Mills, Schudson, and Gitlin show different approaches to society and the role of mass media. Each approach helps illustrate a different focus on society. They each hold special relevance in a discussion of the history of societal beliefs.
The Mass Society refers to the overall belief C. Wright Mills held in relation to the type of society he believed we live in. Mills began The Power Elite with a bold statement saying, "The powers of ordinary men are circumscribed by the everyday words in which they live, yet even in these rounds of job, family, and neighborhood they often seem driven by forces they can neither understand nor govern" (Mills, 1956, p.3). This opening sentence helps describe the attitude and beliefs of the entire book. A "power elite" exists in a society that is made up of three spheres. They are divided into economy, political, and military, with the same group of people interchanging between the three. This large group of elite is at the top making all the decisions, while the masses are at the bottom, unaware of the process that molds public opinion. Masses within this view of society are irrelevant and do not have any type of influence.
The media functions as an entertainment source, keeping the masses entertained while the elite is taking care of all the important matters. It helps keep the reality and truth of the world obscured from the masses. Mills explained what the media does for the masses as "they distract him and obscure his chance to understand himself or his world, by fastening his attention upon artificial frenzies that are revolved within the program framework, usually by violent action or by what is called humor" (Mills, p.315). This helps illuminate how the mass media guides, tries to control, and manipulates the masses. Mills describes the effect of mass media as "a sort of psychological illiteracy" to the extent that we "often do not believe what we see before us until we read about it in the paper or hear about it on the radio" (Mills, p.311). The masses "standards of credulity, standards of reality, tend to be set by these media rather than by 'the masses' own fragmentary experience" (Mills p.311). Mass media's role helps prevent the questioning of the elite.
"Families and churches and schools adapt to modern life; governments and armies and corporations shape it; and, as they do so, they turn these lesser institutions into means for their ends" (Mills, p.6). The family into which someone was born or marries into helps improve or decrease their social status. The school where one is educated or the church where one worships also plays a major role in the social standing. Schools teach skills to the masses that enable them to function in society. Institutions shape life and the masses adapt to what institutions create.
The masses in the theory are very disorganized and not connected to others. An excellent way to describe to masses can be shown by watching The Twilight Zone movie. It is a state of total confusion for everyone, with each doing their own thing. The elite enjoy the state of confusion with the masses, because they are able to control the major decisions that must be made. They determine the policies and the people enlist in them. In the mass society, the elite control the policies and ways of thinking for the confused masses.
Schudson approaches the nature of society in a much different way, through the idea of the democratic society. In Discovering the News, he discussed "an even distribution of income" and described the 1800's as "more people acquired wealth and political power 'bringing' with them a zeal for equal opportunity that led to the expansion of public education" (Schudson, 1978, p.44). When looking at society as a whole, you have them socially, economically, and politically integrated. "Economic development was promoted and shared by many rather than few" (Schudson, p.45). The press does not cause, but picks up...
References: Gitlin, Todd. (1980). The Whole World Is Watching. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Mills, C. Wright. (1956). The Power Elite. London: Oxford University Press.
Schudson, Micheal. (1978). Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers. USA: Basic Books.
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