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Media & Society 2008

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					Media & Society 2008

Astrid Arndt
B TECH Programme

31 March 2008

Our understanding of the world is shaped by the media. In a constantly transforming society still undergoing political and social change the media have become our eyes in paces we cannot see. Our society receives most information about the world through the media. O’Shaughnessy,(1999: 17) experienced teacher of media studies presently at Edith Cowan University, states that our understanding of social, political, economic and ecological crisis is sculpted by what we see in the media. It is our primary source of how we view the world. In this essay the role of commercial visual communications in contemporary society will be debated. The relationship between society and the media will be examined. Firstly a study of how the media portrays our world will be debated. Thereafter a discussion on what part media ownership plays in the creation of the media, which will be followed by the media’s need for popularity in society. Thereafter the different categories in society and how the media affect them will be debated. An image analysis will then be made to answer the question; does the media reflect or affect our society? This argument will be discussed further in terms of censorship. The essay will be concluded by proving how interlinked the media and society is by the use of a diagram. People tend to perceive reality by what is displayed in the media but they are only interpretations of it. “How we are seen determines in part how we are treated, how we treat others is based on how we see them; such seeing comes from representation.” (Dyer,1993: 1).

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As children become older legal, cultural and political forces as popularized by the media can lead the child formulating its own values of social morality and viewpoint of an acceptable lifestyle. To summarize, society’s values are shaped and reinforced by the media therefore the elite group that possess ownership of the media has almost unlimited power to shape norms in almost unlimited power to shape norms in almost every aspect of society even influencing the economy. However the media still have to sell themselves to the large number of viewers. If they do not win big audiences they will not survive in the economy. As a result the media needs the popularity of the public to survive. “Socialists have established that what happens in media entertainment organizations is mainly affected by the ownership. “ (Curran, 2000: 21) “It can be argued that the audience persuades, if not controls the media production through what products they choose to consume” (O’Shaughnessy, 1999: 20) The imperative of the popularity is the most important aspect that has to be met by the media producers, nonetheless what the producers values are. This interesting contradiction shows that the audience has the power. The consumer determines which programs thrive and which ones fail. Media firms must thus take cognisance of the fact that “The modern audience understands the cues in which communications are encoded. They are aware of the way the media is used to entertain and influence the society” (Hoijer, 1992:14) and the need to cater to the different target audiences and issues.

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The differences and issues in society can be summed up in the acronym “CRASH” devised by O’Shaughnessy (1999: 20). C- Class. R- Race. A- Age. There are three main classes in society being the upper-, middle-, and lower-class. Multiculturalism and ethnicity must be catered for. Older and younger citizens must receive equal recognition by the media. S- Sex/ Sexual orientation. In modern societies men are still socially advanced group, in comparison to women. Society discriminates against people with sexual orientation other than heterosexuality because it is seen as the norm. Lesbianism, homosexuality and bisexuality are disadvantage because they go against the main stream norms. H- Handicapped. The handicapped and disabled people are a disadvantaged social group. People discriminate against this social group in many ways. Another important category that can be added to these social categories is the environment. Beyond our issues lies a global environmental crisis. Environmental issues are receiving greater coverage thus influencing society to start thinking ‘green’. Some argue that we are programmed unconsciously by forces outside ourselves, but others say that through our reasonableness and consciousness we make our own choices. If people understand how the world works and they are consciously aware of how society works they will have the power to make up their own mind. Many people believe that society is functioning well therefore they do not consciously analyze society. They lose awareness. When

