Marxists argue that the mass media reinforces and maintains the false class consciousness. This is done through the spread of the bourgeoisie's hegemonic values, which makes people either accept social inequality or become ignorant of it. Neo-Marxists such as Althuser argue that the ruling class use both an ideological state apparatus (the superstructure) and a repressive state apparatus (justice system, government, military etc.) to ensure the proletariat remain unaware of their exploited position.
Marxism and the mass media
Newman says that whenever news organisations focus on the working class it is often to label them as a problem; as welfare cheats, drug addicts, criminals etc.
Moral panics are also often associated with working class subcultures, for example, mods and rockers, skinheads, or the London riots.
The Glasgow University Media Group suggests the media often portray "unreasonable" workers making trouble for "reasonable" employers.
Postmodernists argue that the world has become characterised by uncertainty and diversity, which can no longer be explained by "meta-narratives" (traditional sociological theories such as Marxism and feminism). They believe we live in a society based on production of knowledge, which has taken priority over manufacturing, and this causes inequalities within society.
Postmodernism and the media
The media is key to postmodernism. In the "media saturated" society we live in, we use the media to shape our identities; it also shapes our consumption patterns by making society aware of the diversity of choice available. Postmodernists argue that this is because the media provides a social reality.
The consumers of mass media to a postmodernist are seen as active, in that they pick and choose the material they consume. Age is therefore not represented in a negative or positive way - people choose their identity aided by a relatively independent mass media.
However, Postman suggests that childhood is disappearing, as children are encouraged to grow up more and more quickly, and adults are encouraged to value youth identity.
Pluralists argue that power is essentially equally distributed within society within a multitude of groups with varying interests - this in turn creates and maintains equality. As lots of different groups hold power, they are checked by the other groups and pluralists say that for this reason power will always be used in the interest of the society. Pluralist theory is often used to evaluate Marxism, suggesting that power is not in fact used against the Proletariat by the Bourgeoisie but is shared equally within society.
Pluralism and the mass media
Media representations of social groups reflect diversity, but also the demands of the audience. Pluralists argue that media representations change and develop to reflect changes in society, and the media responds to meet the needs of the audience. From this perspective, media professionals are aware of their responsibility to represent media groups fairly. The audience is active and representations of social groups are based on reality (i.e. stereotypes aren't a method of ruling class manipulation, but a demand of the audience)
Dalh suggests societies are characterised by democratic pluralism; power is restrained from concentration.
Different types of feminists have different opinions on the representations of women:
Liberal feminists believe that exploitation benefits neither men nor women, and are positive about the changes woman have made and are making in society. Liberal feminists seek change through legislation and are generally the least offensive of feminists.
Marxist feminists believe that sexism (as well as racism) keeps the working classes divided. The media reinforces a patriarchal ideology and the hegemonic views of the ruling classes. It is argued that this is because the media is owned by mainly old, white, hetereosexual, middle class men.
Radical feminists think also that the media maintains a patriarchal ideology that men benefit from. Women are often subject to violence in the household and the media aids this abuse by depicting them as sex objects, respect is lost and violence occurs. The media presents a "malestream" perspective according to radical feminists.
Black feminists suggest that they suffer from both sexism and racism in the media, and so are the most underrepresented section of society. When given representation, they are generally stereotyped as aggressive, as criminals, as fat and loving or funny and therefore made to seem a joke. This is the opposite of the very white beauty ideal shown in the mainstream media.