FIRST PART :
Hello I will need you to read chapter 4 – Pragmatic Analysis from the book attached ( Critical-Media-Studies-2nd-Edition), and then answer this questions :
Identify 3 different types of Violence in the Media.
Explain each of their characteristics.
10/28/2013 9:02:24 PM
About the Authors
Elinor Christopher Light
Brian L. Ott (right) is Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of
Colorado Denver. He is the author of The Small Screen: How Television Equips Us
to Live in the Information Age (Wiley Blackwell, 2007) and co-editor of It’s Not TV:
Watching HBO in the Post-Television Era (Routledge, 2008). Brian enjoys all things
sci-fi and was a huge fan of Breaking Bad. His favorite film is Lost in Translation,
which he believes perfectly captures life in the contemporary moment and, as such,
provides the inspiration for the book’s cover art.
Robert L. Mack (left) is a Ph.D. candidate in Communication Studies at the
University of Texas, Austin. His scholarship concerns the text-audience interface
with a focus on the medium of television. Rob enjoys tabletop board games and
passionately believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek captain. His favorite
subgenres of film include class warfare period pieces, films that attempted to
introduce computers to the masses before the technology was widely available,
and movies where Whoopi Goldberg evades danger in large, metropolitan cities.
Brian L. Ott and
Robert L. Mack
This second edition first published 2014
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc
Edition history: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (1e, 2010)
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The right of Brian L. Ott and Robert L. Mack to be identified as the authors of this work has been
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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
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A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Cover image: Wet evening in Shinjuku © Jon Hicks / Corbis
Cover design by RBDA Studio
Set in 10.5/13pt Minion by SPi Publisher Services, Pondicherry, India
Introducing Critical Media Studies
Part I Media Industries: Marxist, Organizational,
and Pragmatic Perspectives21
2 Marxist Analysis
3 Organizational Analysis
4 Pragmatic Analysis
Part II Media Messages: Rhetorical, Cultural, Psychoanalytic,
Feminist, and Queer Perspectives107
5 Rhetorical Analysis
6 Cultural Analysis
7 Psychoanalytic Analysis
8 Feminist Analysis
9 Queer Analysis
Part III Media Audiences: Reception, Sociological, Erotic,
and Ecological Perspectives243
10 Reception Analysis
11 Sociological Analysis
12 Erotic Analysis
13 Ecological Analysis
Conclusion: the Partial Pachyderm
Appendix: Sample Student Essays
To our billions of readers, welcome to the second edition of Critical Media Studies:
An Introduction! Okay, we recognize that is an optimistic first sentence, but it sounds
more impressive than, “Hey, Ian, Gordana, and crazy Uncle Carl, thanks for reading
our book.” Besides, who knows how many readers we have on Kobol (hello, fellow
fans of Battlestar Galactica!).
When we began work on the first edition of the book nearly five years ago, it was
tentatively titled Critical Media Studies: An Interstellar Guide to Fabulous Dinner
Conversation. In the ensuing time, the book has undergone numerous changes, not
least of which was a rethinking of its title. Apparently, “some” (who shall remain
nameless, Elizabeth!) thought that the reference to dinner conversation might be
confusing and misleading. We remain convinced, however, that it would have been
an effective way to target fans of the Food Network – a demographic that has, in our
opinion, been ignored by academic publishers for far too long (hello, fellow fans of
Iron Chef America!). Although we harbor no hard feelings about this change, we
nevertheless hope that readers will discuss the book over dinner (or any meal-like
activity, including tea time: hello, British readers!) and that the ensuing conversation
will be fabulous.
Another significant development has been the book’s cover art. Initially we wanted
an image of two squirrels “doing it” . . . a metaphor, of course, for the frenzied but
emotionally hollow exchange that occurs between media producers and consumers.
But as with the title, more sensible heads prevailed, resulting in the equally enticing
image of Tokyo at night. We, nevertheless, would like to thank our friend, Greg, for
bravely approaching said squirrels, snapping a picture, and almost losing a finger
in the process (hello and apologies, Greg!). Despite our disappointment that the
squirrel-on-squirrel image was not selected, we believe that the existing cover is
equally appropriate to the themes raised in the book. The rain symbolizes the steady
stream of media messages that relentlessly pour down upon us each day. Meanwhile,
the unfamiliar signs of the cityscape invite readers to wonder about their meanings just as Critical Media Studies asks readers to wonder about the role of media
in their lives. Finally, the array of brilliant colors that comprise the image reflects
the array of critical perspectives contained in the book, each shedding its own
light on the media.
In closing, we wish to acknowledge our debt to the sensible heads mentioned
above. In particular, we would like to express our gratitude to the team at WileyBlackwell, especially Elizabeth P. Swayze, Senior Editor, and Julia Kirk, Senior
Project Editor. Their guidance and support has been invaluable. We feel fortunate to
have had such a dynamic, creative, and thoughtful team guiding us. We also wish to
thank Dave Nash for his persistence and good humor in securing various copyright
permissions. Finally, we extend a very special thanks to Kathleen McCully, who
copy-edited the manuscript, and Nora Naughton, who oversaw the manuscript
through its copy-editing, typesetting, proofreading and indexing stages (Kathleen
and Nora, thank you for your tireless efforts to correct our many mistakes!). Since it
is cliché to say that any remaining mistakes are solely our own, we instead locate the
blame squarely with the Illuminati (hello, Illuminati!).
Brian and Rob
October 14, 2013
10/28/2013 9:02:24 PM
critical media studies
How We Know What We Know
Everything we know is learned in one of two ways.1 The first way is somatically.
These are the things we know through direct sensory perception of our e nvironment.
We know what some things look, smell, feel, sound, or taste like because we personally have seen, smelled, felt, heard, or tasted them. One of the authors of this text
knows, for example, that “Rocky Mountain oysters” (bull testicles) are especially
chewy because he tried them once at a country and western bar. In short, some of
what we know is based on first-hand, unmediated experience. But the things we
know through direct sensory perception make up a very small percentage of the
total things we know. The vast majority of what we know comes to us a second way,
symbolically. These are the things we know through someone or something such as a
parent, friend, teacher, museum, textbook, photograph, radio, film, television, or the
internet. This type of information is mediated, meaning that it came to us via some
indirect channel or medium. The word medium is derived from the Latin word
medius, which means “middle” or that which comes between two things: the way
that television and the Discovery Channel might come between us and the animals
of the Serengeti, for instance.
Critical Media Studies: An Introduction, Second Edition. Brian L. Ott and Robert L. Mack.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
In the past 30 seconds, those readers who have never eaten Rocky Mountain
ysters now know they are chewy, as that information has been communicated to
them through, or mediated by, this book. When we stop to think about all the things
we know, we suddenly realize that the vast majority of what we know is mediated.
We may know something about China even if we have never been there thanks to
Wikipedia; we may know something about King George VI even though he died
long before we were born thanks to The King’s Speech (2010); we may even know
something about the particulars of conducting a homicide investigation even though
we have likely never conducted one thanks to the crime drama CSI. The mass media
account, it would seem, for much of what we know (and do not know) today. But
this has not always been the case.
Before the invention of mass media, the spoken or written word was the primary
medium for conveying information and ideas. This method of communication had
several significant and interrelated limitations. First, as the transmission of infor
mation was tied to the available means of transportation (foot, horse, buggy, boat,
locomotive, or automobile depending upon the time period), its dissemination was
extraordinarily slow, especially over great distances like continents and oceans. Second,
because information could not easily be reproduced and distributed, its scope was
extremely limited. Third, since information often passed through m
(people), each of which altered it, if only slightly, there was a high p
robability of message distortion. Simply put, there was no way to communicate a uniform message to a
large group of people in distant places quickly prior to the advent of the modern mass
media. What distinguishes mass media like print, radio, and television from individual
media like human speech and hand-written letters, then, is precisely their unique
capacity to address large audiences in remote locations with relative efficiency.
Critical Media Studies is about the social and cultural consequences of that
revolutionary capability. Recognizing that mass media are, first and foremost,
communication technologies that increasingly mediate both what we know and how
we know, this book surveys a variety of perspectives for evaluating and assessing the
role of mass media in our daily lives. Whether listening to an iPod while walking
across campus, sharing pictures with friends on Facebook, receiving the latest sports
scores via your smartphone, sharing your favorite YouTube video over email, or
settling in for the most recent episode of The Big Bang Theory or Downton Abbey,
the mass media are regular fixtures of everyday life. But before beginning to explore
the specific and complex roles that mass media play in our lives, it is worth looking,
first, at who they are, when they originated, and how they have developed.
Categorizing Mass Media
As is perhaps already evident, media is a very broad term that includes a diverse
array of communication technologies such as cave drawings, speech, smoke signals,
letters, books, telegraphy, telephony, magazines, newspapers, radio, film, television,
Introducing Critical Media Studies 3
smartphones, video games, and networked computers to name just a few. But
this book is principally concerned with mass media or those communication
technologies that have the potential to reach a large audience in remote locations.
