Family, friends, gifting and food, these are the main things which people say makes ‘Christmas important to them’, at least according to a survey carried out by YouGov this time last year, on behalf of the British Humanist Association…
And less than 25% of the population seem to think religion is an important part of Christmas, at least as measured by the two questions in this particular survey (about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and attending a religious ceremony), both of which tap into whether people actually do anything ‘religiously active’ to celebrate the tradition.
Personally I’m inclined to think the results of this survey as valid, as this is an online survey (so anonymous) and people get to choose (NB the format of the above version varies slightly to how the original was administered!
The Social (Media) Construction of Christmas
Some oddball versions of the history of Christmas take it all the way back to the birth of someone called Jesus Christ, but the modern (real?) version of Christmas didn’t really start to take shape until the 19th Century….In other words Christmas is a social construction…
Goose was the popular choice for Christmas dinners for generations. Middle-class families with lots of relatives might go for a boar’s head, while the seriously rich showed off with a swan. The turkey really took off with the Victorians after Charles Dickens had Scrooge ordering a turkey in A Christmas Carol.
The mastermind behind the Christmas cracker was a London sweetshop owner called Tom Smith. In 1847, after spotting French bonbons wrapped in paper with a twist at each end, he started selling similar sweets with a “love motto” inside.
They were so popular as a Christmas novelty that Tom made them bigger and included a trinket. But the real flash of inspiration came when he poked the fire and a log exploded with a sharp CRACK! That gave him the idea for a package that went off with a bang. By 1900 he was selling 13 million a year.
The red robes, white beard, and booming ho-ho-hos we associate with Santa Clause has only existed since 1935, when this colour-combo was created Santa Claus for a Coca-Cola campaign.
In previous lives he was thinner and paler, a character based on a 4th Century Asian bishop called Nicholas, who became the patron saint of children in most of Europe. Different countries still have their own variations on the theme, but the coca-cola version has pushed them all to the cultural margins.
And personally, I can’t imagine Christmas without Christmas Movies, and especially Christmas Songs. I mean in one sense, Christmas didn’t really exist before 1986….
A Marxist Analysis of Christmas…
A broadly (read ‘simplified’) Marxist approach to Christmas would probably highlight the extent to which Christmas has been hijacked by Corporations to become hideously commercialized, with advertising basically manipulating us into spending money on shit we don’t need which puts us into debt and makes profit for Corporations.
An important part of this which links to the family is that Christmas is a key event which reproduces the norms of materialism and consumption – as kids come to expect lots of shit they don’t need. This also links very nicely (horrifically) into Toxic Childhood.
This all certainly seems to tie in with the gendered results from the BH survey above – women seem to be more involved with Christmas than men.
One final thing…. there is maybe a hint of frustration in the results of this survey from YouGov…. Is it Father Christmas, or Santa Claus? Of course men are more likely to the think the former, and women more likely the later…evidence of female frustration at the Patriarchy, or is that reading too much into it?!?
And Something Extra…
Black Lives Matter are currently calling on people to boycott a ‘white Christmas’, which basically involves not shopping with white corporations in order to divest them of money, and to invest in black shops by shopping only in them.
The social processes through which new members of society develop awareness of social norms and values and help them achieve a distinct sense of self. It is the process which transforms a helpless infant into a self-aware, knowledgeable person who is skilled in the ways of a society’s culture.
Socialization is normally discussed in terms of primary socialization, which is particularly intense and takes place in the early years o life, and secondary socialization, which continues throughout the life course.
Stages of Socialization
Socialization takes place through various agencies, such as the family, peer groups, schools and the media.
The family is the main agent during primary socialization, but increasingly children attend some kind of nursery schooling from a very young age. It is in the family that children learn the ‘basic norms’ of social interaction – in Britain such norms include learning how to walk, speak, dress in clothes, and a whole range of ‘social manners’, which a taught through the process of positive and negative sanctions, or rewarding good and punishing bad behaviour.
In modern societies, class gender and ethnic differences start to affect the child from a very young age and these influence patterns of socialization. Where gender is concerned, for example, children unconsciously pick up on a range of gendered stereotypes which inform the actions of their parents, and they typically adjust their behaviour accordingly.
