What do you understand by the concept of markets? - Media Essay Example

Media markets

What do you understand by the concept of markets? Capitalism as pure form or as having an integral discursive element- Frankfurt School and the cultural realm as commodified - What do you understand by the concept of markets? introduction.


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Today we live in the age of market economy where every thing has been commodified for the requirements of the market. The greatest commodity that we find today in this media centric world is the news itself. As in any industry in the capitalist regime, news production has become a sequence of gathering raw material, processing it into the required product, and distributing the product to an intended market.

By following their own self-interest in open and competitive markets, consumers, producers, and workers are led to use their economic resources in ways that have the greatest value to the national economy — at least in terms of satisfying more of people’s wants. The first person to point out this fact in a systematic way was the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, who published his most famous book, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in 1776. Smith was the first great classical economist, and among the first to describe how an economy based on a system of markets could promote economic efficiency and individual freedom, regardless of whether people were particularly industrious or lazy.

Smith argued that if people are naturally good and kind, a market economy offers them a great deal of economic freedom to carry out their good deeds, backed up by an efficient system of production, which generates more material goods and services for them to use in doing those good works. Such a system of economic individualism is also built on the idea that individual producers and consumers are in a better position to know what they want, and what is happening to market prices for the products they buy and sellConsumers in both market and command economies make many of the same kinds of decisions: they buy food, clothing, housing, transportation, and entertainment up to the limits of their budgets, and wish they could afford to buy more. But consumers play a much more important role in the overall working of a market economy than they do in a command economy. In fact, market economies are sometimes described as systems of consumer sovereignty, because the day-to-day spending decisions by consumers determine, to a very large extent, what goods and services are produced in the economy.

To summarize: whether consumers are young or old, male or female, rich, poor, or middle class, every dollar, peso, pound, franc, rupee, mark, or yen they spend is a signal — a kind of economic vote telling producers what goods and services they want to see produced. Consumer spending represents the basic source of demand for products sold in the marketplace, which is half of what determines the market prices for goods and services. The other half is based on decisions businesses make about what to produce and how to produce it. In fact, capitalism grew a consumer culture to sell its products.

Frankfurt school critics such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer maintained that mass culture, which is an offshoot of consumer culture, consists of cultural expressions generated by big business simply and solely to advance the bottom line. Such cultural products are generated to fit consumer surveys that chop up the audience into segments according to differential purchasing power. From the Frankfurt school perspective mass culture does not emerge from the needs and wishes and hopes of the general public, but is fed on them on the basis of what will sell.


What are the central features of a Marxist approach to understanding the workings of the media? How did the Frankfurt School expand the boundaries of this way of thinking?

Marxist theoretical approaches to the role of the media vary, although they all share the basic assumption that the media are inextricably linked to the economic base of society. The instrumentalist approach maintain that the owners of communications companies or corporations use their control over cultural production to maintain the status quo, and in this way manage to retain their own power. It is very deterministic approach, in the sense that economic base is seen as responsible for shaping all the other social institutions. The infrastructure determines the form of the institutions in the superstructure, and the latter structures such as law, religion and media, act to legitimate or maintain the power of those who owns the means of production. In this way media, as part of the superstructure,  relay messages that help to keep capitalism going. From this perspective, it is assumed that the dominant or ruling ideas of any historical period are those of the ruling class, and it follows from this that dissemination of the dominant ideas is heavily dependent on the distribution of economic power. Hence ownership of media institutions is essential to the maintenance of capitalist power. Instrumentalists argue that the products of the media serve to legitimate the power of the owners and reinforce the status quo, that is, the system as it is at present. From this perspective, the proprietors of the media are seen as having direct control over their products and this is especially so with the owners of newspapers.

The instrumentalist Marxist position is usually associated with the work of Ralph Miliband and the French philosopher Louis Althusser. Miliband argues that proprietors, especially the owner of newspapers, have used their position to exert a direct influence over their editorial staff, and hence over the actual content of their newspapers.

