In cultural studies, media culture refers to the current Western capitalist society that emerged and developed from the 20th century, under the influence of mass media.[1][2][3] The term alludes to the overall impact and intellectual guidance exerted by the media (primarily TV, but also the press, radio and cinema), not only on public opinion but also on tastes and values.

The alternative term mass culture conveys the idea that such culture emerges spontaneously from the masses themselves, like popular art did before the 20th century.[4] The expression media culture, on the other hand, conveys the idea that such culture is the product of the mass media. Another alternative term for media culture is "image culture."[1][2]

Media culture, with its declinations of advertising and public relations, is often considered as a system centered on the manipulation of the mass of society.[5] Corporate media "are used primarily to represent and reproduce dominant ideologies."[6] Prominent in the development of this perspective has been the work of Theodor Adorno since the 1940s.[5] Media culture is associated with consumerism, and in this sense called alternatively "consumer culture."[1][3]


This section contains too many or overly lengthy quotations. Please help summarize the quotations. Consider transferring direct quotations to Wikiquote or excerpts to Wikisource. (February 2011)

Popular culture and the mass media have a symbiotic relationship: each depends on the other in an intimate collaboration.

— K. Turner (1984), p. 4[7]

The news media mines the work of scientists and scholars and conveys it to the general public, often emphasizing elements that have inherent appeal or the power to amaze. For instance, giant pandas (a species in remote Chinese woodlands) have become well-known items of popular culture; parasitic worms, though of greater practical importance, have not. Both scholarly facts and news stories get modified through popular transmission, often to the point of outright falsehoods.

As "Dumbing Down of Society"

Hannah Arendt's 1961 essay "The Crisis in Culture" suggested that a media driven by markets would lead to culture being replaced by the commands of entertainment.[8] Susan Sontag argues that in our culture, the most "...intelligible, persuasive values are [increasingly] drawn from the entertainment industries". As a result, "tepid, the glib, and the senselessly cruel" topics are becoming the norm.[8]

Some critics argue that popular culture is "dumbing down": "newspapers that once ran foreign news now feature celebrity gossip, pictures of scantily dressed young ladies... television has replaced high-quality drama with gardening, cookery, and other "lifestyle" programmes [and] reality TV and asinine soaps," to the point that people are constantly immersed in trivia about celebrity culture.[8]

Critics have lamented the "replacement of high art and authentic folk culture by tasteless industrialized artefacts produced on a mass scale in order to satisfy the lowest common denominator."[8] According to them, the popular culture which rose after the end of the Second World War led to the concentration of media into a handful of large, multinational conglomerates. This popular press decreased the amount of actual news or information and replaced it with entertainment or titillation that reinforces "fears, prejudice, scapegoating processes, paranoia, and aggression."[8]

As an unfavorable influence on television and cinema

According to Altheide and Snow, media culture means that within a culture, the media increasingly influences other institutions (e.g. politics, religion, sports), which become constructed alongside a media logic.[9] Since the 1950s, television has been the main medium for molding public opinion.[10]

In Rosenberg and White's book Mass Culture, Dwight Macdonald argues that "Popular culture is a debased, trivial culture that voids both the deep realities (sex, death, failure, tragedy) and also the simple spontaneous pleasures... The masses, debauched by several generations of this sort of thing, in turn come to demand trivial and comfortable cultural products."[8] Van den Haag argues that "all mass media in the end alienate people from personal experience and though appearing to offset it, intensify their moral isolation from each other, from the reality and from themselves."[8][11]

Critics of television and film have argued that the quality of TV output has been diluted as stations pursue ratings by focusing on whatever is attractive and eye-catching, which ends up being heavily superficial. Hollywood films have changed from creating formulaic films which emphasize "shock-value and superficial thrill[s]" and the use of special effects, with themes that focus on the "basic instincts of aggression, revenge, violence, [and] greed." The plots are mostly simple, easy-to-comprehend and follow a standardized format which is similar to its predecessors. This leads to a decline in creative plotlines or elements, leaving the characters poorly-made, bland, repetitive and the dialogues unengaging, inaccurately representing the complexities of real life, or even unreal.[8]

More recently, scholars turned to the concept of the mediatization of culture to address the various processes through which culture is influenced by the modus operandi of the media. On one hand, the media are cultural institutions and artifacts of their own, on the other hand, other domains have become dependent on the media and their various affordances.[12]

Through religion

Media culture, in its mass marketing, has been compared to the role of religions in the past. It has been considered as taking the place of the old traditional religions.[13][14][15] The waves of enthusiasm and fervent exaltation for a given product, a characteristic consumerist phenomenon, has been compared to the "ecstasies of the convulsions and miracles of the old religious fetishism".[16][17]

Conversely, the Catholic Church, the dominant religious institution in the Western world, has been considered retrospectively as an antecedent and sophisticated form of public relations, advertiser and multinational corporation, selling its product to a mass of worshipers, frequently alternating as consumers.[18][19]

Symbolic consumption

Consumers' decisions are made based not only on the economic concept of the utility material goods provide but also from their symbolic value in terms of the search for one's self and place within the context of society and group identity. In other words, the products consumers purchase are part of creating a story about who they are and whom they identify with.[20]

Scholars view symbolic consumption as a social construct. A product is effective as an expression of identity only if the group shares a perception about the symbolic meaning of a product. These meanings are conveyed to consumers through advertising, magazines and television.[21]

