Feminism was suffering a crisis that provoked a massive reassessment of popular culture: Naremore and Branlinger (1991: 256) report that “the women’s movement emerged with an intransigent hostility to mass culture, denouncing, satirizing and criticizing the popular paraphernalia of the feminine such as beauty pageants, fashion, Hollywood cinema and advertising. ” It sought “new forms, new languages and new images for women’s experience to construct new public spheres.
” It is feats of individualist culture that bring about a realisation of the “pseudo-individualism, stereotypes and baleful effects of cultural commodification and reification” (Kellner 1997: 1) that the media proliferate. But are these effects such a challenging hurdle for people to see through? Statistics suggest we are aware of the discrepancy that exists between what goes on around us, and what is reported. The idea that we are simply duped into believing everything is deconstructed by Lagerfeld’s study of voting behaviour.
He found that very few citizens change their voting intentions despite massive media driven election campaigns (Lazersfeld, Berelson and Gaudet 1968). The work of social scientist Michel de Certeau focused on the way audiences resist the constructions of reality preferred by the mass media, and construct their own, often oppositional meanings for media texts. In his study known as ‘reception analysis’, he suggests “that audiences are active producers of meaning, not consumers of media meaning. They decode media texts in ways that are related to their social and cultural circumstances” (Totosy do Zepetnek 1999: 1).
There is a great impression by the general public and those who are professionally involved in the industry that the mass media has a dramatic direct impact on its audience, yet the considerable amount of empirical research aimed to prove this, has upturned very little evidence (McGuire 1997: p. 279). Some argue that the notion of the masse is incorrect, and that the mass is simply an abstract creation of the culture industry. Williams (1983: 300) claims that “there are no masses, but only ways of seeing masses.
” Fiske develops on this argument in his stark denial of the mass man and his enslavement to the culture industry: “a homogenous, externally produced culture cannot be sold ready-made to the mass: culture simply does not work like that. Nor do the people behave or live like the masses – an aggregation of alienated, one-dimensional persons whose only consciousness is false, whose only relationship is to the system that enslaves them as unwitting (if not willing) dupes. Popular culture is made by the people, not produced by the culture industry” (Totosy do Zepetnek – web).
The supply of news has become as necessary as the supply of food or fuel, and its supply is met, and distribution organized in much the same way. The problem is that there are not other sources other than the media, so the power available to those in control is often theorised as a media conspiracy to make us act in a certain way or adhere to certain values aside from those of our better judgment. The ease with which we can move decontextualised information over such vast distances has given the media the ability to create and distort information without the audience even noticing.
Their manufactured novelties and planned sensations have given rise to a climate of such hyperreality that perhaps we have forgotten what is really real, or conceivably the real has distorted to become what we now believe it to be. The media is effectively a language – a means of communication that due to its arbitrary nature has such a range of implications, subtexts and overtones. Culture may be a distraction for some of us from seeing the true state we live in, but we all have the power and freedom to interpret the media as we like.
Many of us do see past the distortion the media likes to create, yet statistics show “that belief in large media effects cannot be supported” (Berger 1995:73), “it may (however) be best to assume that we simply have not yet been able to figure out how to prove or accurately measure these effects” Berger 1995: 75). “We cannot see or know anything except by the interposition of an artificial medium” (Cassirer 1956: 43), and the “media of communication (is always going to be a dominant influence on the formation of a culture’s intellectual and social preoccupations” (Postman 1987: 9)
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