Media and Society: Critical Perspectives

By Graeme Burton | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

This book is intended to help student readers on degree courses and modules which are concerned with media studies, and, to some extent, with the study of cultures. I want to offer a few remarks about the position that I am coming from, and where I hope you may go to through using this text.

I take a holistic and dynamic view of the relationships between media and society. That is to say, while I present a range of views and debates about the media in this book, I do not really subscribe to pessimistic opinions about the influence of media on society. Nor do I go along with what I regard as over-optimistic views about audience autonomy and power. It seems to me that the media exist in an evolving and difficult relationship with their audiences, and indeed with institutions of the state. The relationship is dynamic in that it is evolving and changing. I also believe that it is possible for different critical positions to coexist. It is possible to be sceptical about the motives and behaviours of economically powerful media institutions. At the same time, it is possible to be optimistic about the effects of regulatory control in Britain, and about the capacity of audiences and society to resist the forces of commodification, and to generate a culture as much as to have it imposed on them.

I feel much the same way about how we should understand and use key concepts. The book is (fairly traditionally) predicated on the importance of institution, text and audience. But I see ideas about ideology, discourse, hegemony, mythologies, genres – to mention only a few examples – as coexisting in the space of ‘meaning production’. You will find that this book keeps returning to these concepts, and develops ideas about the relationship between them. It seems to me that every kind of analysis keeps returning one to ways in which ideas and meanings are generated, and then to ideas about the power of these meanings. The media industries are meaning producers. All acts of communication produce meanings. It is the power of these meanings, what we do with them, that shapes relationships, exercises influence, models reality, generates behaviours of domination and feelings of subordination. So major concepts may be equally significant, and exist within a network of relationships with each other.

Media texts are full of representations. Media institutions exist, when it comes down to it, to manufacture representations (and their ideas) which they then turn into cash in a process of material exchange. But, of course, as we consume comics or television programmes, we are also part of a process of cultural exchange. The exchange is indeed one of ideas about the world, about ourselves. In a dynamic model, these keep developing and shifting and moving around. Some ideas are more persistent than others (stereotypes). But it is an exciting world out there, where the media keep generating, recombining, repeating ideas, even if this is mainly in the cause of commerce.

I take a similarly holistic view of the ‘big ideas’ about connections between the

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