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1 Mass Communication, Culture, and Media Literacy

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Learning Objectives Mass communication, mass media, and the culture that shapes us (and that we shape) are inseparable. After studying this chapter, you should be able to

Our experiences of the world are increasingly mass mediated. © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Define communication, mass communication, mass media, and cu lture. Describe the relationships among communication, mass communi

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cation, culture, and those who live in the culture. Evaluate the impact of technology and economics on those relation ships. List the components of media literacy. Identify key skills required for developing media literacy.

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YOUR SMARTPHONE’S RADIO ALARM SINGS YOU AWAKE. It’s Sam Smith, the last few bars of “Stay With Me.” The laughing deejay shouts at you that it’s 7:41 and you’d better get going. But before you do, he adds, listen to a few words from your friends at Best Buy electronics, home of fast, friendly, courteous service—“Buyer be happy!”

In the living room, you find your roommate has left the television on. You stop for a moment and listen: The economy is showing stronger signs of rebounding, brightening the employment picture for new college grads; several states are considering providing free high-speed Internet to all students to improve their access to the digital world; democratic chaos continues to sweep across the Middle East; and you deserve a break today at McDonald’s. As you head toward the bathroom, your bare feet slip on some magazines littering the floor—Wired, Rolling Stone, People. You need to talk to your roommate about picking up!

After showering, you quickly pull on your Levi’s, lace up your Nike cross-trainers, and throw on an Under Armour jacket. No time for breakfast; you grab a Nature Valley granola bar and your tablet and head for the bus stop. As the bus rolls up, you can’t help but notice the giant ad on its side: Transformers: Turning Toys Into Gold. Rejecting that as a movie choice for the weekend, you sit down next to a teenager listening to music on his headphones and playing a video game. You bury yourself in your favorite news app on your tablet, scanning the lead stories and the local news and then checking out Doonesbury and Dilbert.

Hopping off the bus at the campus stop, you run into Chris from your computer lab. You walk to class together, talking about last night’s Family Guy episode. It’s not yet 9:00, and already you’re involved in mass communication.

In this chapter we define communication, interpersonal communication, mass communication, media, and culture and explore the relationships among them and how they define us and our world. We investigate how communication works, how it changes when technology is introduced into the process, and how differing views of communication and mass communication can lead to different interpretations of their power. We also discuss the opportunities mass communication and culture offer us and the responsibilities that come with those opportunities. Always crucial, these issues are of particular importance now, when we find ourselves in a period of remarkable development in new communication technologies. This discussion inevitably leads to an examination of media literacy, its importance, and its practice.

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What Is Mass Communication? “Does a fish know it’s wet?” influential cultural and media critic Marshall McLuhan would often ask. The answer, he would say, is “No.” The fish’s existence is so dominated by water that only when water is absent is the fish aware of its condition.

So it is with people and mass media. The media so fully saturate our everyday lives that we are often unconscious of their presence, not to mention their influence. Media inform us, entertain us, delight us, annoy us. They move our emotions, challenge our intellects, insult our intelligence. Media often reduce us to mere commodities for sale to the highest bidder. Media help define us; they shape our realities.

A fundamental theme of this book is that media do none of this alone. They do it with us as well as to us through mass communication, and they do it as a central—many critics and scholars say the central—cultural force in our society.

Communication Defined In its simplest form, communication is the transmission of a message from a source to a receiver. For nearly 70 years now, this view of communication has been identified with the writing of political scientist Harold Lasswell (1948). He said that a convenient way to describe communication is to answer these questions:

Who? Says what?

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Expressed in terms of the basic elements of the communication process, communication occurs when

Straightforward enough, but what if the source is a professor who insists on speaking in a technical language far beyond the receiving students’ level of skill? Obviously, communication does not occur. Unlike mere message-sending, communication requires the response of others. Therefore, there must be a sharing (or correspondence) of meaning for communication to take place.

A second problem with this simple model is that it suggests that the receiver passively accepts the source’s message. However, if our imaginary students do not comprehend the professor’s words, they respond with “Huh?” or look confused or yawn. This response, or feedback, is also a message. The receivers (the students) now become a source, sending their own message to the source (the offending professor), who is now a receiver. Hence, communication is a reciprocal and ongoing process with all involved parties more or less engaged in creating shared meaning. Communication, then, is better defined as the process of creating shared meaning.

Communication researcher Wilbur Schramm, using ideas originally developed by psychologist Charles E. Osgood, developed a graphic way to represent the reciprocal nature of communication (Figure 1). This depiction of interpersonal communication— communication between two or a few people—shows that there is no clearly identifiable source or receiver. Rather, because communication is an ongoing and reciprocal process, all the participants, or “interpreters,” are working to create meaning by encoding and decoding messages. A message is first encoded, that is, transformed into an understandable sign and symbol system. Speaking is encoding, as are writing, printing, and filming a television program. Once received, the message is decoded; that is, the signs and symbols are interpreted. Decoding occurs through listening, reading, or watching that television show.

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Through which channel?

To whom? With what effect?

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Figure 1 Osgood and Schramm’s Model of Communication. Source: From The Process and Effects of Mass Communication by Wilbur Lang Schramm, 1954. Reprinted by permission of Mary Schramm Coberly.

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The Osgood–Schramm model demonstrates the ongoing and reciprocal nature of the communication process. There is, therefore, no source, no receiver, and no feedback. The reason is that, as communication is happening, both interpreters are simultaneously source and receiver. There is no feedback because all messages are presumed to be in reciprocation of other messages. Even when your friend starts a conversation with you, for example, it can be argued that it was your look of interest and willingness that communicated to her that she should speak. In this example, it is improper to label either you or your friend as the source—Who really initiated this chat?—and, therefore, it is impossible to identify who is providing feedback to whom.

Not every model can show all aspects of a process as complex as communication. Missing from this representation is noise—anything that interferes with successful communication. Noise is more than screeching or loud music when you are trying to work online. Biases that lead to incorrect decoding, for example, are noise, as is a page torn out of a magazine story you want to read.

Encoded messages are carried by a medium, that is, the means of sending information. Sound waves are the medium that carries our voice to friends across the table; the telephone is the medium that carries our voice to friends across town. When the medium is a technology that carries messages to a large number of people—as newspapers carry the printed word and radio conveys the sound of music and news—we call it a mass medium (the plural of medium is media). The mass media we use regularly include radio, television, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, sound recordings, cell phones, and computer networks. Each medium is the basis of a giant industry, but other related and supporting industries also serve them and us —advertising and public relations, for example. In our culture we use the words media and mass media interchangeably to refer to the communication industries themselves. We say, “The media entertain” or “The mass media are too conservative (or too liberal).”

Mass Communication Defined We speak, too, of mass communication. Mass communication is the process of creating shared meaning between the mass media and their audiences. Schramm recast his and Osgood’s general model of communication to help us visualize the particular aspects of the mass communication process (Figure 2). This model and the original Osgood—Schramm model have much in common—interpreters, encoding, decoding, and messages—but it is their differences that are most significant for our understanding of how mass communication differs from other forms of communication. For example, whereas the original model includes “message,” the mass communication model offers “many identical messages.” In addition, the mass communication model specifies “feedback,” whereas the interpersonal communication model does not. When two or a few people communicate face-to-face, the participants can immediately and clearly recognize the feedback residing in the reciprocal messages (our boring professor can see and hear the students’ disenchantment as they listen to the lecture). Things are not nearly as simple in mass communication.

