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  1. 1. ASSESS POSTMODERN VIEWS OF THE MEDIAPostmodern views on the media cover a range of issues and some thinkerssee media effects as unproblematic. They see the media as beingcharacterised by diversity and choice and offering a range of products. Fromthis, audiences create their own meanings. The media promote consumerculture where identities are in a state of constant review and change andcan be ‘picked and mixed’ and remodelled. Other postmodern writers have adarker view of the effect of the media on audiences. Diversity and choice areseen as resulting in fragmented identities where audiences lose a sense ofwho they are and their connection with others around them.For example, social networking sites and video-sharing media like YouTubehave provoked worries about their effect on younger people. Thewidespread use of the media and new technologies available to mediaproducers also means there is a blurring of the distinction between realityand media images that leaves audiences confused about what is real andwhat is media-created.Some research challenges postmodern views on fragmented identities.Gauntlett (2007) produced an interesting study about identities in which heasked participants to build a model that represented their identity usingLego pieces. He found that the models that they produced demonstratedunified identities that were not fragmented in the way that postmodernviews suggest. He also found that the participants felt that the media hadlittle influence on their identity.Postmodern views on the effects of the media on wider society are drawnfrom their belief that society is now characterised by diversity, choice andmedia saturation. Media institutions, products and technologies have grownto such an extent that they form a large part of daily experience, providingpeople with a constant flow of information and entertainment and are afundamental element of the functioning of society. Baudrillard argues thatmedia images now dominate and distort the way in which the world is seen.For example, media images replace reality to such an extent that lasertechnology and video reportage have eliminated the blood, the suffering andcorpses from war, and the TV news presents a sanitised version of events,with battles shown as media-constructed spectacles, which have such an airof unreality about them that we are unable to distinguish them fromHollywood movies or video games. Baudrillard calls this distorted view of theworld ‘hyperreality’, with the media presenting what he calls ‘simulacra’ –1|
  2. 2. artificial images or reproductions/copies of real events viewedsimultaneously across the globe.The 21st century is likely to see an enormous increase in the power andinfluence of already powerful media companies. With global satellite, cableand digital television, and the huge growth of the internet and other newmedia, postmodernists argue that the new media no longer reflect realitybut actively creates it. In support of this, Garrod (2004) suggests that‘reality’ TV shows like I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here and Big Brotherare blurring the distinction between ‘reality’ and ‘hyperreality’.Strinati (1995) emphasises the importance and power of the mass media inshaping consumer choices. Popular culture – like the culture of celebrity –and media images and messages bombard us daily, through books,magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, advertising and computers, and form oursense of reality and increasingly dominate the way we define ourselves. Inthis media-saturated society, the mass media create desires and pressuresto consume, and many of us actually define our identities – how we see anddefine ourselves and how we want others to see us – in terms of mediaimagery. Colour, form and media-induced trends become more importantthan the content of products: it is not the quality of clothes, drink or mobilephones we buy that matters, but whether they conform to media-inducedimages, styles, brand names and trends. The media-promoted designerlabels of popular culture become more important than the quality of theproducts. In films, it is not the story that matters so much as how good thespecial effects are.In a similarly negative manner, Baudrillard argues that this kind ofconsumption moves people ever further away from social relationships andever closer to relationships with their consumer lifestyles. He sees people asisolated and dehumanised. The importance of objects in our lives has littleto do with their use to us, but much more to do with what meaning theyhave for us. We purchase items not just because they are functionallyuseful, but because they signify that we are successful or fashionable.Consumer goods and leisure activities are, in Baudrillard’s words, ‘sign-objects’ – items we buy to express ourselves not for their function.In addition, such developments can mean that people have a much-reducedinvolvement with the real world outside of the media. They can come to seethe world through the images and perspectives that the media present. Thediversity of media products can help to create a confusing array of choices2|
  3. 3. and meanings that result in a society where shared norms and values areless and less clear.Critics argue, though, that postmodern views ignore the persistence oftraditional identities and the role of the media in maintaining theseidentities. Research into media representations of gender, ethnicity, socialclass and age, indicate that diversity and choice can be restricted byhegemonic representations of social groups. Media influence is undoubtedlyimportant, but it is not the determining factor in most people’s lifestylechoices.There is also a rather naive element to postmodern analyses, in that theytend to ignore the fact that a substantial number of people are unable tomake consumption choices because of inequalities brought about bytraditional influences such as unemployment, poverty, racial discriminationand patriarchy. Traditional forms of inequality remain a crucial influence, asaccess to the internet, digital television and so on is denied to many peoplein the UK. Not everything is hyperreal. People do live in reality, and somepeople have much greater access to goods and services than others.In a positive vein, some postmodern views see new media technologies asbringing benefits to society. For example, the internet and digital televisionhave encouraged a greater sense of global awareness. They have alsoempowered people by enabling them to voice their views through a mediumthat can reach a global audience. Vattimo (1992) refers to the way in whichsubcultural groups can use the media to find new and exciting ways ofcommunicating their views. The developments in media technologies haveincreased the range and variety of media products available and this haspromoted an eclectic approach where ideas can be drawn from a diverserange of sources. As a result, society’s way of life can be seen to have beenenriched. It is argued that, in the postmodern global world, this culturaldiversity and pluralism will become the global norm.Concerns have been raised, however, that criminals have used the media tocommit acts of fraud across the globe and there are concerns about the useof global communications to assist terrorist activities. The internet has alsobeen used as a vehicle for pornography, sexual deviance and other forms ofdeviant behaviour. Concerns have been expressed about the way in whichwebsites, including those involving social networks have been used topromote violence, self-harm and suicide.3|
  4. 4. Marxists are critical of the view that globalisation will – as somepostmodernists contend – bring about more choice with regard to identitiesand lifestyles. Marxists think choice is restricted because transnational mediacompanies and their owners, like Murdoch, have too much power. Marxistsare particularly concerned that local media and cultures may be replaced bya global culture. Cultural pessimists refer to this trend as the ‘Disneyfication’of culture because it is claimed that this global culture is overwhelmingly anAmerican entertainment culture, focused on sitcoms, reality television, soapoperas, celebrity gossip and consumerism. Kellner (1999) agrees andsuggests that this global media culture is about sameness and that it erasesindividuality, specificity and difference.It is further suggested that global media and culture are ‘dumbing down’real and authentic local cultures. In support of this, Putnam (1995) arguesthat one of the side effects of a global culture organised around televisionand the internet is civic disengagement – people are no longer willing to getinvolved in their communities. They would rather stay at home and watchtelevision.Postmodernists disagree with this Marxist argument. They argue thatglobalisation is good for both the developed and developing worlds becauseit offers their citizens more choices and opportunities. Postmodernists arguethat British cultural identity is now influenced in a positive way by a range ofcultures from around the world – for example, fashion and music – broughtto us by global media. Postmodernists also argue that local cultures are notswallowed up by global media culture; rather, local culture adapts to globalculture.In conclusion, it can be argued that postmodern views have becomeincreasingly influential in sociology. However, some writers like Baudrillardappear to be more critics of society rather than sociological theorists. Theirwork is shot through with value-judgments about what is real and what isworthwhile – so their dismissal of contemporary media-based society is lessa sociological statement than a political one. There is an assumption thatpeople approach the media without any prior experience of their own, andthat they do not discuss, interpret, ignore or reject media imagery andmessages. The mass media are only one element – albeit important – inshaping people’s lives. For many people, gender, ethnicity, social class, age,whether they are able-bodied or disabled, experiences of work, school,friends, family, religious and political beliefs – all these are likely to influencehow the media is selected, interpreted and responded to.4|
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