In general Marxists tend to focus on the role of the mass media as being concerned with the proliferation of the status quo as opposed to pluralists who focus on the role of the media as one of promoting free speech. Marxists tend to view capitalistic societies as societies of class domination and the media is viewed as the arena where clashing views with the status quo are quashed. Control is increasingly concentrated in capital and the media is one tool used for the maintenance of the situation due to its ability to relay messages/propaganda that foster the interests of the dominant or ruling class. The media has a special type of power to keep things as they are. Yet the academic view of how powerful or how direct the effects of the media's messages on audiences actually are appears to vary depending on the times. McQuail (1987) discusses four stages of how the media has been viewed to affect audiences:
In the first stage which extends from the early 1900s to the late 1930s the media was considered to be very powerful and McQuail designates this phase the all-powerful media. In this phase the media was reflected is having a type overarching control over it audiences.
2. In phase two (that lasted up until the 1960s) the use of film as an indoctrination or powerful influence was investigated. For example, the harmful effects of the media on children, especially television, was investigated in the 1950s. It was during this time that different variables were considered to determine the extent of the media's influence. The media was no longer seen as this great all-powerful shaper of opinion, but instead moderated opinion depending on the context.
3. The third phase resulted in a return to the understanding that the media could indeed influence audiences strongly, especially through advertising and how the media shaped the content of the message before exposing it to the audience. For instance, the civil rights movements of the 60s and protest against the war in Vietnam in the United States began as small protests but were immediately perceived as large overarching protests due to their portrayal by the media.
4. The fourth phase of conceptualizing media influenced occurred in the late 70s and incorporated a social constructionist type of flair by assuming the media exerted influence by constructing meanings. Meanings are corporative held by audiences based on how the audience constructs the meaning of the message (e.g. Hall et al. 1980).
While the actual degree of influence the media can exert over its intended audience may vary give a number of variables including how research on the effects of media is conducted, the zeitgeist of the times, and how much access the audience has to alternate forms of information (such as the Internet today) there is no question that the media has exerted important influences on its audience since the industrial revolution. As the communication capabilities of the media improved it became more accessible and the audience influenced by it grew from a few people to large masses. Blumer (1951) described these mass audiences in terms of four major dimensions that have relevancy to the Marxist notion how the media is used to influence the masses. It is also important to note that Blumer described the notion of a mass audience shortly following World War II. He had witnessed both Nazi Germany's and Communist Russia's manipulation of the media to target the populations of each country and his four dimensions of mass audiences may not be fully applicable in the era of social media. The four dimensions of the mass audience according to Blumer (1951) are:
1. The mass audience includes members from all walks of life, all social classes, locations, economic statuses, and cultural groups.
2. The mass audience is essentially an anonymous group composed of anonymous individuals. Blumer use the term anonymous to designate the notion that the mass audience is composed of members that do not know necessarily know one another as opposed to earlier notions of small communities that were more intimate (however, with the creation of the internet this has changed somewhat).
3. Mass audiences engage in little interaction or exchange of their experiences. Since the mass audience is comprised of individuals who are anonymous (do not know each other) and separated from each other they do not have a chance to interact in the same manner that a small community does (again the internet and social media has altered this somewhat).
4. Mass audiences are not tightly organized and do not act in unity with one another. As a rule mass audiences did not form of crowds or groups.
The powerful media would be optimally effective in controlling a mass audience such as Blumer (1951) described because of the mass audience's lack of unity or familiarity and inability or lack of desire to critically evaluate the messages. This type of power would consist of an "invisible" type of control. VeneKlasen and Miller (2002) describe four types of power:
1. Power With. This type of power is a result of building collective strength, collaboration, and sodality. This type of power seeks to build equitable relations between people or between groups.
2. Power To. This type of power refers to the ability to shape one's life for one's conditions. While this is generally considered to be applied to individuals it can also refer to a type of power that groups or social classes can exert in shaping their own circumstances.
3. Power Within. This type of power has to do with a sense of self-knowledge or self-worth, the ability to recognize one's differences in others' differences in respect both.
4. Power Over. This type of power is generally the type of power most people define when discussing influence or power. This type of power has often been associated with negative affect such as coercion, force, discrimination, and/or repression. This type of power is considered the zero-sum situation where in order to exert or possess this type of power one group for one person must take it away from some other group or person. This is the type of power that Marxists are typically referring to when discussing the effects of the all-powerful media.
The ultimate notion of the all powerful media can be illustrated in the "hypodermic needle theory" of the media that was relatively popular in the 1940s and 1950s (Davis and Baron 1981). This theory implies that the media has a direct, immediate, and very powerful effect on the audience. This type of inoculation effect of the media is especially effective if one considers Blumer's (1951) notion of the mass audience. Several important factors contributed to this powerful influence on the receivers: First, the rather quick rise of radio and newspapers led to the media being able to deliver its message to mass audiences. Second, Hitler's use of mass media in Germany served as a shining example of how the mass audience could be influenced by a small group exploiting the media for its own means. Third, along with the propaganda machine used by Hitler the advertising industry had emerged during this time and behavioral psychologists like John Watson were involved in using psychological principles of persuasion in media messages for advertising. Fourth, in the 1930s studies known as the Payne Fund studies at investigated the impact of motion pictures and the behavior of children and found a strong relationship between how children behave and the types of films that they watched.
Thus, this theory suggests that a mass audience could be uniformly and directly influenced by a powerful media that "injects" them with appropriate messages designed to trigger a specific response. The message (the needle or the bullet in the magic bullet theory) as a direct and powerful influence on the masses was reinforced in 1938 when the Orson Welles broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" on radio resulted in widespread panic that aliens have landed in the United States. However, election studies looking at voting patterns in the 1940 American presidential elections contradicted the notion of the media as a magic bullet or hypodermic needle. Nonetheless, in Marxist analysis of the media this edition of the media is viewed as being "locked" in the dominant power structure and acts in unison with the dominant institutions in any society. The media presents viewpoints of the dominant institutions not in terms of one of many alternative perspectives but as the central or "natural perspective" (Curran et al. 1982). The mass media attempts to avoid issues that are unconventional or unpopular and instead focuses on viewpoints that are widely legitimized and of value to those in power (Murdock and Golding 1977). The media acts as an ideological mechanism that serves to legitimize, renew, amplify, and extend the predispositions of the dominant culture or dominant ideology and not to create new ways of thinking (Curran et al. 1982).
The materialist stance that social states determine consciousness is a central part of…