Society is constantly exposed to various forms of media, be it television, radio, newspapers or the growing internet, that portray either constructed or natural images of events and issues that consequently influence our view of the world, our behaviour and our leisure pursuits. The extent to which individuals are either passive or active in recognising this significant influence on their leisure lifestyle are discussed throughout this essay from the perspectives of two sociological theories in relation to three core concepts concerning the media and society. The role of power between the media and society in relation to how the media chooses to depict events will be discussed through both a critical theory and post-foundational theoretical view point; the underlying signification of the media’s images will be discussed through a critical theoretical view point and the effects of globalisation on the media landscape and thus society will be discussed through a post-foundational view point. These concepts are discussed through these sociological theories in order to determine the responsibilities professionals working in the field of leisure need to manage in addressing the media’s significant influence on leisure.
Critical theory is a sociological theory which argues that “social reality (is) the product of people giving meaning to events and objects” (Bessant & Watts 2002, p. 41). That there are certain individuals or groups in society, like the media, who have power and utilize this power by controlling what society perceives as objective reality (Habermas 1971) in order to further the notion of a capitalist society. Critical theorists believe that by exposing and promoting only certain leisure activities, the media are limiting the choice of consumers to only those leisure activities which our sellable (Clarke & Critcher 1985) and thus forcing society to be passive in deciding their leisure activities. Post-foundationalism is a sociological theory that rejects the idea that there is a singularly truth regarded by society as reality and rather “emphasise(s) the idea of multiple knowledges, ethical and moral rules, and the multiple forms that social and political movements can take (Bessant & Watts 2002, p. 42). Post-foundationalists recognise the critical perspective that the media can be biased and controlling in what leisure activities they promote, but they identify that society still has the ability to be active in deciding what leisure activities they are exposed to and involved in by analysing and interpreting the media’s images through exposing themselves to new media outlets, like the internet, which offers a wide range of different perspectives on leisure activities or by actively participating in a range of different leisure activities available.
A critical theory perspective argues that power is a “restrictive influence on our freedom to act as we please” (Rojek 1985, p.151) based on the notion of hegemony where there is one group in society which achieves domination or superiority of its ideas and values through cultural practices and permits (Gramsci 2001). They view the media as one of these groups who uses their power to maintain control over society by promoting leisure activities that reinforces the values of the elite and manipulating consumers to be passive and accepting of the images that are exposed to them in order to help maintain their power and control over society and fulfil their desire for profit. Herbert Marcuse reflects on this issue of how individual’s thinking becomes passive to the manipulation of the media:
With the concentration of economic and political power and the integration of opposites in a society which uses technology as an instrument of domination, effective dissent is blocked where it could freely emerge: in the formation of opinion, in information and communication (1971, p. 148-149).
Marcuse refers to the concept called signification, which outlines that...
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