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Social Problems
Darryl Hall
Department of Sociology
University of Nevada, Reno

Mass Media

Mass Media – print, radio, television, and other communication technologies

- Of the 8,760 hours in a year, the average American spends 3,440 of them (39.3%) interacting with the mass media. People spend more time watching television, listening to the radio, going to the movies, reading newspapers, playing CDs, using the Internet, and so forth, than they do in any other single endeavor, including sleeping, working, eating, or talking with friends and family.

- The average American spends a total of $685.18 on the mass media each year.

- The mass media are significant agents of socialization. Much of reality—including clothing and hair styles, as well as one’s hopes, dreams, aspirations, and fears—are generated by the media.

Corporate Megamergers

Media concentration refers to the tendency of the media industries to cluster together in groups with the goal of enhancing profitability. Examples of big media conglomerates include:

News Corp – includes Avon Books; British Sky Broadcasting; Fox Broadcasting Company; Fox News Channel; Fox Television Stations; FX Networks; HarperCollins; Los Angeles Dodgers; New York Post; William Morrow Publishing

AOL Time Warner – includes America Online; Atlanta Braves; Atlanta Hawks; Book of the Month Club; Cartoon Network; CNN; Sports Illustrated; Fortune; In Style; Little, Brown and Company; New Line Cinema; Parenting; People; Southern Living; TBS Superstation; Time; Turner Network Television; Warner Brothers Studio Stores; Warner Music Group; World Championship Wrestling

Walt Disney – includes ABC Radio and Television Networks; Discover magazine; Disneyland Resort; Go Network; Hyperion Books; Los Angeles magazine; Miramax Films; Walt Disney Studios; The Disney Store; Mighty Ducks of Anaheim; Anaheim Angels; Touchstone Pictures; also, partial owners of ESPN, Lifetime TV, E! Entertainment TV, and the History Channel

• Many analysts believe that the convergence of the mass media has reduced the amount of message pluralism, the broad and diverse representation of opinion and culture, available to the public.

Perpetuation of Race and Gender Stereotypes in the Media

• Although a growing number of media consumers are not members of the dominant racial or ethnic groups or of the privileged classes, some media may reinforce racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes and even create new ones.

• A stereotype is an overgeneralization about the appearance, behavior or other characteristics of all members of a group.

Racial and ethnic stereotyping often involves one or more of the following:

1) Perpetuating images that appear to be positive in nature and thus flattering to members of a specific racial or ethnic group. For example, some stereotypes attribute superior traits, such as being “naturally” better at activities such as sports or mathematics to members of one racial or ethnic group.

2) Exaggerating the physical appearance of subordinate group members or suggesting that all people in a specific category “look alike.”

3) Creating racial or ethnic characters who have undesirable attributes, ranging from laziness and unwillingness to work to lack of intelligence.

4) Using statements and visual images that link subordinate racial or ethnic group members to illegal actions, such as gang or organized crime activity, prostitution, drug dealing, or other deviant or criminal conduct.

Some studies of female roles in television programs and films have shown the following:

1) The intertwining of gender and age bias
2) The perpetuation of traditional roles for women and the maintenance of cultural stereotypes of femininity
3) Impulsive conduct by women holding professional positions
4) Women in positions of power as abusing their positions
5) Women overwhelmed by their work

Aggression, Violence, and the Media

• Violence is portrayed in music lyrics, music videos, video games, cartoons, television shows, and movies. A 1996 report found that 85 percent of premium channel shows, 59 percent of basic cable shows, and 44 percent of broadcast channel shows included at least one act of violence.

• Such media images may desensitize individuals to violence and serve as models for violent behavior. Exposure to television violence is associated with increased aggressive behavior and decreased sensitivity to the pain and suffering of others.

• There are a number of ways to understand the connection between mass media images and real-life violence:

1) Although most scholars do not believe that the media directly cause aggressive behavior in people, some studies have shown a relationship between short-term aggressive behavior and media depictions of violence.

2) Other studies have suggested that the media may actually prevent acts of violence by providing people with an outlet for pent-up feelings and emotions. According to this cathartic effect hypothesis, the media offer people a vicarious outlet for feelings of aggression and thus may reduce the amount of violence engaged in by the media consumer.

3) Still other analysts have suggested that continual depictions of violence tend to desensitize viewers and create values that contribute to aggressive behavior and feelings of fear and frustration.

Theories of Media Effects

1) Functionalism – Functionalists examine the functions performed by the mass media that help to maintain social stability:

a) Coordination – The nationwide distribution of newspapers, magazines, movies, and television shows cements the large, socially diverse, and geographically far-flung population of the United States.

b) Socialization – Once the exclusive domain of the family, the mass media are now significant agents of socialization; they reinforce shared ideals (e.g., democracy, competition, justice) and transmit messages about norms, values, and social roles.

c) Social Control –The mass media help to ensure conformity by paying much attention to crime and praising those who apprehend and convict criminals. By exposing deviants and showcasing law enforcement officials and model citizens, the mass media reinforce ideas about what kinds of people deserve punishment and what kinds of people deserve rewards.

d) Entertainment – The mass media give us pleasure, relaxation, and momentary escape from the tension and tedium of everyday life. They relieve stress in a way that does not threaten the social order.

2) Conflict Theory – Conflict theorists argue that some people benefit from the mass media more than others. In particular, the mass media favor the interests of dominant classes and political groups in two ways:

a) Ownership of the mass media is highly concentrated in the hands of a small number of people and is highly profitable for them. Thus, the mass media are a source of economic inequality.

b) The mass media broadcast beliefs, values, and ideas that create widespread acceptance of the basic structure of society, including its injustices and inequalities. A process of legitimization takes place as media consumers are continually provided with information that supports the validity of existing class relations. This perspective is sometimes referred to as hegemony theory – the view that the media are instruments of social control and are used by members of the ruling classes to create “false consciousness” in the working classes.