Ideologies can be defined as a set of ideas of an individual, organization, or society that describe their respective objectives, goals, and expectations as well as the modalities of achieving those goals. Ideologies can be thought of as plans or guides for the achievement of the set goals. On the other hand, a discourse can be defined as passing across of thoughts via the use of words. In the sixth chapter of The Media Students’ Book, Gill Branston and Roy Stafford extensively talk about the relationship between power (authority) and media, a relationship that they perceive has always been taken for granted. They argue that media forms such as advertising are, albeit in a non-straightforward way, influenced by the Marxist ideologies. Additionally, these ideologies influence the labour behind the image of a celebrity or a popular figure. The chapter also discusses the ever-changing visibility of class and gender. The authors have managed to explain their points using examples and case studies for the benefit of students. This paper will analyse the mentioned book, specifically paying attention to this chapter. It will also discuss the case studies Age of Stupidity, The Discourses of a Pandemic, and Pulp Fiction (Chapter Analysis).
Ideology and Its Histories: Marxist Approaches
Since time immemorial, people had always thought that ideas were simply free floating. However, this was to change in late 18th century in France, when arguments were made that ideas were, more often than not, connected to social status and/or power. Ideological debates and discussions in Media Studies are credited to the iconic Karl Marx, who analysed the unequal nature of what was deemed natural then – capitalism. Two types of classes were clearly apparent: the wealthy capitalists (industrial manufactures) and the relatively poor proletariat (working class). Marx explored how the social status of a person greatly influenced his/her thoughts and ideologies or in passing judgments. He specifically paid attention to the wealthy capitalists and how they were mostly concerned with protecting their wealth as well as preserving their own selfish economic interests at all times (p 172).
Most media studies are especially interested in three of Marx’s many beliefs. Firstly, his suggestion of dominant ideas of a society, which would, with time, become the norm. Dominant ideas, he argues, are ideas that solely work in the interests of the capitalists to enable them to secure their leadership and ensure their continued dominance over the economy. The capitalists have the power and capacity to own the means of production. As a result, they have the power to control, contrive, and pass across the most important ideas in any societal setup. The two authors argue that this scenario persists up to this day, especially when it comes to reporting of politics. Karl Marx suggested that it was upon the proletariat to come up with their own ideas and fight for the means of circulating those same ideas, if they were to halt the dominance of the ruling class, the capitalists. Secondly, he suggested the base superstructure model outlining the ways in which the basic needs of a society are met. The way such basic needs are satisfied will determine the society’s superstructure model. Such a model, in effect, controls the cultural and political activities of individuals, depending on their ‘base’ in the model. Finally, Marx suggested that, using their power, the ruling class are able to instil into their subjects that their (subjects’) exploitation and subsequent oppression is being natural and unavoidable. Such a situation makes them less reluctant to clamour for change. The authors suggest that these ideas are apparent in today’s media scene. The few enormous media corporations dominating the air time attests to this argument. The smaller corporations are continuously fighting to have a piece of this cake (p. 175).
The authors argue that the control of a few powerful media corporations can be disastrous. For instance, such a case may be lead to a reduction in the range of reported materials. This is especially true if the relatively large conglomerates almost completely exclude the smaller ones or decide to just ‘swallow’ up their smaller counterparts. In addition, the voices of the oppressed will be excluded, as they would not get the platform to pass across their messages. Thirdly, there will be prevalence of popular, simple, and rather straightforward materials in the media. They cite the case of Disney as an example. Lastly, corporate advertising and branding would be very dominant, they predict. There are some television stations at the moment where advertising takes nearly the same time as regular programming (p. 179).
Post Marxism, Identity Politics and Critical Pluralism
The power and effectiveness of the Marxist ideas have taken a beating due to the changes that have occurred after the collapse of the socialist and Marxist Soviet Union and the ensuing clamour for free markets. The growing influence of some post-modern leadership positions that have, contrary to their claims, failed to create a better and more accountable society has also reduced the power of Marx’s ideas. Lastly, the claim of science as the basis of finding the absolute truth has continually found opposition in today’s society, as more and more people have become increasingly sceptic about that claim. Karl Marx always fronted science in advancing his ideas to people. However, these changes have brought about new challenges, such as identity politics. The world now is fully capitalist, which has led to very unequal societies. The relations of exploitation are now firmly rooted in almost all communities, in all the continents. As a result, the economic power, its inequalities and how it relates to social transformation, as outlined by Karl Marx, has yet to fade. In fact, his ideas still elicit a lot of interest (p. 181).
The media has been thought of as being floating and free from any external powers. This claim is substantiated by the fact that there are numerous media forms for the audience to choose from. Big media empires, like Disney and AOL Time Warner, have always boasted that their popularity is purely down to their imperious programs, often downplaying the role of their great financial might over their competitors. This is not entirely the case, as these companies have found the power to control policies touching on labour and copyright. The authors argue that, indeed, there are many ideas that float in the media houses in the world today. This is because there is a certain level of freedom that has been granted to all media houses. However, there are some ideas that circulate more freely than others do, simply due to the fact that they come from a more powerful source. Using the ideas of Marx and Gramsci, the authors come up with four types of powers: economic power, political power, coercive power (such as military), and symbolic power. The latter refers to the means of information and corresponding mode of communication (p. 183).
The acknowledgment that there is a power struggle in the media sector is often called critical pluralism. The scene is not amicably free for all media houses. Powerful media empires have an easier access to certain information, sources, and legal power; and the legitimacy of their material is almost unquestionable. Such media empires have a greater control over advertising and marketing (p. 184).
