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Role of Mass Media in contemporary society

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24122015-RichardThe role of Mass media in today’s world is humongous. It is expected to reflect public opinions, respond to their concerns, create an awareness of state and central policies so that people know about policies that directly or indirectly affect their life, highlight important events and viewpoints(which I think is part and parcel for a democratic country like ours), etc. The mass media also has a pivotal role to report wrong doing, follow up remedial action, mobilise public opinion, bring about social change and highlight positive developments. The pattern of values in any society is reflected in the contents of mass communications.
The above mention functions of the mass media are the roles expected by the masses form them generally. However, if we take a second look at the picture of what the mass media in contemporary society actually paints, we may have varied opinions. We watch tv, listen to radio and have a general feeling that whatever we see and listen is the truth and not a single fact is fabricated. Many a times the entire picture is not shown to the public by the media. For example, a photograph in a newspaper, does not simply capture a fact or event directly. It takes on social connotation through the way it is shown, where it is placed in the newspaper layout, and how captions annotate its subtextual meaning. The photograph of a bird flying alone in an open blue sky, when viewed without a caption, lends itself to many interpretive possibilities. However, if the caption reads ‘looking for food’, then the primary interpretation that the photo can evoke is single out and it can have only few logical interpretation. In a consumerist society like ours, media representations are made not to fulfil a need, but to create it. Teenagers and even elder people(not everyone) have a genuine interest to follow a Hollywood star/popular music artiste/Indian cinema icon. People don’t only follow them but also makes a genuine attempt to present their lives to the world the same way as these ‘stars’ do. In doing so, we have failed to realised that as a society we are submitting ourselves to the capitalist ideologies of the ruling elites. We can’t blame anyone for it because the consumerist society has successfully constructed in everyone’s mind that the lifestyle of the ‘stars’ is the best. Media culture is like a ‘culture industry’ or ‘popular music industry’ churning out popular texts for instant consumption, in the same way that factories churn out products for widespread consumption and music industry produces the same kind of music. People simply extract from newspapers, radio broadcasts or television soaps or advertisements only the views that fitted their preconceptions, ignoring the others. I think the way we look at media culture in our contemporary society are pretty much similar to the ways in which the ‘west’ painted the picture of the Orient. Americans and Europeans had a preconceived notion of how the orient looks like; culture , people, values, tradition and most importantly the land that we lived on. They considered the Orient as savage lands, societies composed of monstrous people and in need of urgent help from the ‘developed west’ . The idea that the ‘east’ needs help from the colonisers to lead a better life, to raise the standard of living was spread among the colonisers through the mass media communications of that time. This in my opinion was the foundation for the domination and control of the ‘east’ by the colonisers. The main contention of my example is that media directly affect mental processes in a way that is analogous to how the contents of food one eats affect bodily processes.
We have read and also watch it in the form of documentary or listen it on news about the effects of a terrorist attacks on a particular country. What we see or read through mass media is that a large number of people died, chaos in the particular country, people praying for the deceased soul, etc. Sad scene, isn’t it? But what is more sad than these horrible attacks is the phenomenon that comes as a response to these attacks. History has taught us that after every major terrorist attacks, there is an increase in the procurement of arms, ammunitions, weapons of mass destruction, etc to fight organisations that are a threat to ‘national security’. Weapons manufacturing companies are a The demonisation of enemies is a useful tool often used by many countries to justify strategic geopolitical manoeuvring and the defence of corporate interests around the world, while mollifying home‐based critics of such behaviour. The creation of an ‘evil empire’ of some kind, has been a standard device for terrifying the population into supporting arms production and military adventurism abroad(America’s war on terror after 9/11), both major sources of profit for big business. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein has been a useful bogeyman for US arms manufacturers who have notched up sales of over $100 billion to Saddam’s neighbours(countries who are in close proximity) in the Middle East. Mass media are instruments of power that mobilise support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity of the ruling elites. The ruling elites with their financial power and links with top politicians influence policies of the government in their favour. They control the mass media by funding and owning the means of production. If one owns a company, the entire company is under him/her and h/she gets to decide, select and present news coverage in ways that are favourable to his/her interests. In such a model, the contemporary mass media are seen as nothing more than a propaganda arm of the government and of capitalist interests. They select the topics to be printed or broadcast, establish the character of the concerns to be expressed, determine the ways in which issues are to be framed, and filter out any information assessed to be contradictory to their capitalistic interests.
I would also like to address the way in which the mass media portray a generalised and stereotypical image of men and women. Mass media has played an important role in highlighting women’s issues, but they have not apparently escaped from the narrow and continually reinforcing stereotyped gender roles and assumptions that women’s functions are that of a wife, mother and servant of men. The way subjects dealing with women are treated in ads, tv soaps and operas, commercial films, etc indicate to a great extent the prevailing attitude of the society towards women. The worldwide trend towards consumerism has created a climate in which advertisements and commercial messages often portray women primarily as consumers and target girls and women of all ages inappropriately. A lot of magazines often depict and consistently seek to direct women’s energies into narrow channels and to define their concerns, pre-occupations and aspirations within an arbitrarily imposed ‘Feminine framework’. The way in which our society construct women’s identity and their ability has a lot to do with the social stigma that our society created in the past. People tends to judge and have a pre conceived notion of everything that are unknown to them through stories that they read or see in newspaper, internet, tv, etc. All forms of media communicate images of the sexes, many of which perpetuate unrealistic, stereotypical and limiting perceptions. Women are underrepresented, which falsely implies that men are the cultural standard and women are unimportant or invisible. Men and women are portrayed in stereotypical ways that reflect and sustain socially endorsed views of gender. Depictions of relationships between men and women in popular films and music videos emphasise traditional roles and normalise violence against women. The depiction of women’s and men’s role in mass media not only shows the underlying principle of our society but also conforms to the whole idea of a patriarchal society. The worst part of popular films and tv soaps is that they confine elderly people to only category. Elderly people are always subjected to sickness, dependent, fumbling, passive. An images that are not borne out in real life. There is a constant misrepresentation of the society and because of that media representations and reality evolve into simulacra of each other, thus blurring the distinction between the two. And since the mass media pervade our lives, the ways they misrepresent genders, and the ways that they construct our society may distort how we see ourselves and what we perceive as normal and desirable for men and women, the good and the bad world.
People should try and absorb whatever is feed to them by the media actively rather than passively reading it and thinking that it is the truth and the only side of the story. Also, we should know what the writer or a filmmaker or a journalist intends to convey with their text but also have a negotiated reading where we as readers feel that this may not be a correct idea or the right information and that we need to dig it up a little more to find the actual truth. Our Society can be a lot better if we raised questions to the right people at the right time. For instance, we need to go after our local representative if a certain policy implemented years ago has not function really well(how many rural villages in Manipur have actually benefitted and developed due to ‘Mahatma Gandhi national rural employment guarantee scheme’). The fundamental principles of a strong democracy depends upon the notion of a reasonably informed electorate.

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