Marx maintained that those who own the means of economic production (the bourgeoisie) also take ownership of mental production, which means they have control over the dominant ideas of the time, and these ideas support their position of social power. In this way media operate as part of the ideological sate apparatus to produce messages reinforcing the ideology of the bourgeoisie (Althusser, 1972). The ideological sate apparatus include those institutions in the superstructure such as the family, religion, the mass media, the law and so on that serve to legitimate the power of the bourgeoisie without the need of force. Marxist critics Golding and Murdoch identifies a socially critical perceptive that focuses primarily on the relationship between the economic structure and the ideological content of the media.  They opine that the characteristics of media production relate to profitability and the need to expand markets.

McQuail (1994) identifies the following key characteristics of media corporations’ activities within the capitalist market: (1) Controlling the development of independent media enterprises that might challenge their dominance (2) Concentrating on the largets markets for their cultural products (3) Avoiding too many investment risks (4) Reducing investment in less profitable media tasks like investigative reporting and documentary film making (5) Neglecting smaller and poorer sectors of the potential audience , for example ethnic minorities and (6) Biasing their news coverage and reportage on reinforcement of the status quo.

Marxists also argue that the media are engaged in the overt encouragement of commodity consumption because of the commercial advertising they carry. At a more specific level, the capitalist class manages to maintain its economic power through the advertising revenue collected from those that use the media to promote their products and services and ideological control is achieved through dissemination of messages espousing the benefits of consumption. MTV is an example of a satellite channel that carries sponsorship and is seen as delivering its audiences to advertisers. A former MTV Europe director has commented ‘sponsorship is simply a more subtle way of advertising…it associates the product with MTV; in the eyes of the viewer MTV is at the cutting edge – it follows that the product must be too’. Marxists would interpret this as further evidence that we are being manipulated by powerful capitalist forces that are urging to consume their products. There are other examples from the media that we could apply to demonstrate the power of the dominant ideology. The presentation of the game shows on television has been seen as another way in which greed and consumption are encouraged. The televised quiz shows are also criticised by Marxists; they argue that these quiz programmes reinforce the power of capitalism. Marxist citric Fiske points to a parallel between knowledge and power, he maintains that the quiz shows use knowledge in the same way that capitalist culture operates, that is in order to separate the winners from the losers, based on naturalistic assumptions of individual intellectual differences. The structure of society is essentially hierarchical and elitist, yet the dominant ideology insists that all of us can make it up the ladder. The ideology of equal opportunities in education is based on the assumption that ours is a meritocratic society and those who are naturally talented and motivated to work will rise above the others. By providing an ideologically acceptable explanation for failure and success, luck works to mitigate the harshness of personal failure. It is interesting to look at the prizes that are offered on these programmes. They are typically consumer goods, but occasionally they are more subtle such as respect and status. The prize offered by BBC’s greatest show Mastermind was an engraved glass bowl, so in general quiz shows reinforce the hierarchy of knowledge and at the same time, commodity capitalism. (Adorno)

The hegemonic or structuralist theory is the other school of thought in Marxist ideology.

The hegemonic theory was developed by Antonio Gramsci as a critique of classical Marxism. Gramsci believed that Marxism was an empowering and liberating doctrine, but as it stood, it assumed a fundamentally passive role for the working class. For Gramsci, Marxist theory largely ignored the relationship of ideas and ideology to revolutionary class action. Hegemony for him was a moral and philosophical leadership that was able to rule by winning the active consent of those over whom it rules. Hegemonic control was ideological control; workers would only accept political leadership through a process of socialisation whereby they came to accept the ideas of the dominant groups as natural and legitimate. Many sociologists and media researchers have adopted a hegemonic approach in their analyses of media texts. Two British academic centres in particular have produced a wealth of evidence on the ideological role of the media- the Glasgow University Media Group and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. They have been especially interested in the process of news production and the relationship between ideology and representation.  Structuralists focus not on proprietors, but on the structures and pressures under which broadcasters and journalists work. The hegemonic approach argues that the media, taken as a whole, portray a loosely interrelated set of ruling ideas that permeate society in such a way as to make the established order of power and values appear to be based on ‘natural’ order. The approach does not see any ruling ideology being imposed on the audience, but from their perspective, a ‘world view’ is produced, as if by virtue of an unquestioned consensus. This world view is produced by white, middle-class, middle-aged, politically liberal men. These are the people who write the television scripts, collect and report the news and direct the cameras or commission others to do things. It is their ideas that infiltrate the texts of the media and other voices are not given space or are set aside to be subjected to be ridiculed. Rather than the owners having direct control, the actual structures within which these professionals operate force them to produce a set of dominant ideas. The production process, especially where it concerns news and current affairs, involves agenda setting, gatekeeping and news values that, taken together, constrain the nature of the final product.

