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Critical and Cultural Theory

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Morgan McCleery

on 24 November 2012

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Transcript of Critical and Cultural Theory

Amber Freeland
Morgan McCleery Critical & Cultural Theory Culture as Concept Question For Thought? 1950's - 1960's
Great Britain and in the United States
United States
"Depicted through an American that was not universally fair and democratic, a jarring message for the world's mightiest power"1
The Pawnbroker (1964) - Examines the class of class and culture in urban America
Great Britain
Movies became the basis of a powerful cinematic movement
New Wave
Emphasized poverty of the working class, the struggle to sustain a home, and maintaining your self-respect
Based on assuming a person with no education and a working-class dialect to a lifetime of bare survival
Room at the Top (1959) Goal For This Discussion The concept of culture is central throughout the chapter and, "based on the learned behavior of members of a given social group"4

Cultural theories
Offer an array of ideas about media affecting culture
Provides a variety of views regarding long-lasting consequences from media influences on cultural changes Taxpayer dollars often fund “high culture” organizations such as the ballet, opera, symphony and art museums, whereas “folk culture” like rock bands and hip-hop dance clubs do not. What would someone from the Frankfurt School say about this and how would that differ from the opinion of a political economist?

Cultural studies theories seek to examine our culture and the role the media plays in it. Political economy theories view culture as a commodity that can be packaged and sold for profit. To what extent are each of these theories true and present in our own society? How does this compare to the European model?

Marxism argues that hierarchical class systems are the root of all social problems and should be destroyed, but such a change would mean the end of capitalism. What are the advantages/disadvantages of a social class system? Is capitalism really worthy of the praise we give it or is it really as destructive to society as Marx suggests? November 5, 2012 http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/222903/Room-at-the-Top-Movie-Clip-Just-About-Anything.html (3) http://movieclips.com/z6UEk-the-pawnbroker-movie-money-is-the-whole-thing/ (2) Message Movie Notes Page 1. Baran & Davis Chapter 8. p. 209
2. http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/222903/Room-at-the-Top-Movie-Clip-Just-About-Anything.html
3. http://movieclips.com/z6UEk-the-pawnbroker-movie-money-is-the-whole-thing/
4. Baran & Davis Chapter 8. p. 210
5. Lindlof, T. R. (1996). No more secrets: A retrospective essay on Joshua Meyrowitz's.. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 40(4), 589.
6. Track particular theories directing questions about the way media might produce profound changes in social life

By way of subtly influencing social practices that from the foundation for our daily life
New perspectives might cause media to hold power, in turn, altering how we make sense of ourselves and social world
Educational, political, and economical institutions could be disrupted and changed as media institutions play a dominant role in modern-day societies Cultural Turn in Media Research Are we losing touch with locally based cultures and moving toward a media-based global cultural environment ?
Joshua Meyrowitz seems to agree
"In his view, the speed, ubiquity, and ease of use of electronic media have dissolved the physical and social distances between people" 5 Macroscopic vs. Microscopic Microscopic
Deempasize larger issues about social order; favors questions about everyday life

Ex. Cultural Studies theories

Less concerned with the long-term consequences of media for the social order

More concerned with how media affect our individual lives
What happens when mass media are incorporated into our daily routines?
Does media cause serious disruptions or does media enhance our daily experiences?
Is media causing problems that are being compensated for or concealed?
Are we being systematically desensitized and trained to be aggressive or is it more useful and making us kinder, gentler people? Macroscopic vs. Microscopic cont. Macroscopic
Less concerned with media influence on individuals; more interested in how society as a whole is affected

Ex. Political Economy theories

Demand answers to large questions

View media as industries that turn culture into a commodity and sell it for a profit.
Is media intruding into or disrupting important large-scale social process?
Has media disrupted the conduct of national politics?
Are we electing inferior politicians as a result? Cultural Studies and Political Economy Theories
(Critical Theories) Critical theory openly espouses specific values and uses them to evaluate and criticize the status quo.

Critical theorists seek social change that will implement THEIR values

Critical theory raises questions about the way things are and provides alternate ways of interpreting the social role of mass media

Critical theory provides complex explanations for media's tendency to consistently do so Cultural Studies and Political Economy Theories (Cont.) Media in general sustain the status quo even when (especially when) it is under stress or breaking down. Critical theory provides complex explanations for why this happens

Critical theorists ID constraints on media practitioners that limit their ability to challenge established authority because few incentives exist to encourage media professionals to overcome those constraints or to even acknowledge them
Newsroom Clip

Critical Theory analyzes social institutions and the extent to which valued objectives are sought and achieved Mass Media and Mass Culture Blamed for a variety of social problems
Criticized for aggravating or preventing problems from being identified or addressed and solved
Summary: Media content either causes or perpetuates problems in society
10-year old boy shoots dad in the head after watching Criminal Minds (Clip) Media Coverage of Social Movements Does this help society by showing the difficulties of teen pregnancies, or do hey perpetuate the problem by glamourizing it? Critical Theory Strengths
Politically based, action-oriented
Uses theory and research to plan change in the real world
Asks big, important questions about media control and ownership

