Handbook of Health Communication

By Teresa L. Thompson; Alicia M. Dorsey et al. | Go to book overview

25
Popular Media and Health:
Images, Effects, and Institutions
Kimberly N. Kline
Southern Illinois University
Department of Speech Communication

Each year in the USA, the average person is likely to spend about 84 hours reading magazines, 165 hours reading newspapers, 480 hours accessing the Internet (Heath, 1997), and/or 1,248 hours watching television (TV Free America, 2000).

The average American is likely to spend less than one hour per year in a doctor's office.1

As the use of health, illness and medicine to attract audiences and advertising revenue escalates (Radley, Lupton, & Ritter, 1997), advertisement, entertainment, and news media are increasingly becoming saturated with health messages.2 Today most networks

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1
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Woodwell, 2000), individuals visited a physician on average of 3.1 times in 1998 (p. 3) and the mean duration for visits at which the physician was seen was 18.8 minutes (p. 13).
2
For clarity, references to “the popular mass media” in this chapter refer to the domains of advertising, news, and entertainment and not to promotional messages. Frankly, this is a somewhat tenuous distinction. The term popular media is a conflation of the terms mass media and popular culture. Certainly, health promotion messages are delivered through mass media channels; but is this popular media? Grossberg, Wartella, and Whitney (1998) distinguished between popular culture and mass culture by suggesting that the former “somehow speaks to people's experience or…at least allows people the freedom to interpret the text to fit their experiences” while the latter is “assumed to come from the top down, given to the people whether they like it or not” (p. 38). Arguably, this would suggest that health promotion falls in the category of mass culture, not popular culture. However, Grossberg, Wartella, and Whitney's discussion implied dubious motives to the producers of mass culture, an attribution I do not wish to make to health promoters. Moreover, I believe a case could be made that people can and do interpret health promotion messages to fit their experiences. Essentially, my use of the term popular media as distinguished from promotional media presumes nothing other than the absence of communication identifiably and strategically designed for a definable health campaign goal.

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