Media & its many facets
Human beings would always like to have an appreciation of their identity, either from institutions or politically as members elected by the public. Socially, of course such identification could be in the form of fathers, children, teachers and others. Culturally they could be seen as social groups such as black, white or yellow, male and female or religious sections.
In a consumer orientated society people may be identified economically as customers or an audience, but to take it for granted as an audience for media products would be a mistake because an audience consists of fans! The definition of the word fans simply means those who use or enjoy the media by identifying a particular product, a celebrity star or a fashion style.
An audience consists of a group of people who gather for a particular purpose, not necessarily to fantasise or romanticise an event. A particular television establishment, for example, may assume that their audience is for what they aspire, but in actual fact only a fraction of that audience may be watching, and even out of those, only a minute fraction may get what they want by simply sitting in front of the television and keeping on gazing at it!
In such a backdrop it would be foolish to conceive the concept of the audience as the market for media products. Fans are not simply persons who use or enjoy the media, but who identify themselves with a particular media product, star or a style.
Advertisers study and learn to adjust their messages to fit the spectators by reaching the audience. Different concepts of an audience may create different economic, political, and cultural groups, thus different media and cultural systems manage to form different audiences.
In most advanced industrial countries the existence of a consumer society appears to be natural; everyone in the society takes part in a national market measured by the consumption of various goods and services. The media creates a consumer society by conditioning the audience for its message as a market and also as a commodity.
Media helps in building an audience, inclusive of their own products, in liaison with advertising by delivering a particular audience to another advertiser. When people watch their favourite TV programmes, they are also compelled to watch the advertisements embedded therein, willingly or unwillingly. Some people may enjoy watching advertisements for their own sake!
The producer of a media product has some idea as to how the audience will react and use the product because an audience is always active in twisting a medium and its messages to the audience's own purposes.
Research on audiences clearly demonstrates how people are creative in their own interpretations of media products, and often come out with very unexpected and unpredictable ideas. The media provides descriptions of different social groups including portraits of people of their communal identity. As far back as in 1913, Black people were portrayed in a blatant and deliberate racist approach. Seemingly a few Black actors became Hollywood stars such as Sydney Poitier who won an Academy Award in 1963 for Lilies of the Field. It opened the door to many other Black actors such as Bill Cosby and others, making them successful and popular. This action seemingly helped black actors to become successful among the audiences and demand less degrading characters from producers.
Major black filmmakers emerged in the late 1980s. These film makers opened the door for a new generation of black actors as well the black people to participate in various aspects of film production and to embark into television too, the result being the Black entertainers such as Louis Armstrong, Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole appeared in a variety of films.
Women have been largely demarcated in the media as objects of male pleasure or sex symbols, both visual and physical for a long time. However, during the1980s and in the 1990s women's participation on television changed with new possibilities in what was known as the women in the modern society.
Perhaps the most sensible way to understand what is meant by mass media would be to seek answers to the question as to what functions they perform. There are many aspects and answers to such questions. For example, the functions of the media could mean the fulfillment of individual needs.
For the society, what the media could offer, as per Harold Lasses, could be to act as a "surveillance of the environment, correlation of the various parts of the society, and transmission of the social heritage from one generation to the next". Sociologist Charles Wright treated entertainment as a social function of the media. Dennis McQuail added a fifth category as the ability of the mass media to 'bring people into particular processes of change and development'.
How would the media affect the people and how do people in turn react to the media? A television commercial may concentrate enthusiastically to convince a particular product to capture the minds of the viewers momentarily thereby conditioning the consumers by continuous replay of the product, but in actual fact, the advertising agency would be least bothered whether the viewers believe it or not! What they expect is to encourage consumers to purchase the advertised product! Similarly, a politician may assess the impact of his televised speech as to what extent it might affect people's vote.
Mitchell Stephens, the eminent journalistic historian found it an impossibility to find a single society that did not yearn for news. He believed that people developed a dire thirst to find out what incidents took place around them in the form of news. But how was it possible to achieve it when needs in every society differed drastically?
In bygone societies everyone became a 'journalist' by being alert and observant of day-to-day activities through verbal announcements. Mitchell Stephen also observed how news could travel at breath-taking speed, similar to gossip to far of distances in pre literate cultures- which is applicable even today!
As in the case of undeveloped civilisations, it cannot therefore by any means assume that everyone in his or her right as a journalist because of the very fact that all known cultures have had news specialists in the form of criers, drummers, messengers minstrels and finally smoothly developed accredited official journalists by various media institutions.