THE EMERGENCE OF CRITICAL AND CULTURAL THEORIES

Chapter#8: THE EMERGENCE OF CRITICAL AND CULTURAL THEORIES OF MASS COMMUNICATION

Chapter#8: THE EMERGENCE OF CRITICAL AND CULTURAL THEORIES OF MASS COMMUNICATION

In this chapter, we will trace the emergence of theories directly addressing questions about the way media might produce profound changes in social life through their subtle influence on the myriad of social practices that form the foundation of everyday life. These new perspectives argued that media might have the power to intrude into and alter how we make sense of ourselves and our social world. Media could alter how we view ourselves, our relationship to others, even the image that we have of our body.

Culture The learned behavior of members of a given social group

CHANGING TIMES

Media have become a primary means by which most of us experience or learn about many aspects of the world around us. Even when we don’t learn about these things directly from media, we learn about them from other people who get their ideas of the world from media. Mass society theory greeted similar types of social change with alarm. It viewed mediated culture as inferior to elite culture.

Cultural studies Focus on use of media to create forms of culture that structure everyday life

THE CULTURAL TURN IN MEDIA RESEARCH

The various cultural theories of media can be identified in several ways. We use a dichotomy widely employed by cultural theorists to differentiate their scholarship (Garnham, 1995): Microscopic interpretive theories focus on how individuals and social groups use media to create and foster forms of culture that structure everyday life. These theories are usually referred to as cultural studies theory. Macroscopic structural theories focus on how media institutions are structured within capitalist economies. These theories focus attention on the way social elites operate media to earn profits and exercise influence in society. They argue that elites sometimes use media to propagate hegemonic culture as a means of maintaining their dominant position in the social order.

Hegemonic culture Culture imposed from above or outside that serves the interests of those in dominant social positions

Political economy theories Focus on social elites’ use of economic power to exploit media institutions

MACROSCOPIC VERSUS MICROSCOPIC THEORIES

Cultural studies theories are less concerned with the long-term consequences of media for the social order and more concerned with looking at how media affect our individual lives. These theories, as we’ve seen throughout this book, are micro-level, or microscopic, because they deemphasize larger issues about the social order in favor of questions involving the everyday life of average people. Political economy theories, by contrast, are macroscopic cultural theories. They are less concerned with developing detailed explanations of how individuals are influenced by media and more interested with how the social order as a whole is affected.

Microscopic cultural studies researchers prefer to interpret what is going on in the world immediately around them. Many of them find the social world an endlessly fascinating place. They are intrigued by the mundane, the seemingly trivial, the routine. They view our experience of everyday life and of reality itself as an artificial social construction that we somehow maintain with only occasional minor breakdowns. They want to know what happens when mass media are incorporated into the routines of daily life and play an essential role in shaping our experience of the social world.

 

CRITICAL THEORY

Theories openly espousing certain values and using these values to evaluate and criticize the status quo, providing alternate ways of interpreting the social role of mass media.

Critical theory often analyzes specific social institutions, probing the extent to which valued objectives are sought and achieved. Mass media and the mass culture they promote have become a focus for critical theory. Critical researchers link mass media and mass culture to a variety of social problems.

Strengths Weaknesses
1. Is politically based, action-oriented

2. Uses theory and research to plan change in the real world

3. Asks big, important questions about media control and ownership

1. Is too political; call to action is too subjective

2. Typically lacks scientific verification; based on subjective observation

3. When subjected to scientific verification, often employs innovative but controversial research methods

COMPARING CULTURAL THEORIES WITH THOSE BASED ON EMPIRICAL RESEARCH

Cultural studies and political economy theorists employ a broad range of research methods and theory-generation strategies, including some that are unsystematic and selective. As a result, critics believe that personal biases and interests inevitably motivate culture researchers and affect the outcome of their work. But, argue cultural theory’s defenders, this is acceptable as long as researchers openly acknowledge those biases or interests.

