Chapter# 3: THE RISE OF MEDIA INDUSTRIES AND MASS SOCIETY THEORY (Review)
Guarantees freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion
Struggle to define the cultural foundation of the broader social order in which we live
THE RISE OF YELLOW JOURNALISM
At the beginning of the twentieth century, every industry had its barons, and the most notorious—if not the greatest—of the press lords was Hearst. Hearst specialized in buying up failing newspapers and transforming them into profitable enterprises. He demonstrated that the news business could be as profitable as railroads, steel, or oil. One secret to his success was devising better strategies for luring low income readers. His newspapers combined a low-selling price with innovative new forms of content that included lots of pictures, serialized stories, and comic strips. Some experts even say that yellow journalism got its name from one of the first comic strips: “The Yellow Kid.”
CYCLES OF MASS MEDIA DEVELOPMENT AND DECLINE
“Revolution” in media technology: Whenever important new media technologies appear, they destabilize existing media industries, forcing large-scale and often very rapid restructuring.
Functional displacement: When the functions of an existing medium are replaced by a newer technology, the older medium finds new functions.
The success of new media often brings a strong critical reaction—especially when media adopt questionable competitive strategies to produce content or attract consumers. New media industries often do specialize in giving people what they want— even if the long-term consequences might be negative.
As media industries mature, they often become more socially responsible—more willing to censor or limit distribution of controversial content and more concerned about serving long-term public needs rather than pandering to short-term popular passions.
Digital Rights Management: Electronic protection of digitally distributed media content. (Pirated Software, movies, music and copyright content etc…)
MASS SOCIETY CRITICS AND THE DEBATE OVER MEDIA
During the early stages of development or restructuring, media industries are especially susceptible to complaint. Most critics are not objective scientists or dispassionate humanists relying on systematic observation or well-developed theory for their positions. Rather, their criticisms are to some extent rooted in their own self-interests. You can evaluate the criticism that accompanied the diffusion of media we now find commonplace in the box entitled “Fearful Reactions to New Media.”
ASSUMPTIONS OF MASS SOCIETY THEORY
Mass society theory makes several basic assumptions about individuals, the role of media, and the nature of social change. Here we list these assumptions and then discuss each in some detail:
- The media are a powerful force within society that can subvert essential norms and values and thus undermine the social order. To deal with this threat media must be brought under elite control.
- Media are able to directly influence the minds of average people, transforming their views of the social world.
- Once people’s thinking is transformed by media, all sorts of bad long-term consequences are likely to result—not only bringing ruin to individual lives but also creating social problems on a vast scale.
- Average people are vulnerable to media because in mass society they are cut off and isolated from traditional social institutions that previously protected them from manipulation.
- The social chaos initiated by media will likely be resolved by establishment of a totalitarian social order.
- Mass media inevitably debase higher forms of culture, bringing about a general decline in civilization.
Enlightenment: Eighteenth century European social and philosophical movement stressing rational thought and progress through science.
EARLY EXAMPLES OF MASS SOCIETY THEORY
Older notions about mass society and mass culture, but most reject the simplistic assumptions and criticisms of earlier eras. These newer theories no longer accept elite high culture as the standard against which all others must be measured. Totalitarianism is no longer feared as inevitable, but censorship of media by authoritarian regimes is widespread.
Media don’t subvert culture, but they do play a major and sometimes counterproductive role in cultural change. Fear of totalitarianism has been replaced worldwide by growing disillusionment with consumerism and its power to undermine cultural and national identities.
GEMEINSCHAFT AND GESELLSCHAFT
Gemeinschaft: In Tönnies’s conception, traditional folk cultures
In folk communities, people were bound together by strong ties of family, by tradition, and by rigid social roles— basic social institutions were very powerful. Gemeinschaft “consisted of a dense network of personal relationships based heavily on kinship and the direct, face-to-face contact that occurs in a small, closed village. Norms were largely unwritten, and individuals were bound to one another in a web of mutual interdependence that touched all aspects of life”.
Gesellschaft: In Tönnies’s conception, modern industrial society
In gesellschaft, people are bound together by relatively weak social institutions based on rational choices rather than tradition. Gesellschaft represents “the framework of laws and other formal regulations that characterized large, urban industrial societies. Social relationships were more formalized and impersonal; individuals did not depend on one another for support… and were therefore much less morally obligated to one another”.
In Durkheim’s conception, folk cultures bound by consensus and traditional social roles.
In Durkheim’s conception, modern social orders bound by culturally negotiated social ties.
MASS SOCIETY THEORY IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES
Early mass society theorists argued that media are highly problematic forces that have the power to directly reach and transform the thinking of individuals so that the quality of their lives is impaired and serious social problems are created. Through media influence, people are atomized, cut off from the civilizing influences of other people or high culture. In these early theories, totalitarianism inevitably results as ruthless, power-hungry dictators seize control of media to promote their ideology. Initially, mass society theory gained wide acceptance— especially among traditional social elites threatened by the rise of media industries. In time, however, people questioned its unqualified assertions about the media’s power to directly influence individuals. Mass society notions enjoyed longer acceptance in Europe, where commitments to traditional ways of life and high culture have been stronger and where distrust of average people and mass democracy runs deeper.
The second factor in contemporary rearticulating of mass society theory involves concentration of ownership of different media companies in fewer and fewer hands. We’ve already seen that media industries, when facing challenges from new technologies, undergo rapid restructuring. This is one of the reasons behind today’s dazzling number and scope of media industry mergers.