Sunday, September 21, 2008

Part of the masses

For the third required blog post, we were told to explain our understanding of the term mass media. I pondered over this question for nearly over a week, ever since I made my second post, and of the many ideas I came up with, none were totally satisfying. So after going through this thought process, I will try to grasp what I do or don't understand about this complex topic.

Firstly, I consulted; always a great starting point. It said:
–noun, plural mass media.
any of the means of communication, as television or newspapers, that reach very large numbers of people.

Well according to this definition, most forms of media we have now are forms of mass media. Through the Internet, especially, it's possible to reach billions of people in every corner of the globe in mere seconds. Communication has never been easier, and all the information of the world is literally at our finger tips. Reaching out to the masses brings great power, and unavoidably great responsibility.

When I think of mass media, I generally think of governmental speeches or natural disasters. Those take up every television station, so you are forced to watch it whether you like it or not. Mass media in those cases has the power to influence decisions, but rarely relies on the content, and usually relies on the medium used.

In reading the beginning of Mythologies by Roland Barthes, I came across this quote that I believe demonstrates the type of persona that makes mass media so powerful. "...they succeed in imposing an immediate reading of their inner nature: Armand Mazaud, a wrestler of an arrogant and ridiculous character (as one says Harpagon is a character)." (Barthes, 19)

As I have read L'Avare by Moliere, and am familiar with Harpagon, this struck me as an apt description of the kind of characters created by mass media. When someone is murdered there is immediately a villain cast, and regardless of whether they are guilty, they will be treated as a one dimensional insane person who is totally evil. When a prime minister gives a speech on television, he attempts to portray a magnetic and charismatic individual that people can relate to. When being presented to the masses through mass media, one character trait is often exaggerated until it overshadows everything else. Like Harpagon, whose overwhelming characteristic of greed becomes his only characteristic, people portrayed in mass media have one aspect of themselves focused on, forgetting everything else.

After exploring how people are portrayed in mass media, I attempted to understand exactly what is portrayed. I listed all the forms of media I consider mass media; television, Internet, magazines, radio and newspaper. There are so many ways to deliver information to the masses, and they all deliver information to hundreds of thousands of people everyday. With all of this information available, and all of the different views out there, it's amazing people don't get confused.

The reason this confusion isn't more evident is that is that people don't generally think much about the media. "the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator." (Benjamin, 13) Mass media isn't generally thought about, or discussed. It is something accepted as truth, which gives mass media the opportunity to stretch the truth. The mass media is similar to a spectator sport. We watch what is given, and we accept what we see. There lies the great power of mass media; it has power to influence a change in a great number of people, though that power is sometimes used in a negative sense.

So what is mass media? I'm not sure if I answered the question, though I made the attempt. I am a part of the masses that this media is trying to reach, so even the fact that I'm aware of such a thing is positive. Regardless of what each individual gets from the mass media, it gets the same thing to millions, or even billions of people. Mass media have the power to affect the lives of millions of people, and it's important to know that they can do it in both a positive and negative way. It is important to keep that healthy skepticism of what we see, but also to keep that hopeful optimism.

Media is any channel of communication, and mass media is opening those channels to the masses. It's important to be prepared for the flood of information to come.


Walter, Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies . 1. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.


Isabel Arsz. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Isabel Arsz. said...

Laura - you're a crazy good writer! I love reading your blog... and you make some good points about "keeping a healthy skepticism of what we see, but also to keep that hopeful optimism". You made me think :)