In adulthood, socialization continues as people learn how to behave in relation to new areas of social life, such as work environments and political beliefs. Mass media and the internet are also seen as playing an increasing role in socialization, helping to shape opinions, attitudes and behaviour. This is especially the case with the advent of new media, which enable virtual interactions via chatrooms, blogs and so on.
Taken together, agencies of socialization form a complex range of contrary social influences and opportunities for interaction and it can never be an entirely directed or determined process: humans are self-aware beings capable of forming their own interpretations of the messages with which they are presented.
Criticisms of the Concept
The main criticism of theories of socialization is that they tend to exaggerate its influence. This is particularly true of functionalism which tended to see individuals as cultural dopes, at the mercy of socializing agencies.
Dennis Wrong (1961) took issue with what he saw as the ‘oversocialized concept of man’ in sociology, arguing that it treats people as mere role-players, simply following scripts.
Today, theories of society and cultural reproduction are much more likely to recognize that individuals are active players and that socialization is a conflict-ridden and emotionally charged affair, and the results of it are much less predictable than functionalist theories suggested in the 1950s.
Agenda-setting is where the media only ask a limited range of questions about a topic, thus limiting the number of perspectives or angles from which an issue is explored. It is a concept mainly associated with Marxism, and it is one of the main ways in which the media maintain ideological control according to Marxist analysis.
Examples of agenda setting:
Focussing on the violent aspects of a political protest, rather than the arguments behind why the protest is taking place
Charlie Brooker does a great job of analysing how this occurred during the G20 protests in London 2009 – the television crews DID NOT cover the political speeches that took place during the day, they just waited around until some violence did (finally, it was rare!) kick off later in the day, and then it was the violence that became headline news:
Focussing on the ‘drama of the London riots’ and the harms done to victims rather than on the reasons why people took part in the London riots.
I’ll admit, the London Riots were great entertainment, and if that’s all you wanted, the media did a great job of covering the burning and the looting, framing the event in terms of ‘lack of parental responsibility’, ‘moral decline’ and ‘feral youths’
However, the mainstream media didn’t do such a great job of covering the findings of the research which was published months later, which suggested that the actual reasons the riots took place were, according to the rioters themselves: unfair treatment by the police, unemployment, government policies the shooting of Mark Duggan.
Focussing on why the economy is or isn’t growing, rather than asking whether or not economic growth is a good thing.
There is a daily media-focus on the economy and economic growth: most radio and T.V. news slots have a regular ‘business feature’ and economic growth is always framed as universally good.
However, what is never discussed is the fact that not everyone benefits equally from economic growth – the capitalist class with shares and investments benefit hugely, but the poor benefit almost not at all! America is an excellent example of this – the richest country on earth, but with huge inequalities, you have to ask whether economic growth is actually ‘good’.
The authors of the Spirit Level argue that if we want social progress in Britain then inequality is now the biggest barrier to improving quality of life for most people, but this is rarely discussed in the media.
Marxists argue that news values and agenda setting work together to reinforce dominant, elite world views of society as normal and natural, and to marginalise alternative perspectives on society which may upset existing power structures.
News Values are general criteria such as ‘extraordinariness’, ‘negativity’ and ‘elite persons’ which journalists use to determine whether an event is newsworthy (‘worthy of inclusion in the news’).
The existence of news values is one of the reasons why many sociologists view the news as a social construction – in other words the news is not simply an unbiased reflection of the objectively most important events ‘out there’ in society; rather the news is the end result of selective processes through which gatekeepers such as owners, editors and journalists make choices about what events are important enough to be covered, and how they should be covered.
Spencer-Thomas (2008) defines News values as general guidelines or criteria that determine the worth of a news story and how much prominence it is given by newspapers or broadcast media. Brighton and Foy (2007) suggest that news values are ‘often intangible, informal, almost unconscious elements’. News values define what journalists, editors and broadcasters consider as newsworthy.
The best known list of news values was supplied by Galtung and Rouge (1970). They analysed international news across a group of newspapers in Norway in 1965 and identified a number of News Values shared by Norwegian journalists (1)
Galtung and Rouge did uncover more news values, the list below is just a selection of the most ‘dramatic’:
Extraordinariness – rare, unpredictable and surprising events have more newsworthiness than routine events.
Threshold – the ‘bigger’ the size of the event, the more likely it is to be reported.