Qualitative methods Research methods that highlight essential differences (distinctive qualities) in phenomena

THE RISE OF CULTURAL THEORIES IN EUROPE

In Europe, the development of grand social theory remained a central concern in the social sciences and humanities after World War II. Mass society theory gave way to a succession of alternate schools of thought. Some were limited to specific nations or specific academic disciplines or even certain universities. Others achieved widespread interest and acceptance. Most were not theories of media—they were theories of society offering observations about media and their place in society or the lives of individuals. Some of the most widely accepted were based on the writings of Karl Marx. Marxist theory influenced even the theories created in reaction against it. Marx’s ideas formed a foundation or touchstone for much post–World War II European social theory.

Grand social theories Highly ambitious, macroscopic, speculative theories that attempt to understand and predict important trends in culture and society

Marxist theory Theory arguing that the hierarchical class system is at the root of all social problems and must be ended by a revolution of the proletariat

Base (or substructure) of society In Marxist theory, the means of production superstructure In Marxist theory, a society’s culture

Ideology In Marxist theory, ideas present in a culture that mislead average people and encourage them to act against their own interests

Cultural Studies Theory

Strengths Weaknesses
1. Provides focus on how individuals develop their understanding of the social world

2. Asks big, important questions about the role of media

3. Respects content consumption abilities of audience members

1. Has little explanatory power at the macroscopic level

2. Focuses too narrowly on individual compared with societal effects

3. Typically lacks scientific verification; is based on subjective observation

4. When subjected to scientific verification, often employs nontraditional (controversial) research methods

High culture Set of cultural artifacts including music, art, literature, and poetry that humanists judge to have the highest value

Culture industries Mass media that turn high culture and folk culture into commodities sold for profit

POLITICAL ECONOMY THEORY

Political economy theorists study elite control of economic institutions, such as banks and stock markets, and then try to show how this control affects many other social institutions, including the mass media (Murdock, 1989a). In certain respects, political economists accept the classic Marxist assumption that the base dominates the superstructure. They investigate the means of production by looking at economic institutions, expecting to find that these institutions shape media to suit their interests and purposes. Political economists have examined how economic constraints limit or bias the forms of mass culture produced and distributed through the media. Political economists have examined how economic constraints limit or bias the forms of mass culture produced and distributed through the media.

During the past four decades, compared to cultural studies theorists, political economy theorists have worked in relative obscurity.

CULTURAL STUDIES: TRANSMISSIONAL VERSUS RITUAL PERSPECTIVES

Transmissional perspective View of mass communication as merely the process of transmitting messages from a distance for the purpose of control

Ritual Perspective View of mass communication as the representation of shared belief where reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed

Multiple points of access Idea that some people make interpretations at one level of meaning, whereas others make their interpretations at others

MARSHALL MCLUHAN: THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE AND THE MASSAGE

McLuhan drew on critical cultural theories such as political economy theory to develop his perspective, his work was rejected by political economists because it failed to provide a basis on which to produce positive social change. McLuhan had no links to any political or social movements. He seemed ready to accept whatever changes were dictated by and inherent in communications technology. Because he argued that technology inevitably causes specific changes in how people think, in how society is structured, and in the forms of culture that are created, McLuhan was a technological determinist.

HAROLD INNIS: THE BIAS OF COMMUNICATION Harold

Innis was one of the first scholars to systematically speculate at length about the possible linkages between communication media and the various forms of social structure found at certain points in history. In Empire and Communication (1950) and The Bias of Communication (1951), he argued that the early empires of Egypt, Greece, and Rome were based on elite control of the written word. He contrasted these empires with earlier social orders dependent on the spoken word. Innis maintained that before elite discovery of the written word, dialogue was the dominant mode of public discourse and political authority was much more diffuse.

Bias of communication Innis’s idea that communication technology makes centralization of power inevitable

MCLUHAN: UNDERSTANDING MEDIA

The medium is the message McLuhan’s idea that new forms of media transform our experience of ourselves and our society, and this influence is ultimately more important than the content of specific messages

Global village McLuhan’s conception of a new form of social organization emerging as instantaneous electronic media tie the entire world into one great social, political, and cultural system

 

 

 

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Theory & Different Basic Mass Communication Theories

Mass Communication Theory Foundations, Ferment, and Future

Review of Chaper 1:

DEFINING AND REDEFINING MASS COMMUNICATION

When an organization (Source) employs  a technology as a medium to communicate with a large audience, mass communication is said to have occurred.

