Pages:8 (2308 words)
As Stuart Hall shows, media representations are powerful. The problem is that the often present stereotypical images and characters that perpetuate and propagate biased beliefs. Because so much media is directed at and consumed by young people, youth culture itself becomes inundated with prefabricated ideas that are developed by the Culture Industry for their consumption. The Frankfurt School argued that the reason people in America never rose up against the owners of the means of production was because the Culture Industry had pacified them by way of the media—films, TV shows, musicals, music albums and so on—all of it had depleted the working class people of whatever impulse they might have had to rise up and take control of their own destiny, like Marx said they would. One of the most powerful companies within the Culture Industry is Disney, and as Giroux points out, it is all about hooking the kids while they are young and turning them into good little life-long consumers and brand loyalists. Today’s media companies are preying upon the young because they know that if they want to be in business in ten or twenty years, they have to hook the next generation of consumers before they are even old enough to earn a paycheck. The media in this sense is like a drug, and the high being chased is consumerism. The media put out by the Culture Industry is thus interested in one thing and one thing only: turning kids into consumers and keeping them that way. They are not in the business of educating, teaching principles or of reflecting the truth or reality. They are in the business of selling—selling merchandise, selling advertising, selling tickets, and selling data (that is collected on each individual consumer) to other companies that aim to sell as well. This paper will show how the media has such a strong grip on youth culture and what it does to maintain that grip.
Legitimizing the Prevailing Political Economy
As Marger notes, the mass media’s purpose is to depict “reality” in such a way that the depiction legitimizes the prevailing political order or economy. In other words, the mass media is a tool of the state and its purpose is to prop up the state, i.e., the power structure. The political system, the economic system, and the mass media are all tied together and are in effect all departments or divisions of the same entity—the same organization, the same club. The members of that club are simply the ruling class. The workers’ lives are spent in service of the ruling class; their livelihood is dependent upon the ruling class paying them a fair wage and providing them with the kind of state in which they can pursue “happiness”—i.e., the American Dream, as propagated by the state, the politics and the media.
Marx predicted the workers would one day rise up against the ruling class, but this never really happened, and the cultural Marxists who followed known as the Frankfurt School wondered why. They argued that the Culture Industry had prevailed upon them in such a way that they would never ever question their place in society vis-à-vis the ruling class. They would be content with their computer games, the entertainment shows put out by Disney, their music, and so on. This would be their happiness and they would be good consumers from the cradle to the grave, making Disney richer and richer all the while and cementing the rule of the ruling class, whose political views they would imbibe from the TV and Internet like milk from their mother’s breast. As Horkeimer would say, mankind had once been but an appendage of the machine and now he was simply an appendage—not even a whole person or attached to anything of any significance at all. The Culture Industry had succeeded in turning mankind into willing corporate slaves, addicted to the drug of media consumption (Drake).
The Drug of Media Consumption
Consuming is the high that the media-addicted seek. The TV programs, films, music, sports, advertisements—all of it is meant to get people to consume. It is meant to attach them to the world created for them by the corporations. The media is their marketing division. It sends messages that make the individual want to consume what the corporations want them to consume, vote the way the corporations want them to vote, and live the way the corporations want them to live (Marger). They…
…Dream, equality, social justice, gender identity, and so on. They hear “sweet nothings,” and because the “sweet nothings” leave them feeling empty they go back to what they know will at least distract them from their emptiness: the products and entertainments offered them by their family of corporations, always ready to entertainment them with the latest media drug of choice.
As Stuart Hall states, “the production of meaning means that there is a kind of symbolic work, an activity, a practice, which has to go on in giving meaning to things and in communicating that meaning to someone else” (14). For corporations like Disney, that practice involves hooking its audience while they are young and retaining them for life—the same as a pusher hooks a junkie. The meaning has to keep changing as the child grows to adolescence and then to adulthood, and the media is there to facilitate that change. The meaning communicate to the child is not going to be the same for the adult, but the Culture Industry has a finely laid track, a process of meaning making, that can veritably last a lifetime. Giroux contends that “as one of the most influential corporations in the world, Disney does more than provide entertainment, it also shapes in very powerful ways how young people understand themselves, relate to others and experience the larger society.” But it is not just young people—it is adults, too. Youth Culture inevitably gives way to adult culture, and the adult continues to look to media for inspiration, guidance and fulfillment. The media keeps the person filled with enough entertainment that no questions are ever asked. Giroux recognizes it as a tragedy, but only for those who actually suffer out in the real world from real problems. In homes where Disney is provided, all necessities are provided.
Without a doubt, media shapes society by providing it with a sense of meaning. That meaning is not static but rather is predicated on the legitimization of the political economy. The media is part and parcel with the government, the corporations, and the institutions. They are not separate entities except to lower level individuals who are on the outside of the club looking in—if not already looking at…
Drake, Jennifer, et al. Growing up postmodern: Neoliberalism and the war on the young. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002.
Giroux, Henry. “Disney, Casino Capitalism and the Exploitation of Young Boys: Beyond the Politics of Innocence.” TruthOut, 2009. https://truthout.org/articles/disney-casino-capitalism-and-the-exploitation-of-young-boys-beyond-the-politics-of-innocence/
Hall, Stuart. “Representation & the Media.” Media Education Foundation, 1997. https://www.mediaed.org/transcripts/Stuart-Hall-Representation-and-the-Media-Transcript.pdf
Marger, Martin N. "The mass media as a power institution." Power in modern societies (1993): 238-249.
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