Media and Culture

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The issue of the relationship between the mass media and the popular culture has always been a controversial issue in social sciences. While the political economists insist on the role of the media industry in the creation of this phenomenon of the twentieth century, its advocates such as John Fiske argue that popular culture is actually the creation of the populus itself, and is independent of the capitalist production process of the communication sector. Basing his argument on the immense interpretive power of the people, Fiske believes that the audience are able to break all the indented meanings within a media message, and by giving new meanings to that specific message they can oppose the power bloc that is trying to impose its ideology to the public. Consequently, this anarchistic activity of the audience creates the popular culture as a defense mechanism. Even when we accept Fiske's ideas, we can not disregard the manipulative power of the media and its effects on cultural and social life. Everyday, we are exposed to millions of different visual messages which tell us what to eat, what to wear, what to listen and what to watch. No matter how hard we try to avoid being influenced by these directives, only up to a certain point we can protect ourselves, and after that, no interpretive power can be helpful. Media, then leads us to a path that ends up in the same department store with our neighbor, with whom we have probably never talked before, but holding the same pair of socks or CDs, and we might never want to recall the TV commercial that had opened the gates of this path. United States is the biggest economical power in the world today, and consequently has also the strongest and largest media industry. Therefore, it is essential to take a look at the crucial relationship between the media and the popular culture within the social context of the United States for a better understanding of the issue. For a simpler analysis of the subject we shall divide the media industry into three main branches: Entertainment, News and Commercials (which is the essential device for the survival of the industry, and shall be considered in integration with Entertainment). Researches have shown that the most popular reason behind TV viewing is relaxation and emptying the mind. Therefore, the entertainment programs, being the only choice for relaxation, are the most effective tools of influence, since during these programs the viewers are least busy with conscious mental activities. The TV series (mostly soap operas) are the most popular programs within the entertainment group. The easiness of viewing them is the reason behind their popularity. Each of them is created for a certain type of audience profile: housewives, working men, teenagers, children etc. Within these categories they are also divided according to social and economical bases. While Dallas would appeal to any average American, Thirty-something would mostly be popular among the yuppies, and Young and Restless among the housewives. However, this distribution is not intended to satisfy the viewer, but to satisfy the advertisers. Since, lets say an importer of French vines, is sure that mostly the viewers with high income and luxurious tastes would be watching Thirty-something, he can confidently advertise in the commercial breaks of this program, rather than of Married with Children. However, the most striking characteristic of the series does not come from their commercialist structure and their power of encouraging consumerism, but from the cult that they create. In November 1980, 70 million Americans turned on their televisions to learn the murderer of J.R in the Dallas series, and after the show, 150 TV stations 3500 professional and 2500 amateur radio stations announced the murderer in the news headlines and broadcasted commentaries about the issue. During the specific episode of the series, a one minute commercial was sold for 500...
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