less prominent online? Merrill Morris and Christine Ogan write about this concept in their article ‘The internet as mass medium’ by stating how their research, “Looks at the Internet, rather than computer-mediated communication as a whole, in order to place the new medium within the context of other mass media.” The article goes further to say, “The tradition of mass communication research has accepted newspapers, radio, and television as its objects of study for social, political, and economic reasons. As technology changes and media converge, those research categories must become flexible.” On this assumption we can assume that hegemony is not as prevalent as stated in the rest of the essay.
Owing to this counterargument is the fact that most people don’t consume corporate news or corporate media. While we still watch movies from Time Warner and 21st century fox its not on the same level as in the 50s and 60s where people would more or less only be able to consume corporate media from newspapers and radio. Nowadays most people get their news and develop ideologies from things that they see on social media and more democratic online platforms such as YouTube. Through these mass media platforms the flow of information loses its top-down aspect. In the modern day we now discuss, share and like information and media rather than simply absorbing it. There are multiple news and media channels which do not necessarily conform to the hegemonic system, whether its news podcasts run by independent journalists or comedians and entertainers who run YouTube channels which exploit and ridicule the corporate media.
In conclusion, I believe that the words hegemony and are not only useful, but vital in understand the mass medias role in society. The media has been used to push certain agendas and ideologies through to the public for decades, the process and concept of hegemony has been utilised in in order to do this. To understand society and why we emphasize certain aspects of culture and believe in specific bounds of political ideas one must first look at the way in which the mass media has manipulated information to the public. It is possible to say that the modern age offers more hope as the public are able to tailor their media diet and discuss information freely and democratically in the online world. However when we look at mass media through the platforms of twitter and YouTube we can see that the same systematically oppressive ideologies are still being spread. Media companies have noticed the change in mass media consumption and have moved to the online platforms. The discussions taking place and the ideas being shared by people on social media are often the same as the ones from the corporate media. Largely because society have been so wired to conceive and talk about the same ideologies that have been passed down to us through hegemony, it means that the idea of discussion for other ideological concepts are not within reach.

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