Through Marxist Eyes
The human need to communicate messages—as well as the ultimate goal to achieve a response from the targeted audience—has brought upon the existence of media, which may be traditionally defined as the technical instruments that provide the means for information. Typically, the avenues of print, television, cinema, and radio come to mind when discussing this area, yet recent developments have produced even more categories such as online devices and systems, which have proven to be the most accessible and instantaneous to date.
Important in the discussion of information and communication is the manner by which they are disseminated, and this is the sole responsibility of those tasked to reach the type of audiences required. However, the significance of media in the context of humanity is its capability to influence practically all aspects of life.
Basic societal constructs such as politics and culture depend heavily on the use of media: politics thrive due to the appropriation of media to communicate policies, and to provide the necessary publicity for further influence and control; culture makes use of media in almost the same way, albeit functioning on the more essential objective of forming the social reality of the group or community.
Due to the obvious assimilation of media in the lives of people and in their societies, it is not surprising how it has ultimately become a deciding factor in the determination of a community’s or industry’s cultural, social, political, and economic identity (McQuail 2005). It is this undeniable importance of media and its role in the individual and collective formation of self that has prompted many scholars to shape specific ideologies pertaining to it and its related areas.
Among the many great thinkers that have delved into composing their own conceptual, theoretical, and operative frameworks are Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, and Louis Althusser. The last two credit much of their ideals to the original points offered by Marx, which focus on the relevance of media on the individual as a member of society or group; the meaning of media, when seen through the lenses appropriated to analyze its effects on its audience, takes on a bigger area and significance in its ability to actually form its own semblances of culture, politics, and society.
II. Marxism and the Cultural Context of Production The iconic philosopher Karl Marx claimed his place in history as he introduced his outlook as regards to the historical makeup and establishment of class and culture. According to Marx, it is the means of production that determines the structure of a particular society (Littlejohn & Foss 2008), which then focuses a critical eye upon the objectives of the ruing class and the economic preference for capitalism.
Consequently, his opinions on media and its position in a society where economic inequality exists brought forth his thinking on the contest of ownership and the equivalent cultural content of media production (Stevenson 1995). Marx’s concepts in the realm of evaluating media and its inherent power are obviously gleaned from the existing structure of society; the way media has affected the lifestyles and relationships found within a certain group is an ultimate product of the set parameters that are dictated by the predominant class in each.
Because Marxist thinking emphasises the contribution of the labourer in the overall good of society and the idea that this segment is marginalised by the unequal distribution of power—including the economic objectives resulting in wealth production (AllAboutPhilosophy. org 2009)—the evaluation of media necessarily sides with the content produced by the prevailing class as well. Clear in the Marxist analysis of media is the identification of messages that are formed by those in power, and the process is shaped as it is disseminated to the masses.
In this case, message production is dependent on an individual’s class in the social structure, and the economic effects are measured according to the responses of each group. A practical example of Marx’s philosophy regarding media and its power over society is the production of media messages that would ultimately entail appropriate action; the labourer that is at the end of the line is given mere prompts by the ruling class, who is made to absorb what is chosen for them, actually becomes the main actor in production for profit.
In terms of celebrity culture, the minds behind media communicate messages that identify which personalities and concepts are to be upheld and appreciated—this is formed primarily through the dictates of those in power, and eventually flows over to the masses. As this happens, the labourer contributes on two aspects: the receiver of the message who decides based on what society has appropriated for him; and the producer or source of messages that would eventually serve to provide more economic rewards to the ruling class.
Media, as shown in this example, is pictured as a creation and not a natural process, and is assigned by the ruling class to the rest of society. The labourers then are but pawns in the context, and are not given the freedom to choose what they would individually prefer; while this is an inherent concept in Marxist ideology, the fact that they are relegated to the function of follower just underlines the idea that classes define media and the messages that are optioned for consumption. III.
Gramsci’s Theory of Hegemony A modification of Marx’s ideology is evident in the thinking of Antonio Gramsci, himself a Marxist scholar. His concept of hegemony appropriates the process of power and domination, in which one group and its ideas overpowers the rest (Littlejohn & Foss 2008), which then pertains particularly to the ruling class. This mindset identifies the process by which this group acts as the leader, that uses its own interpretation of messages to apply even to those outside of its economic parameters.
According to Gramsci’s thinking, this ideology of hegemony can be judged as effective if it has the ability to connect with everyone and urge them to act on a certain call or position; while it favours a specific group in terms of interest and benefit, it ultimately acts as the glue that keeps all classes together (Stevenson 1995). It was Gramsci’s thrust to discover a unifying intellectual system among classes within societies, which would likely be educational and political in function (Monasta 1993), and this is clearly what had guided the thinker throughout his particular thoughts on media and its hegemonic role in said groups.