What distinguishes mass media from individual media, then, is not merely audience
size. While a graduation speaker or musician may address as many as 40,000 people
at once in a stadium, for instance, neither one is mass mediated because the audience
is not remote. Now, of course, if a Lady Gaga concert is being broadcast live via
satellite, those watching at home on their televisions or streaming it live over the
internet are experiencing it through mass media. Mass media collapse the distance
between artist and audience, then. Working from this definition, we have organized
the mass media into four sub-categories: print media, motion picture and sound
recording, broadcast media, and new media. These categories, like all acts of classification, are arbitrary, meaning that they emphasize certain features of the media
they group together at the expense of others. Nonetheless, we offer these categories
as one way of conceptually organizing mass communication technologies.
In an electronically saturated world like the one in which we live today, it is easy to
overlook the historical legacy and contemporary transformations of print media, the
first mass medium. German printer Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type
printing press in 1450, sparking a revolution in the ways that human beings could
disseminate, preserve, and ultimately relate to knowledge. Printed materials before
the advent of the press were costly and rare, but the invention of movable type
allowed for the (relatively) cheap production of a diverse array of pamphlets, books,
and other items. This flourishing of printed materials touched almost every aspect
of human life. Suddenly knowledge could be recorded for future generations in
libraries or religious texts, and social power increasingly hinged upon literacy and
ownership of printed materials. Most importantly, the press allowed for an unprecedented circulation of knowledge to far-flung cities across Europe. Although still
limited by class distinctions, access to information from outside of one’s immediate
context was a real possibility. Mass media was born.
Not long after the settlement of Jamestown in the USA in 1607, the colonies
established their first printing press. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the
press was printing popular religious tracts such as the Bay Psalm Book, a 148-page
collection of English translations of Hebrew, by 1640.2 Although much of the early
printing in the colonies was religion-oriented, novels such as Robinson Crusoe
(1719) and Tom Jones (1749), imported from England, were also popular. Religious
tracts were eventually followed by almanacs, newspapers, and magazines. The most
well-known early almanac, Poor Richard’s Almanac, which included information on
the weather along with some political opinions, was printed from 1733 to 1757 by
Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. Although various cities had short-lived or local
non-daily newspapers in the 1700s, the New York Sun, which is considered the first
Table 1.1 Number of consumer magazine titles in the USA
Number of titles
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations.
successful mass-circulation newspaper, did not begin operations until 1833.3
The failure of earlier newspapers is often attributed to the fact that they were small
operations run by local printers. It was not until newspapers began using editors and
receiving substantial financial backing – first from political parties and later from
wealthy elites like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst – that the newspaper
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the newspaper industry experienced rapid growth. This trend continued until 1973, at which point there were
1,774 daily newspapers with a combined circulation of 63.1 million copies.4 This
meant that about 92 percent of US households were subscribing to a daily newspaper in 1973. Since then, however, newspaper production and circulation has
steadily declined. In 2011, the total number of daily newspapers printed in the USA
was 1,382 and they had a combined circulation of 44.4 million copies or less than 40
percent of US households.
In many ways, the history of the magazine industry in the USA closely mirrors that
of the newspaper industry. It began somewhat unsteadily, underwent tremendous
growth, and is currently experiencing a period of considerable instability. The first
US magazine, American Magazine, was published in 1741. But the magazine boom
did not really begin until the mid-nineteenth century. And though the industry continued to experience growth throughout the twentieth century, more recently it has
suffered a decline in both the total number of titles (Table 1.1) and paid circulation
(Table 1.2). Table 1.1 illustrates that the number of consumer magazine titles in the
USA grew by 30 percent from 1990 to 2000 before declining by nearly 25 percent
from 2000 to 2010.
Moreover, as Table 1.2 shows, the total paid circulation of the top 10 magazines
in 2012 is more than 30 million less than the total paid circulation of the
top 10 magazines 20 years earlier. Interestingly, the highest circulating magazine
in 2012, Game Informer Magazine, had existed for only 1 year in 1992, while the
second highest circulating magazine in 1992, TV Guide, no longer exists. The book
publishing industry has, until very recently, not experienced the deep losses occurring in the newspaper and magazine industries over the past two decades. But in
2012, unit sales of traditional paper books fell by about 9 percent for the third year
in a row; adult non-fiction was the hardest hit, falling 13 percent.5 Despite declining
circulation and unit sales in the newspaper, magazine, and book industries,
Americans are still reading. But how they are reading – thanks to e-books and online
newspapers and magazines – is changing both rapidly and dramatically.
Introducing Critical Media Studies 5
Table 1.2 Top 10 US consumer magazines by paid circulation in 1992 and 2012*
Better Homes and Gardens
The Cable Guide
Ladies’ Home Journal
Total circulation of top 10
Game Informer Magazine
Better Homes and Gardens
Taste of Home
Total circulation of top 10
Source: Adweek, March 29, 1993; Alliance for Audited Media, February 7, 2013. *Data exclude
magazines whose circulation is tied to membership benefits (i.e. AARP The Magazine [formerly Modern
Maturity] and AARP Bulletin).
Motion picture and sound recording
Sound recording and motion pictures may seem like an odd pairing at first, but
their histories are deeply intertwined thanks in large part to Thomas Edison. In the
span of 15 years, Edison and his assistant, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson,
created what would later develop into the first two new mass media since print.
Edison’s first invention, of the phonograph in 1877, was a device that played
recorded sound, and his second, the kinetoscope in 1892, was an early motion
picture device that showed short, silent films in peep-show fashion to individual
viewers. But Edison’s goal was to synchronize audio and visual images into a film
projector that would allow for more than one viewer at a time. Although sound film
did not become possible until the early 1920s, improvements in film projection,
namely the development of the vitascope, gave rise to the silent film era in the
meantime. The eventual synchronization of sound and film launched talking
pictures, or “talkies.” The first commercially successful, feature-length talkie was a
musical film, The Jazz Singer, in 1927. Hollywood was about to enter its Golden
Age of the 1930s and 1940s, in which “the studios were geared to produce a singular
commodity, the feature film.”6
With the motion picture industry firmly established, sound recording was
now receiving independent attention and the record industry began to dominate
the music industry, which had previously been involved primarily in the production of sheet music. By the start of the twentieth century, profits from the
sale of sound recordings quickly eclipsed profits from the sale of sheet music.
This shift was fueled in large part by the continuous development of cheap and
easily reproducible formats such as magnetic tape in 1926, long-playing (LP)
records in 1948, compact or audio cassettes in 1963, optical or compact discs
(CDs) in 1982, and lossy bitcompression technologies such as MPEG-1 Audio
Layer 3 (MP3s) in 1995. With the exception of magnetic tape for sound recording, which was invented by German engineer Fritz Pfleumer, and Columbia
Records’ LP, Sony and Philips are responsible for the previously mentioned
recording formats, as well as the Betamax (1975), LaserDisc (1978), Video2000
(1980), Betacam (1982), Video8 (1985), Digital Audio Tape (1987), Hi8 (1989),
CD-i (1991), MiniDisc (1992), Digital Compact Disc (1992), Universal Media
Disc (2005), Blu-ray Disc (2006), and DVD (as part of the 1995 DVD Consortium)
formats. Several of these more recent formats have had implications for the
motion picture industry, as they allow for the playback and recording of movies
on DVD players and computers at home.
The development of broadcast technologies changed the media landscape once
again. Instead of media physically having to be distributed to stores or shipped
to audiences as books, magazines, and newspapers are, or audiences physically
having to travel to the media as in the case of film, media could now be brought
directly to audiences over public airwaves. This was an important development
because it freed mass media from transportation for the first time in history. We
have excluded the electrical telegraph (1830s) because, like the telephone
(1870s), it is better classified as a personal medium than a mass medium. Radio
came on the scene first, experimenting with transmissions as early as the 1890s
and making scheduled broadcasts in the 1920s. But television followed shortly
thereafter with Philo T. Farnsworth, a Mormon from the small farm community
of Rigby, Idaho, applying for the first television patent in 1927 and CBS l aunching
the first television schedule in 1941. Not only do radio and television share an
overlapping technological history, but they also share an overlapping professional h
istory, as many of television’s early stars came from radio. After the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sorted out broadcast frequencies
for radio in 1945 and television in 1952, commercial broadcast stations spread
rapidly (see Table 1.3).