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something goes wrong people start looking for solutions, only then does social change occur. (O’Shaughnessy, 1999: 3) This begs the question; does the media affect people or do people influence the media? If one takes into account the ban on cigarette smoking in the media especially in advertising in South Africa. There will be different viewpoints. Some will maintain that it has curbed smoking while others will say that more youngsters than ever are smoking. This reflects O’Shaughnessy’s viewpoints about differing viewpoints on the media’s influence ” The media is the mirror of our society, our morals, values and social issues are reflected in it” or “ that the media forms our values for us, thereby affecting our actions”. A discussion on these differing viewpoints follows. Wark (1994) argues that the media changes and constructs events; they do not just purely reflect them. Princess Diana’s funeral and death was extensively represented in the media, but the media build it up into something more, constructing rather than just reflecting. O’Shaughnessy on the other hand maintains that the media influences the way we see ourselves and others. It constructs our daily routines. The media formulates a calendar of annual events. Holidays and festivals are industrialized, and it becomes a media event. Mother’s day, Father’s day and Valentine’s Day are three commercialized days that depend on people buying and sending cards and presents. The media are transmitters and publicists of these events. “Sport and media are closely interlinked. They popularize and fund each other.” (O’Shaughnessy, 1999: 25)

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The academy Awards are popularized by the media, becoming part of everyday conversation. If you do not stay up to date with the winners, you lack social knowledge that leads to social exclusion. Depending on your social category and background you will be judged on your knowledge on these social events. People argue that when we watch something, it encourages us to do or believe something. Daily habits of people have been altered by the evolution of media communication systems. Our lives have become quicker; we can constantly communicate with people. Everyone is exposed to the media. “Suicide Alert on Film” a heading in the West Australian 1997 newspaper raises discussion about the influence of media on society. In the article they were concerned about the suicide scene in the Romeo and Juliet movie. Psychologists believed that this movie promoted and romanticized suicide. They were concerned that the suicide rates would go up during this time and that it should be a major concern to society. Violence and sex are some of the main issues that arise in this category of how media effects us. The argument is made that violence in the media encourages violence in audiences. As per TV news and referred to by the Khumalo in Sunday Times 16 March 2008, 7 year old children playing ‘hit me, hit me, rape me, rape me’ game. At this age they can only be mimicking what was viewed on TV. Sex portrayed by the media is influencing and corrupting audiences. Inconclusive research on media effects does not stop people from suggesting that criminal acts have been committed after watching footage in the media of violence and pornography. It is also argued that increased censorship is not necessarily the answer. We are rational beings and we know what is real and what is fiction.

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“Censorship seems like the logical answer to better this situation. “ (O’Shaughnessy, 1999: 28) According to Nicholas (1998.30) “If censorship is legalized it would restrict social and political issues and repress the community. The media tries to control excesses”. A talented journalist was “sacked” as editor of the “People” magazine after printing images of Prince William having a ‘Pee in the park’, horrific images of air crash casualties and images of a dying Sammy Davis Junior. Her shock therapy in her work cost her her job. Censorship has in the past been used by governments to control public conscience. In Turkey the public broadcaster was traditionally under government control. After the start of globalization deregulation has promoted some public open-mindedness. (Curran, 2000: 12) Rapid advance in media industries is occurring after globalization, deregulation and privatization. The freedom and diversity of the media is being unlimited by new technologies of information. (Negroponte, 1996) It is believed by that general human prosperity can be achieved by supporting and embracing new technology. As technology becomes more affordable and mass produced it creates endless opportunities for individuals to access various forms of communication. State control is decreasing due to new technology opening up communication possibilities. No single organization is now dominating the media, private or public. Until recently, censorship was strongly recognized in various institutional forms in even the most complex democratic societies. The change in social attitudes and societal controls damaged the existence and power of censorship in many democracies in the mid-20th century. (Konvitz. 2008: introduction)

