The following ideassummarise the section onMarxist Perspective inMedia Studies A2: TheEssential Introduction forWJEC. It would be a goodidea to read the entiresection in the original, ifyou want to fully get togrips with these ideas andways of looking at mediatexts.
Marxism derived from thepolitical and social ideologieswritten by Karl Marx in the1867 book Das Kapital.It developed into a politicalsystem that became the basisof communism, central to theold Soviet Union and still partof the social fabric of Chinaand North Korea.
Since Marx’s death in 1883, his ideas have ben takenand expanded by others, so modern Marxism is morethan just the work of Karl Marx.
One of Marx’s core ideas about society was that allsocieties have an economic base. This is seen to bethe central core and focus of any society – whatmakes the rest of it tick.In Western cultures this economic base isessentially capitalist – in other words, the wholesystem is based on the pursuit of wealth. Theproblem is that this does not benefit all – the richget richer and the poor poorer in this type ofsystem. It leads to social inequality.
A capitalist system encouragesindividuals to pursue wealth andprosperity and allows them, afterdue taxes have ben paid, to keep theprofit. This is seen to motivateeconomic success.As a result capitalism has valuedindividuality, competitiveness,conspicuous consumption (as anobvious sign of success) andmaterialism. Greed is not necessarilya vice, as it promotes the desire toproduce wealth.
Marx sees a capitalist societyas a split society. Those whocontrol or have power arecalled the bourgeoisie. Thosewho do not and who have tosell their labour for minimalpay and often no share of theprofit are called theproletariat.
Marx saw that the economicbase supported asuperstructure – theinstitutions that exist in asociety such as those linked tothe law, education, politics andthe media. These are shapedby the economic base andexist to support, serve andlegitimise the base to society –they partly exist to convincepeople that the way thecountry works is the right way.
The bourgeoisie in any societyare outnumbered by theproletariat, so why don’t theysimply rise up and overthrowtheir masters’ as happened inthe Russian Revolution?Marx’s theory about this wasthat elements of thesuperstructure, like the media,were used to brainwash theproletariat into seeing thecurrent set-up as natural andright.
The media, amongst otherelements, created a sense offalse consciousness – a fakeview that the world is exactly asit should be. This view reassuresthe proletariat and stops themfeeling that anything should bedone about their lot. In otherwords, they are renderedunaware of the true nature oftheir exploitation and theunfairness of the system theylive in.
It becomes the objective ofthe most powerful rulinggroup to stay in power, topreserve their privilegedposition. It is for this reasonthat they use the media andother elements of thesuperstructure to try andget others to agree to keepsociety the way it is.
Two later theorists developed ideas aboutthe role the media plays in this pacificationand hoodwinking of the masses.Althusser identified two types ofmechanism that states use to control themasses:•Repressive State Apparatuses – physical bodiesthat can restrain people if they step over the linesthe ruling group sets, institutions like the armyand the police•Ideological state Apparatuses (ISAs)- structureswhich use ideology to try to dominate people, asubtler approach. Includes institutions like themedia, education and religion.
Gramsci developed ideas abouthegemony, describing theprocess whereby the rulingclasses own and control the ISAslike the media. They can, thus,use them to promote theideologies of the ruling classes.Through repetition and theabsence or marginalisation ofother views, the proletariateventually accept them as‘common sense’ and the naturalway to view things.
These views show howMarxist’s view media in acapitalist culture as agents ofthe ruling elite. The media isused as a more subtle, lessobjectionable controlmechanism than the army.They aim to gain people’sagreement to the waysociety is rather than havingto beat them intosubmission.
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch theruling ideasKarl Marx
Obviously, communism tried to createa society that ran on very differentlines to capitalism:•There should be no private ownership ofbusiness or industry, so no one person getsall the profit•All work and share in the outcome –common ownership•No classes, so no one group can setthemselves up over others•State control of media and other ISAs likereligion etc to avoid the creation of falseconsciousness
The ideas behind communismwere to eliminate theproblems people like Marxsaw in capitalist societiesduring the IndustrialRevolution.Countries like Russia and Chinaran their countries on theselines. However, as with allsystems, their implementationwas not problem free, nor didthey arguably produce fairersocieties.
Just because Marx wrote in 1883, does that mean hisideas are still relevant today?Many think so, although it is true that many capitalistsocieties have seen changes that may affect some ofMarx’s original ideas:•Poverty today in the UK is much less than it was when Marxwrote his treatise (he gained many ideas during a sojourn inManchester) – maybe divisions are less stark? Although, you maylike to consider how much some bankers and footballers earn!•Big companies are less likely to be owned by a few privateindividuals but often belong to shareholders, who may well beworkers from a variety of backgrounds•The internet is allowing more and more people to work forthemselves
How does Marxism apply to media texts?• You can look at who owns a media production and who benefits the most financially• Texts can be examined to see if they promote ideologies that support the ruling classes/ the status quo – is it being used to exert hegemonic control – ask what ideologies are being pushed? Who do they benefit?• Do texts naturalise inequality between groups based on power – are men privileged over women? White groups over other cultures? Capitalism over any other economic system and values?
• Are media texts produced just like any other product in the capitalist system – for maximum profit? The need for efficient mass production may lead to a formula approach to media creation, weakening elements of creativity and imagination. Some Marxist critics, like Theodore Adorno, certainly saw capitalist media systems as antithetical to the production of ‘good’ and valuable culture. Some products will never get made as they are unlikely to yield a profit.