Theoretical Reflection: Ideology, Hegemony, Media Representation
Apart from the significant others, such as parents, siblings, relatives, friends and teachers, mass media are the other major channels from which individuals may get to know about their communities, countries and even the world. Similarly, people’s beliefs, values and norms are mainly acquired from education and built upon the interpersonal communication and social activities with the significant others. In addition to laws and even some religious ideas with various nations, people are guided to establish their own systems of ideology which they undoubtedly follow without any questions. Yet, as mass media also play a critical role in shaping and modifying our value judgments about the globe and ourselves, hegemony has to be taken into account in this issue. Meanwhile, we should pay attention to motives and thoughts of the ones who stands behind the curtain, controls and directs the mass media.
According to ideas of Marx and Gramsci, it is obvious to understand that attitudes and behaviors of the subordinate classes like the general public are controlled under the hegemony of the ruling classes with strong political and economic powers. This kind of influence from the ruling classes can even be recognized as manipulation or brain-wash when some certain ideas are heavily disseminated into grass roots’ minds. Just take the media coverage about the Iraq war during George Bush’s administration over the United States as an example. Before the invasion of USA, there were frequent messages shown in TV to remind the Americans that Iraq illegally possessed weapons of mass destruction and intended to harm USA. Images, texts and narration of those clips kept connecting to the 9/11 attacks and portraying Iraq as a leading terrorist state. However, there was no broadcast about weapons of mass destruction done in Iraq by the force of USA. Additionally, according to Rendall and Broughel’s analysis, sources advocating the pro-war messages occupied 70% while materials about anti-war merely occupied 3%. Based on such media coverage, the Bush administration successfully justified the invasion of Iraq and gained lots of Americans’ support for the war. Although Robert McChesney, one of the activist scholars in the US media industry, admitted that it was just a fraud the US news media had participated in, it demonstrated how hegemony exactly worked in the so-called democratic government. While some people out of USA might not find the US invasion ethical, the Americans might do so and believe in their government as it shaped the Americans’ minds with their authoritative status and powers in manipulating the media.
Through the media, people are unconsciously receiving a variety of messages which are mostly in favor of the ones with political and economic powers every day. We can learn about the fundamental values and norms from family members and friends, but we may not able to comprehend the world from them at the same time. We, therefore, often rely on mass media, as known as the Internet, TV, radio and etc. to broaden our horizons since we may not experience the real world in person. Unfortunately, ideas of how the world is and should be, again, are greatly influenced under the hegemony of the ruling classes. From personal experience, Disney cartoons are channels which deliver some particular perceptions to people and even create bias. In some of the well-known Disney princess stories, people with unfavorable appearances are portrayed as bad guys with evil thinking, the black males are always fierce and engage in violence, the black females and Arabians are usually associated with sexual affairs. These are the elements which people, particularly children, would unconsciously receive and then use to shape their cognition towards the globe. This example then leads to the matter of media representation as shown below.
According to Stuart Hall, media representation first indicates the way in which meaning is given to the things depicted through the images shown on the media. Second, it stands in for people to take the place of where the subordinate classes cannot be, but the ruling classes can be. Let’s focus on Stuart’s first definition. Since the Walt Disney kingdom is one of the largest scaled multi-national corporations, its cartoons and movies can extensively travel all over the world and reach a huge scope of audiences. While enjoying a fun and entertaining cartoon, audiences especially children should have no idea to beware of those hidden perceptions and deliberately rooted motives which might go against minorities or races. Consequently, the possible outcomes of such a media representation can turn into people’s imbalanced impression and bias towards the minority groups. More significantly, it might even create cultural prejudice and hatred among various nationalities.
It is true that people may be able to spot the gap of representation one day when they discover the difference between how the media represent things and how the things are in reality. It will likely to be happened when an individual has acquired a certain level of knowledge and witnessed how the world truly is in person. After discovered the distortion of subjects by the media, he might start measuring those previously received values and beliefs, and adjusting his initial attitudes and behaviors. Since it is a common struggle that each single metropolitan may go through, it is not absolutely negative to people as it encourages them to think and act critically. Still, people should keep an eye to the motivation and rationales behind politics, significant social and economic affairs when the government or dominant corporations are looking for support.
Robert W. McChesney, “The Political Economy of Media: enduring issues, emerging dilemmas”, Monthly Review Press. 2008, p.105 - 106
Steve Rendall and Tara Broughel, “Amplifying Officials, Sequencing Dissent: FAIR Study Finds Democracy Poorly Served by the War Coverage”. 2003.http://www.fair.org/extra/0305/warstudy.html