Discourses and Lived Cultures
Discourse in media studies is believed to have its roots in the works of Foucault and the studies of language. The analysis of discourse is chiefly concerned with the values and identities that are contained, hindered, and sometimes encouraged by the daily practices and the ‘laws’ of a given discourse. This analysis is not only limited to verbal communications, but also visual effects, like photos. For instance, this area explores how a terrorist should be depicted in a film and the type of photos that are to be displayed, when reporting in the news. More often than not, discourses are socially constructed. This paper will discuss the two-discourse case studies in a later section (pp. 185-88).
‘Lived cultures’ is a subject that has its origins in Gramsci’s works. Gramsci suggested that the popular guide to most people’s view of the world could be described as a set of traces, not as simple as previously thought, rather than just a plain ideology. One of the commonest origins of these traces may be religion, instilled a long time ago. However, lived cultures are often dynamic. Gramsci proposed that hegemony is, in fact, a lived process; it was not imposed upon people or dependent on ideas alone. Common sense gets its power from its relation with popular assumptions and material existence. To outline this stance, the two authors use the example of national identity. In national identity, Billig suggested that the authorities and society instil a sense of pride in the people’s minds, such that they are ready to stand up for the sake of the nation. He cites the scenario where people can be persuaded to take part in wars for the economic interests of the nation. This is made possible due to the day-to-day practices in the nation (banal nationality), where people are constantly reminded of their nationhood and hence gain a sense of belonging. Such reminders may be flags and national symbol displays, the constant salute of national heroes and stars, and news bulletins where most media houses will report the ‘home’ news first, before ‘foreign’ news. This identity is not limited to the national scale only, but also to the family level. In this case, photo albums may be filled with family members during the happy times (p. 189).
Media houses have unknowingly adopted the ‘lived cultures’ in their reporting. This practice is clearly seen during the reporting of sports where there is gender imbalance. For instance, the coverage of the men’s sports takes almost 90% of the allocated time on a regular basis. Additionally, the language adopted by the media houses differs according to gender. The images of women in sports are in most cases subject to sexuality and appearance, rather than the talents of the respective women. Most sportswomen are infantilized (called girls), a tag that is not applied for men. They are often referred to by their first name; often emphasizing their marital status in the process. Lastly, their achievements are mostly viewed as personal triumphs, as opposed to national triumphs. This is unlike sportsmen whose achievements are universally acclaimed and celebrated as the nation’s representation (p. 190).
Karl Marx believed that the two main bases for ideologies were economics and class struggle. However, these bases have only been replaced by modern interests in equality, power, and the circulation of dominant assumptions. In the earlier days, the focus of media studies was on biased ideological studies. This, in effect, caused the media not to report the correct situation with the class struggles. Nowadays, media studies are more concerned with the exploration of fantasy and entertainment and mechanisms of how the audiences can be made active participants in the process of media. This helps in circulating of the ideologies (p. 191).
Case Studies: The Age of Stupid and Climate Change Politics
Gill Branston and Ray Strafford use the film Age of Stupid and the subsequent climate change arguments to advance the points that they make throughout the chapter. The film was set in 2055 with the world already devastated. Pete Postlethwaite is the only inhabitant in this deserted world nostalgically looking back to the old days (2007 footage) and wondering why the world had not tackled the climate change when it had the chance. The authors outline the film’s superior discourses of advertising and cinema alongside the location of filming. The brilliant use of these discourses largely contributed to the success of the film. The images in the film and depicted practices were effective in condemning reckless activities and cultures that contribute to the climate change. Such compelling images enhanced its theme. This is attested by the politics that ensued (p. 194).
The Discourse of a Pandemic
This case study explores how the predicted swine flu ‘pandemic’ was reported across the media outlets in the year 2009. They suggest that the construction and reportage of the news stories was greatly influenced not only by the fears of the predicted consequences of a chronic airborne pandemic, but also the ideals of media reporting touching on medical matters. The reporting was also conditioned by the institutional issues among the medical and scientific fraternity. The power of discourse was evident in how it could change the thinking of people when swine flu was first reported in Mexico. Although it was a relatively mild flu, given fatalities and infection rates, it had a great impact; passengers were screened, some schools were closed, public gatherings were prohibited, and numerous campaigns were set up. In Egypt, the government even ordered slaughtering of its pigs. This enormous coverage instilled fear in almost all persons. It demonstrated the ideological power that dominant discourses have (p. 197).
Pulp Fiction is also a film. At its release, it was seen as exemplifying ultra-modernization. This case study explores the textual aspects of the film and its compelling narrative shaping. The film’s use of up-to-date techniques contributed to its success. The textual interplay, its apparent depiction of being timeless, the dual hybrid nature of its themes are hailed by the authors. Although the film was a masterpiece, its success could partially be attributed to the fact that Miramax (the production and distribution company) had been bought by Disney, a far much larger media empire. Using its financial might, Disney (through its distribution sub-company Buena Vista), was able to launch a massive campaign in some 1,300 cinemas, wherein the influence of power again comes into play (p. 200).
Media studies are very dynamic, much like the dynamic nature of the world. However, one thing seems permanent – power. It is almost inevitable that larger media empires will always strive to be in control of the process of media. However, this does not mean that smaller corporations will be excluded from sharing in the glory of reportage. They just have to fight using that limited space they got. Additionally, as described by the ‘Age of Stupidity’ and ‘Discourse of a Pandemic’ case studies, the media can be a powerful tool in shaping up the people’s thinking and their activities. In the former case, together with the Pulp Fiction, it can be seen that films can also be compelling platforms in passing across information. This can only be achieved if they incorporate great themes with great imagery.