Is the Mass Media creating a Mass Culture? If yes, then is this creating a Mass Society?

An A Level essay by Ahslee Male

Living in an advanced day and age, almost everybody in the world finds they utilise current technological tools, such as the Internet, e-mail and interactive television. In fact, a lot of people are highly dependent on 'media' tools, for their jobs and education. 
The 'mass media' is defined as being the methods and organisations used by specialist social groups to convey messages to large, socially mixed and widely dispersed audiences. 
An example of the above definition is Sky TV, which offers over 200 channels, aimed to appeal to all audiences from any background, any class and at any age. There are channels devoted to religion, cartoons, cookery, music, football, news and sex.
However, it is a matter of argument as to whether or not this growing array of communication is creating a mass culture. A culture is simply a way of life that involves beliefs, values and ways of doing things. If someone belongs to a specific culture then they may convey this through their language, their dress, their behaviour or their conventions.
What I aim to consider is whether people are living amongst a mass media culture and if so then is this creating a mass society. It is fairly difficult to distinguish between a mass culture and a mass society and many people assume they mean the same.
"Mass culture refers to art and thought which is artificial, produced deliberately for consumption by the masses rather than representing the highest achievements of dedicated efforts, " says Paul Trowler. To put more simply, a mass culture is based around a product that is made for easy consumption to enable it appeals to the mass and is usable by the mass.
A mass society, however, involves homogenised people that become alienated, passive, unthinkable and uncritical. In short, the word society refers to people, and the world culture is defined as being the characteristic behaviours of a large group of people and the characteristic products of a large group of people. 
A mass culture has negative connotations, as the fact that everything is the same puts products collectively and spoils the identity and distinctiveness of something.
There are some words that come up when studying culture that many people may be unfamiliar with, and two important ones are socialisation and ideology. Socialisation is the process of learning culture, that is, where human subjects acquire roles, values and norms through a variety of influences. The main influences are family, parents in particular. From a young age we get told what religion to become a part of, manners, conventions, and appearance. 
Ideology is a system of ideas, and Gregor McLennon sets out three conditions that must be met before something may be regarded as ideological:
The ideas concerned must be shared by a significant number of individuals.
The ideas must form a coherent system, whose elements support one another to make a recognisable structure.
The ideas must have some relationship to the use of power in society. 
Culture is an expression of ideology, and the signs and codes of a culture have ideological significance. 
It is important to hear what certain groups think with reference to whether or not mass media is creating a mass society, and we will begin with the view from the 'right wing' which includes the upper-class conservatives who are not keen on change.
The right wing believe that mass media is creating a mass culture. In fact, they have very strong views towards this particular argument, and they feel that media turns its audience into vacuous morons. To them, mass media is shallow, superficial and it dulls the mind. They are much more 'for' the older mass culture, which was a folk culture. 


THEN (without media) NOW (with media)
People would participate actively with sports, enjoying team games all year round. It is much more common for people to watch sports on TV than get involved physically. Sport on Sky TV can be watched 24 hours a day.
Women in particular would spend hours cooking food and making their own necessities such as bread. Food is such a large industry nowadays that anyone can buy anything from a supermarket including food from abroad and fruit all year round. Many people watch cookery programmes simply for amusement, and not because they are willing to take part.
It was highly entertaining for people to create their own fictional, or mythological stories, to dictate to an audience. People have texts presented to them in a large variety such as magazines, books and the internet.
Many years ago people would play their own instruments and would enjoy making bands, and dances to go along with the music they made. People now are able to 'watch' music on Sky TV, 24 hours a day. There is a huge selection as to what can be watched, including hip-hop, pop, rock and classical music. However, a decreasing number of people are learning to play instruments.

They believe that mass media dulls the mind and we are living in a fictional world, this can be reinforced by the fact that most newspapers cover stories that take place in soap operas, and most day-to-day talk involves what happened in a recent soap opera episode.
However, it can be argued that people living in an olden, folk culture may not have been that happy. I personally believe that they didn't know any different, and obviously didn't have any knowledge of 'media', therefore they sought happiness through their community, friends and family which is a much more genuine way than seeking happiness through TV/Internet/music and so on. 
The view from the left is quite similar to the right, and they too agree that mass media is creating a mass culture. Three pre-WW1 sociologists - Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse all believe in the left wing, and their view is that the media dulls our senses and keeps us quiet. 
The 'left wing' is highly critical of capitalism and they believe that the working class was once both dynamic and progressive. However, the capitalist system has made that class soulless and one-dimensional. Traditional centres of authority, like the family, have been replaced by the state and by big business. These provide a schooling system, lifestyle and entertainment's which make the working class passive, uncritical and unthinking. 
It is thought that people believe free when they are actually being manipulated. They also believe they are happy, when they are really in a euphoria of unhappiness. A term used to describe this is 'bread and circuses'. This odd phrase simply means that people are kept falsely happy through confectionery (consumer goods) and entertainment. 
The differences between the left ring views and the right wing views may be quite difficult to distinguish so they have been arranged into a table as seen below: 

