The cultural imperialist perspective on media globalisation

Cultural imperialists tend to see globalisation as a one way processes, mainly the spread of American power and values to other parts of the world. The cultural imperialist perspective focuses on the negative effects which media globalisation has on local populations.

It is a Marxist theory, aligned with the neo-Marxist perspective of ownership and control and the cultural effects theory of audience effects. It contrasts with the postmodern perspective on the globalisation of the media.

 

Global media keeps capitalism going

It does in three main ways:

  • By generating false needs, mainly through advertising – which encourage people to see relatively high levels of consumption as the norm.
  • Through encouraging conspicuous consumption – the wide circulation of programmes about the wealthy mean people tend to to think the average level of consumption is higher than the real world norm.
  • Through commodity fetishism – especially relevant in the age of new media: people increasingly tend to see their smartphones as extenstions of themselves

Media globalisation is Americanisation

Americanisation is a process where America imposes its cultural products on other nations and local cultures. There are several examples of this – Hollywood movies, various sitcoms, sporting events but also advertising.

Cultural imperialists see the effects of Americanisation as being negative. They argue it results in the erosion of local cultures and traditions, as, for example, children around the world increasingly choose American fast foods over locally produced and cooked foods.

Mcdonalidization is also part of cultural globalisation – as working practices become more rationalised, and more focussed on standardised ways of working to promote efficiency of production.

Finally, it can also be argued that Americanization has resulted in a backlash, as with the rise of Fundamentalism.

The political consequences of Americanisation

As with the economic and cultural aspects of globalisation, cultural imperialists also see the political consequences in negative terms.

The spread of data surveillance threatens democracy as governments increasingly use social media data to manipulate populations to vote as they want them to.

Finally, the sue of Smartphones has a ‘dumbing down’ effects, as people are constantly distracted by waves of trivial information.

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Analyse two reasons why the media portray minority ethnic groups negatively. [10 marks]

Read Item M below and answer the question that follows.

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Applying material from Item M, analyse two reasons why the media often portray minority ethnic groups negatively. [10 marks]

Commentary on the question

A non-standard question about representations, focusing on ‘why’ rather than on ‘how’ one group is represented. There are two clear hooks in the item – the first about power and the second just about difference, suggesting that candidates make two points – one from a broadly hegemonic perspective, the other focussing on the public/ pluralism.  Remember that you can pick up marks for evaluating in this type of 10 mark ‘with item’ question.

Before reading the answer you might like to review the material on ethnicity and representation, and some of the theories of ownership and control such as Pluralism, Instrumental Marxism and Hegemonic Marxism, all of which can be applied to this question.

Answer

The first reason why minority groups are represented negatively is because they have different values/ beliefs and practices from ‘mainstream’ society and are perceived by the wider public as not being fully integrated into the ‘British way of life’. The public at large is thus prejudiced against ethnic minorities, and anything which seems to threaten British identity.

By focusing on negative representations of minorities – Islamic terrorists, benefit claiming immigrants, Romanian beggars, for example, newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Mail can sell more newspapers and make more profit – it is easier to do this by perpetuating stereotypes compared to running stories which challenge such negative representations.

It is relatively easy for papers to find stories about ethnic minorities which have many news values because some ethnic minorities do engage in activities which are ‘shocking’, and it’s maybe understandable why newspapers may choose not to publish stories in which minority groups are just ‘being British’ – because there’s nothing ‘newsworthy’ about such stories.

This theory fits in with the pluralist view – newspapers aren’t deliberately prejudiced against ethnic minorities, they just run stories which reflect public bias to increase profits.

Hegemonic Marxists would argue that ethnic minority groups are represented negatively because they are underrepresented in positions of power – both in society/ government and within the media itself.

According to Stuart Hall, ethnic minorities have been used as scapegoats for society’s larger economic problems – knife crime by black youths in London in the late 1970s was turned into a moral panic by negative reporting in the press, even though the rate of that crime was declining.

In a similar way gang crime today is largely constructed in the media as a black problem, rather than a multi-ethnic phenomenon.

A further reason why such negative representations are so common could be the lack of black voices among media professionals, meaning the white majority just go along with the racial victimization of young black youth by the government and police.

However, such negative representations may be changing in the age of New Media, which gives more power to ethnic minorities to challenge stereotypes and power inequalities in society more directly.

What is concentration of media ownership?

Concentration of media ownership is the trend towards fewer individuals and/ or companies owning a higher proportion of the media.