SCIENCE AND HUMAN BEHAVIOR

Implementation of the scientific method is difficult for those studying the social world for four reasons:

Most of the significant and interesting forms of human behavior are quite difficult to measure. How do we measure something like civic duty? Should we count the incidence of voting? Maybe a person’s decision not to vote is her personal expression of that duty. Try something a little easier, like measuring aggression in a television violence study. Can aggression be measured by counting how many times a child hits a rubber doll? Is gossiping about a neighbor an aggressive act? How do we measure an attitude (a predisposition to do something rather than an observable action)? What is three pounds of tendency to hold conservative political views or sixteen point seven millimeters of patriotism?

Human behavior is exceedingly complex. Human behavior does not easily lend itself to causal description. It is easy to identify a single factor that causes water to boil. But it has proved impossible to isolate single factors that serve as the exclusive cause of important actions of human behavior. Human behavior may simply be too complex to allow scientists to ever fully untangle the different factors that combine to cause observable actions.

Humans have goals and are self-reflexive. We do not always behave in response to something that has happened; very often we act in response to something we hope or expect will happen. Moreover, we constantly revise our goals and make highly subjective determinations about their potential for success or failure.

We want to know how things work, what makes things happen. As much as we might like to be thrilled by horror movies or science fiction films in which physical laws are continually violated, we trust the operation of these laws in our daily lives. But we often resent causal statements when they are applied to ourselves.

DEFINING THEORY

Theory Any organized set of concepts, explanations, and principles of some aspect of human experience.

POSTPOSITIVIST THEORY

This theory is based on empirical observation guided by the scientific method, but it recognizes that humans and human behavior are not as constant as elements of the physical world. The goals of postpositivist theory are explanation, prediction, and control (and in this you can see the connection between this kind of social science and the physical sciences).

HERMENEUTIC THEORY

hermeneutic theory is the study of understanding, especially through the systematic interpretation of actions or texts. Hermeneutics originally began as the study or interpretation of the Bible and other sacred works. As it evolved over the last two centuries, it maintained its commitment to the examination of “objectifications of the mind”

CRITICAL THEORY

Critical theory is openly political (therefore its axiology is aggressively value-laden). It assumes that by reorganizing society, we can give priority to the most important human values. Critical theorists study inequality and oppression. Their theories do more than observe, describe, or interpret; they criticize. Critical theories view “media as sites of (and weapons in) struggles over social, economic, symbolic, and political power (as well as struggles over control of, and access to, the media themselves)”. Critical theory’s epistemology argues that knowledge is advanced only when it serves to free people and communities from the influence of those more powerful than themselves. Its ontology, however, is a bit more complex.

NORMATIVE THEORY

Theory explaining how a media system should operate in order to conform to or realize a set of ideal social values.

EVALUATING THEORY

“No theory is good unless it permits, not rest, but the greatest work. No theory is good except on condition that one uses it to go on beyond”. In other words, good theory pushes, advances, improves the social world. There are some specific ways, however, to judge the value of the many theories.

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Mass Media Research By WIMMER & DOMINICK

Mass Media Research By ROGER D. WIMMER & JOSEPH R. DOMINICK 9th Edition

Part One

The Research Process

Chapter 1

Science and Research 1

Chapter 2

Elements of Research 42

Chapter 3

Research Ethics 64

Chapter 4

Sampling 86

Part Two

Research Approaches

Chapter 5

Qualitative Research Methods 114

Chapter 6

Content Analysis 155

Chapter 7

Survey Research 184

Chapter 8

Longitudinal Research 218

Chapter 9

Experimental Research 238

Part Three

Data Analysis

Chapter 10

Introduction to Statistics 266

Chapter 11

Hypothesis Testing 289

Chapter 12

Basic Statistical Procedures 304

Part Four

Research Applications

Chapter 13

Newspaper and Magazine

Research 332

Chapter 14

Research in the Electronic Media 350

Chapter 15

Research in Advertising 380

Chapter 16

Research in Public Relations 405

Preface:

Things change constantly in all areas of life, and it is sometimes difficult to keep up with all the changes. In every edition of this text, we are faced with several new technologies and research approaches that didn’t exist in a previous edition. It has been interesting to watch the development of such things as satellite television and radio, the Internet, MP3 players, CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, and more. Each invention offers a wealth of new research topics and opportunities, and it has been fun to observe how mass communication constantly changes.

