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meyler.mass.media

It’s a Time Warner World

Time Warner is a media company. They describe their business as keeping people “informed, entertained and connected.” This task becomes easy to do with a company as large as theirs. The Time Warner net is cast wide with it covering a variety of different arenas. With its six brands that include AOL, Time Inc., Time Warner Cable, Home Box Office, Turner Broadcasting System and Warner Bros., the company has stakes in Internet, cable, film, television and publishing.

Time Warner is a multinational media corporation. It is the second largest media company after News Corp. Its net income is US$4.39 billion, it employs over 85 000 people, and its total assets are worth US$133.84 billion. Time Warner has managed to gain so much profit just from the simple fact that they own so much.

A list of their holdings is a long one. The AOL brand has Netscape, Moviefone and MapQuest. Time Warner cable owns various local news channels from around the States. HBO has Cinemax and E!. TBS ranges from the Cartoon Network to CNN. Warner Bros. distributes Telepictures and DC Comics. Time Inc. makes magazines like In Style, Outdoor Life and NME (“List of Assets”). This is just the tip of the ice burg, and it turns out that the Time Warner iceberg is a big one. They own a huge portion of the media that is produced and consumed.

The crazy thing is that most people aren’t aware of this. Because all of the companies have different names, it’s easy to assume that they are all different companies. But with the growth of multinationals like Time Warner, this isn’t the case. As Christopher Dixon describes, media has become a “global oligopoly,” where there’s limited competition because the market is shared by such a small number of producers.

Although not technically a true monopoly, the state of cross media ownership acts in favour of the corporations. “The global market strongly encourages corporations to establish equity joint ventures in which the media giants all own a part of an enterprise. This way, firms reduce competition and risk and increase the chance of profitability” (McChesney). With one company having close interests in another, prices are allowed to stay high.

While media corporations being in bed with each other is beneficial for them, it robs the public of their most influential power: the power of choice. Cross media ownership only gives the opportunity for a limited number of voices to be heard. You have one voice giving you your entertainment, you have one voice providing your Internet, you have one voice telling you your news. And they could all very well be the same voice, acting in their own interests.

When Time Warner owns a chunk of the media, it becomes easy for them to make sure that their image and concerns are maintained. Everything under Time Warner can be tinted in their bias.

Cross media ownership puts the access of information into the hands of few, letting corporations decide how it is distributed and accessed. The media is controlled in a wholly undemocratic system.

Sources

“List of Assets Owned by Time Warner.” Economic Expert. 17 Nov. 2008. <http://www.economicexpert.com/a/List:of:assets:owned:by:Time:Warner.htm&gt;.

“Time Warner: Our Company.” 9 July 2007. TimeWarner. <http://www.timewarner.com/corp/aboutus/our_company.html&gt;.

McChesney, Robert W. “It’s a Small World of Big Conglomerates.” 11 Nov. 1999. The Nation. 6 Nov. 2008. < http://www.thenation.com/doc/19991129/mcchesney&gt;.

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When News Isn’t Really News

The news is not what it used to be, or at least, it’s not what it’s supposed to be. News is defined as an event that deviates from the norm, something that isn’t seen everyday. As the old adage says, it’s not news if dog bites man, but it is if man bites dog.

The job of relaying all of the newsworthy events of the world to the public is in the hands of journalists. It is their responsibility to inform people of what needs to be known. However, this responsibility seems to have become skewed and misguided in our modern times. As with the corruption of most things, it comes at the hands of greed. The values of journalism have become diluted with those of the corporation. Truth, integrity and honesty play second fiddle to pushing a sale and making money.

This can be seen in any of the major news media. Newspapers and broadcasters are dependent on the money that comes from advertisers. That is where their loyalties lie. Because of this, it makes it easy for corporations to work things in their favor. As John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton explore in their scathing review of the public relations business, the money that companies have at their disposal is often enough to bend the truth. They give the example of a book by David Steinmann that essentially destroyed before its release because it raised concerns over the amount of chemicals that are used in foods. Since this would mean bad news for companies in the food industry, PR firms were hired to make sure that the book stayed unread (5-16).