Increasing concentration of ownership has long been a concern of sociologists. For example, In 2004 Bagdikian pointed out the following trend towards increasing ownership of the media:

  • In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the majority of news media in the USA
  • By 1992, 22 companies owned and operated 90% of the mass media

By 2014, United States media ownership was concentrated mainly in the hands of six companies: Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox/ News Corporation, Time Warner and Viacom

In the United Kingdom in 2017 10 companies received 70% of the revenue generated by all media companies, and 40 companies received 92% of all of the revenue (source: Deloitte media metrics, 2017).

 

The following were the three largest media companies by revenue in the UK in 2017

 

How do we measure concentration of ownership of media? 

Looking at revenue share as the above examples do is only one way of measuring concentration of ownership, however, there are several other ways concentration may be occurring which are not measured simply by looking at how revenue is distributed.

Below I outline several different ways in which media ownership can become more concentrated 

Vertical Integration

Where one company owns all of the stages of production of media products – for example a company owning a film production studio, and the cinema where the film is shown.

Horizontal integration

Where one company diversifies to own more types of media – e.g. when a film production company also gets into book publishing.

Lateral expansion or diversification

When media companies branch out into non media areas – e.g. Virgin Media getting into trains and insurance.

Global Conglomeration

Where companies in one country buy up companies in other countries. News Corp, for example, owns media outlets in several different countries.

Synergy

Where a media product is sold in several different forms – often as a form of marketing. For example, a company produces a film for cinema, then a DVD, a T.V. spin off series, a sound track for download, maybe a cartoon strip and some action figures too.

Technological convergence

Where traditional media companies link with IT companies to make sure their media products are available across several different devices.

Final thoughts 

Intuitively it seems likely that there is increasing concentration of ownership, especially with the rise of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, but at the same time it is difficult to say for certain given the complexity of the concept of concentration of ownership

Media representations of social class

How are different social classes represented in the mainstream media? 

This post looks at how the monarchy, the wealthy, the middle classes, working classes and benefits claimaints (‘the underclass’) are represented, focusing mainly on British television and newspaper coverage.

Generally speaking the ‘lower’ the social class, the more negative the media representations are, arguably because the mainstream media professionals disproportionately come from upper middle class backgrounds.

NB Social class is  a tricky concept and you might like to review it here before continuing.

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Representations of the Monarchy

According to Nairn (2019) after WWII the monarchy developed close ties with the media industry and worked with them to reinvent itself as ‘the royal family’ and since then they have been represented in the media as a family that are ‘like us but not like us’, and the narrative of their lives is presented as a soap opera, and is part of our day to day media fabric, which encourages us to identify with the royals.

Media representations of royalty also reinforce a sense of national identity: The Queen is the ultimate figure head of the country and royal events form part of our annual calendar, as well as the fact that royals are often in attendance at other national events, such as sporting events for example.

Media representations of wealth

The very wealthy are generally represented positively in the media, for example Alan Sugar and the Dragons on Dragons Den.

The constant media focus on the lifestyles of wealthy celebrities tends to glamourize such lifestyles, suggesting this is something we should all be aspiring to, rather than focusing on the injustice of how much these people are paid compared to ordinary people.

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Are the wealthy generally represented positively in the media?

The Middle Classes

Middle class (higher income) families seem to be over-represented on day time T.V. especially – in shows such as homes under the hammer, escape to the country and antiques shows featuring typically very high wealth/ income families, and yet presenting them as ‘the norm’.

Most T.V. presenters are middle class, and so they are more likely to identify with middle class guests compared to working class guests, reinforcing the concerns of former as more worthy of attention.

Most journalists and editors are privately educated which means that the news agenda is framed from a middle class point of views.

The working classes

There are relatively few shows which focus on the reality of the lives of working class people.

Mainstream soaps tend to be the most watched representations of the working classes

Jones (2011) suggests the working classes are represented as feckless racists who hate immigration and multiculturalism – coverage of Brexit seems to offer support for this.

Benefits claimants (‘The Underlcass’)

Coverage tends to focus on the poverty of individuals rather than the structural features of society such as government policy which created the underclass.

Media coverage of the underclass is generally negative and they are often scapegoated for society’s problems. Benefits Street is a good example of this.

Please see this extended post for more details on how the media portray benefits claimants in stereotypical ways.

 

 

Media representations of benefits claimants

In this post I summarize some recent sociological research which suggests newspapers and ‘reality T.V. shows represent benefits claimants in a limited range of stereotypical ways, focusing on them as lazy, undeserving scroungers engaged in immoral, wreckless and criminal behaviour.

A lot of the research below also reminds us that media representations in no way reflect the reality of being unemployed and claiming benefits in the UK.