The tremendous growth in the number of commercial radio and television
stations since 1950 suggests strong consumer demand for their content. This
perception is confirmed by the data on radio and television ownership and usage. As
of 2011, 99 percent of US households had at least one radio and 96.7 percent of US
households had at least one television set (the lowest percentage since 1975 and
down from 98.9 percent at the height of television’s penetration).7 The average US
home, however, is equipped with 8 radios and 2.93 television sets.8 And by all
accounts, these devices garner substantial use. While radio usage is difficult to
Introducing Critical Media Studies 7
Table 1.3 Number of commercial broadcast stations in the USA*
AM radio stations
FM radio stations
UHF and VHF
Source: The Federal Communications Commission; US Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the
United States: 2001, Table 1126; and US Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012,
Table 1132. *Data exclude educational broadcast stations.
measure, as we listen to the radio at work, at home, in cars, and in a variety of other
contexts, industry experts estimate that the typical American listens to about 1 hour
and 30 minutes of radio per day. But television is still, far and away, the dominant
medium in terms of usage. The Nielsen Company estimates that, in 2010, the average
American watched more than 35½ hours of television per week.9 Suffice to say,
Americans spend a significant amount of time with radio and television.
Before turning to the fourth and final category of mass media, two recent developments with regard to radio and television need to be addressed: satellite radio and
cable and satellite television. In many ways, these developments are analogous. Both
technologies charge for content, include some content that cannot be broadcast over
public airwaves, and trouble the traditional understanding of broadcast media.
Satellite radio and television and, increasingly, cable television employ a digital
signal, which qualifies them for inclusion in the category of new media. That having
been said, not all cable television is digital, and satellite radio and television, which
use a digital signal, are broadcast. As such, neither cable nor satellite technology fits
neatly into the category of broadcast or new media. Confusion over how to categorize satellite radio and cable and satellite television has not stopped either one from
being successful, however. Sirius XM Radio Inc, the sole satellite radio provider in
the USA, has 21 million paying subscribers and made $763 million in 2011.10
Meanwhile, from 1970 to 2011, the number of US households with either cable or
satellite television has grown from 7 to over 85 percent.11 As these data suggest, satellite
radio and cable and satellite television are growing rapidly, though even their success
is threatened by the proliferation of new media.
New media is the broadest and, hence, the most difficult of the four categories of mass
media to delimit and define. Though we offer a definition from Lev Manovich, even
he is aware of its problematic nature: “new media are the cultural objects which use
digital computer technology for distribution and circulation.”12 One difficulty with
this definition is that what it includes must continuously be revised as computing
technology becomes a more common mode of distribution. The d
digital television, film, photography, and e-books, for instance, would place them
in the category of new media along with the i nternet, w
ebsites, online computer
games, and internet capable mobile telephony. The ever-expanding character of
this category raises a second problem, which can be posed as a question; will it
eventually come to include all media and therefore be a meaningless category?
The likely answer is yes, for reasons we will discuss later under the topic of convergence. But for the time being, it remains a helpful way to differentiate it from
traditional print, celluloid film, and broadcast radio and television. As long as
there are mass media that exist as something other than 0s and 1s, new media will
remain a useful and m
The history of new media begins with the development of the microprocessor or
computer chip. Introduced in 1971, the world’s first commercial microprocessor, the
4-bit Intel 4004, executed about 60,000 calculations a second. By the early 1990s, the
486 microprocessor, which was typical of computers at the time, could perform
54 million calculations per second. Intel’s Pentium Pro, introduced in 1995, increased
performance yet again to roughly 250 million calculations per second. But computers
were not only rapidly becoming more powerful, they were also rapidly becoming more
connected. Developed initially as a communication technology for the US Department
of Defense, the internet began to catch the public’s attention in the 1970s when its
potential for sending personal electronic messages (emails) became evident. But it was
the development of a graphic-based user interface and common network protocols in
the early 1990s that popularized the internet by transforming it into the hypertextual
platform we know now as the World Wide Web. At the turn of the millennium, experts
estimated that there were more than 8 billion web pages, a number that was doubling
at the time every 6 months.13 With the infrastructure in place, the cost of computing
technology declining, and the ability of ordinary people to become mass producers of
information, the adoption of new media in the USA is growing exponentially.
Let us consider the rate at which a few of these technologies have invaded our
lives. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that only 10 percent of
American adults were using the internet in 1995. By August 2011, however, that
number had grown to 78 percent of adults and 95 percent of teenagers.14 Today,
millions of people use the internet for everything from online banking and bill
paying to job searching and social networking. Indeed, the social networking
site Facebook, which did not even exist until 2004, attracted more than a billion
active users worldwide in less than a decade. Other new media technologies, like
cell phones, MP3 players, and digital games, have also experienced staggering
adoption rates. Though cell phone adoption in the USA lags behind many European
countries, mobile telephony still boasts one of the fastest penetration rates of
any communication technology in history. In 2004, only about 39 percent of youth
(8- to 18-year-olds) owned a cell phone, but that number jumped to 66 percent in
just 5 years. In that same time span (2004 to 2009), the percentage of youth who
owned an MP3 player skyrocketed from 18 percent to 76 percent.15 As of 2012, 46
percent of US households (roughly 162 million people) owned a gaming console
Introducing Critical Media Studies 9
Table 1.4 Projected use of select new media for 2013 in the USA
Users in millions 2013
% increase over 2012
% of US population
Social network users
Online video viewers
Online television viewers
Online casual gamers
Online movie viewers
Online console gamers
Mobile phone use
Mobile phone users
Mobile internet users
Source: eMarketer, US Digital Media Usage: A Snapshot of 2013, November 2012.
and 39 percent owned a 7th generation console (Wii, PS3, or Xbox 360).16 Table 1.4
shows the projected use of select new media technologies in 2013.
Living in Postmodernity
As the previous section illustrates, the mass media develop and change over time. It
is important, therefore, to study them in historical context. Since the focus of this
book is on contemporary mass media, this section reflects on the character of the
contemporary historical moment. The present moment has variously been described
as the information age, the network era, the third wave, post-industrial society, the
digital age, and postmodernity. While none of these labels is without its shortcomings, we prefer the term postmodernity to refer to the contemporary moment given
its widespread adoption by media scholars. Postmodernity describes the historical
epoch that began to emerge in the 1960s as the economic mode of production
in most Western societies gradually shifted from commodity-based manufacturing
to information-based services. Postmodernity should not be confused with
postmodernism, an aesthetic sensibility or “style of culture which reflects something
of this epochal change, in a . . . self-reflexive, playful, derivative, eclectic, pluralistic
art.”17 In the transition from modernity to postmodernity, the mass production of
standardized, durable goods such as automobiles and toasters has steadily given way
to the reproduction of highly customizable soft goods such as iTunes libraries and
cell phone plans. Table 1.5 highlights some of the key differences between m
Table 1.5 Comparison of modernity and postmodernity
~1850s to 1960s
Monopoly (imperial) capitalism
Manufacturing and production
Economies of scale
State macro-economic regulation
~1960s to present
Multinational (global) capitalism
Marketing and public relations
Information and ideas
Economies of speed
and postmodernity. As the mass media have both contributed to and been
transformed by this historical transition, the remainder of this section explores
five key trends driving the mass media in postmodernity: convergence, mobility,
fragmentation, globalization, and simulation.
The previous section organizes the media into four categories as a way of sketching
a brief history of mass communication technologies. Ironically, the first major trend
in the mass media today involves the erasure of such boundaries. Increasingly,
contemporary media reflect convergence, the tendency of formerly diverse media
to share a common, integrated platform. As strange as it may seem today in light of
the prevalence of streaming video, internet radio, and online newspapers, convergence is a relatively recent phenomenon that was considered visionary in the early
1980s when Nicholas Negroponte and others at the MIT Media Lab began exploring
multimedia systems. Before media convergence could become a reality, it had to
overcome two major obstacles. First, the noise associated with analog signals such as
those used in television and radio broadcasting generated message distortion and
decay over long distances. This problem was solved through digitization, which
reduces distortion by relying on bits rather than a continuous signal. Second, bandwidth limitations prevented large data packets involving images and video from
being transmitted quickly and easily over a communication channel. But improved
data-compression techniques along with bandwidth expansions have made possible
the real-time transmission of large data packets over communication channels.
As these technical hurdles have been overcome, convergence has accelerated.
Introducing Critical Media Studies
Historically, mass media have not been very portable. If you wanted to see a film, you
had to go to the theater. If you wanted to watch your favorite television show, you had
to do so in the privacy of your own home. Even print media such as books, magazines,
and newspapers were limited in their mobility, as their size and weight significantly
restricted the amount of printed material one was likely to carry around. But the development of powerful microprocessors and wireless technology is rapidly changing all
this, and today, instead of us going to places for media, media can increasingly go
places with us. Mobility refers to the ease with which an object can be moved from
place to place. As one of the book’s authors typed this paragraph, for instance, he was
sitting in his favorite café, listening to music on his iPhone, and working on his laptop.
