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Critical and Cultural Theories of Mass Communication


Critical and Cultural Theories of Mass Communication Challenges to Minimal Effects Theory Discuss Frankfurt School assertions about mass culture and high culture. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Critical and Cultural Theories of Mass Communication

Critical and Cultural Theories of Mass
  • Challenges to
  • Minimal Effects Theory

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • 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
  • Do media enhance or disrupt everyday life?

  • Macroscopic researchers dont 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?

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.

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

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
  • 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?

Assessing the Role of Media
  • The Media Effects (Postpositivist) Research
  • 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

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

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

Examples of Valued Goals
  • Western civilization involves key values and
    social practices that need to be fostered. These
  • 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

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 isnt concerned about the value of different
    uses and experiences
  • Critical theory is about CHANGE.

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

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
  • Media literacy can teach masses to criticize
    elite misuse of media

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

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

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
  • 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

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

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
  • TV allows routine escape from daily problems

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
  • Speculated about impact of media on culture and
    social organization

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

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

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,
  • Borrowed freely from Neomarxist theory but was
    widely acclaimed by Capitalists

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?

Do Social Networking Websites Influence Everyday
  • Simulate and/or displace other forms of everyday
  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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
    Americas 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?

  • 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

  • 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 televisions
    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?

Crisis of the Cultural Environment
  • http//
  • The critical view of media is well articulated by
    George Gerbner in the Media Education
    Foundations ( The Crisis of the
    Cultural Environment.

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