THE LEFT THE RIGHT
People are unhappy but determined to change. Workers used to be happy.
Workers are seen as naturally discontented and dynamic. Workers are seen as naturally contented and static.
They see capitalism as keeping workers pseudo happy. Media stirs them up and makes them discontented.

Obviously there exist counter arguments for the 'left' and 'right' views and one of these comes from the pluralists. They believe that the media does not create a mass culture, instead it simply brings choice. What they believe is that not only are there now more products, but there are more means by which we can access these products - the fact that we can all do our shopping on the internet is a prime example. However, they still do not view the mass media as necessarily beneficial.
Pluralists reject the view that there is a mass culture, and to them it is not true that the working class had a true or pure culture that has now been subverted. It is said that modern society has made people literate and this has enabled them to be discerning consumers of an ever-expanding cultural output. People are also far more politically literate and aware of the world around them than was the case in the past. This allows them to appreciate and choose from, a wide range of options. 
Class distinctions have become less and less important in influencing the choices made my individuals in this respect. Members of the working class are as likely to be watching Panorama as anybody else, in other words, regional and class distinctions are breaking down. 
They believe that even high culture now reaches a mass audience. High culture and mass culture are a set of stereotypical differences between upper class people and others, made through a list of media entertainment. For example, people of a 'high culture' are said to listen to classical music, whilst the mass culture listens to rock or pop. What the pluralists say is that the high culture entertainment is appealing to more and more people, like Operas and theatres for example. They also say that audiences are not passive and manipulative, as one needs to be active and critical to 'read' the media.
The second view is from the post-modernists. The two perspectives are quite similar; though they don't see the mass media as necessarily beneficial, neither sees the media as giving rise to a mass culture or a mass society. Pluralism dates back to the 1960's but can still be identified in current writing. The second view, from the post-modernists, is linked to it, but is a perspective of the 1980's and 1990's.
Post-modernism has two meanings, the first being the type of society we live in. This is media-rich, information-rich and global. It also consists of many cultures and sub-cultures. The reality of our world is that we have a much smaller working class than previously and a much larger middle class, there is also less awareness of class.
The second meaning of post-modernism is 'a way of knowing the world'. The nature of truth, reality, meaning and reason are questioned and there are no standards of cultural value. 
Postmodernist Baudrillard says that media technology has created a post-modern era. The characteristics of this are networks, connections and feedback, not hierarchical production and consumption. However the effect of the enormous information flow which is going on is to blur the distinctions between the spectacle and the reality. 
Individuals living in a post-modern society suffer from information overload. Increasingly they do not search for meaning, they only accept the surface images. This is why we find it difficult to remember last night television news: it becomes just a collage of fragmented images. 
The second meaning of post-modernism relates to relativism. Relativism is a view that there are no universal standards of 'truth' or 'value'. Judgements of works of art, science, cultures or anything else can only be made in terms of the standards set up by the artist, scientist or members of the culture concerned.
An example of 'relativism' is a theory that you can't compare Shakespeare's work to a Coronation Street episode - everything has its own functions and audiences. The post-modernist view of relativism is that the value of anything is to its function and the producer and the consumer determine the function. 
In a post-modern society:
People identify themselves as individuals
The old ties of family and class are being weakened
There is a lack of ideological cohesion amongst political parties
There is now a scepticism towards religion
People disregard old traditions and find their own 'truths'.
There are criticisms aimed at the post-modernism view though. The main one is that some people in society are 'media rich' whilst others are 'media poor', and post-modernism is only talking about the 'media rich' group. A definition of a media rich citizen would be someone that owns the latest mobile phone with internet access, someone that also has broadband on their home PC, Sky TV and a DVD player. However, in my opinion to be 'media poor' nowadays is generational, as older people disregard technology, as they are 'afraid' of it. It is also a decision, whether or not someone is media rich or media poor. 
I personally believe that the mass media brings with it information and advice on any possible topic. I can access the very latest news from Sky TV, the radio, and the Internet, as well as having text messages sent directly to my mobile informing me of current affairs. We are very lucky to be living in such a modern society, and it is almost impossible to think what life would be like in a primitive, media poor world.