This research is relevant to the A-level sociology media topic: representations of social class.

Stereotypes of benefits claimants in newspaper articles 

Baumberg et al’s (2012) research ‘Benefits Stigma in Britain’ analysed a database of 6,600 national press articles between 1995-2011.

Baumberg et al found an extraordinarily disproportionate focus on benefit fraud: 29% of news stories referenced fraud. In comparison the government’s own estimate is that a mere 0.7% of all benefits claims are fraudulent.

Common language used to describe benefits as ‘undeserving’ included:

  • Fraud and dishonesty (including those such as ‘faking illness’);
  • Dependency (including ‘underclass’ and ‘unemployable’);
  • non-reciprocity/lack of effort (e.g. ‘handouts’, ‘something for nothing’, ‘lazy’, ‘scrounger’); •
  • outsider status (e.g. ‘immigrant’, ‘obese’)

Language used to describe benefits claimants as ‘deserving’ included:

  • need (‘vulnerable’, ‘hard-pressed’);
  • disability (‘disabled’, ‘disability’).

In general, Tabloid newspapers such (especially The Sun) focused on representing benefits claimants as undeserving, while broadsheets such as The Guardian were more likely to focus on representing benefits claimants as ‘deserving’.

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NB – The Sun and The Mail are Britain’s two most widely circulated newspapers. 

Stigmatising benefits claimants

Finally, the study found an increase in articles about benefits claimants which focused on the following stigmatising themes:

  • fraud
  • ‘shouldn’t be claiming’ (for reasons other than fraud)
  • never worked/hasn’t worked for a very long time
  • large families on benefits
  • bad parenting/antisocial behaviour of families on benefits
  • claimants better off on benefits than if they were working
  • claimants better off than workers
  • immigrants claiming benefits

More neutral/ positive themes included:

  • compulsion of claimants (e.g. workfare, benefit conditionality)
  • cuts to benefits
  • need

As with the themes of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, Tabloids produced more stigmatising content than the the broadsheets.

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Stereotypes of benefits claimants in reality T.V. shows 

Ruth Patrick (2017) has analysed the representations of those on benefits and in poverty on reality television shows such as ‘Benefits Street’ and Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole.

The number of such shows has exploded in recent years, but while they claim to provide and honest ‘realistic’ insight into  lives of Britain’s benefit claimants and those living in poverty, Patrick and others argue they are sensationalised and present stereotypical representations of those on welfare.

If we look at the opening scenes for the first series of Benefits Street for example, these featured:

  • sofas on the pavement,
  • men on streets drinking cans of lager,
  • women smoking cigarettes on their doorsteps.

Overall such shows present benefits claimants as lazy shirkers who don’t want to work, and as people who are different to the hard-working majority.

Such shows emphasize the difference between the working majority (‘us’) and the workless minority (‘them’) and invites us to identify ourselves against benefits claimants, and possibly to see claiming benefits as something which is a choice, long term and morally wrong, rather than as something which is a necessity, usually a short term stop-gap before a return work.

This interview with Jordan, who took feature in Benefits Britain as a claimant offers an insight into how negative representations of the unemployed are socially constructed by media professionals:

Jordan claims that he usually keeps his flat tidy, but was told by the producers to deliberately not tidy it up before they came round to shoot, because it would make people feel more sorry for him.

He also claims that the media crew bought alcohol and cigarettes for the shoot, and told the ‘claimants’ that if they didn’t consume them before the shoot was over they’d take them away again, which led to lots of images of the cast drinking and smoking, when Jordan claims he would only usually do this on special occasions.

Relevance of this to A-level Sociology/ Media studies….

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that newspapers and ‘reality’ T.V. present you with the reality of ‘life on benefits’ – in fact both of these sources present highly sensationalised accounts of what it’s like to actually be unemployed.

All of the above research is based on careful content analysis which picks out the main ways in which benefits claimants are stereotyped and thus represented in a limited way.

This post has only focused on representations, forthcoming posts will focus on why mainstream media professionals choose to represent benefits claimants in negative, stereotypical ways.

Sources 

 

Representations of Disability

Sociologists have argued that the media historically represents disabled people in a limited range of stereotypes, such as objects of pity, unable to participate fully in social life, and in need of our help.

