The media have recently have taken an identity almost undistinguishable from entertainment or pop culture and marketing where news serve as “spices” that add up flavor to the whole serving, such as the Guardian Unlimited website where boxer Ricky Hatton shares a portion about improvements in the home care for elderly, and the US mall massacre losses billing against a £35,000 cocktail (2007), a Time website that features news headlines in a column of lines side by side with a full-colored Ford year-end celebration offers while featuring a Sharp television “business news” below (2007) while a November 23 boasted with the cover line “Style & Design” and on the center of the cover, “The Luxury Index: A Complete Guide to the Products, People and Places of 2007.”
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Drawing on Roger Silverstone’s Why Study the Media? with the aim to introduce the themes or issues and to demonstrate the interrelation of issues and approaches, this essay shall try to present media issues, biases, and discourses over time. This paper will also draw upon Roland Barthes Mythologies as a newspaper columnist in France in the 1950s and prefigure materials found in British newspapers or color supplements today.
The paper will try to outline an understanding and analysis of media texts using the above materials including some additional data.
Mythologies is a compilation of short journalistic articles on a variety of subjects written between 1954 and 1956 for the left-wing magazine Les Lettres Nouvelles. Calvet (1973 p.37) appoints it as belonging to Barthes’ “période journalistique”. The fifty-four texts are considered as opportunistic improvisations on relevant and up-to-the-minute issues more than carefully considered theoretical essays that provide the contemporary reader a panorama of the events and trends that took place in France during the 1950s. While the texts are considered local and belonging to the period, these still have relevance today.
The majority of the texts focus on various manifestations of mass culture, la culture de masse such as films, advertising, newspapers, and magazines, photographs, cars, children’s toys, popular pastimes – the mass culture, if not consumption. Barthes brokered the possibility of writing trivia of everyday life read with full of meanings (McNeill, 1996).
The book includes an important theoretical essay entitled “Le Mythe aujourd’hui”(Barthes: 1970 pp.193-247). It is an overall view and a theoretical or methodological tract positioned after the journalistic articles that expressed not only the chronological order in which they were written but also how Barthes wanted his readers to understand the text as a whole. “Le Mythe aujourd’hui” made explicit some shared interrogation of the meanings of the cultural artifacts and practices that surround peoples. That objects, gestures, and practices have a certain utilitarian function but are not resistant to the imposition of meaning (McNeill, 1996).
Barthes observed in the essay “Iconographie de l’abbé Pierre” (Barthes, 1970 pp.54-6) that the media’s attention on the abbé Pierre’s devotion and good works, strikingly symbolized by his haircut moves the attention away from investigating on the causes of homelessness and poverty. In most of the essays, Barthes presents neutral or innocent objects and then moves on to the social and historical conditions they obscure He is concerned with analyzing the myths popularly accepted in contemporary society.
Barthes found images, visual representations, and objects as symbols that have become the social messages as well as signifiers of idea or ideology so that there is the signified and the signifier forming the third entity “sign” where there is no telling them apart (Ogden, p 67). Barthes suggested that the image of a Negro saluting a French flag is a symbol of imperialism. At most, he inspected for semiology or semiotics laundry detergent commercials, gangster movies, wrestlers, as well as various forms of writing and claimed that the sign was embedded with social or cultural meaning. “It points out and it notifies, it makes us understand something and it imposes it on us… It postulates a kind of knowledge, a past, a memory, a comparative order of facts, ideas, decisions,” (p 117).
Why Study the Media
Silverstone’s Why Study the Media? is a proposal and a presentation of theories about the processes and influence of the media written in oral discourse that created delicacy where complexity and obscurity were the trends (Graham, 2007). Its five parts are: first presented experience, mediation, and technology where he advises the reader to view “media as a process of mediation” (p 13) where discourses of everyday life are processes that are classified thereby distinct and placed on judgment (p 12); the second laid out an analytical agenda of rhetoric, poetics, and erotics where the media plays the production of enchantment (p 29); the third provides concepts of the media process, experience and technology in a fashion as play, performance and consumption; fourth raised question about mediation in domestic, community and the global scene; and the fifth presents the media as a political economy (Graham, 2007).
Silverstone concludes that the media gears up, “towards a new media politics […] It is all about power, of course. At the end. The power the media have to set an agenda. The power they have to destroy one,” (p 143).
Media: Bias, Limitations, Issues
This is never surprising, however. In 1989, Newton proposed that practical limitations to neutrality are identified as the inability of journalists to report all available stories and facts, and the requirement that selected facts be linked into a coherent narrative (p 130). There is a lot of what may be considered as news happening every second, with the reporters writing about it, it becomes impossible to print or publish everything.
Newton posed that some bias is inevitable as there is the actual need to consider government influence, including overt and covert censorship making unbelievable media reports in many countries until today. Likewise, economic and business reasons result in a biased presentation due to ownership of the news source, the selection of staff, the preferences of an intended audience, as well as pressure from advertisers. The clout of politics or even affiliations arises from the ideological positions of media owners and journalists. And lastly, Newton (1989) positioned that space or air time available for reports, print media size, and deadlines, lead to incomplete and seemingly or blatantly biased stories (pp 130-155).