As mass media teachers and professional researchers, we want to provide you with the most detailed and most current information possible. However, that is a difficult task with a textbook since changes in mass media research happen frequently. Our best alternative, therefore, is to help you find the most current information about the topics we discuss in this text.

Therefore, throughout this text, we provide many Internet searches to help you find more information about the topics we discuss in the book. Please use these search suggestions. You’ll see that we use a specific format for the searches we suggest. Enter the search exactly as we suggest, although you may feel free to go beyond the searches we provide. The format we use for Internet searches is italics. That is, whenever we suggest an Internet search, the search is shown in italics. If you see quote marks with the search, be sure to include those because they are important in refining the search and eliminating useless information. For example, if we recommend that you search the Internet for more information about this text and suggest “Mass media research” Wimmer Dominick, then input your search exactly as written, including the quote marks. If you are new to using Internet search engines, please go to our book website at www.wimmerdominick.com and read the article about using search engines in the “Readings” section.

Approach and Organization As in the previous editions, our goal is to provide you with the tools you need to use mass media research in the professional world through simplified explanations of goals, procedures, and uses of information in mass media research. We want you to be comfortable with research and to recognize its unlimited value, so we use extensive practical applications to illustrate its use in the world today.

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Political Communication

Chapter 2:

Political Communication – Review

is the process by which language and symbols, employed by leaders, media, or citizens, exert intended or unintended effects on the political cognitions, attitudes, or behaviors of individuals or on outcomes that bear on the public policy of a nation, state, or community.

There are several aspects of the definition.

  1. Political communication is a process
  2. Political communication calls centrally on words and symbols (A symbol is a form of language in which one entity represents an idea or concept, conveying rich psychological and cultural meaning.)
  3. Group of leaders and Influence agents
  4. Political communication effects can be intended or unintended.
  5. Political communication is that effects occur on a variety of levels. ( Political media exert influence on the micro level, affecting individuals’ thoughts, candidate assessments, feelings, attitudes, and behavior.)

CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL COMMUNICATION

  • One view is that elite leaders exert a preeminent impact on opinions and policy.
  • A second view places the onus on media. It emphasizes that the media—both news and entertainment exert a preeminent effect on the conduct of politics. This viewpoint notes that the news media’s choice of issues, and the way they frame the news, can influence leaders and the public.
  • A third viewpoint argues that the public calls the shots. In order to get elected and reelected, leaders have to be responsive to their constituents, implementing polices that the average voter supports.

In most political contexts, all three influence agents—elites, media, and public—interact in complex ways. The drama of political communication involves a trifecta: leaders, media, and citizens symbolically jousting among themselves and framing problems in different ways.

 Politics Is Played on a Media Platform

Shanto Iyengar (2004) notes. “The role of the citizen has evolved from occasional foot soldier and activist to spectator” .

Jesper Strömbäck and Lynda L. Kaid (2008) take a complementary view, noting that the mass media mediate between citizens on the one hand and the institutions of government on the other. But the media are not neutral, bland mediators. They apply their own judgments and rules, in this way transforming politics.

 Technology Is a Centerpiece of Political Communication

Although technology has always played a role in politics, it wields more influence today than ever before. There is a greater volume of political information, more instant communication between leaders and followers, and more opportunities for voters to exert control over the message (Johnson, 2011).

 Political Communication Has Gone Global

Technology can also facilitate global conversations that never could have occurred in earlier times. This can be beneficial when the conversations bring people together or catalyze ideas. But when the two parties that converse are at loggerheads or at war, technology reinforces and exacerbates tensions.

Political Communication Can Be a Force of Good and Evil

Like all weapons of influence, political communication can be harnessed for positive and negative purposes.

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The Panoply of Political Communication

Chapter 1 • The Panoply of Political Communication

Classical Direct Democracy

Athenian democracy was distinctive, unique in its time. It also has articulated key principles that have guided subsequent democratic theories and underpin contemporary democratic governments. The philosopher Aristotle endorsed this view, arguing that human beings were political animals. But he did not mean that people were political in the sense we sometimes use the term today—networking and conniving to gain advantage over others. Aristotle believed that the good life consisted of participation with others on common tasks and deliberating in public to determine just outcomes for the larger community.