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In Schramm’s mass communication model, feedback is represented by a dotted line labeled delayed inferential feedback. This feedback is indirect rather than direct. Television executives, for example, must wait a day, at the very minimum, and sometimes a week or a month, to discover the ratings for new programs. Even then, the ratings measure only how many sets are tuned in, not whether people liked or disliked the programs. As a result, these executives can only infer what they must do to improve programming; hence the term inferential feedback. Mass communicators are also subject to additional feedback, usually in the form of criticism in other media, such as a television critic writing a column in a newspaper.

The differences between the individual elements of interpersonal and mass communication change the very nature of the communication process. How those alterations influence

Figure 2 Schramm’s Model of Mass Communication. Source: From The Process and Effects of Mass Communication by Wilbur Lang Schramm, 1954. Reprinted by permission of Mary Schramm Coberly.

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the message itself and how the likelihood of successfully sharing meaning varies are shown in Figure 3. For example, the immediacy and directness of feedback in interpersonal communication free communicators to gamble, to experiment with different approaches. Their knowledge of one another enables them to tailor their messages as narrowly as they wish. As a result, interpersonal communication is often personally relevant and possibly even adventurous and challenging. In contrast, the distance between participants in the mass communication process, imposed by the technology, creates a sort of “communication conservatism.” Feedback comes too late to enable corrections or alterations in communication that fails. The sheer number of people in many mass communication audiences makes personalization and specificity difficult. As a result, mass communication tends to be more constrained, less free. This does not mean, however, that it is less potent than interpersonal communication in shaping our understanding of ourselves and our world.

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Figure 3 Elements of Interpersonal Communication and Mass Communication Compared.

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Media theorist James W. Carey (1975) recognized this and offered a cultural definition of communication that has had a profound impact on the way communication scientists and others have viewed the relationship between communication and culture. Carey wrote, “Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired and transformed” (p. 10).

Carey’s (1989) definition asserts that communication and reality are linked. Communication is a process embedded in our everyday lives that informs the way we perceive, understand, and construct our view of reality and the world. Communication is the foundation of our culture. Its truest purpose is to maintain ever-evolving, “fragile” cultures; communication is that “sacred ceremony that draws persons together in fellowship and commonality” (p. 43).

What Is Culture?

(left) © Image Source RF; (right) © AF archive/Alamy

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Culture is the learned behavior of members of a given social group. Many writers and thinkers have offered interesting expansions of this definition. Here are four examples, all from anthropologists. These definitions highlight not only what culture is but also what culture does:

Culture is the learned, socially acquired traditions and lifestyles of the members of a society, including their patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. (Harris, 1983, p. 5)

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Culture lends significance to human experience by selecting from and organizing it. It refers broadly to the forms through which people make sense of their lives, rather than more narrowly to the opera or art of museums. (Rosaldo, 1989, p. 26)

Culture is the medium evolved by humans to survive. Nothing is free from cultural influences. It is the keystone in civilization’s arch and is the medium through which all of life’s events must flow. We are culture. (Hall, 1976, p. 14)

Culture is an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbolic forms by means of which [people] communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life. (Geertz, as cited in Taylor, 1991, p. 91)

Culture as Socially Constructed Shared Meaning Virtually all definitions of culture recognize that culture is learned. Recall the opening vignette. Even if this scenario does not exactly match your early mornings, you probably recognize its elements. Moreover, all of us are familiar with most, if not every, cultural reference in it. Family Guy, Rolling Stone, McDonald’s, Under Armour, Dilbert—all are points of reference, things that have some meaning for all of us. How did this come to be?

Creation and maintenance of a more or less common culture occurs through communication, including mass communication. When we talk to our friends; when a parent raises a child; when religious leaders instruct their followers; when teachers teach; when grandparents pass on recipes; when politicians campaign; when media professionals produce content that we read, listen to, or watch, meaning is being shared and culture is being constructed and maintained.

Functions and Effects of Culture Culture serves a purpose. It helps us categorize and classify our experiences; it helps define us, our world, and our place in it. In doing so, culture can have a number of sometimes conflicting effects.

LIMITING AND LIBERATING EFFECTS OF CULTURE A culture’s learned traditions and values can be seen as patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. Culture limits our options and provides useful guidelines for behavior. For example, when conversing, you do not consciously consider, “Now, how far away should I stand? Am I too close?” You simply stand where you stand. After a hearty meal with a friend’s family, you do not engage in mental self-debate, “Should I burp? Yes! No! Arghhhh….” Culture provides information that helps us make meaningful distinctions about right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, good and bad, attractive and unattractive, and so on. How does it do this?

Obviously, through communication. Through a lifetime of communication, we have learned just what our culture expects of us. The two examples given here are positive results of culture’s limiting effects. But culture’s limiting effects can be negative, such as when we are unwilling or unable to move past patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting or when we

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entrust our “learning” to teachers whose interests are selfish, narrow, or otherwise not consistent with our own.

U.S. culture, for example, values thinness and beauty in women. How many women endure weeks of unhealthy diets and succumb to potentially dangerous surgical procedures in search of a body that for most is physically unattainable? How many women are judged by the men and other women around them for not conforming to our culture’s standards of thinness and beauty? Why are 40% to 60% of girls aged 6 to 12 concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat? Why do 42% of girls in first, second, and third grade want to be thinner, and why are 81% of 10-year-olds—girls and boys—afraid of being fat? Why do 57% of adolescent girls go on crash diets, fasts, or engage in self-induced vomiting (National Eating Disorders Association, 2015)? Why did the number of hospitalizations for eating disorders among children under the age of 12 spike 119% between 1999 and 2006, and why do almost 1.3 million adolescent girls in the United States have anorexia (Pai & Schryver, 2015)?

Now consider how this situation may have come about. Our mothers did not bounce us on their knees when we were babies, telling us that thin was good and fat was bad. Think back, though, to the stories you were told and the television shows and movies you watched

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growing up. The heroines (or, more often, the beautiful love interests of the heroes) were invariably tall, beautiful, and thin. The bad guys were usually mean and fat. From Disney’s depictions of Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Tinker Bell, and Pocahontas to the impossible dimensions of most video-game and comic-book heroines, the message is embedded in the conscious (and unconscious) mind of every girl and boy: You can’t be too thin or too beautiful! Or as one 10-year-old girl explained to Courtney Martin (2007), author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, “It is better to be pretty, which means thin and mean, than to be ugly, which means fat and nice. That’s just how it is.” And it does not help that these messages are reinforced in much advertising, for example Abercrombie & Fitch Kids’ promotions for its Ashley bikinis with padded “push up triangle” tops for girls as young as 8 years old (Williams, 2011).