Unambiguity – the simpler the event, the more likely it is to be reported.
Reference to elite persons – events surrounding the famous and the powerful are often seen as more newsworthy.
Reference to elite nations – events in nations perceived to be ‘culturally similar’ to the United Kingdom are more likely to reported on – for example, disasters in America are more likely to be reported on than disasters in African countries.
Personalisation – if events can be personalised easily they are more likely to get into the news.
Negativity – bad news is regarded as more newsworthy than good news.
According to Galtung and Rouge, journalists use News-Values to select-out certain events as less newsworthy than others, and they thus act as gate-keepers – they quite literally shut out certain events, and let other events into the news-agenda, thus narrowing our window on the world.
There are some contemporary critiques of the concept of News Values, but I’ll come back to those later!
(1) Chapman 2106, Sociology for AQA A-Level, Collins.
Is there a right-wing bias in the British media? Here I explore some of the sociological evidence which suggests that there is a right wing bias in the media and point out some of the limitations of this evidence.
But is David Dimbleby right about the media being ‘to the right’? In this post I explore some of the available evidence to see how far it supports this view.
NB – I am aware that how you answer this question depends on how you define left and right, and that not only are there different dimensions to left and right (YES I have come across the political compass!), but that the meanings of left and right shift over time, so they are relative concepts.
Having said that, we have to start somewhere – so I broadly define ‘right wing’ as neoliberal – pro-privatisation of public services, deregulation and lowering taxation, an emphasis on economic growth rather than social progress, and a current commitment to austerity. I also include within my broad definition of ‘right wing’ anti-immigration sentiments (sorry, I know it’s vague!). Left wing I define as against further privatisation of public services (more to the left is in favour of re-nationalisation), an enhanced role of the state in regulating especially big business, and a belief in higher levels of taxation of especially the wealthy (those earning over £50K a year for example). Also included within a broadly leftist perspective is a commitment to end austerity and a commitment to internationalism – the free movement of people across boarders and so a much more relaxed attitude to migration than the right.
NB – That was all just off the top of my head, I’ll write something more articulate when I get around to it!
Something I find very interesting is that the first piece of evidence below gets around the whole tricky issue of operationalizing right and left wing… just by asking people ‘do you think the media is right or left wing’? This raises all sorts of sociological questions about objectivity and subjectivity and categories. From a teaching perspective I’m currently thinking this ‘measuring political attitudes’ topic could be the perfect one for explaining the difference between positivist and phenomenological approaches to social research.
Anyway – on to the point of this post…
Four pieces of evidence of right wing bias in the media
The general public certainly seem to feel that British newspapers have a right-wing bias, as the results of this March 2017 YouGov poll demonstrate:
The two most popular newspapers in Britain are the Daily Mail and the Sun (a joint readership of 10 million) and these are two of the most ‘right wing’ according to public opinion, which again suggests that according to people’s ‘gut feelings’ we do, indeed have a right wing press.
However, there are limitations with this evidence – it is only based on the subjective feelings of people – just because people feel a paper has a left or right wing bias, doesn’t mean that the paper actually has a left or right bias.
From a positivist point of view, in order to answer the question of whether there actually IS a right wing bias in the press, what we need is some more objective data, and in order to get that we need to find some content analysis of media sources which pin down, or operationalise more precisely what they actually mean by left and right wing views…..the rest of the sources below do just this, by focusing on specific aspects of right, or left wing thought.
The research cites the following examples of unfair representation:
through a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits
being denied his own voice in the reporting
sources that were anti-Corbyn tended to outweigh those that support him
He systematically treated with scorn and ridicule in both the broadsheet and tabloid press in a way that no other political leader is or has
The press repeatedly associated Corbyn with terrorism and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK.
Given that Jeremy Corbyn’s views are much more left wing than most labour MPs, evidenced by the fact that JC is one of the most outspoken critics of right wing neoliberal austerity policies, his vilification in the mainstream media could suggest a right wing bias: the very fact that he is generally talked about critically, rather than being allowed to express his views without distortion suggests an attempt to prevent left-wing political view points coming to public attention, and if they do come to public attention, an attempt to dismiss them as silly.
