Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches

By Gary Taylor; Steve Spencer | Go to book overview
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Mass Media

Barry King

Traditional approaches to the relationship between the mass media and identity, whether considering an individual or collective level, have tended to assume that the effect of the mass media is to undermine the connection between the individual and her immediate context of life. Thus in the historical development of media theory, a strongly established theme is that the overall impact of the mass media leads to the fragmentation of collective consciousness, eroding or impeding the emergence of an awareness of the structural realities of class, race, gender and ethnicity and sexual orientation. Despite some internal variation, the dominant research traditions - direct influence theories and uses and gratifications both conjure an opposition between the media and the individual consumer/spectator implying that these factors are in someway independent of each other. In the theory of Mass Culture and its Marxist variants, the individual brings to her interaction with the media, a fixed identity that is then dissolved into a structurally indeterminate mass identity which causes the individual to conceive of her self as enclosed monad with private needs and desires that eventuate in an attitude of escape, loss of responsibility and self indulgence. Through the tutelage of the mass media the individual develops a mass consciousness which, in the Marxist variant, is a false consciousness based on the denial of the reality of class relationships. For cultural conservatives on the other hand, mass consciousness is a condition of decadence through which cultural standards essential to the good society are debased and corrupted by immediate self-gratification. 8

In the uses and gratifications paradigm, by contrast, the consumers' needs have been conceptualised as autonomous and sovereign, existing independently from the 'encounter with the media'. However considerable the power of the media to structure perception, the individual is securely anchored in primary group relations, which, through the influence of opinion leaders, serve to filter out media influence (see Gitlin, 1978:205-253 for a demonstration that Katz and Lazarsfeld's Personal Influence (1955) does not rule out of more direct media effects).

8 These latter complementary positions almost universally condemned in professional literature as simplistic are by no means dead as the writings of Harold Bloom indicate.


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Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches


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