Too political; call to action is subjective
Typically lacks scientific verification, often employs innovative but controversial research methods How do the media portray members of a social movement who dare to challenge the status quo?
(Ex.) Protestors at Tianamen Square vs. Protestors in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Protestors at Tianamen Square were heralded as "defenders of democracy" while protestors of the Iraqi Invasion were largely regarded as troublemakers. Stories about social movements usually imply problems with the status quo.
Ex.) Occupy Wall Street movement (beginning) Research indicates that media coverage usually denigrates the movement and its members and supports the elites. Media professionals are caught in the crossfire and forced to choose between the interests of the elites or the message of the movement.
Media usually focuses on the deviant actions or appearance of some movement members and ignores the way movements define problems or propose solutions. While popular in the U.S., limited-effects theories weren’t widely accepted in Europe.
Europeans preferred grand social theories instead: highly ambitious, macroscopic, speculative theories that attempt to understand and predict important trends in culture and society. Ex.) mass society theory.
Most were theories of society rather than theories of media, although they did offer observations about media and their place in society. Rise of Cultural Theories in Europe Strengths
•Provides focus on how individuals develop their understanding of the social world
•Asks big important questions about the role of media
•Respects content consumption abilities of audience members
•Has little explanatory power at the macroscopic level
•Focuses too narrowly on indivudial compared with societal effects
•Typically lacks scientific verification; based on subjective observation
•Employs nontraditional, often controversial, research methods Cultural Theories in Europe MARXIST THEORY
•Karl Marx developed his theory in the later part of the 19th century during a volatile period of social change.
•Similar to mass society theory but with several very important alterations and additions. Human beings shape the world using available technology and resources. Availability and control of technology and resources limit and determine what people can achieve.
Industrialization and urbanization are not inherently bad, but the problems they face are the consequence of actions taken by powerful elites.
Problems result with unethical capitalists try to maximize personal profits by exploiting workers. His theory calls for the extinction of social classes and for workers to rise up against capitalists to demand an end to their exploitation.
Workers should band together to seize the means of production to create an egalitarian democratic social order i.e. Communism.
Media is just one of the many modern technologies that must be seized and controlled to achieve this. Marx argued that hierarchical class systems are the root of all social problems.
Elites dominate society by controlling all means of production.
Elites maintain their status by controlling culture, the superstructure of society.
Elites manipulate culture to mislead average people and encourage them to act against their own self interests. Ideaology: fosters a “false concsciousness” in the minds of average people so they come to support elite interests rather than their own.
Like a drug, those under the influence of ideaology fail to see how they are being exploited.
In worst cases, they will even undermine their own interests to increase the power of elites while making their own lives even worse.

DISCUSSION: How do you see this idea being played out in today’s society? What, if any, problems do you see with this theory or in Marx’s suggestions? •Marxist theories that deviate in at least one important aspect – they focus concern on the super structure issues of ideology and culture rather than on the base.
•Neo-marxism believes that change can be achieved through ideological battles in the public arena rather than a physical or violent revolution. NEO-MARXISM Humanists have specialized in analyzing written texts since the Renaissance period.
Objective is to identify texts with great cultural value and interpret they so others may appreciate and understand their worth.
Humanists see text as a civilizing force in society and a scholarly tool.
Focuses on high culture:
Music, Art, Literature, Poetry, Religious canons TEXTUAL ANALYSIS AND LITERARY CRITICISM By raising the level of culture, society becomes more advanced, humane and civilized.
DISCUSSION: What is the role of “high culture” is society? Does it join us together or create a division among us? Group of neo-marxist scholars working together at the University of Frankfurt in the 1920-30s.
Led by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.
Promoted various forms of high culture such as symphony music, great literature and art.
Viewed high culture as having its own integrity and inherent value and didn’t feel that elites should use it to enhance their personal power.
Although high culture was celebrated, mass culture was denigrated for turning high culture and folk culture into commodities sold for profit (and strengthening the values of capitalism).
Direct impact on American social research
The rise of the Nazis forced the Jewish members of FS into exile, some ending up in the U.S.
They then analyzed the Nazi culture and its perversion of high culture and folk culture. Nazism gave a people who were humiliated by war and troubled by the economy a vision of a proud, unified nation with a long history of achievement and a glorious future. The Frankfurt School Criticizes high culture and ideology as an alien form of culture imposed on minorities and lower classes.
Raymond Williams questioned the importance of high culture and took folk culture more seriously (1960-1970s)
He developed an innovate and pessimistic perspective of mass media’s role in modern society.
He was concerned with issues of cultural change, development and elite domination of culture.
He argued that mass media posed a threat to worthwhile cultural development.
Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall
Like Williams, also analyzed mass media’s influence on culture.
They felt that mass media in liberal democracies are pluralistic public forums where new concepts of social reality are negotiated and social boundaries are redrawn.
Hall argued that elites don’t need to control culture to stay in control because they are already advantaged in other ways. Neo-Marxism in Brittain Strengths
Asserts value of pop culture
Empowers common people
Empowers minorities and values their culture
Stresses cultural pluralism and egalitarianism
Too political; call to action to subjective
Typically lacks scientific verification; based on subjected observation
Employs innovative but controversial research methods Neo-Marxism in Brittain Studies elite control of economic institutions (banks, stock markets, etc.) and tries to show how this control affects other social institutions, including mass media.
Generally accepts the classic Marxist assumption that the base dominates the superstructure.
Investigates the means of production and expects to find that the economic institutions shape media to suit their interests and purposes.
“Corporate influence prefaced nearly every aspect of society. From simple things, like our daily diet and the clothes we wear, to matters of larger scale, like the way we communicate with each other.” Herb Schiller, political economist Political Economy Theory Examines how economic constraints limit or bias the forms of mass culture produced and distributed through the media.
How is content produced and distributed?
Why do some forms of culture dominate primetime TV schedules whereas other forms are absent?
Does audience taste alone explain those differences or are their other, less obvious reasons?
Focus is so macroscopic, that sometimes they forget that culture can change the economy; it isn’t always a one-way street.
Theorists remain centrally concerned with the larger social order and elites’ ownership of media, often criticizing the privatization of European media and the decline of public service media institutions. Political Economy Theory, cont. DISCUSSION: Media coverage of work and workers
Invisibility of working poor in the media
Celebrity journalists refer to people making $250,000 per year as “middle class” even though less than 2% of workers make that much.