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Some people feel that artistic creativity is weakened by censorship. In the 1990’s the police drama, “Dalziel and Pascoe” airing on BBC network had to submit scripts to the swearing department before it was allowed to be filmed. Dalziel was an old-style policeman who had to swear like an old-style copper. The scripts were censored; all the “f…s” were taken out because it was banned on BBC1, all swear words were replaced with alternatives. E.g. “Wankers was replaced by “tossers”. Reality TV programs sensationalize violence and this is criticized by media analysts. TV reality programs “Jackass” and “Af” show real people committing violent and aggressive acts. Where do we draw the censorship line and to what audience? There are some sections that need protection. Richard Hoggart (1995) says in his book “The Way We Live Now” that in democratic societies we must tolerate a large quantity of exploitation. But when is it enough? Hoggart says it is enough when there is a risk of damaging susceptible groups like the old, mentally ill and children. Behavioural troubles have been noted in society by exposure to the media. Copycat crimes are performed similar to some crimes revealed in the media. In the “Guardian” newspaper Oct 1996 it was reported that a woman had to move house eleven times in ten years because her children were uncontrollable. She explained when they looked at “Rambo” they started playing with knives and guns, carrying them around in their socks. Then after watching “Oliver” they started pick pocketing and when they saw Mutant Ninja Turtles they started climbing down the drains to meet the ‘turtles’. (Nicholas. 1998: 30) An estimation on viewer behaviour was recently made. An American child that watches an advantage of three hours of television a day will have seen 8000 murders and 100 000 acts of violence within 12 years. It is difficult for children to make a distinction between fiction and non-fiction.

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“There is an increase in violence in schools from drive-by shootings to sexual harassment. The media are blamed for these acts.” (Lester. 2006: 340) “People who feel much anger and violence in the real world, will want to watch a lot of violence in the media. It does not help that they censor the media; the deeper problem must be delt with in society and must be examined to see the real causes of violence and anger.“ (O’Shaughnessy. 1999: 29) It is argued that the amount of violence in media increases the fear of crime which society feels. “A distorted sense of the dangers in our world is created by the portrayal of violence in the media.” (Nicholas. 1998: 29) The National Viewers and Listeners Association argue that explicit sex in the media undermines family and married life by cheapening relationships. This association believes that an improvement can be made by reinforcing a moral tone in programs. The BBC says the most outstanding examples of the portrayal of sexual relationships are achieved without explicit scenes. Images of sexuality have the same argument. The social problem needs to be fixed; censorship will not make these problems disappear.

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In diagram 1 “popular common sense” is separate from the other categories,” media producer”, “media text” and “media audiences”. Stories are constructed by media producers; these stories reflect society’s beliefs and values. Audiences are influenced and affected by the stories they see in the media. Popular common sense is thereby created by the influences media have on society. (O’Shaughnessy. 1999: 30) The social beliefs of society, the popular common sense, is produced by the media, but the media on the other hand is influenced by societal values which they then reflect in the media. It would seem as if no definite conclusion on this paradox can be formulated. Both influence each other.

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REFERENCE LIST

O’Shaughnessy, M. 1999. Media and Society, an Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dyer, R. 1993. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London & New York: Routledge

Curran, J. 2000. Media Organisations in Society. London: Arnold

Hoijer, B. 1992. Media Culture and Society, ‘Socio-cognitive Structures and Television Reception’. Publisher Unknown

Wark, M. 1994. Virtual Geography: Living with Global Media Events. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

West Australian Newspaper 22 February 1997 “Suicide Alert on Film”.

Khumalo.16 March 2008.Sunday Times Newspaper. ‘Hit me, hit me, rape me, rape me’

Lester. P M, 2006, Visual Communication Images With Messages, 4th Edition. United States: Thomson Wadsworth.

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Nicholas, J. & Price, J. 1998. Advanced Studies In Media. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd.

Hoggart, R. 1995. The Way We Live Now. Chatto & Windus. No Publisher

Konvitz, M.R. 2003, Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Delux 2004, Censorship

Negroponte, N. (1996) ‘Being Local’, Wired .No Publisher

WEBSITES

Adbusters, The Magazine Mar-Apr 2008, The Conquest Of Cool,[Online] Available: http://adbusters.org/the_magazine/76/The_Request_of_Cool.html [25/02/2008]

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