The media plays a pivotal role in defining the world and providing models for appropriate behavior and attitudes. Ideology has a link with concepts such as belief system, worldview and values, but is broader in context. The media is considered to be an avenue through which dissemination of ideology takes place. Hence, this is one reason why the media is often a subject of political debate.
The media is deemed a root of social evils and problems. In his campaign trail of 2000, President George W. Bush alleged that school violence was due to “dark dungeons of evil on the internet” (Kornblut and Scales cited in Croteau & Hoynes 2003).
Also, politicians from across the political realm blamed violent video games for the tragic shootings at Colorado Columbine High School in 1999. The media thus is perceived to sell both ideas and products and this paper will discuss how the media effectively achieves this by paying attention to ideology and hegemony.
As shown by Marx and Frankfurt, ideology yields positive results by indicating that social power is operational via the cultural realm of society. People are grouped into social networks of oppression and subordination by ideological systems (Cottle 2000).
Marxists often talk of ideology as a belief system used by those in power to justify their actions though distortion and misrepresentation of reality. Media uses ideology as a means to define and explain the world, and make value inferences on this world.
Ideology in media does not focus on specific activities shown in newspapers, songs, or movies, rather it is interested in the broader system made up by such activities. Compatibility of images and words in a certain media text, thoughts and definitions of cultural and social issues are fundamental in ideological analysis (Croteau & Hoynes 2003).
Despite the fact that mass media texts are comprehended ideologically as means of communication that have a higher regard for some set of ideas and not others, an explicit description of media ideology remains limited. Hegemony on the other hand deals with predominant influence of one group over other groups/group.
Fiske defined hegemony as “exertion of a nation’s ideological and social, rather than military or coercive, power over another nation” (Fiske 1998, 310). In contemporary cultural society, hegemony is the dynamic means used by a dominant class to obtain and win the consent of the subordinate class.
Ideology is very powerful because it is the means through which dominance of hegemonic institutions is gained. Therefore, consent should be won and re-won because courageous individuals may possess alternative ideologies that make them rebellious to hegemonic ones. Ideology, therefore, is integral in enabling a ruling, hegemonic institutions propagate the required consent for dominance.
Media texts are seen as fundamental sites to basic social norms. This is because they play a role in depicting appropriate roles of men and women, employers and their employees, and parents and children. By so doing, the media disseminates the ideologies governing roles by various kinds of people.
Ideology is fundamental in reinforcing perceptions and ideas in the minds of the audiences but, for it to have the powerful effect of changing these perceptions and ideas, a hegemonic aspect is essential. Media audiences define their being, and through such means social demarcation prevails.
The U.S. cultural historians: Todd Gitlin and Williams, and British cultural studies headed by Stuart Hall, have applied false consciousness as the anticipated end product of hegemony. Hegemony has been deemed as the domination, via ideology, of the ruling class and development of popular consent by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist.
Hegemony is a concept that integrates persuasion from the dominant classes and consent from the dominated classes. It is used by Gitlin and other scientists to explain the process of the capitalism’s promotion. Gitlin’s study implies that supremacy is maintained when those people who are responsible for the process can easily present the explanations of the subjects under consideration.
The ruling class controls ideological space and restricts the thinking of society. The minor/dominated class ignorantly takes part in their domination as hegemony becomes a part of their daily routines and ideas (Gitlin 1980).
Media sites have become a site where cultural contests are staged. This is due to the varying ideological perspectives, which are a representation of different interests varying in power that creates a kind of conflict and struggles within media texts.
Hegemony is not all about ideological domination; rather, it operates by using common sense while making assumptions on social life and terrain of things accepted as natural, or conventional. Gramsci says that by shaping commonsense assumptions, effective rule is achieved (1971). Common sense is the way that people conceive and perceive things without the need of critical evaluation.
A young woman watches a sitcom on television each evening. The characters on this program, her favorite show, are young, thin, Caucasian, and attractive. She is also young, attractive, and Caucasian; watching the program informs and reinforces her perceptions of her successful appearance, her sense of belonging, and her identity as part of her generation (Gray 2005).
Most people are not aware of how presentations of television are developed. The decision by consumers on any program and advertisement is influenced by various parties and institutions. According to Marxist theorists, such parties and institutions are deemed to possess power and privilege.