In addition to being able to take his whole music library with him, much of the research
for this book is stored on his computer. When he needed to locate information not on
his computer, he simply connected wirelessly to the University library and downloaded the necessary research. In fact, in the past few years, this author has pretty
much stopped going to the library altogether. Even when he requires a book that does
not exist electronically (yet!), he simply logs into the library website and arranges for
delivery to his office. As technology becomes more and more mobile, media are being
transformed from generic home appliances into highly personal (often fashion) accessories. In light of the drive toward mobility, the next evolutionary stage is likely to see
media go from being something we carry around or wear to something we embody or
become in the form of cybernetic implants.
Despite its continued use, the phrase mass media is rapidly becoming a misnomer.
The mass in mass media has traditionally referred to the large, undifferentiated,
anonymous, and passive audience addressed by television, radio, and print’s standardized messages. But the explosion of information in postmodernity has given way
to cultural fragmentation, a splintering of the consuming public into ever more specialized taste cultures. This, in turn, has resulted in a tremendous proliferation of
media content, if not media ownership, along with niche marketing. What Alvin
Toffler has called the “de-massification” of media has been underway since at least the
early 1970s.18 Decreasing production costs have greatly altered the economics of the
media industry, reducing the necessity for standardization. The result has been a dramatic increase in media output that caters to specific interests and tastes. Long gone
are the days of only three television networks, which could not fill 24 hours of programming. Today, there are hundreds of networks, as well as premium cable s ervices,
with around-the-clock programming. Nor is television unique; the print media and
radio have witnessed a similar proliferation of specialty outlets. General-purpose
magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and Life that dominated the magazine
industry in the 1960s had been replaced by 4,000 special-interest m
agazines by 1980.19
The internet, of course, reflects the most diversified medium, delivering a dizzying
array of content. Even an online bazaar like Amazon.com has country-specific portals and employs tracking software, or so-called cookies, that record user preferences
to create a highly customized shopping experience. As this technology improves, we
can count on media becoming more and more tailored to individual tastes.
Globalization is the buzzword of the moment, having captured the attention of
academics, business leaders, and politicians alike.20 Even as the world has become
increasingly fragmented by specialized interests, it has simultaneously become more
global as well. Globalization is a complex set of social, political, and economic
processes in which the physical boundaries and structural policies that previously
reinforced the autonomy of the nation state are collapsing in favor of instantaneous
and flexible worldwide social relations. While globalization is multidimensional, we
wish to focus chiefly on economic globalization. In the past few decades, the spread of
capitalism has fueled the rise of multinational corporations that wish to profit from
untapped “global markets.” Hence, these corporations aggressively support free-trade
policies that eliminate barriers such as trade tariffs between national and international
markets. For the mass media, which are owned and controlled almost exclusively
today by multinational corporations, globalization creates opportunities to bring their
cultural products to distant local markets. This fact has raised fears about cultural
imperialism, the imposition of one set of cultural values on other c ultures. The process
is dialectical or bidirectional, h
owever. Local m
arkets are influencing the products
and thinking of the very companies targeting them, leading to concern that cultural
difference is being eradicated in favor of one large hybridized culture.
Although the concept of simulation can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, its current
cultural cachet is due principally to the French theorist Jean Baudrillard and his book
Simulacra and Simulation. “Simulation,” Baudrillard writes, “is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.”21 According to Baudrillard, Western
societies, and “America” in particular, are increasingly characterized by simulation, an
implosion of the image (i.e. representations) and the real. This argument is premised
on, in Baudrillard’s words, the precession of simulacra, which suggests that the image
has evolved from being a good representation of an external reality, to a distorted
representation of an external reality, to a mask that conceals the absence of a basic
reality, to bearing no relation to any reality at all.22 The matter of simulation is an
important one, as the mass media are the key social institutions fueling this social
phenomenon. The media, for instance, endlessly produce and reproduce images of
love, violence, and family (to name only a few) that no longer point or refer to some
Introducing Critical Media Studies
external reality. Rather, they exist only as images of images for which there is no o
Simulation suggests that the media no longer represent, if they ever did, our social
world; they construct a realer-than-real space that is our social world.
Why Study the Media?
Perhaps the most important reason to study mass media today is because of their sheer
ubiquity. In the transition to postmodernity, mass media have gone from being one institution among many within our cultural environment to being the very basis of our cultural environment. The further back in history one travels, the less central mass media
are to social life and the more central are other social institutions such as the family, the
church, the school, and the state. But today, these social institutions have been subsumed
by, and are largely filtered through, the mass media. More than ever before, the mass
media have replaced families as caretakers, churches as arbiters of cultural values, schools
as sites of education, and the state as public agenda-setters. In this introduction, we
explored the two ways we know things, somatically and s ymbolically (i.e. directly and
indirectly). Not only do we know most things s ymbolically, but the media represent an
ever-expanding piece of the total symbolic pie of social mediators. Table 1.6 illustrates
the expanding number of hours the average American spends per day with select media.
As Table 1.6 indicates, though we may gradually be changing which media we use, the
mass media remain a significant socializing force in contemporary society. Socialization
describes the process by which persons – both individually and c ollectively – learn,
adopt, and internalize the prevailing cultural beliefs, v alues, and norms of a society.
Because all social institutions are mediators, they all contribute to socialization. When
information passes through a channel or medium, it is translated from direct sensory
experience into a set of symbols. Since symbols are selective, privileging some aspects of
Table 1.6 Average time (in hours) spent per day with select media in the USA
Television and video
Source: eMarketer, Time Spent with Media: Consumer Behavior in the Age
of Multitasking, 2012. Note: many of these hours are spent multitasking;
numbers may not add up to total due to rounding.
the thing being represented at the expense of others, they function as filters. Language
is perhaps the most obvious example of how symbols operate as filters. When you listen
to a friend tell a story or read about history in a textbook, you are not experiencing the
events being described directly. You are only experiencing them symbolically. The words
you hear or read are representations of the event you are learning about, not the actual
event itself. This is why two accounts of the same event, while potentially very similar,
are never identical. Stories are inevitably filtered through the symbols, and therefore the
perspective, of the storyteller. As society’s main storytellers, the mass media filter virtually
every aspect of our world, s haping both what we learn and how we learn.
What we learn
Mediated messages are comprised of content and form. Broadly speaking, the content
influences what we learn and the form influences how we learn. Both content and
form are central to the socializing function of the mass media, though content has
typically been given more attention. Content refers to the informational component
of a message, to the specific details, facts, ideas, and opinions communicated through
mass media. Audiences are often consciously aware of the content of mediated messages. We know, for instance, that when we read the news we are learning specifics
about our world. After just briefly scanning USA Today online, one author learned
that the American Civil Liberties Union is suing to prevent an Iowa law that would
make it easier for the state to remove voters from its voter registration lists, that
Facebook is launching a smartphone that showcases its social networking site, and
that Justin Bieber is facing fines in Germany for sneaking a monkey named Mally
onto a private jet without the proper documentation. It should probably be noted at
this point that the content of a message need not have use-value or truth-value to be
classified as informational. As both misinformation and disinformation would
suggest, fairness and accuracy are not defining attributes of information. Information
need only be meaningful, as opposed to gibberish, to count as information.
The content of the mass media matters for several reasons. First, by choosing to
include or cover some topics and to exclude or ignore others, the media establish
which social issues are considered important and which are considered unimportant.
Simply put, the mass media largely determine what we talk and care about. Second,
content lacking a diversity of views and opinions significantly limits the scope of public debate and deliberation on matters of social importance. Unpopular and dissenting
viewpoints are essential to a healthy democracy, however, as they often reframe issues
in fresh, productive ways. Third, because media content is communicated using
symbols and all symbols are selective, media content is necessarily biased. The language
and images used to inform, educate, and entertain you also convey selective attitudes
and beliefs. In short, the content of the mass media socializes us to care about some
issues and not others, to see those issues from some perspectives and not others, and
to adopt particular attitudes toward the p
erspectives it presents.
Introducing Critical Media Studies
How we learn
Whereas content refers to the informational component of a message, form describes
the cognitive component of a message. Form can be thought of as the way a message
is packaged and delivered. The packaging of a message is a consequence, first, of the
medium and, second, of the genre or class. Every medium or communication
technology packages messages differently.23 The unique ways that a message is packaged influence how we process it. In other words, communication mediums train
our conscious to think in particular ways, not what to think, but how to think. Media
scholars generally agree, for instance, that the way we interpret and make sense of
language differs radically from the way we interpret and make sense of images.