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These images have meaning for all of us, meaning that is socially constructed through communication in our culture. How many can you recognize? What specific meaning or meanings does each have for you? How did you develop each meaning? How closely do you think your meanings match those of your friends? Of your parents? What value is there—if any—in having shared meaning for these things in our everyday lives? (clockwise from top left) © Fox/Photofest; © McGraw-Hill Education/John Flournoy, photographer; © Gavin Rodgers/Alamy; © Joe Drivas/Getty Images

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This message and millions of others come to us primarily through the media, and although the people who produce these media images are not necessarily selfish or mean, their motives are undeniably financial. Their contribution to our culture’s repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting is most certainly not primary among their concerns when preparing their communication.

Culture need not only limit. That media representations of female beauty often meet with debate and disagreement points up the fact that culture can be liberating as well. This is so because cultural values can be contested.

Especially in a pluralistic, democratic society such as ours, the dominant culture (or mai nstream culture)—the one that seems to hold sway with the majority of people—is often openly challenged. People do meet, find attractive, like, and even love people who do not fit the standard image of beauty. In addition, media sometimes present images that suggest different ideals of beauty and success. Actresses Sofia Vergara, Kat Dennings, and Christina Hendricks; singers, actresses Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez; and supermodel Kate Upton all represent alternatives to our culture’s idealized standards of beauty, and all have undeniable appeal (and power) on the big and small screens. Liberation from the limitations imposed by culture resides in our ability and willingness to learn and use new patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting; to challenge existing patterns; and to create our own.

DEFINING, DIFFERENTIATING, DIVIDING, AND UNITING EFFECTS OF CULTURE Have you ever made the mistake of calling a dolphin, porpoise, or even a whale a fish? Maybe you have heard others do it. This error occurs because when we think of fish, we think “lives in the water” and “swims.” Fish are defined by their “aquatic culture.” Because water-residing, swimming dolphins and porpoises share that culture, we sometimes forget that they are mammals, not fish.

We, too, are defined by our culture. We are citizens of the United States; we are Americans. If we travel to other countries, we will hear ourselves labeled “American,” and this label will conjure up stereotypes and expectations in the minds of those who use and hear it. The stereotype, whatever it may be, will probably fit us only incompletely, or perhaps hardly at all— perhaps we are dolphins in a sea full of fish. Nevertheless, being American defines us in innumerable important ways, both to others (more obviously) and to ourselves (less obviously).

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What is our culture’s definition of beauty? Adolescence researchers argue that media offer young girls few examples of healthy beauty (Daniels, 2009). They point to the fact that female sports and athletes are woefully underrepresented in American media, appearing in only 1.6% of network television sports coverage (down from 5.6% in 2004; Kelly, 2010). Pictured here is California teen Abby Sunderland, who at 16 years old almost finished an around-the-world sail that would have made her the youngest person ever to complete a nonstop solo circumnavigation. Training from the time she was 13, she was thwarted by a dismasting in an Indian Ocean gale. Have you heard of her? Also pictured is Anna Kournikova, a Russian athlete. This famous tennis player has never won a singles tournament but has been named one of People’s 50 most beautiful, was voted “hottest female athlete” on ESPN, placed first in FHM’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World, and was named one of the “100 hottest women of all time” by Men’s Health. Have you heard of her? Which woman has attracted more attention from our culture? Why? (left) © Richard Hartog/AP Photo; (right) © Jeremy Bembaron/Sygma/Corbis

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Within this large, national culture, however, there are many smaller, bounded cultures (o r co-cultures). For example, we speak comfortably of Italian neighborhoods, fraternity row, the South, and the suburbs. Because of our cultural understanding of these categories, each expression communicates something about our expectations of these places. We think we can predict with a good deal of certainty the types of restaurants and shops we will find in the Italian neighborhood, even the kind of music we will hear escaping from open windows. We can predict the kinds of clothes and cars we will see on fraternity row, the likely behavior of shop

Culture can be contested. The makers of Dove soap challenge the culture’s narrow image of beauty with its “Real Women Have Curves” campaign, placing images like this on billboards and bus stops across the country, running it in national magazines, and making it the focus of its TV commercials. In 2015, the editors of Advertising Age magazine awarded Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty its prize as the Number 1 ad campaign of the 21st century for being “brave, bold, insightful, transparent, and authentic.” Not only was it successful, they noted, in advocating that women themselves are in control of their own definitions of beauty, but sales of Dove’s products increased from $2.5 to $4 billion over the span of the campaign (“Top Ad,” 2015, p. 16). © Ruby Washington/The New York Times/Redux

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clerks in the South, and the political orientation of the suburb’s residents. Moreover, the people within these cultures usually identify themselves as members of those bounded cultures. An individual may say, for example, “I am Italian American” or “I’m from the South.” These smaller cultures unite groups of people and enable them to see themselves as different from other groups around them. Thus culture also serves to differentiate us from others.

In the United States, we generally consider this a good thing. We pride ourselves on our pluralism, on our diversity, and on the richness of the cultural heritages represented within our borders. We enjoy moving from one bounded culture to another or from a bounded culture to the dominant national culture and back again.

Problems arise, however, when differentiation leads to division. All Americans are traumatized by horrific events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and 2013’s Boston Marathon bombing, but those tragedies are compounded for the millions of Muslim Americans whose patriotism is challenged simply because they belong to a particular bounded culture. Not only does the number of cases of violence against Muslims in America remain high, but the Department of Homeland Security reports that Muslim American terrorism continues to be “a miniscule threat to public safety” and cooperation from the Muslim American community has been essential in its efforts to investigate domestic threats (Shane, 2012); still we continue to see examples of overt discrimination. For example, in the wake of a serious increase in hateful online and public commentary following the release of its 2015 film American Sniper, movie studio Warner Bros. felt compelled to issue a statement declaring that it “denounces any violent, anti-Muslim rhetoric, including that which has been attributed to viewers of American Sniper. Hate and bigotry have no place in the important dialogue that this picture has generated about the veteran experience”(Mandell, 2015). For Muslim Americans, their religion, skin color, and maybe even their clothing “communicate” disloyalty to the United States to many other Americans. Just as culture is constructed and maintained through communication, it is also communication (or miscommunication) that turns differentiation into division.

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Pretty Little Liars, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Vampire Diaries—these three television programs are aimed at

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different audiences, yet in each the characters share certain traits that mark them as attractive. Must people in real life look like these performers to be considered attractive? Successful? Good? The people shown are all slender, tall, and young. Yes, they are just make-believe television characters, but the producers of the shows on which they appear chose these people—as opposed to others—for a reason. What do you think it was? How well do you measure up to the cultural standard of beauty and attractiveness represented here? Do you ever wish that you could be just a bit more like these people? Why or why not? (top) © ABC Family/Photofest; (bottom left) © Photos 12/Alamy; (bottom right) © AF archive/Alamy

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Yet, U.S. citizens of all colors, ethnicities, genders and gender preferences, nationalities, places of birth, economic strata, and intelligences often get along; in fact, we can communicate, can prosper, can respect one another’s differences. Culture can divide us, but culture also unites us. Our culture represents our collective experience. We converse easily with strangers because we share the same culture. We speak the same language, automatically understand how far apart to stand, appropriately use titles or first or last names, know how much to say, and know how much to leave unsaid. Through communication with people in our culture, we internalize cultural norms and values—those things that bind our many diverse bounded cultures into a functioning, cohesive society.

