Does Mass Media Reflect Or Shape Culture Essay


Mass Media & Values The author of this report has been asked to answer a rather broad but still important question. The question at hand is whether the mass media is simply a representation of the broader cultural values, attitudes and stereotypes of a society or whether the mass media is involved with shaping the same rather than just being a reflection or representation. The author of this response does not mean to be non-committal or waffling but the answer is actually a little of both. There are some instances where mass media is simply just groveling to the masses but there are some instances where narratives are being established and cultural trends are being written. What is true in a given situation usually depends on the situation but it is not entirely hard or difficult to tell which is happening in a given instance. While mass media output is usually an instance of reflection, there are different instances where the forces and powers that by are trying to strike and guide a new cultural trend, for whatever reason.


As noted in the introduction, mass media is usually just a representation and reflection of what "the people want" as consumers. This is in many ways a rather damning part of society. Indeed, we as a culture seem to be devolving and degenerating into a maelstrom of Duggars, Honey Boo-Boo's and Jersey Shore reruns. Put another way, there seems to be a pattern that is putting American society on a path to eventually resemble something along the lines of what is depicted in movies like Wall-E and Idiocracy where the consumer resembles a mindless drone that is entertained by insipid and mindless things. To give an example of this progression, one can point to MTV. Many people lament that MTV used to be music videos but that there has been a progression from music videos to shows like Jersey Shore. Indeed, that did happen but it did not happen overnight. It started with shows like Road Rules, Real World and so forth. The same precise thing happened to counterpart VH1 and their programming. There was a noticeable paradigm shift away from more "culture" and valued programming to the mindless tripe (at least to many) that seems to now pervade all of cable television. The same thing has happened to channels like the History Channel, The Learning Channel (TLC) and others. The maturity, cultural importance and so forth of all of those channels has shifted noticeably over the years (Darren O).

The sad fact, however, is that these channels are making these changes in programming for a reason. If these channels were not getting ad revenue and ratings from these shows, they would not be doing it. It is not as if they are being peddlers of this mindless fodder and smut. They are presenting it because it gets people in front of the so-called idiot box. If it was not gaining viewership, these channels would not be doing it. There are other businesses that are driven by cultural desires and demands and they themselves influence and shift what is offered via mass media. One example would be the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Until her head was nearly kicked off by Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey was the preeminent and most prominent women's fighter in that organization. She has appeared (or will appear) in movies including a "reboot" of Road House and the Fast and Furious franchise. The same thing is still currently happening with Irish fighter Connor McGregor. He will presumably lose himself at some point but UFC is riding the wave of his cockiness and boorishness in the interim. The UFC has not been around terribly long as a cultural phenomenon but many people currently cannot get enough of what they are putting out and there is definitely a marketing and mass media strategy that is a huge part of what they are doing (Peter).

Another example would be a more historically storied sport like football and the National Football League. Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys has made some questionable hires when it comes to the team that he has decided to field. Wide receiver Dez Bryant has had some obvious on -- the field and off -- the field issues. Offensive lineman Josh Brent was brought back to the team after serving jail time for a criminal even where he was driving drunk, crashed his car and that crash led to the death...


Another player by the name of Greg Hardy was at one point a convicted woman abuser until he demanded a jury trial instead (which is allowed by the jurisdiction he was in) and the woman involved decided to stop cooperating after a sizable financial settlement was come to. The point to the above is that Jerry Jones is presumably doing what he is doing to get the best players and thus the best result on the field because that would presumably make him more money in terms of jersey sales, ticket purchases and so forth. The results this particular season have been abysmal and perhaps Jones would do things differently given their two wins in eight or nine games. However, his intent in advance of the season was obviously to win games at any costs because the ensuing results of mass media exposure after winning would make him money. This is not really a reflection of media values as Jerry Jones is a creator of mass media content but he is still doing it based on what the people supposedly want. Given the mass media performance and exposure of the Dallas Cowboys during the Jimmie Johnson years, he is probably not wrong (Osgood).
As suggested in the introduction, the "little of both" answer is true and the other side of the proverbial coin will now be discussed. The common and perhaps usual manifestation of situations where the media is trying to shape their own narrative is when it comes to news programming. Indeed, an ideological dichotomy has formed in mass media and cable news is one of the main epicenters of this manifesting. The Presidential elections dating back to roughly the late 1990's have not always been close from an electoral standpoint but they have most certainly been close in terms of the overall popular vote. The best example of this was in the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Albert Gore. In an election that had to be settled by the Supreme Court, this was a situation where Bush won the Electoral College tally but actually lost the popular vote. Of course, the former determines the winner of Presidential election and not the latter. The outcome of that election and how it played out in the media was a literal free-for-all and the cable news programs were a huge part of what drove to and covered that fracas all at the same time (Payson-Denney). The cable news phenomenon began with Ted Turner and CNN News but has since expanded to include Fox News, MSNBC and other channels. Further, there is obvious ideological bent with many to most cable news channels. Fox News is seen by many as a manifestation of right-wing ideas and news. Indeed, they do portend to be a standard news channel a lot of the time but their nightly programming is absolutely dominated by the right-leaning or extreme-right viewpoints of Megyn Kelly, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. MSNBC is much the same thing from the left side of the political spectrum with their nightly programming, at one time or another, including names like Al Sharpton, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow and Steve Olbermann. While some may decry media bias in general, it has to be pointed out that those two networks (as well as others) are capitalizing on the "entertainment" aspect of news and they are doing what they have to do to get the masses to tune in. As an obvious example, Fox is going to tend to attract those that are already right-wing in nature while MSNBC will attract leftist viewers (Richardson).

Even so, these news stations are not doing anything news as this pattern was really started long before cable news came to pass. Indeed, Walter Cronkite had an underlying political viewpoint to what he was saying but he really did have the media bully pulpit when he said it. Even an expansion to three major network news channels (ABC, NBC and CBS) did not change that as they continued this patter well into the 2000's. The big problem with that approach is that blind political ideology can lead to the media "becoming" the story even when that is not the intent. Indeed, the career of media stalwart Dan Rather was basically ended in such a fashion when they pushed forward with a story that was critical of the military service of George W. Bush even though Rather (and his producer Mary Mapes) were told straight up that their "evidence" was not provably genuine. They pushed ahead anyway and…

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