HOWEVER, a fundamental limitation with this piece of research evidence is its lack of representativeness of coverage of people with left wing views – it only focuses on Jeremy Corbyn – it might just be the case that during 2015 there were other people with left wing views who were being taken more seriously, so the vilification of Corbyn might have nothing to do with his left-wing views, it might be purely personal. This is unlikely, I know, but we don’t know this from the above research.
Neoliberalism, Austerity and the Mainstream Media – a 2015 report by the university of Sheffield looked at how over 1000 news articles about the impact of social policies. The research specifically looked at whether news articles had a neoliberal framework – i.e. did they discuss things like austerity purely in terms of economics (‘squeezing public finances’) or did they widen their discussion to talk about the broader human impact (family breakdowns, illness and death for example)
If an article limited itself to how policies would impact people’s finances, or the wider economy, then it was classified as a ‘neoliberal frame’, if it focused on the impacts on family, education, health or other non-economic impacts on individuals, it was coded as a non-neoliberal frame.
To my mind this is much stronger evidence of a ‘right wing’ bias in the media than the previous two pieces – at least if we accept the operationalization of ‘neoliberal framing’ as indicating a ‘right wing’ point of view.
However, a problem with the above research is that the category ‘neoliberal frame’ is quite broad, and precisely what statements come within the category is open to differential interpretation by researchers.
Also – exploring neoliberal framing is a very general level of content analysis – for more valid evidence of a ‘right wing’ bias you would have to look at how the media treated specific neoliberal policies such as privatisation, deregulation, lowering taxation, or the issue of immigration…
“Hate speech in some traditional media, particularly tabloid newspapers, continues to be a problem, with biased or ill-founded information disseminated about vulnerable groups, which may contribute to perpetuating stereotypes.
It singled out Katie Hopkins’ article in The Sun, published in April 2015, as an example of how bad things can get – the article was entitled “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”, in which Katie Hopkins likened migrants to “cockroaches”, “feral humans” and that gunboats should be dispatched to prevent further arrivals.
While the above does suggest a clear right wing bias in The Sun, case studies are not representative, so we’d need something more quantitative to see how widespread such a tone of reporting is.
So that’s four pieces of evidence, based on systematic research of several sources (NB the last one did look at more than one article!) which suggest a right wing bias in media content, however, they all have there limitations, so I’ll leave it to you to decide whether there’s sufficient evidence here to conclude that we really do have a right-wing media here in the U.K.
Further pieces of evidence of right wing media bias
Jeremy Corbyn being accused of making a U-turn on a promise to abolish student debt, when he didn’t actually promise to abolish student debt.
In the run-up to the general election, Jeremy Corbyn made a comment about student debt. Speaking to the NME about the issue, he said: “I will deal with it.”
At the time, this was not widely picked up on by the national media. But – where it was reported – most papers accurately reflected that Corbyn had not explicitly promised to write off all debts. For instance, the Daily Mail said the Labour leader had pledged to “reduce or even write off” student debt.
But then (on Sunday (23rd July 2017) Corbyn was quizzed about this remark during a BBC interview.
Presenter Andrew Marr put it to him: “If you are a young voter and you heard those words: ‘I will deal with it’, you might have thought Jeremy Corbyn is going to relieve me of my debt.”
Corbyn was forced to defend his position, saying: “We never said we would completely abolish it.”
For some, this constituted a U-turn.
The Mail said: “Labour has backtracked on its promise to write off £100 billion of student debt.” The Telegraph said the party had “retracted its pledge to abolish student debt”. And Alan Sugar called Jeremy Corbyn a “cheat” and said he should resign for having “lied”.
So – the above is a great example of how a hostile right-wing editorial team from the BBC, fronted by Andrew Marr, can take a positive vote-winning part of Labour’s education policy, spin it out of context and turn it into a negative, which an even more hostile right-wing press further exaggerate.
If you know of any more systematic content analysis on this topic, please do share – sharing is caring – which is very much NOT a right wing idea of course!
In this post Craig Murray analyses the political background of senior bureaucrats at the BBC – finding that they range from Blairite to UKIP – in other words, very right wing.
Identifying media bias through content analysis is a key skill in sociology. The American media is often accused of having a right-wing bias which means they will present a pro-capitalist, pro-business world view as normal and desirable and promote a neoliberal policy agenda. (1)
Below I analyse one newspaper article (about why 66 million Americans have no savings at all) to illustrate how agenda setting, or what and what isn’t included in the article, results in a subtle right-wing, neoliberal bias.