DEFINING CULTURE From this discussion of culture comes the definition of culture on which the remainder of this book is based:

Culture is the world made meaningful; it is socially constructed and maintained through communication. It limits as well as liberates us; it differentiates as well as unites us. It defines our realities and thereby shapes the ways we think, feel, and act.

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What is it about Muslim Americans that “communicates disloyalty” to the United States? © lm Otero/AP Photo

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Mass Communication and Culture Because culture can limit and divide or liberate and unite, it offers us infinite opportunities to use communication for good—if we choose to do so. James Carey (1975) wrote,

Because we have looked at each new advance in communication technology as opportunities for politics and economics, we have devoted them, almost exclusively, to government and trade. We have rarely seen them as opportunities to expand [our] powers to learn and exchange ideas and experience. (pp. 20–21)

Who are “we” in this quote? We are everyone involved in creating and maintaining the culture that defines us. We are the people involved in mass media industries and the people who compose their audiences. Together we allow mass communication not only to occur but also to contribute to the creation and maintenance of culture.

Everyone involved has an obligation to participate responsibly. For people working in the media industries, this means professionally and ethically creating and transmitting content. For audience members, it means behaving as critical and thoughtful consumers of that content. Two ways to understand our opportunities and our responsibilities in the mass communication process are to view the mass media as our cultural storytellers and to conceptualize mass communication as a cultural forum.

Mass Media as Cultural Storytellers A culture’s values and beliefs reside in the stories it tells. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? How many of your childhood heroines were chubby? How many good guys dressed

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in black? How many heroines lived happily ever after without marrying Prince Charming? Probably not very many. Our stories help define our realities, shaping the ways we think, feel, and act. “Stories are sites of observations about self and society,” explains media theorist Hanno Hardt (2007). “These fictional accounts are the constitutive material signs of a shared conversation” (p. 476). Therefore, the “storytellers” have a responsibility to tell their stories in as professional and ethical a way as possible.

At the same time, we, the audience for these stories, also have opportunities and responsibilities. We use these stories not only to be entertained but to learn about the world around us, to understand the values, the way things work, and how the pieces fit together. We have a responsibility to question the tellers and their stories, to interpret the stories in ways

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consistent with larger or more important cultural values and truths, to be thoughtful, to reflect on the stories’ meanings and what they say about us and our culture. To do less is to miss an opportunity to construct our own meaning and, thereby, culture.

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In 2013, Procter & Gamble introduced its new floor steamer, the Swiffer, using an ad campaign based on the iconic World War II symbol of female empowerment, Rosie, and her shout of female strength, “We can do it!,” even Tweeting “We can do it! Because cleaning kitchens is women’s work.” Angered by the use of a symbol of female workplace success to sell cleaning products and the sexism inherent in claiming that cleaning kitchens is for women only, people immediately took up the cause and in a cultural conversation on social media, blogs, and traditional media, rejected Procter & Gamble’s simplistic telling of gender in today’s America. New Rosie went into immediate retirement.

Mass Communication as Cultural Forum Imagine a giant courtroom in which we discuss and debate our culture—what it is, and what we want it to be. What do we think about welfare? Single motherhood? Labor unions? Nursing homes? What is the meaning of “successful,” “good,” “loyal,” “moral,” “honest,” “beautiful,” “patriotic”? We have cultural definitions or understandings of all these things and more. Where do they come from? How do they develop, take shape, and mature?

Mass communication has become a primary forum for the debate about our culture. Logically, then, the most powerful voices in the forum have the most power to shape our definitions and understandings. Where should that power reside—with the media industries or with their audiences? If you answer “media industries,” you will want members of these industries to act professionally and ethically. If you answer “audiences,” you will want individual audience members to be thoughtful and critical of the media messages they consume. The forum is only as good, fair, and honest as those who participate in it.

The iconic Rosie. When Procter & Gamble wanted to advertise its dust mop, the Swiffer, it could have chosen from among an infinite number of characters to tell its story. It chose a female hero from World War II, Rosie the Riveter, who, with millions of other American women, helped win the war by taking on jobs long reserved for men. People complained. “We hear you,” answered Procter & Gamble. National Archives and Records Administration

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Scope and Nature of Mass Media No matter how we choose to view the process of mass communication, it is impossible to deny that an enormous portion of our lives is spent interacting with mass media. On a typical Sunday night, about 40 million people in the United States will tune in to a prime-time television show. Television viewing is at an all-time high and accounts for more than half of all the leisure-time activity of Americans 15 years old and over (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). Counting traditional television and online and mobile viewing, Americans spend 159 hours watching video of some sort every month (Seth & Morgan, 2014). Ninety-seven percent of all U. S. homes have at least one set, and 42 million connect their TVs directly to the Internet (Walsh, 2014). Seventy percent admit to binge viewing, watching three or more episodes of a series in one sitting (Verini, 2014). And on Facebook alone folks watch 3 billion videos a day (Lunden, 2015). We listen to more than four hours of music every day (Stutz, 2014), and we spend more than $10 billion a year at the movies, buying just under 1.3 billion tickets (“Domestic Movie,” 2015). If Facebook were its own country, its 1.4 billion monthly active users would make it the largest in the world. Facebook alone accounts for 6% of all the time the world’s Internet users spend online (Smith, 2015). Fifty-nine percent of Americans regularly play video games, and over half of all U. S. homes have a game console, averaging two per home (Entertainment Software Association, 2014).

Three billion people across the globe are connected to the Internet, 35% of the planet’s population and a 566% increase since 2000. Eighty-eight percent of North Americans use the Internet, a 39% increase since 2000 (“Internet users,” 2015). Annual global Internet

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traffic will pass the zettabyte (that’s 1,000 exabytes, which is 1 billion gigabytes) threshold by the end of 2016, and will reach 1.6 zettabytes per year by 2018. Worldwide Internet traffic has increased fivefold over the past five years, and will increase threefold over the next five years. Traffic on the Internet in 2018 will be 64 times greater than it was in 2005. By 2018 nearly a million minutes of video content will cross the Internet every second, and it would take you more than 5 million years to watch all the video that will travel the Net each month (Cisco Systems, 2014). You can see Americans’ media preferences in Figur e 4 and how those preferences have changed over the last several years.

Despite the pervasiveness of mass media in our lives, many of us are dissatisfied with or critical of the media industries’ performance and much of the content provided. For example,

Figure 4 Average Number of Minutes per Day a Typical Adult Spends with Selected Media, 2008 vs. 2014. Source: eMarketer, 2014. Photo Source: © Jim Wehtje/Getty Images RF

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only 17% of adults feel that entertainment media provide “very good” or “excellent” value (Smith, 2011). People’s evaluations of the news media have become more negative over the last decade. Only 38% of the public holds a positive view of the publishing industry (down 9% from 2011); only 32% think highly of the public relations industry (down 6%); and only 39% have positive views of radio and television (down 3%; Newport, 2011). Their trust in each of the three major news sources—television, newspapers, and the Internet—has fallen to its lowest level since 1994, continuing a “decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence” in their media (Dugan, 2014). Their faith in the “media’s ability to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly” has also returned to an historic low of 40% of all Americans (McCarthy, 2014).

