Mass Communications Final Reflection Paper

By: Cameron A. Straughan

Student # 205337985

December 20, 2002

Thinking back, Mass Communications related well to my Plan of Study, Communicating Via Environmental Productions, and my Major Project, a documentary about Algonquin Park wolves entitled Eyes of the Wolf. In fact, in addition to other courses I have taken, it helped me build up a strong theoretical and critical foundation for my work.

For example, I found the Two-Step Flow theory interesting since it related to my Plan of Study. According to the theory, a filter (i.e., an “opinion leader”) exists between the media and audiences. This is surprisingly similar to my goal of becoming an interface between scientific information and the audience.

The course also built further upon my knowledge of audience responses and survey techniques that began with my Political Communication and the Environment and Risk and Science Communication courses. The gist of it being that audiences are complex and, therefore, it is very difficult to predict their responses. In this regard, I really enjoyed James Lull’s The Active Audience. This reading impacted my Major Project in that I have abandoned post screening surveys for an in situ method. That is, I will now have people watch my documentary and film their reactions to it. I will then incorporate their reactions into the final cut of the documentary.

Lull also mentioned the importance of qualitative audience research and ethnography. This is also important to me since I will be taking Qualitative Methods in the winter and I will be performing open-ended on-camera interviews (first hand observation) for my documentary. Yet, many of these readings also demonstrated the tensions between the hard and soft sciences (i.e., collecting scientific data vs. sociological data). It is not possible to treat people like predictable laboratory subjects. Thus, culture, sociology, and communications in general are intrinsically difficult to study.

It was also fascinating to learn about the twisted, dramatic, politically charged, and somewhat confusing history of the medium that I grew up on – television. Reading many of these papers caused me to reflect on how TV has impacted me, and how I’ve avoided falling into consumer culture, or resisted “manufactured consent”.

Perhaps the major impact that the course had on me was the realization of how hegemony and manufactured consent works. Unbeknownst to me, I have been soaking in hegemony for years! Its grease cutting action has been soft on my hands, but tough on others. This was definitely eye-opening and it related very well to my Popular Education for Social Change course.

As I have discovered, hegemony not only has implications for my Plan of Study, but also my Major Project. The only way to combat hegemony, or at least alleviate some of its negative impacts (for it is unlikely to disappear completely) is to understand what it is, its history, and how it operates (which I do now!). Only then can solutions be proposed. As I discovered via my readings, I am not alone in this thinking.

In this regard, I appreciated Raymond Williams the most. In fact, I admired his work more so than any other communications scholar I read about this term. I greatly admired Williams’ The Technology and the Society for several reasons. Firstly, unlike McLuhan, I felt that Williams took a much more holistic and logical approach to communication studies. He also conducted thorough research. Williams’ Marxist lens also connected nicely to work I have done in Nature and the Environment in Western Thought and Popular Education for Social Change.

In more recent times, critics like Noam Chomsky have put their unique spin on hegemony in culture and the mass media. Chomsky’s idea of “manufacturing consent” refers to the strategic manipulation of culture and communications such that their content and structure steer audiences towards conforming to a preexisting ideology. Here he is in agreement with Williams’ (and Gramsci’s) idea of the hegemony inherent in communications, or perhaps he is building on these concepts. For example, note the similarity between Gramsci’s “organization of consent” and “manufacturing consent”!

Chomsky’s “manufacturing consent” is also very similar to Herbert Marcuse’s “happy consciousness”, as outlined in Marcuse’s One-dimensional Man. On the road to happy consciousness, Marcuse described how society is numbed and rendered complacent – a false happiness – via carefully manufactured products (i.e., communications) that reinforce the status quo. Come to think of it, I’ve referred to Marcuse so many times during this course that perhaps some of his work should be included in future course readings!

As I discovered, critics of hegemony in media and culture also note that hegemony may take many forms. It may not be present in all cultural products or the media per se, but in the means by which culture and media are distributed and controlled. For example, Don Slater, in Consumer Culture and Modernity, presents consumerism as a hegemonic force in itself. Along these lines, Slater describes consumerism as an organizational and/or “taming” tool, that commercially exploits social places and times. This would explain the insidious spread of Coke, McDonalds, and Disney around the world (i.e., “Americanization” is a type of hegemony). It’s difficult to walk down a street, ride on a bus, or sit in a movie theatre without seeing images of these and other products. In fact, they are so commonplace that their main impact is probably completely subconscious.

In summary, throughout the course, I was able to make connections between readings, then connect them to my Plan of Study and Major Project. During this process, I discovered that I was building a strong critical lens, with which I could reflect on past readings and analyze current ones. Since communications is such a large, complex topic, I regard this new-found critical lens as an extremely important tool. It will undoubtedly help me with my Plan of Study, Major Project, and any future communications-related work that I perform.

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