Media & Society: A Critical Perspective/Mass Communication: Living in a Media World

Article excerpt

Books

* Berger, Arthur Asa (2003). Media & Society: A Critical Perspective. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, pp. 256.

* Hanson, Ralph (2004). Mass Communication: Living in a Media World. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ralph Hanson begins his book Mass Communication: Living in a Media World with an apt metaphor to describe the challenge facing scholars who write about media and society today. He employs Jon Krakauer's attempt to experience and write about climbing Mount Everest with other journalists and the ensuing deaths of eight climbers as an entrypoint to discuss the complexities and consequences of living in a media world.

Climbing Mount Everest strikes me as an appropriate way to describe the challenge facing both Hanson and Arthur Asa Berger as they try to make sense of the mountain of literature under the media and society umbrella in a pedagogically coherent and comprehensive manner. It is a mammoth task and one that both authors accomplish admirably within their own theoretical frameworks. They seamlessly cover topics that run from media economics and structures to representations, the impact of technology, law, ethics, and advertising. Indeed, a main merit of both books is that they offer an impressive overview of a large field that straddles many disciplines.

However, while both texts deliver on their attempts to introduce students to the mediated world that they inhabit, the limitations of their approaches are apparent in the first few pages.

"Consider Howard's day as a sophomore in college," starts Hanson's Mass Communication: Living in a Media World. Berger begins Media SSociety: A Critical Perspective with: "One night in 2003, a young college student-let's call him Johnny Q. Public-turned on his television set to watch an episode of Friends."

While the two authors should be applauded for trying to engage with student audiences through data that highlight the relevance of media to their daily lives, the choice of these anecdotes suggests that both texts suffer from a lack of feminist engagement. Indeed, the fact that both leads-to borrow a journalistic term-identify young male readers indicates that these books might benefit from some critical analyses of their own.

I must admit that as a feminist scholar, I was concerned about the gendered assumptions implicit in these introductions. If the authors were trying to mimic the masculinist representations inherent in some mainstream media texts, they succeeded. If not, their approaches, while thoughtful and relevant additions in most respects, need to be questioned on how they conform to gender stereotyping in the media.

Part of the blame can be laid at the door of the wide-ranging demands of writing an introductory textbook. When authors attempt to survey a large field or network of fields like media and communications studies, it is reasonable to assume that some issues will invariably be left behind.

However, when two communications textbooks from different theoretical perspectives begin with similar gendered anecdotes, it begs the question of whether there is a larger problem within communications studies. Or, more specifically, whether these examples reflect a discipline that pays attention to media and gender but has yet to recognize feminist critique in its own pedagogical practices. …