OK – It looks like it might be a lefty topic, because it’s about the precarious financial life of the poorest sections of American society, but there’s no class-based analysis focusing on how it’s mainly low-paid and temporary jobs in the context of 30 years neoliberal economics resulting in productivity gains, but increasingly unequal national income distribution meaning the very rich get richer, while most of the rest of us, especially the poor, get relatively poorer.
Having alerted us to these ‘shocking statistics’ (oh those poor, poor Americans), we are then told that this low-savings rate is spread among all households –
‘the problem is hardly confined to the poor. Yes, more than half of all households with an annual income under $30,000 have no emergency savings. But fully one in six households with an annual income between $50,000 and $75,000 had no emergency savings either’.
The article then goes on to talk about how Gen Y is better at saving than Gen X – the tone of which seems to blame 40 to 60 somethings for having too high consumption levels and not saving enough… (‘if your damn kids can save, then why not you too’?) – here ignoring the following two important contextual facts:
(A) Gen Xrs were encouraged to consume in the context of a growing economy, then the neoliberal crash came in 2007, and here we are: hyper-precarity;
(B) OK Yes – Gen Yrs may appear to be better at saving, rather than avoiding debt, but why are they saving? I bet once you take out all of those saving to go travelling (and hence consuming) or saving for a mortgage (you now need a bigger deposit than your parents), you’d have similar rates of debt being racked up across the generations.
The article ends with the classic neoliberal trick of individualising the whole problem:
“The biggest barrier to saving is not being in the habit of saving,” says McBride. “You have to set some money aside with every paycheck.” Making it automatic can help, he advises. But no matter how you do it, start now.”
Ignoring the fact that for the typical person with no savings (mots of them are in low-paid jobs) there simply isn’t enough money left at the end of the week to put something extra by!
In summary: why don’t people save according to the narrow agenda of this right-wing, neoliberal article?
40-60 somethings got into the habit of consuming too much.
It’s a problem which effects all levels of income
20-30 somethings are much better at saving than their parents
Irresponsible parents need to learn from their kids and just save more….
What’s not considered/ emphasised
There are 10-15% of American households which are in no position to save for emergencies
This is because 30 years of neoliberal policies have created precarious and low-paid jobs, which has meant productivity gains, the gains from which have gone disproportionately to the top 1%.
Generation Yrs are shit-scared of their futures and so are more likely to save compared to their parents.
We need state-intervention to redistribute wealth away from the richest 1% and back to the lowest paid workers who actually created this wealth through their labour power.
(1) I didn’t intend to write this today, it just sort of happened, I was actually looking up stats on inequality in America, and I got quite annoyed when I read (and thought) about the content of this article.
This is the lead into a brief article about the Sun’s waning influence over it’s readers – as the article points out that the paper ran an anti-Corbyn campaign, which it did, and some of the headlines and articles were shockingly one-sided:
However, I think the 28% figure above is a bit misleading. You only get this when you calculate in the low turnout by Sun readers, the lowest of all the readerships of the major newspapers, with a turnout of only 48%.
Of those who voted, 62%, or nearly 2/3rds of Sun readers voted for either the Tories or UKIP.’
The article then goes on to point out that the swing in this election was 16% points away from UKIP, 12% gain for the Tories, and 6% gain for Labour, meaning that above headline is at least somewhat misleading.
A few things to note here
While objectively true (only 28% of Sun readers did vote Tory, it’s true!), this is a good example of how sound bite snap-shot statements of stats do not actually give you an accurate picture of what’s going on. You need to know that 48% didn’t vote, and that of those who did vote, almost 2/3rds of them voted Tory! AND the swing was mainly away from UKIP.
This article shows you a good example of how subjective political biases in reporting can distort the objective statistical facts (of course there are problems with those too, more of that here) – Obviously there’s the example of the bias in The Sun itself, but there’s also bias in The Independent’s (sorry, the ‘Independent’) reporting of the bias in The Sun. The ‘Independent’ is a left wing newspaper, as the above snapshot on how its readers vote handily shows us, and so it leads with a story about how The Sun is waning in influence, the kind of thing its readers will want to hear as they’re currently caught up in Tory-turmoil rapture, suggestion this is biased reporting designed to appeal to people’s emotions.
