Media and Ideology

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Croteau05.qxd 6/3/02 1:56 PM Page 159 CHAPTER 5 Media and Ideology ost media scholars believe that media texts articulate coherent, if shifting, ways of seeing the world. These texts help to define our world and provide models for appropriate behavior and attitudes. How, for example, do media products depict the “appropriate” roles of men and women, parents and children, or bosses and workers? What defines “success,” and how is it achieved? What qualifies as “criminal activity,” and what are the sources of crime and social disorder? What are the underlying messages in media content, and whose interests do these messages serve? These are, fundamentally, questions about media and ideology. Most ideological analyses of mass media products focus on the content of the messages—the stories they tell about the past and the present— rather than the “effects” of such stories. In this chapter, then, we focus primarily on media messages. Part Four of this book will turn to the relationship between media messages and their audiences. M What Is Ideology? Ideology is a decidedly complicated term with different implications depending on the context in which it is used. In everyday language, it can be an insult to charge someone with being “ideological,” since this label suggests rigidity in the face of overwhelming evidence contradicting one’s beliefs. When Marxists speak of “ideology,” they often mean belief systems that help justify the actions of those in power by distorting and misrepresenting reality. When we talk about ideology, then, we need to be careful to specify what we mean by the term. When scholars examine media products to uncover their “ideology,” they are interested in the underlying images of society they provide. In this context, an ideology is basically a system of meaning that helps define and explain the world and that makes value judgments about that
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