This is an example of a 20 mark essay question written for the AQA’s A-level sociology paper 2, Topics in Sociology, Media option.
Read Item N below and answer the question that follows.
Applying material from Item N and your knowledge, evaluate the view that the media have a direct and immediate effect on their audiences [20 marks]
Commentary on the question
A classic essay, asking you to evaluate the Hypodermic Syringe Model, picking up on the relationship between violence and the media as an example.
Introduction – hypodermic syringe model key points
- the media can have a direct and immediate effect on the audience, audience as a ‘homogeneous mass’ (all the same), and as passive
- content creators can manipulate vulnerable audiences
- associated with neo-Marxists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (A and H), from the the 1940s
- They noted that there were similarities between the ‘propaganda industry’ in Nazi Germany’ and what they called the ‘Culture Industry’ in the United States.
- A and H saw popular culture in the USA was like a factory producing standardized content which was used to manipulate a passive mass audience. The point was to creat false psychological needs and keeping capitalism going.
- Pluralists and postmodernists would criticise the above theory – people have diverse needs which they actively meet through media, and especially New Media.
Other evidence that media messages can have a direct and immediate effect on audiences:
- Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds‘ in 1938.
- However, people are more media literate now.
- The ‘beauty myth’, especially the representations of size zero as normal, have encouraged an increase in eating disorders.
- However, evidence of women (and men) resisting such messages – and setting up ad campaigns which celebrate diverse body shapes criticises this.
- Campaigns behind Trump and Brexit used sophisticated targeted advertising to nudge voters into voting for Trump and Brexit, suggesting the media can have a very direct and immediate effect on specific populations.
- However, it is not quite accurate to say this is the media having a direct and immediate effect –they don’t even bother targeting the people who they know will make ‘oppositional readings’ – thus the two-step flow and reception analysis models may be more applicable.
Violence (in item)
- There is some evidence that media violence can ‘cause’ people to be more violence in real-life…
- The Bandura ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment
- However, this experiment was carried out in such an artificial environment, it tells us little about how violence happens in real life.
- A more nuanced version is ‘desensitisation’
- There are enough criticisms which can be made of the Hypodermic syringe model to say that it is mostly invalid today….
- model may have been true in the 1940s when the media was relatively new and audiences less literate, but in today’s new media age, audiences are more likely to criticise what they see rather than just believing it, and to check what they see with other sources.
- Audiences are also clearly more diverse, active, and USE media for their own devices rather than the other way around.
- Finally, it is just too simplistic a theory to explain social problems – societal violence has many causes, and it’s all too easy to scapegoat the media
- This model explains little about how the media and audiences are interrelated in a complex postmodern age.