Miracle on the Hudson
Captain Sully, his flight crew, airlines employees and rescue workers are almost all members of unions, yet unions get no coverage unless there is a strike The Five Key Assumptions in the media regarding organized labor distort the role or organized labor and what they stand for:
•Consumer is always right; reports about strikes focus on how this affects the consumer and not how the workers are affected.
•The public doesn’t need to know about the “process of production” or how that fits into the organization’s functional operations.
•Business leaders are the true heroes b/c they keep costs down and settle strikes.
•The workplace is and should be a meritocracy, so why should all workers get a raise or better benefits?
•Collective action by workers distorts the market – we all pay more because workers want more. What is your opinion of unions and organized labor? What do you think their role is, or should be, in society? How do you think they are portrayed in the media? Political Economy Theory, cont. Political Economy Theory, cont. Political Economy Theory, cont.
James Carey
Defends cultural studies and contracts it with the limited effects perspective
One difference he found was limited-effects theories focus on the transmission of accurate information from a dominant source to passive receivers, where cultural studies is concerned wit the everyday rituals we rely on to structure and interpret our experiences
He argues that limited-effects view is tied to the transmissional perspective
On the other hand, ritual perspective views mass communication as the maintenace of socitey in time and not the representation of shared beliefs

His primary focus was to no longer as whether the media have certain effects on individuals, but rather on the kind of people we are, have become or are becoming in our mass-mediated world Cultural Studies: Transmissional Versus Ritual Perspectives Began in the 1960's and 1970's
Created its own own academic journal
Journal of Popular Culture
Influenced by British critical theorists and mostly, Canadian media scholar, Marshall McLuhan
Focuses on television and (now) internet as the premier media of the electronic era
The study of pop culture emphasizes that pop culture media content generally are much more complex than they appear on the surface. Multiple levels of meaning and content is frequently ambiguous
Examples of pop culture research
Layering one level of meaning on top of another so that multiple audiences can watch the same episode over and over to probe the meaning
Second thought of study is multiple points of access
Where some people make interpretations at one level of meaning, whereas others make their interpretations at others Popular Culture in the United States Research on Popular Culture Harold Innis: The Bias Communication Marshall McLuhan Canadian Literary Scholar
Profound understanding of electronic media and its impact on both culture and society
His theory is actually a collection of intriguing ideas bound together by common assumptions
"All media, from phonetic alphabet to the computer, are extenesion of man that cause deepened lasting changes in him and transforms his environment
Argued that technology inevitably causes specific changes in how people think, in how society is structured and in forms of culture that are created Harold Innis: The Bias of Communication
One of the first scholars to systematically speculate the possible linkages between communication media and the various forms of social structure found at certain points in History.
Wrote Empire and Communication and the Bias of Communication
Argued that early empires like Egypt, Greece and Rome were based on elite control of the written word

Gradual domination of the written word of elite communication led to more magnified power
Pen & Paper
small centrally located elites were able to gain control over and govern vast regions

His beliefs were taking shape and the introduction of new media technology gradually gave centralized elites increased power

Bias of Communication
The idea that communication technology makes centralization of power inevitable McLuhan: Understanding the Media Clearly experiencing an era shift from print technology to electronic media
“If communication technology plays such a critical role in the emergence of new social orders and new forms of culture, what are the implications of abandoning print media in favor of electronic media?

McLuhan give his explanation through the catchy phrases
"Medium is the message"
"Global village"
"The extension of Man"

Negative Press
Just as quickly as McLuhan's popularity grew he also was subject to criticism and sudden fall of prominence
Critics believed he was unabashedly optimistic about the profound but positive changes in our personal experience, social structure, and culture that new media technology would make possible
Overall McLuhan was criticized for his carefree attitude of what the technology revolution would entail but some did give him credit and believed he deserved more attention from mass comm scholars since his work was very eclectic and open ended
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