Marxism and Pluralism Views on Media

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The mass media is an extremely integral part of society as it consumes and influences our everyday lives, whether we are conscious of it or not. Whether it is through the Internet, television, newspapers, advertisements or the radio, we are constantly bombarded by mass media. As Burton observes, the main power of the media lies in the fact that it can shape what we know about the world and can be a main source of ideas and opinions (2002:2). As the media continues to compel such power over socialisation, many researchers have set out to perceive the power of the mass media (Curran, Gurevitch, Woollacott 2006:1). This essay will discuss these theories, namely the liberal-pluralist and Marxist approaches as well as the role of media in society according to these approaches.

Marxism takes the view that media has an undisputable influence over society and that this helps preserve differences of power between social groups based on class, race and gender. (Burton, 2002:48). The Marxist approach stresses the power of the media to control people in society, based on the ‘base-superstructure’ model in Marxist thought. (Marsh & Melville, 2008:27). The base-superstructure model is made up of a base, being an economic base or infrastructure which provides the basic needs of life and the super structure, which comprises of the rest of society, including ones family and education system, as well as the mass media. (Marsh, etal, 2008:27) The base, which entails all aspects of the material world, comes first, and the superstructure depends on this economic base. (Marsh, etal, 2008:27) In terms of the media, the Marxist theorists would emphasise the power of the economy to determine the content of the media, and thereby, to influence public agendas. (Marsh, etal, 2008:27)

The Frankfurt school, was comprised of left-leaning, Marxist- influenced intellectuals, namely, Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin and Marcuse, these learners believed that mass popular culture was sapping creative thinking, reducing individual freedom and promoting false wants through consumerism. (Williams, 2001:27) It was not until the 1960’s that the scholars of The Frankfurt School’s work and ideas become widely disseminated (Williams, 2001: 27). They identified with various forms of high culture such as symphony music, high art and literature as having innate value.(Williams, 2001:27). They were critical of mass media and much of their writing focused on mass media in the face of high culture (Williams, 2001: 27). They were skeptical that high culture could be reproduced by mass media. (Williams, 2001:27). For instance, as Adorno argued, neither radio, nor records could reproduce the authentic sound and experience of hearing a live orchestra (Williams, 2001:27). ‘Cultural Industries’-which referred to the role of mass culture shaping the individual in mass society, became an important term in cultural studies in the post-war period. (Williams, 2007:27). Herbert Marcusse argued that Capitalism was responsible for the creation of false needs, false consciousness and mass culture, which enslaved working people. (Williams, 2001:27). This is consistent with Marx’s theory, according to Marx, the capitalist class control the ‘production and distribution of ideas’ because of their control of the ‘means of material production’ (Williams, 2001:37)

The Political Economy Approach is rooted in the Marxist theory, which focuses primarily on the relationship between the economic structure and dynamics of media industries and the ideological content of media (Mcquail, 2010:96). In other words, the media is considered part of the economic system, with close links to the political system (Mcquail, 2010:96). The Political Economy Approach suggests that the primary product of the media is really audience (Mcquail, 2010:96). This refers to the media having the primary intention to shape the behaviour of the public in certain and distinctive ways (Mcquail, 2010:96). For...
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