Liberal Democratic Theory:

Liberal democratic theories evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries as people grew frustrated with the power of absolutist rulers and the many ways that European monarchies stifled individual freedom. Democratic government emerged as a way to protect individuals from oppressive use of political power. Liberal perspectives on democracy emphasize the natural rights of individuals— their right to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness, to combine the writings of Locke and Thomas Jefferson. This was exciting and important stuff, the notion that individuals had inalienable rights that government could not sever. Liberal democratic approaches emphasized that an individual should be allowed to follow his (much later, her) own drummer in matters of speech, press, religion and economics. People needed a sphere of life where despotic monarchs could not intervene. Thus, liberal theories embraced the private sphere: for example, private enterprise and private property. They recognized that the Athenian notion of direct democracy was impractical for mass society. They advocated representative government, in which citizens elected others to stand in for them and represent their viewpoints on matters of policy. Elections provided a way to ensure that individuals determined government policy, making “public officials the servants rather than the masters of the citizenry”.

Deliberative Democracy

To deliberative democrats, the platitudes of liberal democracy—liberty and equality— are nice, but without reflective thinking, our politics is nothing more than a loud cacophony of selfish interests competing futilely on the public stage. Deliberation advocates argue that we need more civil and respectful public dialogues, such as community forums that can help set agendas and shape municipal policy. They urge that journalists cut back on horse race reporting that focuses on election polls and consultants’ strategies. Instead, deliberation proponents argue that journalists should embrace public journalism, which emphasizes ways that reporters can reconnect with the larger communities in which they work, elevating the concerns of the public over those of political elites

 Three Normative Perspectives on Democracy.

Classical Greek Direct Liberal Democracy Deliberative Democracy
Principles

Direct citizen participation

 

Equality

Citizen obligation to society

 

 

Natural rights of individuals

 

Representative government

Private marketplace of ideas

 

Reasoned public deliberation

about issues

Civil discourse

Collective dialogue that

influences policy

Communication emphasis

Well-crafted rhetorical

arguments

 

Free expression

no-holds-barred press

 

Forums/articles that encourage

deliberation

Shortcoming

Impractical in mass society

 

 

 

Treats citizenship as a private

commodity rather than public

good

 

Preachy and dismissive of

decisions not based on pure

deliberation

 

Scholars with different political perspectives agree that, for all its inherent shortcomings, democracy remains the best form of government that humans have developed. Communication plays a critical role by connecting leaders with the citizens they govern. How this happens, how effectively it works, and how well it comports with democratic ideals are the focus of the chapters that follow. So get ready for a ride through the dynamic, active, zany, troubled, but vital, world of political communication; hold on to your hat, and prepare to consider a multitude of new ideas and even some bumpy jostling of cherished political assumptions. You may end up reviewing, recalibrating, or even reconsidering some of your beliefs.

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Theory and Research in Mass Communication: Contexts and Consequences

Theory and Research in Mass Communication: Contexts and Consequences By David K. Perry

Second Edition

Citizens, policymakers, and communication practitioners who are concerned about mass communication issues otfutrenn t o the academic community for answers. Their questions often involve such things as whether, to what extent, or why media violence or sex contributote asn tisocial or criminal behavior among audiences. The answers often are not as simple or consistent as they might like. As one scholar put it:

only after much research has been completed does a statement come tboe viewed int he scholarly community as tru-ea status very few communication theories are ever likely to reach. Even then, the truth value is to be found more in the degree of agreement among scholars, an intersubjective criterion, than in any ultimate reality. (Chaffee, 1991, p. 11) Definitions of truth as scholarly consensus are often found in modem literatures of the history (e.g.K, uhn, 1970) and philosophyo f science (e.g., H.I. Brown, 1977). They are not a producotf the present century. During the 19th century, pragmatist philosopher Charles Peirce (1878/1957) defined truth as that “opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to who investigate” (pp.5 3-54).P eirce believed that proper inquiry (at least if carried on to infinity) could lead members of a scientific community, who initially might disagree, to reach inevitable conclusions. His stress consensus simply assumed that many heaadrse better than one and that truth is a product of many minds.

