Theories of Mass Media and its Social Impacts,
1950 – 1970.
By Scott D. Herrington
Since the invention of technologies such as the telegraph, radio and eventually television, which enabled communications “produced at a single source [to be] transmitted to an infinitely large audience” (Fearing, F. 1954), the social impacts of communications via mass media have been a subject of intense research by political and social scientists. This literature review intends to examine the major theories and perspectives on mass media with regard to its impact on society, which existed throughout the 1950’s and 70’s. Special attention will be given to the subjects of human social development, distribution of power, and human knowledge.
Human social development has, without doubt, transformed since the introduction of mass media technologies. Before mass transmission capabilities were available, humans were very rarely exposed to anything other than the culture of their immediate surroundings. A widely supported view held, as to how communities learn a culture, is through a process of symbolic interaction (Blumer, H. 1969) where humans learn via the sharing of symbols. Fearing (1954) refers to this process as the sharing of “daydreams”, which are the literary or dramatic manifestations of a community’s symbols and culture. Every ‘daydream’ contains the symbols of the culture that produced it, whether it be a play or story. By passing on and sharing these ‘daydreams’, a community are able to share in the same culture, as they create familiar frameworks with which to reference their social lives. As Gerbner (1967) points out, before mass media, human interaction was almost entirely interpersonal, in relative isolation, meaning human experience and knowledge was limited to their immediate community environment, with information being passed down from person to person. The influence of the mass media begins to become apparent as Fearing (1952) points out the fact that...
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