Although culture is most often associated with
“fine art,” it can be more broadly defined to include
the entire spectrum of ways people express
themselves in a particular time and place.
In fact, mass media—the cultural industries and
channels of communication—can be seen as both
artifacts and distributors of culture.
spectrum includes art, beliefs, customs,
games, technologies, traditions, institutions, and all
of the communication (the creation and use of
symbol systems to convey information and
meaning) that surrounds these items and events.
Mass media are the cultural industries that produce
Communication can be understood to have gone
through five phases of development—oral, written,
print, electronic, and digital—with previous phases
continuing and adapting as new technologies
introduced new techniques for communicating.
In early societies, information and knowledge
circulated slowly, first through oral traditions, and
later through the handwritten word. Johannes
Gutenberg’s development of a movable type
printing press in the fifteenth century ushered in an
age of true mass communication, with the ability to
reproduce printed works faster and for far less
expense than handwritten methods.
The invention of the telegraph in the middle of the
nineteenth century heralded the start of the
electronic age, which eventually expanded into
such media as film and radio, and hit its full stride
in the 1950s and 1960s with the development of
With the commercial development of the Internet,
digital communication allowed images, text,
and sound to be converted into electronic signals
and transmitted globally. The current digital era is
marked by a nearly free flow of information.
Web-based commentators known as Internet
bloggers are now a key element in news, e-mail is
outpacing attempts to control communications
beyond national borders, and nearly one billion
people use social media worldwide.
The rise of social media and political clout turned
out to play a larger role than traditional television
advertising in the most recent presidential election.
It is worth asking whether TV will continue to play
an outsized role in future federal elections.
After decades of study on how people use forms of
mass communication, and perhaps how creators of
mass media use them, scholars have developed
two different approaches to understanding mass
Messages (programs, ads)
Mass media channel (TV, books)
Receivers (viewers, consumers)
Gatekeepers (editors, executive producers, media
Feedback (messages from receivers back to
The linear model of mass communication. This
model sees mass communication as a straight line,
with a sender sending a message through a
mass media channel to large groups of
receivers. In the process, gatekeepers, such as
news editors, function as message filters. While this
model allows for some feedback, it does not
capture the complexity of how people truly use
A cultural approach to mass communication is a more
complex process that examines the various meanings
audiences attach to media messages, whether or not
those meanings were ever intended.
The cultural model also suggests that senders shape
media messages to fit or support their own
viewpoints. This is known as selective exposure.
Recognizes that individuals bring diverse
meanings to messages
Audiences actively affirm, interpret, refashion, or
reject the messages and stories that flow through
various media channels
Media innovations typically go through four stages.
Many new forms of mass communication start out as
creators try to solve specific problems during
emergence or the novelty stage. During the
entrepreneurial stage, an inventor or company finds a
way to turn the invention into a marketable item. Once it
catches on with the general public, the product enters
the mass medium stage. Finally, there is the
convergence stage, in which many different media forms
merge onto online platforms and large audiences
fragment into smaller niche markets.
Media convergence, from a technological
standpoint, refers to the technological merging of
content across different media channels. From a
business standpoint, convergence refers to a
business model that involves consolidating various
media holdings under a single corporate umbrella.
Technological merging of content across different media
Cross platform, the consolidation of media holdings under one
Companies like Google make money by selling ads rather than
by producing content
From a cultural standpoint, media convergence has led to
changes such as people watching television programs on their
own schedule, making media choices based on social media
recommendations, and uploading their own media content. The
accessibility of media content through devices such as
smartphones and tablets has led to media multitasking and an
increase in media consumption.
◦ Make media choices based on social media recommendations
◦ Discuss programs as we watch them through “live-tweeting”
Can Twitter save live TV? http://www.forbes.com/sites/dorothypomerantz/2013/03/20/can-twitter-save-li
Watch TV shows on Hulu and Netflix or
With media convergence, there has also been a
significant shift in the kinds of stories sought and
told. Media institutions and outlets are basically in
the narrative or storytelling business. Reality TV
and social media dominate.
◦ Ordinary citizens are able to participate in, and have an
effect on, stories told in the media.
◦ Media institutions and outlets are in the narrative
In the twentieth century, critics and audiences created a
hierarchy of high and low culture. This idea could be
understood as a “skyscraper,” with pop culture, video games,
and popular music near the bottom, and ballet, classical
literature, and art museums at the top.
(Fig 1.2 in your text is a great image!)
floors are associated with “good taste” or high culture.
◦ Ballet, symphony, art museums
floors are associated with popular culture or low
◦ Soap operas, rock music, video games
media for each, but many people consume both
In contrast, culture could be viewed as a map, or an
ongoing and complicated process that better
accounts for diverse individual tastes. This model
recognizes that people can appreciate a range of
cultural experiences without ranking them from high
values by which American society judged
culture underwent a major shift around the 1950s.
The first half of the twentieth century is often
referred to as the modern period.
the last half of the twentieth century, what is
called the postmodern period had started.
One way to gain a better grasp of media complexity
is to attain media literacy using a critical
the following five steps of a critical process
will help you recognize both the strengths and
weaknesses of media forms, while minimizing the
impact of personal likes, dislikes, and cultural
prejudices on your final conclusions.
Description: paying close attention, taking notes,
and researching the subject under study. This
involves examining the media closely, looking for
recurring ideas or themes, noting from what
perspective a particular account is given, figuring
out what is missing from media accounts, and
considering other ways to tell a given story.
Analysis: discovering and focusing on significant
patterns that emerge from the description stage.
Interpretation: asking and answering the “What does that
mean?” and “So what?” questions about one’s findings.
Here you determine the meanings of the patterns you have
Evaluation: arriving at a judgment about the value of the
subject through subordinating personal taste to the critical
“bigger picture” resulting from the first three stages. Here,
you make critical, informed judgments.
Engagement: taking some action that connects our critical
perspective with our role as citizens to question our media
institutions, adding our own voice to the process of shaping
the cultural environment.
Developing an informed critical perspective and
becoming media literate allows us to debate the
role of the media as a catalyst for democracy and
social justice, as well as part of a world economic
order controlled by relatively few multinational
New, blended, and merging cultural phenomena
challenge us to reassess and rebuild the
standards by which we judge our culture.