Whereas language is highly temporal and thus favors a sequential or linear way of
knowing,24 images are decidedly spatial and hence privilege an associative or nonlinear way of knowing. A simple way to confirm this difference is to place a page of
printed text next to an image. While the printed text only makes sense when the
words are read in succession, the elements within the image can be processed
Because the medium of a message conditions how one processes the informational elements within a message, some media scholars contend that message form
is a more fundamental and important socializing force than message content. This
position is most famously associated with Marshall McLuhan, who succinctly
claimed, “The medium is the message.” Given the transition to postmodernity, in
which the image has steadily replaced the word as the prevailing form in mass media
(even print media such as magazines and newspapers are increasingly filled with
pictures), the belief that young people today are cognitively different than their parents is rapidly gaining adherents. If media guru Douglas Rushkoff is correct, then
television and MTV along with video games and the internet may account for everything from the invention and popularity of snowboarding to the emergence and
spread of attention deficit disorder. As such, critical media scholars must attend not
only to what the mass media socialize us to think, but also to how they socialize us
Doing Critical Media Studies
As powerful socializing agents that shape what and how we know ourselves and our
world, it is vital that we analyze and evaluate the mass media critically. Critical
media studies is an umbrella term used to describe an array of theoretical perspectives which, though diverse, are united by their skeptical attitude, humanistic
approach, political assessment, and commitment to social justice. Before turning to
the individual perspectives that comprise critical studies, let us examine the four key
characteristics they share in greater detail.
The theoretical perspectives that comprise critical studies all begin with the
assumption that there is more at stake in mass media than initially meets the eye. To a
lay-person, for instance, what gets reported on the evening news may appear to be an
objective retelling of the day’s major events. But to the critical scholar, the p
of news is a complex process shaped by the pragmatic need to fill a one-hour time
block every day, as well as to garner high ratings. These factors, in large part, determine
what counts as news, how the news is produced, and what the news looks like. Just as
there is value in looking more closely at the news, there is value in looking more
closely at all media. Thus, the various perspectives within the field of critical media
studies adopt an attitude of skepticism, not as a way of rejecting media, but as a way of
understanding how they work and what they do. Some critics refer to this skeptical
attitude as a “hermeneutics of suspicion.”25 Hermeneutics describes a mode of interpretation grounded in close analysis. So, a hermeneutics of suspicion would be a
mode of close analysis with a deep distrust of surface appearances and “commonsense” explanations.
Universities, like many other cultural institutions, are divided into various departments
and units. Though the precise character of such divisions varies from one institution to
the next, one common way of organizing disciplines and departments is according to
the categories of natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. These categories,
while neither rigid nor entirely discrete, reflect a set of general distinctions concerning
subject matter, outlook, and method (i.e. procedure of investigation). Whereas the
natural sciences seek to understand the physical world by empirical and “objective”
means, for instance, the humanities aim to understand cultural and social phenomena
by interpretive and analytical means. To say that critical media studies is humanistic,
then, is to associate it with a particular set of intellectual concerns and approaches to the
discovery of knowledge. Adopting a humanistic approach to the social world and our
place in it, critical media studies emphasizes self-reflection, critical citizenship, democratic p
rinciples, and humane education.26 It is an approach that entails “thinking about
freedom and responsibility and the contribution that intellectual pursuit can make to
the welfare of society.”27 Because of the subjective element of humanistic criticism, the
knowledge it creates is never complete, fixed, or finished.28
In many scholarly arenas, the final step in research is the objective reporting of one’s
findings (usually in an academic journal). But critical media studies is interested in the
practical and political implications of those findings and, thus, entails judgment.
Introducing Critical Media Studies
Although there is no universal criterion for leveling political judgments across i ndividual
studies of the mass media, critical studies are generally concerned with d
whose interests are served by the media, and how those interests contribute to domination, exploitation, and/or asymmetrical relations of power. Research in this tradition
interrogates how media create, maintain, or subvert particular social structures, and
whether or not such structures are just and e galitarian. A Feminist study of television
sitcoms, for instance, would examine how the representation of male and female
characters in such programs functions to reinforce or challenge gender and sexual
stereotypes. Critical studies view society as a complex network of interrelated power
relations that symbolically privilege and materially benefit some individuals and groups
over others. The central aim of c ritical scholarship is to evaluate the media’s role in
constructing and maintaining particular relationships of power.
Ambition: social justice
One of the most unique and, at times, controversial characteristics of critical media
studies is its desire to better our social world. While scholars in many fields believe
that research should be neutral and non-interventionist, critical media studies aims
not only to identify political injustices but also to confront and challenge them.
Critical media studies is premised on a commitment to social justice and maintains
that scholars should “have as their determinate goal the improvement of society.”29
Many media scholars who work within the critical media studies paradigm belong
to media-reform organizations such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR),
the Media Education Foundation, Media Democracy in Action, Free Press, the
Action Coalition for Media Education, the Center for Creative Voices in Media, and
countless others. Critical media studies scholars believe that it is incumbent upon
citizens and not just their governments to hold big corporate media accountable.
Social activism can take many forms, from boycotts and culture jamming to producing alternative media and supporting independent media outlets.
Key Critical Perspectives
In an effort to assist students in evaluating the media critically, this book examines,
explains, and demonstrates 12 critical perspectives, each of which is rooted in a
different social theory. Theory is an explanatory and interpretive tool that simultaneously enables and limits our understanding of the particular social product,
practice, or process under investigation. The term theory derives from the Greek
word theoria, which refers to vision, optics, or a way of seeing. Since, as Kenneth
Burke notes in Permanence and Change, “Every way of seeing is also a way of not
seeing,”30 no theory is without limitations. We believe that since every theory has
biases and blind spots, no theory ought to be treated as the final word on any subject.
Theory is most useful when it is used and understood as a partial explanation of the
phenomenon being studied. Students are strongly encouraged to take each perspective seriously, but none as infallible or universal. We have grouped the 12 critical
perspectives in this book into three clusters based upon whether their primary focus
is on media industries, messages, or audiences. A brief examination of those three
theory clusters provides a chapter overview of the book.
Media industries: Marxist, Organizational, and Pragmatic
Part I of Critical Media Studies examines media industries and their practices of
production, paying particular attention to the economic, corporate, and governmental
structures that enable and constrain how mass media operate. Chapter 2 explores the
media from a Marxist theoretical perspective by examining the ways that c apitalism
and the profit-motive influence media-ownership patterns and c orporate practices.
Chapter 3 approaches the media from an Organizational perspective by focusing on
the work routines and professional conventions within media industries. Chapter 4,
the final chapter in the first part, investigates media industries from a Pragmatic
perspective, exploring how government laws and regulations impact media products.
Media messages: Rhetorical, Cultural, Psychoanalytic,
Feminist, and Queer
Part II of the book centers on media messages, and concerns how the mass media
convey information, ideas, and ideologies. Chapter 5 utilizes a Rhetorical perspective to illuminate how the various structures within media texts work to influence
and move audiences. Chapter 6 reflects a Cultural perspective and investigates how
the media convey ideologies about matters such as class and race that, in turn, shape
cultural attitudes toward various social groups. Chapter 7 adopts a Psychoanalytic
perspective, considering parallels between media messages and the unconscious
structures of the human psyche. Chapter 8 approaches media from a Feminist
perspective, highlighting the complex ways that media influence our cultural
performances of gender, whereas Chapter 9 adopts a Queer perspective to illustrate
how media contribute to our attitudes about sexuality.
Media audiences: Reception, Sociological, Erotic, and Ecological
In Part III, Critical Media Studies turns to media audiences, attending to the diverse
ways that audiences interpret, negotiate, and use media to create meanings, pleasures,
and identities. Employing a Reception approach, Chapter 10 explores the various
meaning-making practices in which audiences engage. Chapter 11 adopts a Socio
logical approach to media, exploring how audiences use media to negotiate the s ymbolic
and material demands of their everyday lives. Chapter 12 employs an Erotic perspective
Introducing Critical Media Studies
to understand the transgressive pleasures that audiences experience as they increasingly
become active producers as well as consumers of media. Chapter 13 concludes Part III
by offering an Ecological perspective, which concerns the ways media technologies
dominate our social environment and shape human consciousness.
Allen, R.C. (ed.) Channels of Discourse, Reassembled: Television and Contemporary Criticism,
2nd edn. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
Berger, A.A. Media Analysis Techniques, 4th edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2012.
Berger, A.A. Media and Society: a Critical Perspective, 3rd edn. Lanham, MD: Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2012.
Devereux, E. Understanding the Media, 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2007.
Durham, M.G. and Kellner, D.M. (eds) Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks, revised edn.
Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.
Gripsrud, J. Understanding Media Culture. London: Arnold, 2002.
Grossberg, L., Wartella, E.A., Whitney, D.C., and Wise, J.M. MediaMaking: Mass Media in
a Popular Culture, 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006.
Hodkinson, P. Media, Culture and Society: an Introduction. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications,
Laughey, D. Key Themes in Media Theory. London: Open University Press, 2007.
Marris, P. and Thornham, S. Media Studies: a Reader, 2nd edn. New York: New York
University Press, 2000.
