Monday, November 18, 2013
Media and Ideology: Breaking Through The Matrix?
In the '90's dystopian cult classic, "The Matrix," Morpheus tells the trapped Neo he can understand reality but "if you take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." Reading Chapter 5 of "Media and Ideology" by David Croteau is a bit like contemplating taking the red pill. Although a dense, academic treatment of the examination of messages and media content, it is also a fascinating reminder to continually assess, as Morpheus advises Neo, "What is real? How do you define real?"
Ideology, Croteau says, must be understood contextually; however, ideology in media concerns the "underlying images of society" which influence social and cultural issues. He says we must, like Neo, determine "which aspects of whose 'reality' do we define as the most real" and in doing so take into account the most visible, most common, and most powerful that tells us about ourselves and society. Croteau points to the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci who claims that in liberal democracies power is retained not through physical force but through culture wherein the ruling elite "seek to have their world view accepted by all members of society as the universal way of thinking." This includes media, schools, religion, and business. Correct cultural beliefs become ingrained as "common sense" and thus, create permanency, a type of matrix in and of itself.
Media controls our daily existence. Rarely is there a moment when some strand of media isn't imposed upon our thoughts. So, it's legitimate to say that the media is our matrix: it subtly and not so subtly invades and trains our thinking, from the limited pool of news events to which we are exposed by television main stream news channels, to the incessant ads which permeate in and around us daily, continuously. Croteau says the news media "reaffirms the basic social order and the values and assumptions it is based upon." For instance, political pundits on news channels are chosen from folks who have been "insiders" and debates are also framed around "permanent" political thoughts. Those who are not "invited to the table" are ignored by the press. As an example, I noticed that during the last presidential election, Ron Paul, who amassed a loyal following of young libertarians, was usually ignored during debates, or viewed as a person with views too radical to be taken seriously. Consequently, he had very little air time. Also, blatant bias towards business is highlighted by the reminder that though all newspapers and news stations have investor sections, segments, or whole shows, labor is ignored or mentioned only as a by-product to how laborers add to or diminish profitability.
Croteau also examines film genre and how formulaic plots and heroic archetypes have either emphasized the dominant social order or propped American's ego and pride in times of need, such as movies which have "re-written" the role of America's military might in the Vietnam War.
But, the topic that truly affects us all is advertisement and consumerism, the ubiquitous branding of America. We are bombarded with ads every minute of every day. It is what drives our society - selling just about everything and anything to consumers. It is the American dream and what we think makes us happy and loved. That's what sells and what is marketed to all of us. And, in doing so, the American "brand" is also sold to overseas markets, creating a two-dimensional view of America and inviting other cultures to buy into this limited view for themselves.
Teaching students to understand media propaganda, and how to decipher what is real and what is marketed so that we think it is "common place" and thus, inevitable, is an important part of our jobs. But, many of us are oblivious to this ideology, this power structure, and so reminding ourselves how brainwashed we as a society are, via articles such as this, is an important first step to swallowing the red pill.