The implications of having corporations choosing which information to censor and which to promote is the death of real journalism and real news. When propaganda is masqueraded and paraded as news, it becomes impossible for the public to make informed decisions.

So, when is news not really news? When it’s funded and guided by the greed of the corporation.

Source:
Rampton, Sheldon, and John Stauber. Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry. Monroe: Common Courage Press, 1995.

Living in the House that Technology Built

I don’t consider myself a slave to technology, but this might simply be because I don’t want to think of myself as a slave to anything. However, when I put thought to the matter, I realize how much it’s a part of my life. The technology that I use defines me. My iTunes and my iPod hold collections of music personally chosen by me; it’s my music. The blog that I’m writing in displays my academic standing and thoughts. Every piece of media that I use tells something about me. Because, it’s not the specific songs that are on my iPod and it’s not specifically what I mention in this blog, but it’s the mere fact that I use these technologies that is the most telling.

Although it’s hard pointing to one medium that shapes my daily routine (because truly there are so many), a relatively new one is the Internet phenom that is Facebook. It was created in 2005, less than five years ago and since that time it has morphed to form its own interesting type of culture (Yadav). People are addicted (not literally, but they may as well be) to Facebook, and I will admit that I just may be part of this group, although probably not to the extent of some.

I first added my face to the Book (after some convincing by friends) just over a year ago and from that point, I’ve been on the site, a lot. I’ll check Facebook, usually at least once a day. If I’m on the computer and I have nothing to do, I’ll wander over. Every time I get a new e-mail from Facebook I check it right away. It offers distraction from homework and boring classes. It’s an odd sense of excitement when you log on and you see that you multiple new notifications, and it’s an odd sense of disappointment when there’s none. You get to be friends with people who you’ve never met before (which I still find a weird situation).

Facebook is a lot of things.

Its basic use is as a social network, which is the reason that most people will give when asked why they use it. They have a profile because they want to stay connected. I want to stay connected with friends. However, anyone who uses it knows that there’s another motive for its use. They like to creep, or Facebook stalk or whatever. Facebook has created the perfect place to be voyeuristic. It’s easy to do and no one will know if you do it. Wall-to-wall someone’s conversations, or look through the pictures that they’re tagged in or check out they’re relationship status. Humans’ desperate need to know about everything (including the lives of everyone else) has developed into Facebook.

This technology has become so popular that my use of it not only defines me, but it can pretty much define my generation. Every time I step into a lecture or a class it’s a good guess that at least half of those people will be on Facebook. With its help we don’t have to feel left out of the loop or feel as if the social world is passing us by. Facebook is comforting.

But this is only one technology of many that structure life. Every part of my day is mediated. As Ursula Franklin said, “technology has built the house that we all live in” (Franklin 1). Facebook is just one brick.

Sources:

Franklin, Ursula M. The Real World of Technology. Scarborough, ON: Anasi Press, 1990.

Yadav, Sid. “Facebook – the Complete Biography.” 05 Aug. 2008. Mashable. 07 Oct. 2008 <http://mashable.com/2006/08/25/facebook-profile/&gt;

The Leader of the Masses

The strict dictionary definition of hegemony is “leadership of dominance, esp. by one country or social group over other” (Oxford American Dictionaries). Typically the term has been used to describe the methods used by countries and political movements to obtain and maintain power over other states or groups of people. Antonio Gramsci inspired by Marxist thoughts toward capitalism during the early 20th century created an explanation of hegemony. He saw how the lower class was kept under control, not by violence or force, but by oppression. It was the continuous coercion that prevented any revolt (Gramsci’s Hegemony).

While this was true for Gramsci in Fascist Italy, when applied to the media, it is startlingly true today. It is the idea that the media can be used as a means of control over the masses.

It’s no surprise or astonishing revelation that the media has influence over actions. However, a debate can exist over exactly how much influence it has, such as the long-standing one of the effect of violence in television on children.

The theory that the media can act as a hegemony is founded on the idea that through constant coercion, a concept is able to become accepted belief of the public. Mass media becomes the perfect means of delivering a message since it is by definition a method of bringing information to large groups of people.