Our ambivalence—we criticize, yet we consume—comes in part from our uncertainties about the relationships among the elements of mass communication. What is the role of technology? What is the role of money? And what is our role in the mass communication process?

The Role of Technology To some thinkers, it is machines and their development that drive economic and cultural change. This idea is referred to as technological determinism. Certainly there can be no doubt that movable type contributed to the Protestant Reformation and the decline of the Catholic Church’s power in Europe or that television changed the way members of American families interact. Those who believe in technological determinism would argue that these changes in the cultural landscape were the inevitable result of new technology.

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But others see technology as more neutral and claim that the way people use technology is what gives it significance. This perspective accepts technology as one of many factors that shape economic and cultural change; technology’s influence is ultimately determined by how much power it is given by the people and cultures that use it.

This disagreement about the power of technology is at the heart of the controversy surrounding the new communication technologies. Are we more or less powerless in the wake of advances such as the Internet, the World Wide Web, and instant global audio and visual communication? If we are at the mercy of technology, the culture that surrounds us will not be of our making, and the best we can hope to do is make our way reasonably well in a world outside our control. But if these technologies are indeed neutral and their power resides in how we choose to use them, we can utilize them responsibly and thoughtfully to construct and maintain whatever kind of culture we want. As film director and technophile Steven Spielberg explained, “Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or daydream, to imagine something wonderful because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone” (quoted in Kennedy, 2002, p. 109). Or, as Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) said in Spielberg’s 1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park, “Oooh! Ahhh! That’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”

Technology does have an impact on communication. At the very least it changes the basic elements of communication (see Figure 3). What technology does not do is relieve us of our obligation to use mass communication responsibly and wisely.

The Role of Money Money, too, alters communication. It shifts the balance of power; it tends to make audiences products rather than consumers.

The first newspapers were financially supported by their readers; the money they paid for the paper covered its production and distribution. But in the 1830s a new form of newspaper financing emerged. Publishers began selling their papers for a penny—much less than it cost to produce and distribute them. Because so many more papers were sold at this bargain price, publishers could “sell” advertising space based on their readership. What they were actually selling to advertisers was not space on the page—it was readers. How much they could charge advertisers was directly related to how much product (how many readers) they could produce for them.

This new type of publication changed the nature of mass communication. The goal of the process was no longer for audience and media to create meaning together. Rather, it was to sell those readers to a third participant—advertisers.

Some observers think this was a devastatingly bad development, not only in the history of mass communication but in the history of democracy. It robbed people of their voice, or at least made the voices of the advertisers more powerful. Others think it was a huge advance for both mass communication and democracy because it vastly expanded the media, broadening and deepening communication. Models showing these two different ways of viewing mass

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communication are presented in the box “Audience as Consumer or Audience as Produc t?” Which model makes more sense to you? Which do you think is more accurate? ABC journalist Ted Koppel told the Washington Post, “[Television] is an industry. It’s a business. We exist to make money. We exist to put commercials on the air. The programming that is put on between those commercials is simply the bait we put in the mousetrap” (in “Soundbites,” 2005, p. 2). Do you think Koppel is unnecessarily cynical or is he correct in his analysis of television?

The goals of media professionals will be questioned repeatedly throughout this book. For now, keep in mind that ours is a capitalist economic system and that media industries are businesses. Movie producers must sell tickets, book publishers must sell books, and even public broadcasting has bills to pay.

This does not mean, however, that the media are or must be slaves to profit. Our task is to understand the constraints placed on these industries by their economics and then demand that, within those limits, they perform ethically and responsibly. We can do this only by being thoughtful, critical consumers of the media.

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CULTURAL FORUM Audience as Consumer or Audience as Product?

People base their judgments of media performance and content on the way they see themselves fitting into the economics of the media industry. Businesses operate to serve their consumers and make a profit. The consumer comes first, then, but who is the consumer in our mass media system? This is a much-debated issue among media practitioners and media critics. Consider the following models.

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Basic U.S. Business Model

A manufacturer . . . produces a product . . .

Basic U.S. Business Model for Cereal: Rice Krispies as Product, Public as Consumer

Kellogg’s . . . produces Rice Krispies . . .

Basic U.S. Business Model for Television (A): Audience as Product, Advertisers as Consumer

NBC . . . produces audiences (using its programming) . .

Basic U.S. Business Model for Television (B): Programming as Product, Audience as Consumer

NBC . . . produces (or distributes) programming . . .

The first three models assume that the consumer buys the product; that is, the consumer is the one with the money and therefore the one who must be satisfied. The last model makes a different assumption. It sees the audience, even though it does not buy anything, as sufficiently important to NBC’s profit- making ability to force NBC to consider its interests above others’ (even those of advertisers). Which model do you think best represents the economics of U.S. mass media?

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Mass Communication, Culture, and Media Literacy Culture and communication are inseparable, and mass communication, as we’ve seen, is a particularly powerful, pervasive, and complex form of communication. Our level of skill in the mass communication process is therefore of utmost importance. This skill is not necessarily a simple one to master (it is much more than booting up the computer, turning on the television set, or flipping the pages of your favorite magazine). But it is, indeed, a learnable skill, one that can be practiced. This skill is media literacy—the ability to effectively and efficiently comprehend and use any form of mediated communication. But let’s start with the first mass medium, books, and the technology that enabled their spread, the printing press.

The Gutenberg Revolution

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As it is impossible to overstate the importance of writing, so too is it impossible to overstate the significance of Johannes Gutenberg’s development of movable metal type. Historian S. H. Steinberg (1959) wrote in Five Hundred Years of Printing:

Neither political, constitutional, ecclesiastical, and economic, nor sociological, philosophical, and literary movements can be fully understood without taking into account the influence the printing press has exerted upon them. (p. 11)

Marshall McLuhan expressed his admiration for Gutenberg’s innovation by calling his 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it he argued that the advent of print is the key to our modern consciousness, because although literacy—the ability to effectively and efficiently comprehend and use written symbols—had existed since the development of the first alphabets more than 5,000 years ago, it was reserved for very few, the elites. Gutenberg’s invention was world- changing because it opened literacy to all; that is, it allowed mass communication.

THE PRINTING PRESS Printing and the printing press existed long before Gutenberg perfected his process in or around 1446. The Chinese were using wooden block presses as early as 600 C.E. and had movable clay type by 1000 C.E. A simple movable metal type was even in use in Korea in the 13th century. Gutenberg’s printing press was a significant leap forward, however, for two important reasons.

Gutenberg was a goldsmith and a metallurgist. He hit on the idea of using metal type crafted from lead molds in place of type made from wood or clay. This was an important advance. Not only was movable metal type durable enough to print page after page, but letters could be arranged and rearranged to make any message possible. And Gutenberg was able to produce virtually identical copies.

In addition, Gutenberg’s advance over Korean metal mold printing was one of scope. The Korean press was used to produce books for a very small, royal readership. Gutenberg saw his invention as a way to produce many books for profit. He was, however, a poor businessman. He stressed quality over quantity, in part because of his reverence for the book he was printing, the Bible. He used the highest-quality paper and ink and turned out far fewer volumes than he otherwise could have.

Other printers, however, quickly saw the true economic potential of Gutenberg’s invention. The first Gutenberg Bible appeared in 1456. By the end of that century, 44 years later, printing operations existed in 12 European countries, and the continent was flooded with 20 million volumes of 7,000 titles in 35,000 different editions (Drucker, 1999).