In another view where peoples organization are observed, Smith, McCarthy, McPhail, and Augustyn (2001, 1397) observed that while social movements often seek to draw attention to issues they deem important by organizing public demonstrations with the aim of attracting mass media coverage, only a small proportion of all public demonstrations receives media attention. They proposed that even when movements succeed at getting the attention of mass media outlets, reports portray protests that may undermine social movement agendas so that there is a need to engage in other forms of communication that affect public interpretations of mass media frames.
Likewise, in the view of Laden (2001), she argued that the sociosemiotic work of media represented by magazines extends way beyond their immediate or most apparent use-value. She singled out that their evocative power or the way consumer magazines authorize “aspired to,” not necessarily “given” states of affairs. Nevertheless, “consumer magazines for black South Africans have been strategically mobilized and (re)activated as part and parcel of the urban, middle-class repertoire of discursive and cultural dispositions initially derived from the nineteenth-century missionary enterprise in South Africa and a means of strategically transforming this repertoire “from below,” in keeping with the current needs and interests of many black South Africans,” (p 515).
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The magazines were found to have provided its readers with efficient means of integrating and transforming oral traditions that include public debate, oral poetry and song, storytelling, and oral narrative so that “all received sources of African “cultural capital,” into literate modes of print culture and “urban ways of knowing,” consumer magazines for black South Africans also operate as participatory public forums enhanced by urban technologies,” (p 515).
Ogden (undated) basing on Barthes’ myths, observed on the other hand that the Doubleday Baseball “serves to anchor an ethnocentric message, maintained in various forms by the administration of professional baseball leagues, most notably the Major Leaguers,” (p 65). This resulted in what Ogden proposed as Major League baseball maintaining myths of game representation showing the moral fiber and social character of the United States.
Not going further, as mentioned already earlier, same things are seen on the Guardian website front page and Time magazine cover for November 2007. At most, while it was generally understood that media and information sought to provide what may be considered necessary for human existence or day-to-day living, has turned into forms of corporate catalogs that provide entertainment if not how people or individuals can or may get entertainment through its bigger and catchier ads, beside one-line news headlines about more important matters such as the US massacre, troubles in Sudan, Taliban update, and more deaths in Afghanistan.
In a more specific point, while the outrageously expensive £35,000 cocktail, in the end, become a butt of the joke for the author, its place as the top “Most read on Guardian Unlimited December 8” (2007) gives it a materialistic celebration that does not separate the news title and its publisher.
There is the delicate if not impossible delineation between media, representation of objects, materialism, and commercialism nowadays. Barthes is right to propose that everything seems to have evolved as a representation for class, part of society, and even separation of peoples, individuals, and identities. Silverstone, too, was right in his assumption about power and the strength that media owns in the process and even manufacture of information.
In outlining observable facts and mystic beyond what plain readers and media users may not be keen to know or ever learn, both authors have given an enlightening view of what social scientists may call conditioning and in the end, control of media over its reading or viewing populace.
Today, as the forms of media evolved to ever become faster, wilder, and more in-to-you to its subscribers, the dangers it poses over the segregation of individuals as it achieves to fool the viewer-consumer as “empowered” using his dollar or credit card is more uncontrollable.
While issues of larger importance become, as noted earlier, garnishing to the main menu of luxurious living, splendor, entertainment, and more spending for personal pleasure, people have swayed away from what really matters which the media should have brought in the first place.
What individuals are provided is information that goes directly to their wallet or bank account, using Silverstone’s “enchantment” methodology. The charm of empowerment becomes real while the consumer buys. And in the other end of the spectrum, the supposed recipient of “important” information is left as ignorant about the ability of his one pound to provide one decent meal to a starving family.
Other issues are all bound in the observations on Barthes and Silverstone. Issues that should have mattered as life and death or lives and deaths if economists and the media did not meet.
It may be true that at some point, as noted by Laden that the media has served its purpose, about lifting up an individual or a group, in her case Black Americans, this is just a portion of what the media may prove as philanthropic acts. At some points, it has helped some peoples change into moving to a better society, politically, or otherwise. But it all drums up to a point where a consumerist act is compromised. The more powerful give a little, then gets back monstrously for more.
Graham, Philip. (2007). “Review: Why Study the Media? (Roger Silverstone). Web.
Guardian Unlimited. (2007). Website Home page. Web.
Laden, Sonja (2001). “Making the Paper Speak Well, or, the Pace of Change in Consumer Magazines for Black South Africans.” Poetics Today – Volume 22, Number 2, pp. 515-548.
McNeal, Tony (1996). “Roland Barthes: Mythologies (1957)” Lectures. The University of Sunderland. Web.
Ogden, David C. (2007). “Major League Baseball and Myth Making: Roland Barthes’s Semiology and the Maintenance of Image.” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture – Volume 15, Number 2, pp. 66-78.
Newton, K. (1989). “Media bias.” In Goodin, R Reeve, A. Liberal Neutrality. Routledge.
Ogden, David. “Major League Baseball and Myth Making: Roland Barthes’s Semiology and the Maintenance of Image.” Nine 15 no 2, pp 65-78.
Silverstone, Roger (2002). “Complicity and Collusion in the Mediation of Everyday Life.” New Literary History – Volume 33, Number 4, pp. 761-780.
Smith, Jackie, McCarthy, John D. (John David) 1940-, McPhail, Clark 1936-, Augustyn, Boguslaw (2001). “From Protest to Agenda Building: Description Bias in Media Coverage of Protest Events in Washington, D.C.” Social Forces – Volume 79, Number 4, pp. 1397-1423.
Time (2007). 2 AM.