The mass media refer to the print and electronic instruments
of communication that carry messages to
often widespread audiences. They pervade all areas
of society, from entertainment to education to politics.
This chapter examines how the mass media affect
our social institutions and influence our social
From the functionalist perspective, the media
entertain, socialize, enforce social norms, confer
status, and keep us informed (the surveillance
function). They can be dysfunctional to
the extent that they desensitize us to events
(the narcotizing dysfunction).
Conflict theorists see the media as reflecting
and even deepening divisions in society
through gatekeeping, controlling the material
that reaches the public, and by spreading the
dominant ideology, which defines reality and
overwhelms local cultures.
Feminist theorists point out that media images
of the sexes communicate unrealistic, stereotypical,
and limiting perceptions of women.
Interactionists examine the media on the
microlevel to see how they shape day-to-day social
behavior, such as shared TV viewing and
staged public appearances intended to convey
self-serving definitions of reality.
The mass media require the presence of an audience--whether it is small
and defined or large and amorphous. With increasing numbers of media outlets,
there has been more and more targeting of segmented (or specialized) audiences.
Social researchers have also studied the role of opinion leaders in
The media industry is getting more and more
concentrated, creating media conglomerates.
This concentration raises concerns about
how innovative and independent the media
can continue to be. In some countries, governments
own and control the media. The Internet
is the one significant exception to centralization,
allowing millions of people to "produce"
their own media content.
The media have a global reach, thanks to new
communication technology, especially via the
Internet. Some people are concerned that the
electronic global village will spread unhealthy
influences to other cultures.
Sociologists are studying the ways that depiction
of violence in the media may promote
aggressive behavior or desensitization in
1. Compare and contrast the sociological perspectives of the media.
2. Discuss how the media may serve as an agent of socialization.
3. Examine the role of the media as an enforcer of social norms.
4. Explain why the conflict perspective argues that the media reflect and even exacerbate many of the divisions of our society and world.
5. Summarize what your text tells us about the gatekeeping process.
6. Demonstrate that you understand what is meant by the term dominant ideology.
7. Identify the three problems feminists believe arise from media coverage.
8. Examine the role of the social audience from both a microlevel and a macrolevel of analysis.
9. Discuss the impact of the media on Bhutan.
10. Summarize what the research tells us about the relationship between media and violence.