Stereotypes of disability

Barnes (1992) identified a number of recurring stereotypes of disabled people including:

  • Pitiable and pathetic – a staple of television documentaries, which often focus on disabled children and the possibilities of miracle cures
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The Elephant Man – an object of pity?
  • Sinister and evil – for example Villains in James Bond movies often have physical impairments
  • Atmospheric or Curio – where disabled people are included in drama to enhance atmosphere of menace, unease, mystery or deprivation.
  • Super-cripples – the disabled are sometimes portrayed as having special powers, for example blind people might be viewed as visionnaires with sixth sense.
  • Sexually abnormal – the media usually treat the disable as having no sense of sexuality, but when they do there are represented as sexually degenerate.
  • Incapable of participating fully in community life – disable people are rarely show as integral and productive members of working society – Barns calls this the stereotype of omission.

Telethons and disability 

Paul Longmore (2016) suggests that telethons historically present disabled children as people who are unable to participate fully in community life (sports/ sexuality) unless they are ‘fixed’.

Telethons put the audience in the position of givers and reinforce the idea that the disable receivers should be dependent on their able bodied donors.

Because telethons are primarily about raising money rather than raising awareness of the reality of being disabled, they may end up reinforcing stereotypes of disabled people.

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Does Children in Need reinforce disability stereotypes?

Newspaper representations of the disabled

Williams-Findlay (2009) examined the content of The Times and The Guardian to see whether the coverage of the disabled had changed between 1989 and 2009.

Williams-Findlay found that the use of stereotypical words had declined in those 20 years, but that stereotypical representations were still present in 2009 because journalists still assumed that disability was ‘tragic’.

Watson et al (2011) compared tabloid media coverage of disability in five newspapers in 2004-5 with coverage in 2010-11 they found that:

  • There had been a significant increase in the reporting of disability
  • The proportion of articles reporting disability in sympathetic and deserving terms had fallen.
  • In 2010-11 the reporting of groups with mental disabilities was particularly negative, often associated with them being welfare scroungers.
  • Articles focusing on disability benefit fraud increased threefold between 2005 and 2011.

Changing representations of disability?  

The recent Channel 4 show ‘The Undateables‘ has certainly made disabled people more visible in the media…. but whether or not these are positive representations or whether they reinforce stereotypes is a matter for further analysis and debate!

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More to follow…. 

This is an initial ‘place holder post’ TBU shortly!

Sources 

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book

 

Media representations of age

This post focuses on some of the ways in which the mainstream media represent children, youth and the elderly.

Media representations of children

Children are often represented as vulnerable and as being in need of adult protection, which ties in with the way in which childhood is socially constructed in contemporary society.

The advertising industry represents children as consumers, possibly deliberately to socialise them into becoming consumers in later life, and to increase peer-pressure demand for their products.

Youth and Children’s Work has suggested that there are five major types of youth stereotype

  • Irritating/ annoying
  • Binge drinking/ drug addicted
  • The drain on society
  • The entrepreneurial go-getter
  • The exceptional super achiever.

Media representations of youth

Young people are largely represented in terms of lifestyle and identity, with much of the music and fashion industries aiming their products at young people.

Young people (teenagers especially) are also disproportionately likely to be represented as a problem – with a considerable amount of news coverage being devoted to youth gangs, crime and antisocial behaviour, rather than the challenges facing teenagers or the positive things young people do.

Historically, youth subcultures have been the focus of media led moral panics, which have tended to exaggerate the deviance of young people and sometimes increased public panic about youth subcultures, as Stan Cohen found in his classic study of the Mods and Rockers.

Charlotte Kelly (2018) has conducted research on the language used by journalists to describe young people who come into contact with the law and found there are three major types of representation:

  • Young people are dangerous
  • Young people are in need of protection
  • Young people are immature.

However, some documentaries do portray the complex issues young people face today, such as the recent spate of schools documentaries such as ‘Educating Essex’ etc, and in contemporary sitcoms such as Derry Girls.

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Media representations of old age

Age Concern (2000) identified three key media stereotypes of the elderly. Old people were disproportionately represented as:

  • A burden
  • Mentally challenged
  • Grumpy

Lee et al (2007) conducted a study of adverts and found that old people were underrepresented, appearing in only 15% of ads, but of those 15%, more than 90% of representations were positive – portraying elderly people as ‘golden agers’ enjoying healthy, active lifestyles.

There are also significant gender differences in the way old people are represented in the media: older men are much more visible in the media than older women, and older men are much more likely to be associated with high status and work while older women are generally associated with the family and poverty.

This is very much a simplified post on this topic, more detailed investigative posts to follow! 

Sources 

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book

The cultural effects model of audience effects

The cultural effects model is a Marxist model audience effects, usually associated with neo-marxism and the Glasgow University Media Group.

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The media and the dominant ideology

According to the cultural effects model, the media contains ideological messages that reflect the values of media owners and professionals who expect audiences to agree with their preferred readings of events.