In my daily practice, the most prevalent example of hegemony with regards to the media would be advertisements. I am, as is everyone living in a Western culture, bombarded with ads every single day. While I would like to believe that I am immune to any power that they may have, I know that I’m not. 

The most obvious result of an advertisement is that makes me want to buy the product; that after I see an ad for Calvin Klein perfume, I want to go out and get some for myself. However, this is probably the least worrisome consequence. Rather, the advertisement may sell me a concept, and from this I begin to base my actions or thoughts. 

Now this doesn’t happen over-night, it’s not that I see a commercial for Budweiser and I buy their beer and their sexist views. It happens generally and slowly, so much so that most people aren’t aware of it. Once you have enough people believing something, it becomes public opinion and the standard.

In her book, The Real World of Technology, Ursula Franklin explores technology’s role in creating a society of compliance. “While we should not forget that these prescriptive technologies and exceedingly effective and efficient, they come with and enormous social mortgage. The mortgage means that we live in a culture of compliance, that we are ever more conditioned to except orthodoxy as normal, and to accept that there is only way of doing ‘it’” (Franklin 17). An advertiser’s goal is to insert their brand into this accepted orthodoxy.

A classic example, and used in a good percentage of ads, is the feminine role. Women have traditionally been portrayed in a submissive role. Ads show them with rolled shoulders, thin frames and doe-eyes; this is the picture femininity. Although this picture wasn’t necessarily created for the use of advertisements, they have exploited it. While displaying these images, they include their logo or their slogan, tying their name with the general notion of femininity.

In this way, the media has exerted its power, it has dominated the masses and directed them how to think, in the subtlest way.

Sources:

Franklin, Ursula M. The Real World of Technology. Scarborough, ON: Anasi Press, 1990.

Hainsworth, Stuart. “Gramsci’s Hegemony Theory and the Ideological Role of Mass Media.” 23 Sept. 2008. illvox. 6 Oct. 2008  HYPERLINK “http://illvox.org/2008/09/23/gramsci’s-hegemony-theory-and-ideological-role-of-mass-media/&#8221; http://illvox.org/2008/09/23/gramsci’s-hegemony-theory-and-ideological-role-of-mass-media/

Oxford American Dictionaries.

Beautiful Liars

Magritte said that this is not a pipe.

http://mytypes.com/thibault/files/2007/10/pipe.jpg

It’s really a painting of a pipe that signifies a pipe in the mind. It’s a play on the idea of semiotics, which is loosely the study of signs and symbols. When applied to the art of advertising, which is really nothing more than signs and symbols, it can help with decoding and dissecting its messages.

As Magritte’s painting was not a pipe, this is not a vehicle.

The print in the bottom left corner reads: Go stimulate something. Like the idea that a vehicle with three rows pf seats can also be a nimble-footed, refrigerator-equipped, 24 mpg head-turner. Discover the strikingly original Flex at fordvehicles.com

It’s not adventure or excitement. It’s not power or movement. And despite Ford’s attempts at convincing the viewer, it’s not “CPR for the dead of the night.”

All that these words and pictures are is an ad; it’s nothing more than persuasion wrapped up with a flashy photo and clever type. However, that’s all it needs to get the job done. Ford is completely aware that one double-page spread in a magazine isn’t going to be so compelling that it makes a person jump out of their seat and run to a Ford dealership. That’s not what they’re trying to do with an ad like this. They’re trying to deliver an idea.

In terms of semiotics, they display this idea with the use of the signifier and the signified. This ad’s signifier would be the flashy photo and clever type, what this signifies in the concept of a car. However, the connotation rather than denotation is more important. The connotation of the signifier and signified is that of adventure, excitement, power and movement. What the ad has created is a cultural model, one that is easily understood and accepted by the public: that of finding thrills in a seemingly boring city night. It just so happens that this is an enticing paradigm, one that many would like to be a part of. Ford has exploited this very fact with this ad. They take a popular, exciting pattern and they us it in their spread. While doing this, they add their name to the paradigm, hoping that any viewer will associate the brand with it. In this way, Ford hasn’t really made the viewer want to buy their car, but it has sold the idea of “CPR for the dead of the night”and tied it to their car.