Stevenson, N. Understanding Media Cultures: Social Theory and Mass Communication,
2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002.
Storey, J. An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, 2nd edn. Athens, GA:
University of Georgia Press, 1998.
Strinati, D. An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Taylor, L. and Williams, A. Media Studies: Texts, Institutions and Audiences. Oxford:
Tebbel, J. Between Covers: the Rise and Transformation of Book Publishing in America.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Tebbel, J. and Zuckerman, M.E. The Magazine in America 1741–1990. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1991.
Williams, K. Understanding Media Theory. London: Arnold, 2003.
1. S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action
(New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1941),
2. J. Cullen, The Art of Democracy: a Concise History
of Popular Culture in the United States (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1996), 23–4.
3. Cullen, 48.
4. Newspaper Association of America, last updated
September 4, 2012, http://www.naa.org/Trends-and-
Numbers/Circulation-Volume/NewspaperCirculation-Volume.aspx (accessed August 18, 2013).
5. M. Driscoll, Print Book Sales Fell in 2012 – But No
Faster Than They Did in 2011, Says Nielsen,
The Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 2013,
(accessed March 31, 2013).
6. T. Schatz, The Return of the Hollywood
Studio System, in Conglomerates and the Media,
E. Barnouw et al. (eds) (New York: The New
Press, 1997), 73–106.
7. B. Stelter, Ownership of TV Sets Falls in U.S., The
New York Times, May 3, 2011, http://www.nytimes.
html (accessed March 31, 2013). See also Nielsen
Estimates Number of U.S. Television House
holds to be 115.7 Million, The Nielsen Company,
May 3, 2011, http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/
(accessed October 14, 2013).
8. U.S. Homes Add Even More TV Sets in
2010, The Nielsen Company, April 28, 2010,
(accessed October 14, 2013).
9. Snapshot of U.S. Television Usage, The Nielsen
Company, September 23, 2010, http://www.nielsen.
(accessed March 31, 2013).
10. K.M. Mendolera, State of the Media Report 2012:
Emerging and Evolving (Vocus Media Research
Group, 2012), 11.
11. S. Donohue, LRG: 87% of Households Subscribe
to Cable or Satellite TV, FierceCable, July 5, 2012,
March 31, 2013).
12. L. Manovich, New Media from Borges to HTML,
in The New Media Reader, N. Wardrip-Fruin and
N. Montfort (eds) (Cambridge, MA: The MIT
Press, 2003), 16–17.
13. F. Biocca, New Media Technology and Youth:
Trends in the Evolution of New Media. Journal of
Adolescent Health 27, 2000, 23.
14. K. Zickuhr and A. Smith, Digital Differences
(Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s
Internet & American Life Project, April 13,
15. V. Vahlberg, Fitting into Their Lives: a Survey of
Three Studies about Youth Media Use (Arlington,
VA: Newspaper Association of America Foundation,
16. State of the Media: The Cross-Platform Report,
Quarter 1, 2012 – US (The Nielsen Company,
2012), 4. See also State of the Media: Consumer
Usage Report 2011 (The Nielsen Company,
T. Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), vii.
A. Toffler, Future Shock (New York: Random
House, 1970), 249.
J. Naisbitt, Megatrends: Ten New Directions
Transforming Our Lives (New York: Warner Books,
1982), 99–100. This number includes industry
and trade publications, as well as commercial or
M. Waters, Globalization, 2nd edn (New York:
Routledge, 1995), 1.
J. Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans.
S.F. Glaser (Ann Arbor, MI: University of
Michigan Press, 1994), 1.
J.W. Chesebro and D.A. Bertelsen, Analyzing
Media: Communication Technologies as Symbolic
and Cognitive Systems (New York: The Guilford
Press, 1996), 22.
M. Stephens, The Rise of the Image the Fall of the
Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998),
According to Paul Ricoeur, the hermeneutics of
suspicion is “a method of interpretation which
assumes that the literal or surface-level meaning
of a text is an effort to conceal the political i nterests
which are served by the text. The purpose of
interpretation is to strip off the concealment,
unmasking those interests.” Quoted in Philosophy:
the Classic Readings, D.E. Cooper and P.S. Fosl
(eds) (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 184.
Ricoeur writes, “Hermeneutics seems to me to be
animated by this double motivation: willingness
to suspect, willingness to listen; vow of rigor, vow
of obedience” [P. Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy:
an Essay on Interpretation (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1970), 27; see also pp. 32–3)].
E.W. Said, Humanism and Democratic Criticism
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).
H. Hardt, Critical Communication Studies:
Communication, History and Theory in America
(New York: Routledge, 1992), xi.
K. Burke, Permanence and Change, revised edn
(Los Altos, CA: Hermes Publications, 1954), 49.
and Pragmatic Perspectives
joint ventures profit-motive
logic of safety
The Secret Circle, a supernatural drama about a coven of teen witches in the fictitious
community of Chance Harbor, WA, debuted on the CW television network in
September 2011 with many indicators of success. In addition to deriving its source
material from a popular series of young adult novels by author L.J. Smith, the new
series scored a coveted broadcast slot following the network’s most popular program,
The Vampire Diaries (another show sourced from Smith’s literary work). Moreover,
the paranormal juggernaut Supernatural was entering its seventh season on the CW
at the same time, suggesting that its dedicated audiences might also be open to
adopting the spellbinding The Secret Circle as well. To some degree these strategic
overlaps paid off. The Secret Circle’s viewership fluctuated throughout its nine-month
run, but the program managed to conclude the 2011–12 season as the CW’s most
watched new series, making it the third most watched series overall for the network
(ahead of more proven performers like One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl).1
Fans of the show were understandably puzzled, then, to learn in May 2012 that the
CW had decided not to renew The Secret Circle for a second season. Why would the
network cancel something so popular, especially when it appeared to fit so well with
its brand? One likely answer is cost; The Secret Circle was tremendously expensive to
produce when compared to other new CW series.2 While fellow fledgling programs
like Hart of Dixie and Ringer could be filmed in hotspots like New York and Los
Angeles, The Secret Circle required more expensive, on-location shoots in and around
the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Furthermore, no other new series on the network
required the costly special effects that The Secret Circle’s witches necessitated. Despite
Critical Media Studies: An Introduction, Second Edition. Brian L. Ott and Robert L. Mack.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
these practical concerns, fans of the program launched an online campaign called
“Save The Secret Circle,” encouraging the CW or other sympathetic networks
(ABC Family, MTV, Syfy, etc.) to renew the series.3 Although fans circulated online
petitions, wrote letters to television executives, and inundated the offices of Warner
Bros. with 2,500 postcards and ABC Family with 300 lbs of plastic gold coins, no
network picked up the series for a second season.
The cancellation of The Secret Circle is as an important reminder to media
consumers about the powerful role that economic factors play in shaping our media
landscape. Though the program had strong ratings and a dedicated audience, its
high production costs prevented it from being profitable enough to renew. In many
ways, this case study illustrates the critical perspective in media studies commonly
referred to as Marxist analysis. Generally speaking, Marxist media scholars are
interested in how economic contexts and imperatives impact the production and
distribution of media content. Books, films, and television shows do not just spontaneously occur: all are created as products to be bought and sold in a greater system
of commodity exchange. Marxist scholars are concerned with how the idea of media
content as product, in turn, shapes the way it looks and circulates.
We begin this chapter with an overview of Marxist theory before turning our
attention to patterns of media ownership, focusing on how concentration, conglomeration, integration, and multinationalism diminish competition, maximize profits,
and exploit foreign markets. In the next portion of the chapter, we explore several of
the key strategies of profit maximization utilized by multinational media conglomerates to increase their bottom line and maintain their economic dominance. Then,
we examine the role that advertising plays in the media industry, looking at its
changing dynamics over time. We conclude the chapter by considering how media
ownership patterns and strategic practices reduce diversity in media content, limit
the breadth of voices and ideas found in media, and fuel cultural imperialism.
Marxist Theory: an Overview
Marxism is both a social theory and a political movement rooted in the idea that “society
is the history of class struggles.” Its origins lie in the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich
Engels, who collaborated on The German Ideology in 1845 (though it was not published
until long after their deaths) and the Communist Manifesto in 1848. Marx, who was born
in Prussia in 1818, is the more well known of the two due, in part, to his single-authored
works, including The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), Theories of Surplus Value (1860),
Capital (1867), A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), and Economic
and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, which was published posthumously in 1930. The
central premise of Marxism is that the mode of production in society (i.e. its underlying
economic structure and practices) determines the social relations of production (i.e. its
class structure). This theory understands and makes sense of the world through the
perspective of historical materialism, which regards the character of social life to be a
reflection of the material conditions that exist at a particular historical juncture.
Family structures, religion,
politics, government, law,
education, arts, media, etc.