Of course, as Peirce recognized,i t is perhaps best not to definet ruth solely in terms of whatever a community of inquirers accepts. For example, one must excludteh e possibility that scientists will accepftr audulent research. Similarly, political or religious dogma sometimes may determine the conclusions of scholars, most obviouslyin totalitarian societies. Hence, notions of usefulness and/or some sort of correspondence may remain necessary (seeth e appendix). In fact, scientists often consider a scientific idea valido r true because they findit useful and/or believe that it corresponds to the external world (Kaplan, 1964).

Today, Peirce’s consensus criterion may seem too optimistic. Serious doubts persist that science progresses bya ttaining ever closer approximations of any ultimate reality (Hesse, 1980; Kuhn, 1970). Rather, different ideas about phenomena may gain currencayt different timep eriods before sometimes fallinogu t of favor and perhaps reappearing later in a modified formI. n short, research frequently shows no signs of satisfying what Dewey (1929) called the quest for certainty. Because of this, scholarly disagreement perhaps may always exist about the degree of truth in almost any social scientific idea. Faced with this, how might those who would like to use research react to the available, but less than certain, conclusions of scholars? Perhaps another pragmatist, William James, provided an answer. Untial nd unless inquiry attains Peirce’s ideals, “we have to live to-day by what truth we can get to-day, and be ready to-morrow to call it falsehood” (James, 1907/1975, p. 107). Here, as elsewherien their work, Peirce had his eytreu tohn a s generality, and James focused on what woirnk sp articular situations. Their positions display two different philosophical viewpoints -realism and nominalism – found within both pragmatism and philosophy more generally (Lewis & R.L. Smith, 1980). Realists such as Peircea rgue that universals (e.g., scientific laws or essences of objects such as blue jays) exist separately from the human mind. In contrast, nominalists like James deny their existence or see them (but often not the physical world) as mindimposed. The phrase ”only particulars exist“ (Pepper, 1942; p. 214; italics original) effectively captures the nominalist view.

This issue (see also the appendix) has many implications for both communication research and life more generally. References to it arise at various places in this book. For example, the United States is a quite socially nominalistic society( see Lewis & R.L. Smith, 1980). Itsc ulture emphasizes individuality more than commonality or community. i nT makoedne ration, nominalism probably has positive consequences, encouraging individual initiatives that benefit all. However, certaino f fcoormmms unity ties, which some forms of mass media may disrupt (see chap. 9), appear to promote economic prosperity, human health, and public safety (Putnam, 2000). In his most famous essay, ”WTihlle t o Believe,” James (1898/1960a)d – dressed the problems people face when they must respond to uncertain situations, sucha s whether to believine God. Writteni n the late 19th century, the essay primarily referred to maonradl religious questions, rather than to scientific ones. His essay explicitly rejected scientism, the “pernicious exaggerationo f both thes tatus and functiono f science in relation to our values” (Kaplan, 1964, p. 405).

James began by definingli v ae hypothesis as a proposal that seems possibly true, and hence a potengtuiaidl e to action, to a person considering it. For example, a researcher, policymaker, or consumer who reviews evidence concerningt he long-term behavioral impacto f exposure to television and televised violenocne t he young( see chap. 10) might find two live hypotheses. Perhaps exposure early in life increases the total amounoft violent, criminal behavior that young people engage iwn hen they reach the crime-prone ageosf late adolescencea nd early adulthood (Centerwall, 1989). Yet it may have no long-term effect on aggressiveness (Milavsky, Kessler, Stipp, & Rubens, 1982). In contrast, any idea that such exposure reduces overall behavioral violence now seems quite implausible. In James’ terms, it seems a dead hypothesis.

Two competing live hypotheses do not necessarily present a genuine option, according to JamesT. o do so, the choice must involve two additional conditions. It must have momentous (or pearth laepast nontrivial) consequences, and some decision between the hypotheses must be inescapable. Obviouslyi, n a purely intellectual sense, one can easily suspend one’s judgment.

