Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Ideology in the Media

Ideology simply means ideas, values and beliefs in a society.  These are often taken for granted and seen as ‘commonsense’.  However, ideas, values and beliefs are not static; they evolve and develop over time.

Dominant Ideology
Although societies are made up of people with different ideas and values, there is always a dominant ideology.  Dominant ideology then means the ideas and values of those in power.

In terms of the media, some would argue that media producers have the power to exert their ideologies over the mass public. Others suggest that the media ‘reflects’ and shares the ideologies of the public at large. In truth, both of these arguments are valid.

It could be argued that ‘hegemonic power’ (the shared view of everybody) is exerted by the Hollywood studios through their overseas trade organisation, the MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America).  The studios ‘occupy’ most countries by owning cinemas and distributors, usually in partnership with local companies.  This can ensure that their films get shown.  The studio also ‘persuades’ us that their films are the best and that we have a right to see them.  Nobody forces audiences to watch American films, but in reality they have little choice since Hollywood dominates the film industry.

Ideology is concerned with ideas, beliefs and values and how they evolve. We tend to take for granted many values in society as ‘natural’ and ‘commonsense’.  However, ideas, values and beliefs in any society are not static; they evolve and change over time.  (E.G. homosexuality was once a criminal offence, people were jailed for being homosexual, laws have changed and it is now accepted in our society.)

Ideology is broadly influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx (1818-83).  Marx wrote extensively about ideology in the mid-nineteenth century.  His ideas became the basis for much political action in the twentieth century.  For Marx the process of learning about the world produced a ‘false consciousness’, the ideas fitted together in such a way that they masked the reality of the individual’s position in the world.  Why, he wondered did the mass of people put up with poverty and misery when their rulers enjoy wealth and fulfillment.

Marx noted under capitalism, the individual workers were kept in their places not only by force but also by an ideology that evolved under capitalism.  The capitalists succeeded in convincing most of the population that private profit was good for society, and argued that poor people were poor because they were lazy not because they were socially disadvantaged. 

Marx set out a view of human history conceived as a struggle to control means of producing wealth, primarily waged at the political and economic level.  His work on ideology also suggested another type of struggle to defend or challenge the dominant ideas in society.

In media studies the term hegemony is associated with the Italian theorist and political activist, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937).  He emphasised that the control of society by one group or one set of political ideas  was not necessarily achieved by force or control of arms, but by persuasion and consent – the basis for democracy.  The rulers manage to convince the mass population that they are ‘better off’ accepting current government policies.  Maintaining hegemonic control is thus a process of constantly reinforcing the message and developing the argument.

It could be argued that ‘hegemonic power’ is exerted by the Hollywood studios through their overseas trade organisation, the MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America).  The studios ‘occupy’ most countries by owning cinemas and distributors, usually in partnership with local companies.  This can ensure that their films get shown.  The studio also ‘persuades’ us that their films are the best and that we have a right to see them.  Nobody forces audiences to watch American films, but in reality they have little choice since Hollywood dominates the film industry.

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