Mode of production
• Forces of production
Natural resources, land,
of production, labor
• Relations of production
Labor practices and
ownership (of property,
company shares, and
modes of distribution)
Marx believed that the material world (i.e. natural phenomena and processes) precedes
human thought: that the external, concrete, material conditions of social existence
determine or ground human consciousness. As such, Marxism is considered a m
philosophy rather than an idealist philosophy; idealists maintain that ideas, not material
conditions, determine social existence. Marx also believed that the material conditions
of societies change over time and must, therefore, be viewed in historical context. As he
explains in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:
In the social production of their existence, men [sic] inevitably enter into definite r elations,
which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given
stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these
relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation,
on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms
of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general
process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that
determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.4
Marxism, then, holds that social consciousness, as encoded in institutions such as
religion, politics, government, education, law, and art and media, which Marx
collectively referred to as the cultural superstructure, reflects or mirrors the material
conditions of society, which he termed the economic base. Figure 2.1 represents
Marx’s famous base/superstructure model.
For Marx, the cultural superstructure and the social institutions that comprise it
operate in the realm of ideas or ideology. Thus, to understand the ruling ideas or
dominant ideology in society, one needs to attend to the material mode of production
in that society. As Marx and Engels explain in The German Ideology:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e. the class which is the
ruling material force of a society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class
Figure 2.1 Marx’s
which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the
means of mental production. … The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations, the dominant material relations grasped as ideas.5
The mode of production within any society is characterized by two elements: its forces
of production such as the land, natural resources, and technology needed to produce
material goods, and its relations of production such as labor practices and ownership
(of property, company shares, or the ways goods are distributed). According to Marx,
a society based on a capitalist mode of production is inherently exploitive because it
creates two classes, a working or proletariat class and a ruling or bourgeois class.
Since the bourgeoisie owns and controls the means of production in society, the only
commodity that the proletariat has to sell is its labor. For Marx, the ruling class exploits
the economic value (i.e. labor) of the working class to increase surplus value or profits.
But the capitalist system in many countries has changed dramatically since Marx developed his Labor Theory of Value, and the division of labor that p
roduced such a harsh
divide between the haves and the have-nots in the past has been replaced by a system
that sustains a large middle class, the petty or petite bourgeoisie, of small business
owners and white-collar workers (i.e. lawyers, doctors, professors, etc.). Their ideological domination – and it is domination (e.g. the middle class still behaves in a manner
that sustains the ruling elite) – appears to be less grounded in their working conditions.
This has led many contemporary Marxist scholars to reject deterministic models,
which they label “vulgar Marxism,” that see the superstructure as having no autonomy from the economic base. While Marxist critics are still interested in who owns
and controls the means of production in society, they also recognize that ideology can
and does influence modes of production. Thus, for them, the process is much more
dialectical than unidirectional, and it is this dialectic which they wish to understand.
Capitalism is driven by the continuous desire to increase capital, an ideology
known as the profit-motive. Contemporary Marxist critics, many of whom adopt
the label political economists, investigate both the prevailing patterns of media
ownership and how the logic of capital, or profit-motive, influences media business practices. There is good reason to do so, as the media are big business …
very big business! According to the professional services firm PwC (formerly
PricewaterhouseCoopers), in 2011, entertainment and media was a $1.6 trillion
a year global business, involving internet access ($317 billion), advertising
($486 billion), and consumer spending ($802 billion).6 PwC projects that, by 2016,
entertainment and media will have grown into a $2.1 trillion business. Of the $802
billion in consumer spending on media globally in 2011, $265 billion was spent in
North America alone. Table 2.1 breaks down these numbers by media industry.
Given the staggering size of these numbers, it is useful to consider media consumption on a more personal level. Table 2.2 summarizes how much money the
typical US consumer has spent on select media since 2004. These data suggest that
in 2012, the average American consumer spent more than $1,000 a year reading,
viewing, listening to, and downloading media content.
Table 2.1 Consumer spending by media industry in 2009 and 2011 (in billions of dollars)
TV subscriptions and fees
Total consumer spending
Source: PwC, Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2012–2016, June 2012. Note: numbers may not
add up to total due to rounding.
Table 2.2 US consumer spending on select media per person per year (in dollars)
Motion picture and sound
Cable and satellite TV
Broadcast and satellite radio
Source: US Census Bureau, The 2010 Statistical Abstract, Table 1094, Media Usage and Consumer
Spending: 2004 to 2012. *Projected numbers.
Patterns of Media Ownership
Adopting a historical materialist perspective, Marxist analysis of mass media begins
by examining the means and relations of production under contemporary capitalism, or what Marxist critic Fredric Jameson calls multinational capitalism. Like all
economic systems, capitalism changes over time. The information-based service
economy of the twenty-first century is substantially different than the industrialbased manufacturing economy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is vital,
therefore, to consider how the media industry is organized and controlled today.
Toward that end, this section investigates four current and deeply intertwined
patterns of media ownership: concentration, conglomeration, integration, and
The media and entertainment industry in the USA and much of the world is highly
concentrated, meaning that it is owned and controlled by a small group of powerful
companies. The domination of an entire industry by just a few companies is
sometimes referred to as an oligopoly, as opposed to a monopoly in which one
company dominates an entire industry. Microsoft’s domination of the software
industry, for instance, is often considered a monopoly. Oligopolies reduce competition by making it all but impossible for small, independent, or start-up companies to
survive in the marketplace. The big companies typically buy up the small companies
or drive them out of business. Once an industry becomes highly concentrated, the
few remaining companies function more like a cartel or partners than competitors.
They each control such a large piece of the industry pie that the other companies do
not constitute a real threat to their success.
Concentration occurs both within particular media industries such as music,
which is dominated by three major companies (Universal Music Group, Sony Music
Entertainment, and Warner Music Group), and across the media industry as a whole.
In the USA, the media industry is dominated by six massive corporations that we
have dubbed “The Big Six.” Each year, Fortune 500 ranks America’s largest and most
profitable corporations. In 2012, five of the companies ranked in the top 200 on
Fortune’s list were in the entertainment industry: The Walt Disney Company (ranked
66), News Corp. (ranked 91), Time Warner (ranked 103), Viacom (ranked 177), and
CBS (ranked 188). To these five companies, we would add Comcast – a cable and
telecommunications company that became a major player in the media industry in
2011 when it paid General Electric $6.5 billion dollars for the controlling stake
(51%) in NBC Universal.
Although there are certainly other large, very profitable US-based media companies,
such as Gannett Co., The Hearst Corporation, Tribune Company, The Washington Post
Company, Clear Channel, and Liberty Media, they are better classified as second-tier
media companies because their profits within the media industry are relatively small
compared to the Big Six, at least, at present. As a way of demonstrating the domination
of the Big Six, consider the scope and power of Time Warner, the third largest entertainment and media conglomerate in the USA behind The Walt Disney Company and News
Corp. In 2011, Time Warner’s total revenues were nearly $29 billion, an 8 percent
increase over the previous year. But where does all this money come from? To answer
that question, we need to look at Time Warner’s corporate structure, which is divided
into four major units, each of which owns dozens of brands and subsidiary companies:
Turner Broadcasting System, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Home Box Office, and
The Turner Broadcasting System consists of news and entertainment networks
such as CNN, HLN, TBS, TNT, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network,
Adult Swim, and Boomerang. In 2011, just one of those networks, TBS, reached
approximately 99.9 million US television households and was home to basic
cable’s number one sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, as well as other popular
syndicated shows such as The Office and Family Guy.7 Meanwhile, Home Box
Office, which features its original programming like True Blood, Game of Thrones,
and Boardwalk Empire, was the number one domestic premium pay television
service in 2011. Warner Bros. Entertainment played its part by releasing 22 films
in 2011, including Green Lantern, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,
The Hangover Part II, and Horrible Bosses, which grossed a combined $4.7 billion
in total box office receipts ($1.83 billion domestically, $2.87 billion internationally). Warner Home Video – the distribution arm of Warner Bros. Entertainment –
captured 21.9 percent of all US consumer spending on DVDs and Blu-rays, the
most of any studio. Similarly, Time Inc., which distributes 95 magazine titles
worldwide, captured 20 percent of all US magazine advertising spending. Time
Inc. estimates that more than 50 percent of all American adults read at least one
of its magazines every month, and that more than 100 of its magazines are sold in
the USA every minute. Figure 2.2 provides a detailed list of Time Warner’s
corporate holdings as of January 2013 and also highlights the second ownership
A second prevailing and closely related pattern of media ownership is conglomeration, the corporate practice of accumulating multiple companies and businesses
through startups, mergers, buyouts, and takeovers. Whereas concentration describes
the media industry as a whole and its increasing consolidation into the hands of fewer
and fewer corporations, conglomeration describes a corporate structure in which a
parent company owns and controls a host of subsidiary companies. Some scholars
reserve the term conglomerate to describe large corporations whose media holdings
reflect only one dimension of their overall corporate portfolio. General Electric (GE),
which manufactures home appliances and light bulbs, is a good example in this regard.
