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The Mass Media

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 behavior.
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Feminist theorists point out that media images of the sexes communicate unrealistic, stereotypical, and limiting perceptions of women.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 influencing audiences.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Sociologists are studying the ways that depiction of violence in the media may promote aggressive behavior or desensitization in viewers.

Compare and contrast the sociological perspectives of the media.
Discuss how the media may serve as an agent of socialization.
Examine the role of the media as an enforcer of social norms.
Explain why the conflict perspective argues that the media reflect and even exacerbate many of the divisions of our society and world.
Summarize what your text tells us about the gatekeeping process.
Demonstrate that you understand what is meant by the term dominant ideology.
Identify the three problems feminists believe arise from media coverage.
Examine the role of the social audience from both a microlevel and a macrolevel of analysis.
Discuss the impact of the media on Bhutan.
Summarize what the research tells us about the relationship between media and violence.

Sociology Brief 5eOnline Learning Center

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