However, someone who does so may face a “real-world” decision. A parent may wonder whether to limict h ail d’s exposure. A network executive or government policymaker may consider ato rpelastnr ict the amount of violence during prime-time hours. In James’ terms, these choices certainly are more genuine thwaans the intellectual one. They may or may be momentous depending on the actual consequoefn bcoetsh mediatedv iolence and the contemplated action. Nonetheless, the person must either act or fail to act. Hence, James’ (1898/1960) central thesis: Our passional nature noot nly lawfully may, but must, decidaen option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, “Do not decide, but leave the question open,” is itself a passional decision, -j ust like decidingy es or no, -and is attended with the samries k of losing the truth. @. 11)

In emphasizing the function of values in everyday life, James was responding to scientistic thinkers of his day who argued that it is always wrong to believe anything, such as the existeonf cGe od, without conclusive evidence. Such thinking reflects a vatlhuaet a person is betteor ff to risk failingt o detect truth than to risk making an error about B iyt . its nature, science usually proceeds cautiously. According to its dominant values, the judgment of the scientific community in some ways should resemble that of a jury, which must acquit a criminal as long as any reasonable doubt exists of the person’s guilt. Those responsible for public policy sometimes proceed in a similar fashion. According to Rowland (1983), the less-than-conclusive results of past media violence research sometimes have allowed policymakers to appear concerned and avoid taking regulatory action. Nor is this necessarily inappropriate. Restricting media violence by law or public policy could have dangerous consequences for other civil liberties, for instance. Perhaps beocfa uthsies , and the influence of powerful commercial television industries, possib”lyth e level of ‘proof’ demanded goes well beyond what is usually accepted in less controversial social science research” (Huston, 1987, p. 942). Audiences are not bound ttoh e same standards, however. After weighing both the evidence and potential consequences of allowing a child to view violencew ithout restriction, the parent might or might not dectiod e limit exposure. For examplhee, or she might restrict viewing based on after recognizintgh at children do not havet he same legal rights to view media contents daso adults. Nevertheless, the parent might fitnhde evidence less than convincing or decide that only a slight chance exists that television will affectht e child negatively. Thus, he or she might conclude that no restriction is needed. In any case, the parent’s concern is with a specific situation.

James came to regrtehte title of his essay. It left him otpoe nch arges of encouraging wanton or wishful thinking. He believed that the phrase “Right to Believe,” instead of “Will to Believe,” better summarized its theme (Murphy,1 990).I n short, people can base their actions on whatever evidence is available, as wealls their values. Thus, mass communication consumers today have a ritgoh bt elieve or noat,n d to act or not, after taking evidencei nto account. In such a light, this bioso inkt ended for a very broad audience, including scientists, teachers, studentsa, nd anyone else concerned with mass communication issues.

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MODERN PROPAGANDA THEORY

MODERN PROPAGANDA THEORY

Consider the Hippler and Sproule characterizations of propaganda from earlier in this chapter: simplify a complex issue and repeat that simplification; use covert, massively orchestrated communication; and use tricky language to discourage reflective thought. Some contemporary critical theorists argue that propaganda conforming to these rules is alive and well today and that it is practiced with a stealth, sophistication, and effectiveness unparalleled in history. They point to a number of “natural beliefs” that have been so well propagandized that meaningful public discourse about them has become difficult if not impossible. Political discourse and advertising are frequent areas of modern propaganda study, and the central argument of this modern propaganda theory is that powerful elites so thoroughly control the mass media and their content that they have little trouble imposing their Truth on the culture.

Close your eyes and think welfare. Did you envision large corporations accepting government handouts, special tax breaks for businesses, companies building ships and planes that the military does not want? Or did you picture a single mother, a woman of color, cheating the taxpayers so she can stay home and watch Jerry Springer? This narrowing of public discourse and debate is examined in works such as historian Herb Schiller’s Culture, Inc.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression (1989); communication theorist Robert McChesney’s Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy (1997) and The Problem of the Media (2004); mass communication researchers Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman’s The Press Effect (2003); and linguist Noam Chomsky’s American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Deterring Democracy (1991), and with Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent (Herman and Chomsky, 1988). All offer a common perspective. In Jamieson and Waldman’s words, it is, “‘Facts’ can be difficult to discern and relate to the public, particularly in a context in which the news is driven by politicians and other interested parties who selectively offer some pieces of information while suppressing others” (xiii).