In his study, Mythologies, Roland Barthes explores the suggestion of modern myths. Really this is all that advertising is. The Ford ad displays the myth of the big city night full of stimulation and possibilities just waiting to be discovered.

However, an ad will never (or at least very rarely) deliver on any of the promises it presents. If you buy a Ford, the chances of you having a night like the one pictured isn’t very likely. But it doesn’t really matter (not to Ford at least) because ads don’t present an image of reality, they’re just signs. And as Umberto Eco saw it, “a sign is anything that can be used to tell a lie” (Noth).

Sources:

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

Noth, Winfred. “SRB Insights: Can Pictures Lie?” The Semiotic Review of Book. 07 Oct. 2008  <http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/epc/srb/srb/pictures.html&gt;

Ford. Advertisement. Vanity Fair Oct. 2008: 578

My, What Large Media You Have!

Putting the concept of mass media into a strict definition can be difficult simply because there seems to be a variety of different opinions.

However, I’ve come to notice a basic trend when related to the general public and their feelings on this particular topic. It seems to be the consensus that the “mass media” is something evil; it is what’s tearing apart good family values; it is what’s corrupting the innocent minds of youth. However, I’m sure that these opinions come from the fact that, for most, the term mass media is obscure and vague.

As Marshall McLuhan explained, mass media emerged with the birth of Gutenberg’s printing press, which made it possible to deliver phonic literature to the masses; in that “the printing press was the ultimate extension of phonic literacy” (McLuhan). For McLuhan, this was one of the largest, most influential events in man’s progression, and has been responsible for monumental shifts in human culture.

From this event, mass media has quickly and easily adapted for modern, electronic technology. In McLuhan’s era, it was the growth of the television that delivered to the masses. Now it is the Internet and the numerous outlets that stem from it. As McLuhan saw it, “the Gutenberg Galaxy is being eclipsed by the constellation of Marconi” (McLuhan), but one can comfortably say that today, the constellation of Marconi is being outshone by the comet of Berners-Lee and CERN.

With this steady rise of technology molding everyday life, mass media is only becoming more developed. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I certainly wouldn’t classify it as evil.

I understand mass media as a means of gathering information. I believe that it was born out of man’s natural and instinctive need to know more. The modern Internet, Gutenberg’s printing press in 1440 and all the other media that have been created in between, serve the same purpose: to facilitate the transfer of knowledge.

How one qualifies this process can differ.

One’s view might be like that of Neil Postman who fears that new media, especially that of television culture sends information without context or importance, leaving people with heads full of trivial details.

Or, one might think like Walter Benjamin and consider the negative and positive effects that mass media has on the arts with the rise and ease of reproduction.

Wherever one stands on the subject, this trend is not going to come to an end. The death of mass media can only come with the death of man’s desire to progress.

Sources:

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. 11 Sept. 2008. <http://academic.evergreen.edu/a/arunc/compmusic/benjamin/benjamin.pdf

McLuhan, Marshall. The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan. University of OSLO. 5 Sept. 2008. <http://heim.ifi.uio.no/~gisle/links/mcluhan/pb.html

Postman, Neil. The Humanism of Media of Ecology. The Media Ecology Association. 5 Sept. 2008. <http://www.media-ecology.org/publications/MEA_proceedings/v1/humanism_of_media_ecology.html>

Are We Losing Our “Aura”?

While browsing through Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (a required reading for my class on mass communications) I couldn’t help but to pause on one particular section.

“For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers-at first, occasional ones. It began with the daily press opening to its readers, space for “letters to the editor.” And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character.”

The reason that I stopped on this passage is because, although written in 1935, it reflects so perfectly what is happening in the current electronic atmosphere.
It has become so effortless for any individual to offer an opinion on any subject whether or not they have particular knowledge or experience about it. Benjamin also mentions the amount of different “organs” that the press has made available to the reader. While this was true in that era, this phenomenon has only grown larger as time has progressed. The wide number of outlets existing has made the distinction between reader and writer virtually nonexistent.
What would Walter Benjamin think of today’s YouTube and Facebook and blogs?

Sources
Benjamin, Walter.  “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” http://grace.evergreen.edu/~arunc/texts/frankfurt/benjamin/benjamin.pdf.  23 Sept. 2008.