Time Warner (January 2013)
TURNER BROADCASTING SYSTEM
Amo El Cine
Cartoon Network Too
TCM Australia/New Zealand
TCM Latin America
The Smoking Gun
Cartoon Network Korea
WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Warner Home Video
Warner Bros. Digital Distribution
Warner Bros. Advanced Digital
Warner Bros. Interactive
Warner Bros. Technical Operations
Warner Bros. Anti-Piracy Operations
Warner Bros. Pictures Group
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures International
Warner Bros. Television Group
Warner Bros. Television
Warner Horizon Television
Warner Bros. Animation
Warner Bros. Domestic Television
Warner Bros. International
Warner Bros. International
Warner Bros. International Branded
The CW Television Network
Home Box Office
HBO on Demand
Cinemax on Demand
5 Star Max
HBO & CINEMAX BRANDED
SERVICES AVAILABLE IN:
Papua New Guinea
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Figure 2.2 Time Warner brands and supporting organizations. Time Warner, January 2013. http://www.timewarner.com/
British Virgin Islands
Sports Illustrated for Kids
This Old House
TIME for Kids
Grupo Editorial Expansión
IDC Asesor Juridico y Fiscal
Life and Style
Travel & Leisure, Mexico
My Home Ideas
People en Español
25 Beautiful Homes
Chat – It’s Fate
Country Homes & Interiors
Good to Know
Good to Know Recipes
Homes & Gardens
Horse & Hound
International Boat Industry (IBI)
Motor Boat & Yachting
Motor Boats Monthly
Mountain Bike Rider (MBR)
Pick Me Up
Practical Boat Owner
Style at Home
TV & Satellite Week
VW Camper & Bus
What Digital Camera
What’s on TV
Woman Special Series
woman&home Feel Good Food
woman&home Feel Good You
Woman’s Own Lifestyle Series
Woman’s Weekly Fiction Series
Woman’s Weekly Home Series
Woman’s Weekly Living Series
GE owned the controlling stake in NBC Universal (NBC, MSNBC, Syfy, E!
Entertainment Television, USA Network, Golf Channel, Bravo, Oxygen, Telemundo,
Universal Pictures, etc.) until January 2011, when Comcast became the majority owner
(51%) in the company. Since media companies are among some of the most powerful
corporations in the world, we regard each of the Big Six as conglomerates even though
the majority of their holdings are restricted to media.
Let us take a closer look at how a media giant like The Walt Disney Company
becomes a conglomerate. Like many conglomerates, The Walt Disney Company
has rather humble origins, having been started as a small animation studio in 1923
by brothers Walt and Roy Disney. Early success at Walt Disney Studios (originally
Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio) led to the formation of three other companies in
1929, Walt Disney Enterprises, Disney Film Recording Company, and Liled Realty
and Investment Company. These companies later merged under the name Walt
Disney Productions in 1938. In an effort to expand its business, the company
began designing its theme parks in 1952 and formed Buena Vista Distribution to
distribute Disney’s feature films two years later. But Walt Disney Productions did
not become The Walt Disney Company until February of 1986, by which time it
also included the Disney Channel and a new film label, Touchstone Pictures.
Under the leadership of Michael Eisner, the company conducted a series of key
acquisitions in the 1990s, including independent film distributor Miramax in
1993, which it sold in 2010 after a 17-year partnership, and perhaps more importantly Capital Cities/ABC, a $19 b
illion transaction, in 1996.8 During the 1990s, it
also established Hyperion, a book-publishing division. By decade’s end, The Walt
Disney Company had grown into a global empire with powerful interests in all
four of the mass media industries.
In 2004, Disney narrowly escaped a hostile takeover attempt by Comcast, an
event that contributed to Michael Eisner’s replacement as CEO by Robert Iger the
following year. Shortly after Iger assumed the reins, Disney acquired Pixar
Animation Studios in a transaction worth $7.4 billion. “Disney’s performance
during Iger’s first year,” reports the company’s website, “was stellar, with record
revenues, record cash flow and record net earnings for fiscal year 2006.”9 Presently,
Disney is organized into five major business segments: Media Networks (ESPN,
Disney Channels Worldwide, ABC Family, SOAPnet, A&E Television Networks,
Hyperion Books), Parks and Resorts (Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland
Resort, Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland
Resort, Shanghai Disney Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disney Vacation Club,
Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney), Studio Entertainment (Walt Disney
Studios Motion Pictures, Marvel Studios, Touchstone Pictures, Disneynature, Walt
Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Disney Music Group, Disney
Theatrical Group), Consumer Products (Disney Licensing, Disney Publishing
Worldwide, Disney Store), and Interactive (Disney Interactive Media and Disney
Interactive Games). Table 2.3 charts The Walt Disney Company’s revenues in each
of these areas over the past decade.
Table 2.3 Annual revenues for The Walt Disney Company (in billions of dollars)
Parks and Resorts
Source: The Walt Disney Company, 2006 Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Financial Report and
Shareholder Letter, and Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Financial Report and Shareholder Letter. Note: numbers
may not add up to total due to rounding. *This revenue category was added after 2006.
Media conglomerates are by definition integrated. Integration is an ownership
pattern in which the subsidiary companies or branches within a corporation are
strategically interrelated. Corporations can be integrated vertically, horizontally,
or both. Vertical integration describes a corporation that owns and controls various aspects of production and distribution within a single media industry like
publishing or broadcasting. Vertical integration can significantly increase the
profits associated with a media product by allowing the parent corporation to
oversee all stages of its development, everything from its production and marketing to its distribution and exhibition. A media conglomerate that owns record
copyrights, record labels, sound recording studios, and record clubs, stores, or
other distribution outlets would p
ossess strong vertical integration in the music
industry, for instance.
The filmed entertainment division at Viacom offers a concrete example of vertical
integration. In 1972, Paramount Pictures produced the Oscar-winning film
The Godfather, which had grossed $134 million in the USA by 1973. But domestic
box office receipts are far from the end of the story. Today, Paramount Home
Entertainment markets and distributes the film on DVD, Worldwide Television
Distribution negotiates its broadcast on TV, and Famous Music licenses the use of
its soundtrack. All of these companies, which continue to generate profit from
The Godfather franchise, are part of the Paramount Pictures Corporation, a wholly
owned subsidiary of Viacom.
The popular, conspiracy-driven TV drama The X-Files (1993–2002) provides a
second example of the benefits of vertical integration. The Fox Broadcasting Company
produced the show, which then aired in first-run production on the FOX network. In
addition to the profits generated by its initial airing, Twentieth Television, a division
of Fox Television, syndicated three rounds of reruns on local Fox affiliates and other
stations, collecting an additional $35 million a year. Meanwhile, FX, one of Fox’s
numerous cable networks, also aired the show in rerun, generating $69 million more
in annual profits. In total, Fox’s yearly profits from The X-Files, after subtracting
production costs of course, exceeded $180 million dollars,10 a rather impressive figure
when one considers it was only one television show produced by Rupert Murdoch’s
media conglomerate News Corp.
Horizontal integration describes an ownership pattern in which a corporation
dominates one stage (or level in the value chain) of the production process. This
typically takes one of two forms. Some firms achieve horizontal integration
through ownership of multiple media outlets in one market, thereby reducing
competition. A company like News Corp, which owns 35 Fox television affiliate
stations, several of which are in the same markets, for instance, has strong
horizontal integration. If a company controlled all or nearly all the radio stations,
TV stations, or n
ewspapers within a m
arket, then it would have a horizontal
monopoly in that market.11 As we will see in Chapter 4, the 1996 Telecommunica
tions Act, which eliminated or relaxed ownership restrictions in the USA, has
increased this form of integration. A second way for a corporation to achieve
horizontal integration is to own and control companies across various media
industries, but typically at the same level of production, distribution, or exhibition.12
This corporate structure is sometimes referred to alternatively as cross-media
ownership. Like vertical integration, horizontal integration can have tremendous
financial benefits, namely by enhancing synergy, a concept we will explore
shortly. As Table 2.4 demonstrates, all of the Big Six US media conglomerates are
A fourth pattern of contemporary media ownership is multinationalism, or
a corporate presence in multiple countries, allowing for the production and
distribution of media products on a global scale. Multinationalism should not be
confused with g lobalization, however. As we saw in Chapter 1, globalization is a
complex set of economic and political processes, and while globalization may be
contributing to the rise of multinational corporations, it cannot be reduced to this
ownership trend. Multinational media conglomerates, also known as TNCs (short
for transnational c orporations), do not simply (re)distribute a static, pre-packaged
product developed in one locale to various countr…
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