Because media is said to participate beyond its established role in the message production and dissemination process, it is not entirely surprising that people of various classes—from the bourgeoisie to the masses—would consider using it as a platform by which their ideals should be communicated. In this case, it is as Gramsci believed to be a continuous process, as the fight for power within a society and culture never remains static; the use of media would then be another instrument by which the seat of power is decided.
Delving beyond the typical Marxist analysis, Gramsci’s concept claims that the essence of hegemony reaches far off outside economic goals, and actually crosses over to the boundaries set for moral and intellectual leadership and authority (Stevenson 1995). In terms of actual media application, the power discussed in this hegemony is evident in the appropriation of specific areas of interest, presumably to refer to that particular group that holds the upper hand at that moment.
When current discussion and social concern shifts from one to another—like from women’s issues to environment-centred topics—the corresponding effects in social relevance as well as consumption are also co-opted. Corporate social responsibility programs may present corporations as supporters of the abovementioned environmental issues, but it also promotes capital economy by associating the concept with the products being manufactured or represented by the corporations involved.
By doing this, media manages to cover the whole arena of social, political, cultural, and economic life, and achieves the objective of communicating one message—albeit partial to a certain interest—to all classes and groups. It eventually shapes the way people form their understanding of the particular experience, which would then be skewed favourably toward the intended purpose and thinking (Kataras 2006). IV. Althusser and Ideology, Structure, and Society
Louis Althusser, the renowned French Marxist, builds on the established parameters accorded to Marx; he maintains the significance of class relations in forming mindsets and culture, yet goes beyond it. According to Althusser, society’s way of thinking or ideology is found not just as a singular aspect in the system, but is incorporated in all other realms such as language, culture, and other social areas (Littlejohn & Foss 2008). Most important in Althusser’s work is the structure of society, pertaining largely to the organisations that are built within each system.
These institutions are then the ones that appropriate the particular ideology for its own use and for its members, upon which the individual bases his or her own concept of reality. This opinion, however, had been contested by Stuart Hall, who professed that Althusser’s idea of ideology being of the sole function of recreating the social relationships that lead to production; he redefined ideology in its capacity of setting limits to the level to which the ruling class or group can actually replicate itself and its interests.
He further explains that the belief in the social organisation being the final and permanent source of the way people think is incorrect, for there have been documented changes and shifts in arious aspects of social life—such as language, culture, politics, among others (Hall 1985). However, the study of Althusser’s thinking may be applied distinctly in the way media reinforces its membership and status in society.
Althusser identifies two distinct groups in his concept of societal structure: the repressive state apparatuses, which include the military and the police; and the ideological state apparatuses, of which religion, education, and media are considered part (Littlejohn & Foss 2008). The former, which operates on a more aggressive stance, relays its ideology in such manner when threatened; this is echoed by the latter group, which is then able to communicate the same viewpoint or opinion in a manner that makes things non-threatening and normal.
This could be where media functions as a catalyst; its nature as the instrument by which the social organisations communicate their messages to its members largely define the degree of success of each objective. The form of media appropriated for each purpose necessarily changes according to the need—print materials such as newspapers and magazines and broadcast formats such as television and radio address different groups, and the more current and specialised types found in new media have also managed to define a new kind of audience.
Therefore the strength and power of media are evident in this relationship, as media clearly dictates the outcome of the formulated path taken by the two groups in the social system (Braye 2003). V. Conclusion Karl Marx defined it best for his own followers—media, in its form as an instrument to reconcile two differing forces found within a particular society, claims much power on its own by being the centre of communication. Communication, in terms of strategy and uniting a society to adhere to a single message, is probably the most powerful of all methods used to uphold a certain kind of mindset or ideology.
For Marx, labour is the end-all of things pertaining to mediation and media; the labourer is the receiver of messages passed through the different formats—all with specific objectives—and is thus persuaded by the capitalist powers to change or modify his or her mindset. When this has been achieved, the labourer still functions as the producer of the very reality he or she has already claimed to be right, but only to contribute to the profits enjoyed by capitalists.
Antonio Gramsci espouses the belief in the theory of hegemony, or how a singular ideal is carried through the levels of society while keeping its skew toward the interests of the class that created it. As long as the trust in the thinking is there, the particular group that represents it will benefit largely—until the next mindset comes along that manages to achieve change and transformation among all classes. Media is again a significant part in this equation, as it is to always the means by which the aforementioned plans change or transformation will be communicated.
Louis Althusser and his complex ideas on social structure and organisation, including the analysis of the nature and objective of each representative group, essentially needs media even more than the first two ideologies. With a defined structure and flow in society, the assimilation of media and its further empowerment is inevitable, since the thinking is, according to Althusser, found in the depths of society and its institutions. This way, media would be logically present in every stage that requires any mode of communication.
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