Mass media and mass culture – the Frankfurt school

The founders of the Frankfurt school of Marxism, including Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer were all critical of the development of what they saw as mass culture and mass consumption. They saw that mass culture seemed to operate to prevent revolution occurring from within the proletariat. The orientation of the school has been towards the linking of modern capitalism with the control exerted by media industries and products over the consumer. Using the concept of ‘commodity fetishism’ they demonstrate the ways in which cultural forms operate to perpetuate modern capitalism. Commodity fetishism mean that the products of people’s labour become commodities or objects for sale; that is the products become more valued for their exchange value – the money they can command on the market – than their use value- their practical use to the consumer. Adorno illustrates this point more clearly ‘The real secret of success…is the mere reflection of what one pays in the market for the product. The consumer is really worshipping the money that he himself has paid for the ticket to the Toscanini concert’.(Adorno, 1991) We are therefore worshipping the exorbitant price we paid for the concert ticket rather than the performance of the artist. The commodity is an important concept in the Frankfurt School’s critique because they saw art and culture being marketed for profit. Marcuse referred to this mass consumption society as ‘one dimensional’ because it generated ‘false needs’ in the public that could only be met by the culture industry.

Evaluate the significance of the term ‘postmodern, in relation to contemporary developments in the area of media and associated technology

Postmodernism can be seen more as a movement than a theoretical position. It views the theories put forward by great sociologists as being little more than metanarratives or ‘big stories’. Writers associated with post modernism are Jameson, Lyotard and Baudrillard. The term metanarrative was used by Lyotard to mean ‘making an appeal to some grand narrative, such as the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth’. The mass media are central to the postmodern condition because what we now take as real is to a large extent what the media tell us is real. We are bombarded from all sides by cultural signs and images in all aspects of our media. According to Baudrillard, we have entered the world of the ‘simulacra’. These are ‘signs’ that function as copies or models of real objects or events. In the postmodern era simulacra no longer present a copy of the world, nor do they produce replicas of reality. Today social reality is structured by codes and models that produce the reality thy claim to merely represent.’(Seidman,1994).

Traditional media theories assume that the role of the media is to mirror social reality. In contrast the postmodernists consider it is no longer possible to separate media from reality. It focuses on consumption patterns as providers of our identities; distinctions of class relations are based on socioeconomic relations are subsumed by consumption. Postmodernism emphasise on style at the expense of substance. Here the argument is that we increasingly consume images and signs for their own sake rather than for the goods they represent, that is, we buy the labels and packaging rather than clothes and goods themselves.

Postmodernism emphasises playfulness in art and architecture, it is very difficult to separate art from popular culture; the pop art of the 1960s demonstrates this clearly. Postmodernism postulates that the old established linear unities of time and space have undermined; satellite broadcasting has produced instantaneous images and information. In the comfort of our living rooms we watched the Gulf War ‘live’ and we daily receive international news from all parts of the world.  As Harvey argues ‘Mass television coupled with satellite communication make it possible to experience a rush of images from different spaces almost simultaneously, collapsing the world’s spaces into a series of images on a television screen.’ We are able instantaneously to communicate worldwide on the Internet, which confuses our sense of time and space. The last characteristic of postmodernism is the one that poses the greatest challenge to sociology as a discipline. It cast doubt on the possibility of any theory being able to explain history or account for power relations in contemporary society.



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