An Introduction to Media Studies
It’s a funny old world. Ever since the ancient civilisations began painting on cave walls, we have been obsessed with media. Nowadays we log on to the internet or switch on the T.V. to get our fix of daily news, entertainment and information. It could be said that the media now form part of the general texture of experience and in some ways, dominate the way we interact with the rest of civilisation. So, who are the modern-day cavemen? Who are they leaving their wall paintings for and who the hell really cares if Angelina Jolie has a new kid?
When studying media, the traditional approach would entail looking at texts, institutions and audiences. However, a man like John B. Thompson would have you believe that studying a text alone is not enough to provide us with any significant meanings. A valid point. He would argue that we have to look at characteristics such as economics, regulations and history as well as audiences and institutions, in order to decipher a clear interpretation of that which we analyse. The following quote comes from his book ‘Mass Communication and Modern Culture’…
“Newspapers, radio and television are major sources of information, ideas and images concerning events which take place beyond our immediate milieu. The figures who feature in films and programmes become points of reference in a culture which exists far beyond the sphere of social interaction, while films, programs and other products form a tissue of shared experience and collective memory. Even those forms of entertainment which have existed for centuries, such as popular music and sport, are now inseparable from media and mass communication.”
There are complex relationships between these characteristics and when studying media we must recognise that it plays a huge role in our lives, it mediates our understanding of the world as well as our relationships with others. The texts we study reproduce meanings, information and entertainment and provide us with certain ideological values.
We are all invited to take part in the media and it provides a platform for us to share our opinions and thoughts about the world around us. We are given the opportunity to interact with others around the globe that we may never otherwise meet, we are given a voice that we may not otherwise have and we are intrinsically connected to one another through a plethora of mediums. However, we live in a capitalist society, there is money to be made. Therefore a lot of media is bombarded with advertisements, sensationalism, scandal and plain old BS.
Can we really blame the editors and producers of the world for providing us with that which we crave? True, not all of us enjoy this kind of thing, in fact I imagine that most of my friends could not give a hoot about who is sleeping with who in Hollywood, or which pop star is adopting another baby from a poor African country. However, this stuff sells, by the millions. Someone out there is reading or watching it. When we begin to analyse the texts and breakdown the images, we begin to understand just how involved we are in the world of media.
Marketing is a powerful tool. So you may not be interested in Jennifer Aniston’s new dress but you are interested in something, whether it be sport, cooking, skateboarding, computer games, films, origami, wildlife, etc. Sooner or later you have to admit that we’re all part of the machine, for it would not exist if we did not require it. The media can be seen as a reflection of our society and the way in which we live our lives. We may not always like what we see but we’re obsessed with it all the same.
I leave you with a quote from the late Professor Roger Silverstone (a Birkenhead lad) from his book ‘Why Study Media?’ which I believe encapsulates our inseparable links with media. I’m off to buy Hello magazine, to get the latest gossip on the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
“It is in the mundane world that the media operate most significantly. They filter and frame everyday realities, through their singular and multiple representations, providing touchstones, references, for the conduct of everyday life, for the production and maintenance of common sense. And it is here in what, in what passes as common sense that we have to ground the study of the media…. The media give us the words to speak, and ideas to utter, not as some disembodied force operating against us as we go about our daily business, but as part of the reality in which we participate, in which we share, and which we sustain on a daily basis through our daily talk, our daily interactions.”