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Identify and discuss what you consider to be the most important sociological concept that underpins the analysis of the modern media

The sociological concept of hegemony attempts to show the way in which the media sustains the views of the dominant elite in society. In assessing this as the most important concept underpinning analysis of the modern media the concept of hegemony as originally presented by Antonio Gramsci will be examined. In turn, its relation to the issues of gender and race in the contemporary media will also be identified. Finally, critiques as presented by thinkers from other schools of thought will be put forward to challenge the concept.

Antonio Gramsci, as a Marxist, used the concept of hegemony to explain why there had not yet been a socialist revolution in Italy, when it seemed to him to be in the best interests of the majority of the population. Using the hegemonic model he aimed to eradicate economic determinism from Marxism and use super structural institutions to explain the reactionary nature of sections of the working class. Hegemony was the theory that dominant groups within society maintain dominance by the consent of subordinate groups, by creating a political and ideological historical bloc with those dominated. Dr. Chad Raphael argues that in the modern western world political power in liberal democracies is not exerted by force, but by a dominant world view. The media plays a large part in presenting this dominant world view to the rest of population. Firstly, the ideology of the dominating class is put forward as factual and common sense. For example, it is often heard in the media that there will 'always be poor people.' Equally, we are often told 'America is a land of equal opportunity' yet there are massive economic and racial inequalities in that country. John Hume corroborates this view, 'Hegemony requires that ideological assertions become self evident cultural assumptions.' Todd Gitlin closely examined the American media coverage of the Students for Democratic Society (SDS) for evidence of ways in which those expressing views not from the dominant ideology are treated. The first strategy he noted was marginalisation, in this case showing the demonstration as unrepresentative and focusing on the most inflammatory rhetoric. Secondly, the news media, CBS and The New York Times, both gave falsely low turnout figures for the events, to discredit the protest as a serious expression of opinion. Finally, labels were also given in a subjective way to de-legitimise the protesters. The event was called a 'so called peace march' and people were referred to as 'self appointed community leaders.' This is seen in the media today where a rehabilitationist approach to crime is tagged as 'soft.' A recent Daily Mail headline read, 'More than one thousand criminals may be walking free because of softer sentences.' Jonathan Hume argues that this is done because the media is more available as a tool of the dominant class, and that it is often run by big business, 'Owners and managers of media industries can reproduce content, inflections and tones of ideas favourable to them far more easily than other social groups.' Held et. al. highlighted shifting patterns in the contemporary global media order. These included increased concentration of media ownership, for example Australian Business tycoon Rupert Murdoch's News International. Therefore, hegemony plays a major part in explaining the media in western liberal societies where democracy necessitates public opinion to side with the dominant class.

Critics of the hegemonic concept as a major contributor to an analysis of the modern media highlight its limited role in explaining our warped sense of place and space in the modern media. In analyzing the modern media Joshua Meyrowitz has heavily focused on the fact that new social experiences occur which are not affected by where we are or who we are with. It is also said that this viewpoint does not take account of the modern unfiltered media, whereby people can play a greater role in the news they receive, and the plurality of news outlets available now to receive information from. Equally, the hegemonic concept does little to explain things like Big Brother where we have some control over the people on the television and therefore the content, 'The real interest of the show is not them -it's us.' However, in a show like Big Brother the version on the television is heavily edited informing us who we should evict, and the hegemonic concept is vital in understanding the nuances of tone that we are shown to make us form 'our opinion.' It is also said that the hegemonic concept fails to recognize the power of movements to affect the media. Feminist Bernadette Barker- Plummer says that Gramsci's theory does not allow for the strategic flexibility a movement has in managing its portrayal. An example given is Greenpeace a radical environmental organization that receives reasonably positive media attention. Also Al-Jazeera has set up a Satellite News Channel presenting news from a non Western viewpoint to a Western audience. However, hegemony can prove useful here. A movement may try strategies to manage the media, but as the Labour Party showed in the early nineties, it can only be done by conforming to the pre-dominant hegemony of the dominant group. Ultimately, the hegemonic concept has addressed the modern situation. In 1984, Hausmann Bausinger predicted technology that was so integrated into everyday society that its influence would not be recognised and hegemony could 'easily go undetected.'

In conclusion, hegemony has proved to be very useful for looking at the role of the modern media in liberal democracies. It also shows us how people sometimes coalesce with the dominant ideology, even to their own disadvantage. The hegemonic school has also provided a convincing analysis of the portrayal of ethnic figures, often in correspondence with political policies of the time. On gender it provides an insight into gender roles, and was original in its take on masculinity. This concept does not take account of the philosophical question of space and time in relation to our interaction with modern media, but it can be questioned whether this issue is of equal importance to those above. In the final analysis, hegemony is the most important sociological concept underpinning the analysis of the modern media.

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