6.3 The Role of Media in Society

6.3 The Role of Media in Society


I received many variations of the question: What
role do our media have in society? Let’s start by saying that scientists see many
roles for the media. Since we were discussing metaphors earlier I want to show the wide variety of possible answers by discussing some popular metaphors that are used to discuss the media’s role in
society. One popular metaphor in discussions is always the window, by which we mean of course that the media give us a wider view of the world, enabling us to see more of the world than our
own experiences allow. Metaphors contain a wealth of information,
hidden in one seemingly simple concept. A similar metaphor for example, but different on one important detail, is the mirror metaphor. A mirror, like a window, refers to the fact that the media widen our horizons. I have never travelled to the North Pole, but still documentaries and movies give me an idea of what it’s like out there. But, the mirror metaphor allows for a distortion of this reflection. Obviously, the picture the media paint is not exactly the North Pole, but in fact an incomplete, and therefore distorted, image. Selections have been made and we see only parts of the North Pole, no matter how well-made the documentary is. Even a 24/7 webcam that shows us the North Pole only shows us a part of reality. Therefore, instead of a mirror, scholars sometimes use the metaphor of tainted mirror or broken mirror, to indicate that the reflection is not pure. Much research is focused on these selection processes, what gets attention and what doesn’t. You might remember that we call these types of studies gatekeeping studies. This approach views each medium as a gatekeeper, stopping some content and letting other items through the gate. So this is another metaphor that we use frequently. A similar comparison is the filter metaphor, basically indicating the same thing; the media only show us part of reality. Some theoretical approaches go even further, they claim that media show us a fake reality, hiding the truth from us. Remember the Frankfurter School? Scholars from this school of thought argue that pop culture is created by the powers that be to keep the masses ignorant and keep their
minds from revolting. The media, in this theory, work as opium for the
people. They keep us quiet, distract us and keep us happy with non-thought provoking entertainment and tabloid journalism. Think back to ancient Rome when the Caesars kept the powerless population from rising up against the elite with free gladiatorial games, chariot races and theater shows. The media in these types of theories also function as a screen. They block us from reality, showing a fake,
soothing, non-thought provoking reality in return. Think back to the propaganda of the First World
War for instance. Even when Germany was clearly losing, their
propaganda pretended they were still winning, ignoring defeats in the news and basically
showing a completely false picture of the war. Now that we are talking about propaganda,
another metaphor that’s often used are the well-
know hypodermic needle or magic bullet comparisons,
referring to the media as a means of persuasion, ‘injecting’ or ‘shooting’ the audience with messages to which they have no defense, creating instant effects. Would-be persuaders are of course always looking for the magic keys of persuasion in order to manipulate and control. In these theories, journalists are not critical of governments and big corporations. Basically the media are a lapdog of the elite.

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