THE IMPACT OF PRINT Although Gutenberg developed his printing press with a limited use in mind, printing Bibles, the cultural effects of mass printing have been profound.

Handwritten or hand-copied materials were expensive to produce, and the cost of an education, in time and money, had made reading an expensive luxury. However, with the spread of printing, written communication was available to a much larger portion of the population, and the need for literacy among the lower and middle classes grew. The ability to read became less of a luxury and more of a necessity; eventually literacy spread, as did

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education. Soldiers at the front needed to be able to read the emperor’s orders. Butchers needed to understand the king’s shopping list. So the demand for literacy expanded, and more (and more types of) people learned to read.

Tradespeople, soldiers, clergy, bakers, and musicians all now had business at the printer’s shop. They talked. They learned of things, both in conversation and by reading printed material. As more people learned to read, new ideas germinated and spread and cross- pollination of ideas occurred.

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This page from a Gutenberg Bible shows the exquisite care the printer used in creating his works. The artwork in the margins is handpainted, but the text is mechanically printed. © North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy

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More material from various sources was published, and people were freer to read what they wanted when they wanted. Dominant authorities—the Crown and the Church—were now less able to control communication and, therefore, the people. New ideas about the world appeared; new understandings of the existing world flourished.

In addition, duplication permitted standardization and preservation. Myth and superstition began to make way for standard, verifiable bodies of knowledge. History, economics, physics, and chemistry all became part of the culture’s intellectual life. Literate cultures were now on the road to modernization.

Printed materials were the first mass-produced product, speeding the development and entrenchment of capitalism. We live today in a world built on these changes. Use of the printing press helped fuel the establishment and growth of a large middle class. No longer were societies composed of rulers and subjects; printing sped the rise of democracy. No longer were power and wealth functions of birth; power and wealth could now be created by the industrious. No

Johannes Gutenberg takes the first proof from his printing press. © North Wind Picture Archives

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longer was political discourse limited to accepting the dictates of Crown and Church; printing had given ordinary people a powerful voice.

Tech writer Kevin Kelly connected printing directly to freedom and the rule of law:

When technology shifts, it bends the culture. Once, long ago, culture revolved around the spoken word. The oral skills of memorization, recitation, and rhetoric instilled in societies a reverence for the past, the ambiguous, the ornate, and the subjective. Then, about 500 years ago, orality was overthrown by technology. Gutenberg’s invention of metallic moveable type elevated writing into a central position in the culture. By means of cheap and perfect copies, text became the engine of change and the foundation of stability. From printing came journalism, science and the mathematics of libraries and law. (2008, p. 48)

The Industrial Revolution By the mid-18th century, printing and its libraries of science and mathematics had become one of the engines driving the Industrial Revolution. Print was responsible for building and disseminating bodies of knowledge, leading to scientific and technological developments and the refinement of new machines. In addition, industrialization reduced the time necessary to complete work, and this created something heretofore unknown to most working people— leisure time.

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Industrialization had another effect as well. As workers left their sunrise-to- sunset jobs in agriculture, the crafts, and trades to work in the newly industrialized factories, not only did they have more leisure time but they had more money to spend on their leisure. Farmers, fishermen, and tile makers had to put their profits back into their jobs. But factory workers took their money home; it was spendable. Combine leisure time and expendable cash with the spread of literacy and the result is a large and growing audience for printed information and entertainment. By the mid-19th century a mass audience and the means to reach it existed.

Media Literacy

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Television influences our culture in innumerable ways. One of its effects, according to many people, is that it has encouraged violence in our society. For example, American television viewers overwhelmingly say there is too much violence on television. Yet, almost without exception, the local television news program that has the largest proportion of violence in its nightly newscast is the ratings leader. “If it bleeds, it leads” has become the motto for much of local television news. It leads because people watch.

So, although many of us are quick to condemn improper media performance or to identify and lament its harmful effects, we rarely question our own role in the mass communication process. We overlook it because we participate in mass communication naturally, almost without conscious effort. We possess high-level interpretive and comprehension skills that make even the most sophisticated television show, movie, or magazine story understandable and enjoyable. We are able, through a lifetime of interaction with the media, to read media texts.

Media literacy is a skill we take for granted, but like all skills, it can be improved. And if we consider how important the mass media are in creating and maintaining the culture that helps define us and our lives, it is a skill that must be improved.

Hunter College media professor Stuart Ewen (2000) emphasized this point in comparing media literacy with traditional literacy. “Historically,” he wrote, “links between literacy and democracy are inseparable from the notion of an informed populace, conversant with the issues that touch upon their lives, enabled with tools that allow them to participate actively in public deliberation and social change…. Literacy was about crossing the lines that had historically separated men of ideas from ordinary people, about the enfranchisement of those who had been excluded from the compensations of citizenship” (p. 448). To Ewen, and others committed to media literacy, media literacy represents no less than the means to full participation in the culture.

Elements of Media Literacy Media scholar Art Silverblatt (2008) identifies seven fundamental elements of media literacy. To these we will add an eighth. Media literacy includes these characteristics:

1. A critical thinking skill enabling audience members to develop independent judgments about media content. Thinking critically about the content we consume is the very essence of media literacy. Why do we watch what we watch, read what we read, listen to what we listen to? If we cannot answer these questions, we have taken no responsibility for ourselves or our choices. As such, we have taken no responsibility for the outcome of those choices.

2. An understanding of the process of mass communication. If we know the components of the mass communication process and how they relate to one another, we can form expectations of how they can serve us. How do the

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various media industries operate? What are their obligations to us? What are the obligations of the audience? How do different media limit or enhance messages? Which forms of feedback are most effective, and why?

3. An awareness of the impact of media on the individual and society. Writing and the printing press helped change the world and the people in it. Mass media do the same. If we ignore the impact of media on our lives, we run the risk of being caught up and carried along by that change rather than controlling or leading it.

4. Strategies for analyzing and discussing media messages. To consume media messages thoughtfully, we need a foundation on which to base thought and reflection. If we make

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meaning, we must possess the tools with which to make it (for example, understanding the intent and impact of film and video conventions, such as camera angles and lighting, or the strategy behind the placement of photos on a newspaper page). Otherwise, meaning is made for us; the interpretation of media content will then rest with its creator, not with us.

5. An understanding of media content as a text that provides insight into our culture and our lives. How do we know a culture and its people, attitudes, values, concerns, and myths? We know them through communication. For modern cultures like ours, media messages increasingly dominate that communication, shaping our understanding of and insight into our culture.

6. The ability to enjoy, understand, and appreciate media content. Media literacy does not mean living the life of a grump, liking nothing in the media, or always being suspicious of harmful effects and cultural degradation. We take high school and college classes to enhance our understanding and appreciation of novels; we can do the same for media texts.