Finally, surely the real headline should be just how many Sun voters didn’t show up to vote – this seems to be a case of the working classes dissociating themselves from the formal political process rather than not voting Tory? Or more thrilling is the increase from 0% to 1% of Sun Readers voting Green, an infinite increase…!
Finally, having said all of this, I actually think The Sun today has less influence over its readers, but the evidence here isn’t sufficient to come to such a conclusion.
What the article should have done to prove this more conclusively is to compare the paper’s 2015 election content to it’s readership’s voting behaviour, and then compared that to the 2017 relationship.
And doing that would require a more complex metholodogy which wouldn’t fit in with the newspaper’s publishing schedule.
A new monthly post outlining recent programmes relevant to Sociology on TV – most will be on the BBC as iPlayer’s what I mainly use to access televisual hyperreality.
Just one to kick off with – because I just watched it. This might well be the only programme and the only post too, this kind of thing’s got ‘summer project, no way I’ll keep this up when term starts’ written all the way through it.
Useful for showing the extent of inequality in Britain, and providing an insight into life in low-pay work. You could supplement this with Polly Toynbe’s ‘Hard Work’ which provides more in-sight through participant observation and interviews.
A documentary in which 20 workers compete against each other in some of Britain’s lowest wage jobs – after four hours in each job, the least productive workers get sent home. In the first episode the workers work as hotel cleaners and as waste-pickers (recycling paper).
This is actually quite an insightful documentary – the whole process is overseen by a manager who analyses performance data, which is benchmarked against industry averages – 24 minutes to clean a hotel room, 100KG of paper waste picked in an hour per person (roughly – actually I think that was right, sounds like a lot of paper) – so you get a decent look at what life is like in these jobs, and what people have to actually do for minimum wage.
Of course you get the usual life-stories from the various workers, but this in itself is quite interesting too – most of them seem to have suffered genuine hardship, in the form of coming from a deprived background or having lost a decent job – so they all seem to actually need a job. In other words, these aren’t your usual people – not the privileged middle classes
Which is unlike the presenter and the various journalists she interviews who provide no real insight into how we got into this mess in the first place.
So an odd one this – the bits I usually find interesting (the analysis) isn’t and the bits I usually fast-forward – the personal-stuff is more interesting.
The selection of dramas below is a good illustration of just how much the media sensationalises crime –
Crime drama seems to make up huge percentage of the BBC’s output – and all of the recent dramas above focus on the most horrific crimes – kidnapping and murder seem to be the most popular. Many of these dramas also have multiple victims – Happy Valley had about five – in one quiet region of Northern England, in the space of the few weeks the series was set over.
Just a quick post as I wanted something in place to introduce media and crime when we do the topic early next Academic year.
Men are simple and straightforward: they just want quick sex with porn-star lookalikes, exaggerate the number of sexual partners they have to gain status and need women to give them space to get on with the important matters of football, beer and sleeping.
Women are more complex. They prefer wining, dining and love-making, feel the need to downplay their number of sexual partners for fear of slut shaming, and their ultimate goal in life is to manipulate a man into giving them the babies they have an obsessive need for.
Or maybe not…
In a recent book ‘Man Meets Woman’, visual artist Yang Liu presents some binary pictograms depicting the roles, relationships, and clichés of male and female experience.
Yang Liu says of the project:
“We are living in an age of constant social change, in which the subject of the sexes … is rapidly evolving in people’s consciousness. Each generation re-assesses and questions the role models currently in place…
It is interesting to see how Man/Woman clichés have indeed changed in our daily lives and to what extent the attributes that were assigned to the sexes in the past, often centuries ago, are still relevant in today’s society. And to consider which desirable role models are already rooted in our thinking but are still in the process of transformation”.
Below are some of the pictograms taken from the text, look at them consider the questions at the bottom of the post.
Love and Sex
The Sexual Double Standard
To what extent do men and women themselves still conform to the traditional (binary) gender norms (stereotypes) depicted in these pictograms?
What do you think the transformative potential of such visual art is? (How effective a technique is this for getting people to break free of binary-thinking where gender is concerned?
Is it a good thing for women and men to start thinking and acting in more gender-diverse ways (breaking through binary stereotypes.