Take one such “interested party,” advertisers and their advertising, as an example. Different ads may tout one product over another, but all presume the logic and rightness of consumption and capitalism. Our need for “more stuff” is rarely questioned: the connection between wealth/consumption and success/acceptance is never challenged; and concern about damage to the environment caused by, first, the manufacture of products and second, their disposal, is excluded from the debate. The point is not that consumption and capitalism are innately bad, but that as in all successful propaganda efforts, the alternatives are rarely considered. When alternatives are considered, those who raise them are viewed as out of the mainstream or peculiar. By extension, this failure to consider alternatives benefits those same economic elites most responsible for limiting that consideration and reflection. Sproule has written thoughtfully and persuasively on advertising as propaganda in Channels of Propaganda (1994) and Propaganda and Democracy: The American Experience of Media and Mass Persuasion (1997).

This current reconsideration of propaganda theory comes primarily from critical theorists and, as a result, its orientation tends to be from the political Left (Chapter 2). For example, economist and media analyst Edward S. Herman identified five filters that ensure the “multi-leveled capability of powerful business and government entities and collectives (for example, the Business Roundtable; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; industry lobbies and front groups) to exert power over the flow of information” (1996, p. 117). These filters enable powerful business and government elites “to mobilize an elite consensus, to give the appearance of democratic consent, and to create enough confusion, misunderstanding, and apathy in the general population to allow elite programs to go forward” (p. 118). The first two of Herman’s elite-supporting filters are ownership and advertising, which “have made bottom line considerations more controlling. . . . The professional autonomy of journalists has been reduced” (p. 124). The next two are sourcing and flack, increasingly effective because “a reduction in the resources devoted to journalism means that those who subsidize the media by providing sources for copy gain greater leverage” (p. 125). Here he is specifically speaking of the power of corporate and government public relations. Finally, the fifth filter motivating media toward propagandists’ support of the status quo is the media’s “belief in the ‘miracle of the market.’ There is now an almost religious faith in the market, at least among the elite, so that regardless of the evidence, markets are assumed benevolent and non-market mechanisms are suspect” (p. 125). These themes, as you will see in Chapters 8 and 11, accurately mirror many of the core assumptions of critical cultural theory.

Behaviorists Richard Laitinen and Richard Rakos (1997) offer another critical view of contemporary propaganda. They argue that modern propaganda—in their definition, “the control of behavior by media manipulation” (p. 237)—is facilitated by three factors: an audience “that is enmeshed and engulfed in a harried lifestyle, less well-informed, and less politically involved, . . . the use of sophisticated polling and survey procedures, whose results are used by the propagandists to increase their influence, . . . [and] the incorporation of media companies into megaconglomerates” (pp. 238–239). These factors combine to put untold influence in the hands of powerful business and governmental elites without the public’s awareness. Laitinen and Rakos wrote:

In contemporary democracies, the absence of oppressive government control of information is typically considered a fundamental characteristic of a “free society.” However, the lack of aversive control does not mean that information is “free” of controlling functions. On the contrary, current mechanisms of influence, through direct economic and indirect political contingencies, pose an even greater threat to behavioral diversity than do historically tyrannical forms. Information today is more systematic, continuous, consistent, unobtrusive, and ultimately powerful. (1997, p. 237)

There is also renewed interest in propaganda theory from the political Right. This conservative interest in propaganda takes the form of a critique of liberal media bias (see, for example, Coulter, 2002, 2006; Goldberg, 2002, 2003, 2009; Morris and McGann, 2008). Other than surveys indicating that a majority of journalists vote Democratic, there is little serious scholarship behind this assertion. In fact, what research there is tends to negate the liberal media bias thesis, as the large majority of media outlet managers and owners tend to vote Republican, the majority of the country’s syndicated newspaper columnists write with a conservative bent, and the majority of “newsmakers” on network and cable public affairs talk shows are politically right-of-center (Alterman, 2003). McChesney commented:

The fundamental error in the conservative notion of the “liberal” media [is] it posits that editors and journalists have almost complete control over what goes into news. . . . In conservative “analysis,” the institutional factors of corporate ownership, profit-motivation, and advertising support have no effect on media content. . . . The notion that journalism can regularly produce a product that violates the fundamental interests of media owners and advertisers and do so with impunity simply has no evidence behind it. (1997, p. 60)

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