Learning to enjoy, understand, and appreciate media content includes the ability to use multiple points of access—to approach media content from a variety of directions and derive from it many levels of meaning. Thus, we control meaning making for our own enjoyment or appreciation. For example, we can enjoy any one of the hit movies from the Hunger Games trilogy as an action-laden adventure full of explosions, danger, and romance, the perfect holiday blockbuster. But as movie buffs we might see it as a David-and-Goliath, underdog-takes-on-the-powerful-villain tale. Or we might read it as an analogy for what’s happening in America’s contemporary economy of growing income inequality and harshness of life for those near the bottom. Maybe it’s a history lesson disguised as dystopian fiction, reminding us that our country was born of revolution against those who would rule us. Or maybe it’s just a cool way to spend a Saturday night, entertained by the same folks who so delighted us with other special-effects extravaganzas, like Constantine, I Am Legend, and Alexander.

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In fact, television programs such as The Middle, The Daily Show, The Simpsons, Game of Thrones, and Family Guy are specifically constructed to take advantage of the media literacy skills of sophisticated viewers while providing entertaining fare for less skilled consumers. The same is true for films such as Birdman, Interstellar, Lucy, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Blue Jasmine, magazines such as Alarm, and the best of jazz, rap, and rock. The Middle and The Daily Show are produced as television comedies, designed to make people laugh. But they are also intentionally produced to provide more sophisticated, media-literate viewers with opportunities to make personally interesting or relevant meaning. Anyone can laugh while watching these programs, but some people can empathize with the daily travails of a working-class family (The Middle), or they can examine the failings and foibles of contemporary journalism (Daily Show).

7. Development of effective and responsible production skills. Traditional literacy assumes that people who can read can also write. Media literacy also makes this assumption. Our definition of literacy (of either type) calls not only for effective and efficient comprehension of content but for its effective and efficient use. Therefore, media-literate individuals should develop production skills that enable them to create useful media messages. If you have ever tried to make a narrative home video—one that tells a story—you know that producing content is much more difficult than consuming it. Even producing a voicemail message that is not embarrassing is a daunting task for many people.

This element of media literacy may seem relatively unimportant at first glance. After all, if you choose a career in media production, you will get training in school and on the job. If you choose another calling, you may never be in the position of having to produce content. But most professions now employ some form of media to disseminate information: for use in training, to enhance presentations, or to keep in contact with clients and customers. The Internet in particular requires effective production skills of its users—at home, school, and work—because online receivers can and do easily become online creators.

8. An understanding of the ethical and moral obligations of media practitioners. To make informed judgments about the performance of the

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media, we also must be aware of the competing pressures on practitioners as they do their jobs. We must understand the media’s official and unofficial rules of operation. In other words, we must know, respectively, their legal and ethical obligations. Return, for a moment, to the question of televised violence. It is legal for a station to air graphic violence. But is it ethical? If it is unethical, what power, if any, do we have to demand its removal from our screens? Dilemmas such as this are discussed at length in the chapter on media freedom, regulation, and ethics.

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Media Literacy Skills

Family Guy is a cartoon about a typical suburban family. It has all the things you would expect from a television situation comedy—an inept dad, a precocious daughter, a slacker son, a loving wife, and zany situations. Yet it also offers an intellectual, philosopher dog and an evil-genius, scheming baby. Why do you think the producers have gone to the trouble to populate this show with the usual trappings of a sitcom but then add other, bizarre elements? And what’s going on in The Hunger Games? Is it another special-effects, explosion-laden, action-adventure holiday blockbuster? A classic David-and-Goliath movie? An historical allegory? A commentary on growing financial inequality in America? Or maybe it’s just a cool way to spend a Saturday night, entertained by a celebrity-packed action movie. (top) © 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection; (bottom) © Photos 12/Alamy

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Consuming media content is simple. Push a button and you have images on a television or music on a radio. Come up with enough cash and you can see a movie or buy a magazine. Media-literate consumption, however, requires a number of specific skills:

1. The ability and willingness to make an effort to understand content, to pay attention, and to filter out noise. As we saw earlier, anything that interferes with successful communication is called noise, and much of the noise in the mass communication process results from our own consumption behavior. When we watch television, often we are also doing other things, such as eating, reading, or chatting on the phone. We drive while we listen to the radio. Obviously, the quality of our meaning making is related to the effort we give it.

2. An understanding of and respect for the power of media messages. The mass media have been around for more than a century and a half. Just about everybody can enjoy them. Their content is either free or relatively inexpensive. Much of the content is banal and a bit silly, so it is easy to dismiss media content as beneath serious consideration or too simple to have any influence.

We also disregard media’s power through the third-person effect—the common attitude that others are influenced by media messages but that we are not. That is, we are media literate enough to understand the influence of mass communication on the attitudes, behaviors, and values of others but not self-aware or honest enough to see its influence on our lives.

3. The ability to distinguish emotional from reasoned reactions when responding to content and to act accordingly. Media content is often designed to touch us at the emotional level. We enjoy losing ourselves in a good song or in a well-crafted movie or television show; this is among our great pleasures. But because we react emotionally to these messages does not mean they don’t have serious meanings and implications for our lives. Television pictures, for example, are intentionally shot and broadcast for

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their emotional impact. Reacting emotionally is appropriate and proper. But then what? What do these pictures tell us about the larger issue at hand? We can use our feelings as a point of departure for meaning making. We can ask, “Why does this content make me feel this way?”

4. Development of heightened expectations of media content. We all use media to tune out, waste a little time, and provide background noise. When we decide to watch television, we are more likely to turn on the set and flip channels until we find something passable than we are to read the listings to find a specific program to view. When we search for online video, we often settle for the “10 most shared today.” When we expect little from the content before us, we tend to give meaning making little effort and attention.

5. A knowledge of genre conventions and the ability to recognize when they are being mixed. The term genre refers to the categories of expression within the different media, such as “evening news,” “documentary,” “horror movie,” or “entertainment magazine.” Each genre is characterized by certain distinctive, standardized style elements—the conventions of that genre. The conventions of the evening news, for example, include a short, upbeat introductory theme and one or two good-looking people sitting at a large, curved desk. When we hear and see these style elements, we expect the evening news. We can tell a documentary film from an entertainment movie by its more serious tone and the number of talking heads. We know by their appearance—the use of color, the types of images, and the amount of text on the cover—which magazines offer serious reading and which provide entertainment.

Knowledge of these conventions is important because they cue or direct our meaning making. For example, we know to accept the details in a documentary film about the sinking of the Titanic as more credible than those found in a Hollywood movie about that disaster.

This skill is also important for another reason. Sometimes, in an effort to maximize audiences (and therefore profits) or for creative reasons, media content makers mix genre conventions. Is Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper

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fact or fiction? Is Meredith Vieira a journalist, a talk show host, or a showperson? Extra! and E! News look increasingly like

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Let’s consider two versions of the same movie scene. In the first, a man is driving a car. Cut to a woman lying tied up on a railroad track. What is the relationship between the man and the woman? Where is he going? With no more information than these two shots, you know automatically that he cares for her and is on his way to save her. Now, here is the second

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CNN’s reporting and the CBS Evening News. Reading media texts becomes more difficult as formats are co-opted.

6. The ability to think critically about media messages, no matter how credible their sources. It is crucial that media be credible in a democracy in which the people govern because the media are central to the governing process. This is why the news media are sometimes referred to as the fourth branch of government, complementing the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. This does not mean, however, that we should believe everything they report. But it is often difficult to arrive at the proper balance between wanting to believe and accepting what we see and hear unquestioningly, especially when frequently we are willing to suspend disbelief and are encouraged by the media themselves to see their content as real and credible.