Jean Paul Sartre wrote that under certain conditions things, or even people, can become part of an extended concept of "self". Consumers may develop a narrative of their life based on their consumption choices to hold on to or break continuity with their past, understand themselves and express changes in their sense of self. The creation of a "lifestyle" association through consumption may mean avoiding past patterns of consumption that symbolize the old self or certain social groups. The symbolism of goods is based on socially shared beliefs.[20]

Feminist approaches to media culture

The feminist approaches related to media culture is something that can stem from feminist theory in relation to media culture. With the term feminism in itself having such a broad term, the feminist communication theory is something that branches off into many other concepts, thus providing us with feminist approaches on media culture. These approaches will often highlight how media has impacted women, the roles of women in media environments, how to dismantle certain perspectives with media culture etc..[22]

For example, Angela McRobbie's analysis of teenage girls based on a popular magazine at the time called 'Jackie'. McRobbie uses a 'structural feminism' approach in order to analyze "the ideology of femininity in magazines and other medias, as identified through codes of romance, personal/domestic life, fashion/beauty, pop music and new sexualities." (Laughey, 2007).[23] These codes had shown how these different aspects, when presented in the form of the popular media of the magazine 'Jackie', significantly impacted these individuals. The codes and case study showed how these aspects affected the way the teenage girls at this time acted, thought and portrayed themselves. Through approaches like McRobbie's it is shown how media culture had significant impact on women at this time. McRobbie's more recent research continuous to show how this is a prevalent reoccurrence in media culture and women.[23]

Feminist approaches can also be applied when discussing media culture in terms of fashion, and how it can relate to other media's like music, magazines, celebrities etc.. An example of this, is looking at the postfeminism approach and how it is explained by certain researchers, that women and many young girls become victim to postfeminist styled fashion. Meaning, a style of fashion that is promoting the early and/or over sexualization of clothing to girls at a young age solely because of how they are marketed with the ideologies that come with a postfeminist approach.[24] This particular concept, is not to disregard the meaning that postfeminism approach provides for society and women, but to see how a specific way of feminist thinking has affected women and media culture.

There are many feminist approaches to discuss, as well as different ways for researchers and individuals to apply these approaches to media culture. It is important to remember that feminist approaches are not the only way to understand media culture or dissect media culture, but one of many ways to do so.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Jansson (2002)
  2. ^ a b Thoman (1992)
  3. ^ a b Thomas (2012) p.30 quotation:

    The twenty-first century Western world, driven by American corporate and consumer ideology, is a perpetual media culture that depends on sound bites and the next thing, leaving the public reduced to media consumers never allowed time to reflect on the information. Volume and speed have consumed and obliterated nuance, ethics, and accuracy.

  4. ^ Adorno (1963) quotation:

    ...the interpretation agreeable to its advocates: that it is a matter of something like a culture that arises spontaneously from the masses themselves, the contemporary form of popular art.

  5. ^ a b Bignell (2007) pp.21-2
  6. ^ Nomai (2008) pp.5, 41
  7. ^ Shuker, Roy (1994). Understanding Popular Music, p. 4. ISBN 0-415-10723-7.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Dumbing down". Archived from the original on October 29, 2010. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  9. ^ Altheide, D. L., & Snow, R. P. (1979). Media Logic. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Diggs-Brown, Barbara (2011) Strategic Public Relations: Audience Focused Practice p. 48
  11. ^ Van den Haag, in Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White, Mass Culture, p. 529.
  12. ^ S. Hjarvard; L. N. Petersen (2013). "Mediatization and cultural change". MedieKultur (54): 1–7.
  13. ^ from Debord (1977) thesis 20: "The spectacle is the material reconstruction of the religious illusion."
  14. ^ Debord (1967) thesis 25 on the spectacle and the sacred
  15. ^ Nomai (2008) p.176
  16. ^ Debord (1977) Thesis 67
  17. ^ from Debord (1977) thesis 132: "The masters who make history their private property, under the protection of myth, possess first of all a private ownership of the mode of illusion: in China and Egypt they long held a monopoly over the immortality of the soul ... The growth of their real historical power goes together with a popularization of the possession of myth and illusion."
  18. ^ Ballardini, Bruno (2006) Gesù lava più bianco. Ovvero come la chiesa inventò il marketing. Review and excerpts [1].
  19. ^ Ballardini, Bruno (2011) 'Gesù e i saldi di fine stagione. Perché la Chiesa non «vende» più. Review [2].
  20. ^ a b Wattanasewan, Kritsadarat (2005). "The Self and Symbolic Consumption" (PDF). Journal of American Academy of Business: 179.
  21. ^ Hirschman, Elizabeth (1981). "Comprehending Symbolic Consumption: Three Theoretical Issues". Symbolic Consumer Behavior. Vol. SV-04. Association for Consumer Research. pp. 4–6.
  22. ^ The handbook of media and mass communication theory. Volume 1. Robert S. Fortner, Mark Fackler. Chichester, England. 2014. ISBN 978-1-118-76997-3. OCLC 878119490.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  23. ^ a b Laughey, Dan (2010). Key themes in media theory. Open University Press. ISBN 978-0-335-21813-4. OCLC 771128584.
  24. ^ Jackson, Sue; Vares, Tiina; Gill, Rosalind (May 2013). "'The whole playboy mansion image': Girls' fashioning and fashioned selves within a postfeminist culture". Feminism & Psychology. 23 (2): 143–162. doi:10.1177/0959353511433790. ISSN 0959-3535. S2CID 145092969.


Further reading