Ideology is useful in understanding contemporary media because it focuses on compatibility of hegemonic ideology with personal or societal ideologies. However, hegemony is more useful because it has an influential role that persuades the audience thereby creating dominance. The ability of the media’s hegemonic ideology to influence the ideology of an individual leads to subordination.
Otherwise, hegemony alone is not enough to wage subordination because through hegemonic ideology, the dominated class engages in its domination without realizing it. In the excerpt given above, the ability of the media to shape and reinforce the ideology of the young woman creates a kind of subordination to the program.
According to Althusser, ideology is the link between imaginary thinking with real existence: material existence (Althusser 1969, 296). Stuart Hall is one of the contemporary cultural and media critic rooted in Althusserian framework of ideology, and believes that audiences will accept some ideas and reject others depending on their individual differences, particular beliefs and cultural circumstances (Hall 2001).
Hall regularly contours this scenario in his “encoding-decoding typology that postulates the encoding of messages with their unique meanings by the sender, and the decoding of these messages by the audiences” (2001).
The audiences accept some of these meanings, develop new meanings, and reject some of the desired meanings. Postmodern Marxists embrace Gramscian hegemony characterized by persuasion of individuals and social classes to accept social values and norms of an exploitative system (Gramsci 1971).
In the contemporary social world, there are conflicting ideologies as mentioned earlier on. As a result, hegemony comes in and plays an essential role in influencing the decision of the audience.
Gramsci describes hegemony as a form of social power that is dependent on voluntarism and willing participation and is seen as common sense that governs people’s understanding of the world (Gramsci 1971, 333). Integration of hegemony in ideology is what defines and helps to understand contemporary media.
Individuals, who are lovers of romantic novels and films, begin watching the movie with their certain ideologies in mind, but at the end of the novel or film, their ideologies become influenced and changed via hegemony. In a story of “I Followed My Dream” (True Romance 1980 cited in Williams 1977), the hegemony of patriarchy influences and changes the feminist ideas of a young woman.
The character in this story possesses feminist ideas that guide her thinking. She does not intend to get married to a Chauvinist, who will just regard her as a servant. However, she falls in love and actually performs wifely duties as required of her. This story is influential to the audience, and is an indication of hegemonic ideology.
The main theoretical concept that governs contemporary ideology of media is hegemony. Hegemony encompasses culture, power and ideology. The media is perceived to possess a powerful hegemony over the audience thus making them less independent. Freedom of the press, which is leading slogan in almost all media stations, should be understood to mean ‘power of the press’.
The media has had a powerful influential role on the audiences. Several instances include the rise of nationalism in Serbia (Meeuwis 1993), inciting ethnic hatred in Rwanda and South Africa, as well as triggering the post-election violence in Kenya. Despite the fact that the media depicts various ideologies, hegemony is very imperative in contemporary media as far as power, dominance and influence are concerned.
In the Contemporary American society, the media has been referred to as a center of culture wars against fundamental issues related to morality (Hunter 1991). There are struggles over morality and values as the media tries to persuade audiences to accept the images being disseminated.
The nomination of Eminem’s album ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ in the year 2001 stirred up a lot of controversy as a result of the angry and violent lyrics by the rapper in his depictions of gays, women and lesbians. The media has become the avenue through which change in lifestyle, sexuality and behavior is propagated, and persuades the audiences.
Right now, the issue of single motherhood has been swept under the rug just because the media has shown it as acceptable thus most women nowadays are becoming single out of mere choice (Croteau & Hoynes 2003).
In addition, the Third World countries have been imposed on by the Western countries in terms of clothing, diet, body size, lifestyle, etc. via the media. Hegemonic ideology has been very influential in changing people’s (audiences’) ways and thoughts.
The media is an area where change is inevitable noticed, from ideological sense to hegemony. The media, therefore, is a powerful tool that greatly influences the thinking and behavior of the audience. The media is able to perform this role through hegemony/dominant ideology.
Hegemonic ideology is able to influence the audiences, making them less independent such that they rely on the media for guidance. This is the reason why the media has been blamed for change and dilution of social norms and especially in Third World countries.
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Fiske, J 1998, ‘Culture, ideology and interpellation’, in Rivkin J & Ryan M (eds.), Literary theory: An anthology, Blackwell Publishers, Malden, pp. 305-311.
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