Consider the New York Times motto “All the News That’s Fit to Print” and the title of ABC’s “Eyewitness News.” If it is all there, it must all be real, and who is more credible than an eyewitness? But if we examine these media, we would learn that the Times in actuality prints all the news that fits (in its pages) and that “Eyewitness News” is a very narrowly selective eyewitness.

7. A knowledge of the internal language of various media and the ability to understand its effects, no matter how complex. Just as each media genre has its own distinctive style and conventions, each medium also has its own specific internal language. This language is expressed in production values —the choice of lighting, editing, special effects, music, camera angle, location on the page, and size and placement of headlines. To be able to read a media text, you must understand its language. We learn the grammar of this language automatically from childhood—for example, we know that when the television image goes “all woosielike,” the character is dreaming.

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version. The man is driving the car. Fade to black. Fade back up to the woman on the tracks. Now what is the relationship between the man and the woman? Where is he going? It is less clear that these two people even have anything to do with each other. We construct completely different meanings from exactly the same two pictures because the punctuation (the quick cut/fade) differs.

Media texts tend to be more complicated than these two scenes. The better we can handle their grammar, the more we can understand and appreciate texts. The more we understand texts, the more we can be equal partners with media professionals in meaning making.

This television show offers all the conventions we’d expect from the news—background digital graphics, an anchor behind his desk, a well-known interviewee. But it also contains conventions we’d expect from a comedy program—a satirist as host and an unruly, loud audience. Why does Last Week Tonight with John Oliver mix the conventions of these two very different genres? Does your knowledge of those conventions add to your enjoyment of this hit program? © Eric Liebowitz/HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection

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MEDIA LITERACY CHALLENGE Recognizing Cultural Values

Media-literate people develop an understanding of media content as a text that provides insight into our culture and our lives, and they have an awareness of the impact of media on the individual and society. So, challenge your own media literacy skills. You can do this exercise with a parent or another person older than you, or you can speculate after using the Internet to view movies and television shows from 20 years ago. Compare your childhood heroes and heroines with those of someone older. What differences are there between the generations in what you consider heroic qualities? What are some similarities and differences between the heroic qualities you and people from an earlier generation identify? Are the good qualities of your personal heroes something you can find in today’s movies or TV? Perhaps your hero is even a TV character. Either way, where on TV or in film can you find the qualities you consider heroic? Which cultural values, attitudes, and beliefs, if any, do you think have influenced how heroes and heroines have changed throughout the last few decades? How have the media helped establish the values you identify as important qualities in people?

Resources for Review and Discussion


Define communication, mass communication, mass media, and culture.

□ Communication is the process of creating shared meaning.

□ Mass communication is the process of creating shared meaning between the

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mass media and their audiences.

□ Mass media is the plural of mass medium, a technology that carries messages to a large number of people.

□ Culture is the world made meaningful. It resides all around us; it is socially constructed and maintained through communication. It limits as well as liberates us; it differentiates as well as unites us. It defines our realities and shapes the ways we think, feel, and act.

Describe the relationships among communication, mass communication, culture, and those who live in the culture.

□ Mass media are our culture’s dominant storytellers and the forum in which we debate cultural meaning.

Evaluate the impact of technology and economics on those relationships.

□ Technological determinism argues that technology is the predominant agent of social and cultural change. But it is not technology that drives culture; it is how people use technology.

□ With technology, money, too, shapes mass communication. Audiences can be either the consumer or the product in our mass media system.

List the components of media literacy.

□ Media literacy, the ability to effectively and efficiently comprehend and use any form of mediated communication, consists of several components:

Critical thinking skills enabling the development of independent judgments about media content

An understanding of the process of mass communication

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An awareness of the impact of the media on individuals and society

Strategies for analyzing and discussing media messages

An awareness of media content as a “text” providing insight into contemporary culture

A cultivation of enhanced enjoyment, understanding, and appreciation of media content

The development of effective and responsible production skills

The development of an understanding of the ethical and moral obligations of media practitioners

Identify key skills required for developing media literacy.

□ Media skills include

The ability and willingness to make an effort to understand content, to pay attention, and to filter out noise

An understanding of and respect for the power of media messages

The ability to distinguish emotional from reasoned reactions when responding to content and to act accordingly

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KEY TERMS communication, 3 feedback, 4 interpersonal communication, 4 encoding, 4 decoding, 4 noise, 5 medium (pl. media), 5 mass medium, 5 mass communication, 5 inferential feedback, 5 cultural definition of communication, 6 culture, 6 dominant culture (mainstream culture), 10 bounded culture (co-culture), 11 binge viewing, 14 technological determinism, 15 media literacy, 17 literacy, 18 multiple points of access, 21

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The development of heightened expectations of media content

A knowledge of genre conventions and the recognition of their mixing

The ability to think critically about media messages

A knowledge of the internal language of various media and the ability to understand its effects

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third-person effect, 23 genre, 23 conventions, 23 production values, 24



1. What is culture? How does culture define people?

2. What is communication? What is mass communication?

3. What are encoding and decoding? How do they differ when technology enters the communication process?

4. What does it mean to say that communication is a reciprocal process?

5. What is James Carey’s cultural definition of communication? How does it differ from other definitions of that process?

6. What do we mean by mass media as cultural storyteller?

7. What do we mean by mass communication as cultural forum?

8. What is media literacy? What are its components?

9. What are some specific media literacy skills?

10. What is the difference between genres and production conventions? What do these have to do with media literacy?

To maximize your study time, check out CONNECT to access the SmartBook study module for this chapter, watch videos, and explore other resources.

1. Who were your childhood heroes and heroines? Why did you choose them? What cultural lessons did you learn from them?

2. The arrival of the printing press dramatically changed history. Traditional

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seats of power lost influence, science flourished, and the seeds were planted for capitalism and the growth of a middle class. What effects will the Internet have on our future? Will its impact be less than, equal to, or greater than the impact wrought by the printing press? Defend your answer.

3. How media literate do you think you are? What about those around you— your parents, for example, or your best friend? What are your weaknesses as a media-literate person?

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014, June 18). American time use survey summary. Online:

2. Carey, J. W. (1975). A cultural approach to communication. Communication, 2, 1-22.

3. Carey, J. W. (1989). Communication as culture. Boston: Unwin Hyman.

4. Cisco Systems. (2014, June 2014). The zettabyte era: Trends and analysis. Cis Online: /service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/VNI_Hyperconnec tivity_WP.html

5. “Domestic movie theatrical market summary 1995 to 2015.” (2015, February 5). The Numbers. Online:

6. Drucker, P. E. (1999, October). Beyond the information revolution. Atlantic Monthly, pp. 47-57.

7. Dugan, A. (2014, June 19). Americans’ confidence in news media remains low. Online: cans-confidence-news-media-remains-low.aspx

8. eMarketer. (2014, December 29). Time spent using media. Advertising Age Marketing Fact Pack 2015, p. 17.

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9. PRINTED BY: Printing is for personal, private use only. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted without publisher’s prior permission. Violators will be prosecuted.

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