Points of view which are oppositional media owners and middle class journalists’ world views are generally kept out of the mainstream media through processes such as agenda setting and gatekeeping.

Ideological control through gradual exposure

Audiences are continually exposed to the dominant ideology and this has a gradual ‘drip-drip’ effect and over time audiences come to share the views of the rich and powerful. They also come to criticise those who have been demonised by the ideological framing of the elite: such as immigrants and those on benefits.

The cultural effects model recognises that audiences are active and that they interpret media content in diverse ways, but they do argue that interpretations are narrow due to long term ideological framing of media content.

Criticisms of the cultural effects model

Methodologically it is difficult to test any theory on long term media effects. It is almost impossible to isolate the independent effect that long term exposure to media content has over several years.

It seems increasingly unlikely that homogenous content has homogenous effects in the postmodern age of new media.

 

 

The uses and gratifications model of audience effects

The uses and gratification model states that audiences are active users of media content and that they use the media to fulfill four main types of need.

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Diversion

People use media to escape from their daily routines.

In some cases media usage may make up for lack of satisfaction in work or personal life.

Personal relationships

The media may compensate for the decline of community and meaningful, intimate relationships

For example soap characters may be seen as companions in the absence of family or friends.

Personal identity

People may use characters to they identify with to help them make decisions in life.

People use Facebook to express identities in ways they can control.

Surveillance

People use the media to obtain information about the world, primarily the news.

Criticisms of the uses and gratifications model of audience effects

  • There is a lack of substantive research which supports this theory
  • Marxists argue it exaggerates audiences’ capacity to interpret media content, ignoring the power of agenda setting.
  • Postmodernists argue there are an even wider set of uses individuals make of media.

 

The neophiliac perspective on new media

Neophiliacs argue that the internet and social media have been beneficial to society and individuals. New Media have created more opportunities for individuals to find information, offered individuals greater choice and freedom, provided new ways for people to interact with each other, and ultimately resulted in more people challenging the powerful and economic growth.

This post has been written for A-level sociology students studying the media option, AQA specification, and contrasts directly with the cultural pessimist view of new media.

neophiliac new media

 

Easier access to more information and advice

The internet makes it very easy to access a wide variety of information about almost anything, often for free. Some of the more obvious examples here include Wikipedia and instructional videos on YouTube and various blogs where many experts will provide their expertise for free.

24 hour news coverage from a variety of sources and the option to switch on instant notifications also makes it very easy to stay in touch with what’s occurring in the world.

Increasingly it is possible to ‘hack’ an education online, as many colleges and universities post up their learning materials for free (often lectures on YouTube) and there are various blogs around in which people have put together syllabuses which link to free information.

The internet also makes it easier for people to seek advice confidential advice and support for sensitive issues such as mental health issues, abuse and addiction.

Greater individual freedom and choice

Social media allow people the chance to construct new online identities and give them greater freedom to express themselves than ever before. Online, individuals can experiment with new identities in the comfort of anonymity and expand their personal boundaries.

Social media and blogs have proven to be an accessible way for marginalised or disadvantaged peoples to find a voice – there are many active LGBT and disabled bloggers for example.

New social networks and global connections

The internet has blurred the boundaries between the local and the global, resulting in the emergence of a ‘new global village’, with more daily communicative interactions occurring now than ever in human history.

The global internet makes it easier for individuals to make new global connections that wouldn’t be possible just at the local level or through traditional (one-way) media – as a result of social media sites like Facebook there are now thousands of new ‘tribes’ with millions of people interacting on a daily basis.

Social media apps also make it easier for families and friends to stay in touch anywhere in the world, and while nothing new, this opens up the possibility for people to move to other places yet still stay connected.

Challenging power and revitalising democracy

The internet allows people to access a wide variety of political opinions and commentary and to easily ‘fact check’ what politicians are saying, making it easier to hold those with political power to account.

There are thousands of blogs which voice radical political opinions which challenge the dominant mainstream neoliberal voice in the mainstream news.

The internet has also provided a platform for many social movements and allowed them to expand the reach of their voice and activism. Extinction Rebellion is one of the best recent examples of this, with many of their protests being organised via social media.

All of these points apply equally as well to holding Corporate as well as political power to account.

The growth of E-commerce 

The internet has made it very easy to buy all sorts of goods and services, and for very cheap prices if you shop via the largest sites such as Amazon.

Comparison sites allow people to easily compare the costs of utilities and other services, and to easily switch to the best deal, which is empowering for consumers.

Finally, the internet has also allowed thousands of people to set up or enhance their business – by selling goods and services online.

This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!