Bhamini Lakshminarayan (M2015MC013)
Dr. Sunitha Chitrapu
9th July, 2015
Reading Response #1: Locating the Media in Mass Appeal
Mass society theory argues that the media is a powerful tool whose work can have far-reaching and long-term consequences on the society that we live in and the way we make sense of the world. The readings we have looked at in this regard are Adorno and Rabinbach (1975) and Baran and Davis (2009).
Adorno’s text is a vitriolic and harsh argument against the mainstream media industry, in which he casts capitalism in the role of the antagonist and the public as passive victims, lacking in the power of making informed and discerning choices as all of their demands are stimulated by the industry itself. He claims that the media replicates the dominant discourse, and that the content produced by the culture industry is “vacous, banal, or worse, and the behaviour patterns are shamelessly conformist.” I find myself strongly disagreeing with this judgement – the LGBTQIA+ movements have used the media as a vehicle to establish their legitimacy in the safe, “hypothetical” scenarios on our television screens. Cult classic television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer had lesbian main characters as early as 2000, when the “alternative” sexuality movement had yet to reach its prime on television; today the television show Modern Family has a gay gouple with an adopted daughter – both of these are examples of aesthetics and family dynamics that are not considered “normal” by the vast majority of the elite, white, male middle class in the United States, where the shows are produced, and yet, these narratives are run on mainstream network television.
In the Baran and Davis reading, we are referred to the work of Ferdinand Tonnies, who argues that the media has led to a breakdown of traditional community values. I argue that they both reflect evolving community values, as well as help to normalise them in spaces where they are still contentious. Emile Durkheim, through his own lens of social order theory, comes to a similar conclusion about the weakening strength of the moral fibre of society. However, I find myself opposed to the harsh value judgements made by Adorno as well as the authors referred to by Baran and Davis, not least because they seem to be a taking a paternalistic stance on what Plato’s “good life” entails, and thus the “useful” values that society should possess are; as well as on what forms of expression are valid and legitimate in expressing the struggles and contradictions required to achieve it.
Finally, while both readings offer a valuable insight into the power of the media and its ability to influence thought through the social mass theory, I find myself unable to locate them without criticism in the year 2015. With the spread of social media networks and channels like Youtube, Instagram, SoundCloud, and others, there has been a turning point in the media available to the masses – self-authorship has been made a social reality. These channels create a new dimension that must be critically analysed when looking at cultural artefacts that generate mass appeal – the phenomenon of “going viral” creates a new space for activism and terrorism in equal parts, which can generate momentum for intellectual, aesthetic, and social change in the evolving media framework.
Adorno, T.W., & Rabinbach, A.G. (1975). Culture Industry Reconsidered. New German Critique, 6, (Autumn). 12-19. Print.
Baran, S. J., & Davis, D. K. (2009). The Era of Mass Society and Mass Culture. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment and Future. Boston, MA: Wadsworth. 44-70. Print.