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Sergio Castañeda

Communication 330
Professor Bui
2/10/09
Critical Response Paper 1
The inclusion of media in our society and lives is something that has become an

continual occurrence in the 21st century. Today it is not uncommon for people to be

connected to the world in many ways. This is facilitated by the existence of portable and

powerful computers, smart phones with internet capabilities and the ubiquity of the

internet. This has allowed people to become more mobile and connected. Technological

advancements not only help people remain connected and able to communicate with

others, but also the ability to consume mass media in mediums beyond the one they were

originally intended for. For example, with a single device, such as an iPhone a person can

make calls and send text messages, access the internet to check news updates, log-on to a

gossip website, watch a movie or listen to music. However the ubiquity of mass media

and popular culture in our everyday lives is somewhat problematic in that its very

commonplace existence also means that people become more accustomed to it, and thus

not question it or examine it on a deeper level. Therefore, the question arises as to how

we should foster understanding and criticism of the mass media that surrounds us. Social

and cultural theory helps us become media literate and critical in that they provide points

of view that help us understand our society, our selves and how the media applies relates

to those concepts in our everyday lives.

Because of its ubiquity it is easy to forget that the content of mass media does not

just happen, it is manufactured and created by sources and distributed with intent beyond

just entertainment. A way to help us become more understanding and critical of the mass
media around us is through previously established social and cultural theory. Although

many of these theories may be old, the fact remains that they are strong and veritable

sources of thought that help us understand our human experience.

Pop culture is something that is present in every country, society and every

culture. The fact that it is so popular is represented by being something that many people

enjoy. Like mass media, the prevalence of pop culture in our society has been marked by

the desensitization to it by most people. Nonetheless there are certain characteristics

about pop culture that have helped scholars in identifying and characterizing it.

According to John Storey (1998), pop culture is something that is defined by something

that is: “’well liked by many people’; ‘inferior kinds of work’; ‘work deliberately setting

out to win favour with the people’; “culture actually made by the people for

themselves’”. These broad characteristics of what is considered pop culture are applicable

to many forms of mass media on our world today. Anything from the television show

American Idol to popular music groups like Coldplay, to books; which as of recently

have re-emerged as relevant aspects of our popular culture. For example the Harry Potter

series would relate to John Storey’s definition of popular culture in that they are well

liked and produced for mass consumption, this is shown by the increasingly high number

of books that were printed with every sequel. It can also be said that they are stories that

“originated from the people” as evidenced by the author’s story of being a single mother,

living on welfare, who strived on to get the first book published. In essence it is a human

interest story that many people can relate to, or at the very least they find compelling. A

point of contention to the books being part of pop culture, is that it can be said that the

books are popular because they are mass produced. However it stands to reason that
when the first book was published, the only reason that it became so popular was because

people found artistic and entertainment merit within in, thus fostering the book’s

increasing popularity. These characteristics show how the Harry Potter books are part of

our popular culture today. On a broader level scholarly theory like what Storey presented

when he characterized pop culture is also essential in fostering our understanding of mass

media phenomena. Not only does it aid in being able to recognize the components of

popular culture today, but applying theories from other scholars also help in

understanding how to relate those concepts to mass media and their popular culture

products.

Another important point to consider is the fact that majority of the media products

that abound in our society are created for us by entities whose main interests are profit

and financial gain. Specifically in the world there are five major media conglomerates

that control most and produce the media texts that people consume every single day. This

is also a concept that can be applied to the theories of social and cultural scholars. In fact

the notion of people understanding, questioning and resisting the ruling class is

something that goes back to the theories of Karl Marx. Along with Friedrich Engels,

Marx devised a theory of how the ruling classes create products for the masses and what

the effect of that is: “The (ruling) class which has the means of mental production, so that

the ideas of those who lack the means of metal production are on the whole subject to it”

(Marx and Engels 2001). A way to contextualize this concept for something that is

applicable for both media and popular culture criticism is to look at the phenomenon of

Fox News. As one of the biggest subsidiaries of the 20th Century Fox Company, the Fox

News Network is well-known for being a source of biased stories and one-sided
reporting. In other words their viewers are subjected to view that is decided by the ruling

class; in this case it would be the network and Rupert Murdoch’s beliefs. Applying Marx

and Engel’s theory to Fox News is a useful way to help understand it as a phenomenon,

understand how it happened and its possible effects and consequences. Although the

theory originated decades ago it is still a practical concept because it outlines the main

concept of the ruling class and the masses, which is very much applicable in our current

information age. For the Fox News example this had led their viewers to become

supportive of political agendas that tend to support the Republican Party. Although Fox

News label themselves as providing fair and accurate reporting, looking at any of their

segments will show the way in which the media they provide is in favor of the ruling

class.

The very fact that media and cultural studies exist is another aspect of social and

cultural theory. Research and scholarly studies in this area have advanced the way in

which we understand media as art. In the same way that the mass production of printed

books helped foster literacy to the majority of people, the mass production of visual

works of arts has also helped people in becoming more understanding and critical of the

media that they are exposed to. Scholar Walter Benjamin explained this concept by

saying that: “For the entire spectrum of optical, and now also acoustical, perception the

film has brought about a similar deepening of apperception…As compared with painting,

filmed behavior lends itself more readily to analysis because of its incomparably more

precise statements of the situation” (2001). In other words the capability of exact

reproduction and repetition that occurs with technological advancements in mass media

allows more people to be exposed to these texts and products. This in turn will help
people become more literate and critical of media. An example of this happens everyday

in universities all across the world. Media classes much like our own strive to teach

students how to synthesize and analyze all of the media that exists around them. We live

in an age dominated by mass media and information. The only way that people will

continue to go beyond simply consuming the media is if they understand all of the

components and pieces that constitute the media forms they experience and the media

industries themselves. In many ways what these emerging media scholars are doing is

carrying the decade-old teachings of social and cultural scholars and applying to current

societal trends. The only way that these theories will continue to be valuable and viable

sources of understanding is if people continue to study and apply them to our society. The

result of this will be more responsible and informed media students who will eventually

work within the media industries, or they will become scholars who will go on to educate

the next generations on these topics, or citizens who will be well-informed and able be

literate about the media that envelops society.

In essence social and cultural media help in creating more informed citizens.

Given the exponential increase in the presence of media in society, being critical of mass

media and pop culture is more important than ever. Although people may be hesitant to

use these theories in our modern times the fact remains that they explain our human

experience, which despite changes in technology and societal trends, has for the most part

remained the same. Our ability to question our surroundings and what is presented to us

is essential in allowing people to be free from societal restraints that are imposed on them

by others. However by being understanding and critical of it people allow themselves to

exercise their freedom and get from the culture industries exactly what they want.