Postmodernists and the Media

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Postmodern Society

  • Some researchers now believe we are living in a postmodern society, which comes after and differs from modern society.
  • This new age is known as postmodernity.
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Media Realities

  • Today's society is media-satuarated, it bombards people with images which increasingly dominate the way we see ourselves and the world. Media images don't reflect or distort reality, instead they themselves are realities. Our conciousness is invaded by multiple realities provided by every type of media. These realities provided are also open to multiple interpretations as media audiences are active.
  • Increasingly exposure to the media blurs the division between our everyday reality and media images as the media provides so much knowledge about the world. This knowledge is not drawn from our own experience but is reproduced, a simulation in that it represents the real thing but is not a genuine representation. From this perspective media simulations remove the distinction between image and reality as images become part of our reality.
  • As a result of multiple realities and the variety of simulations presented by the media, the idea of absolute truth has gone as there is no longer a dominant meaning. Instead, there are a multitude of meanings as the media broadcast different perspectives and different views from across the world, the past and the present.
  • Images we experience through the media become as significant as things we encounter directly, for example the death of Princess Diana caused a vast outpouring of grief even though she only existed through the media for most people.
  • Fiction becomes 'real' as millions are glued to the TV screen by a marriage in a soap opera.
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Postmodern Identities

  • In modern societies, people's identities were usually drawn from their class, gender, occupation or ethnic group. In postmodern society, people have more opportunity to construct their own identities and more options. For example, a woman can be a heterosexual, homosexual or lesbian, a business executive and a mother, she can be British, a Sikh and a member of Greenpeace. Her lifestyle and consumption patterns can reflect her chosen identity.
  • With lots of choices, it is fairly easy for people to change their identity or have several which they put on and take off in different situations. As a result, postmodern identities are more unstable and fragile as they offer choice but don't provide a firm and lasting foundation.
  • The media offers a large range of identities and lifestyles from which consumers can pick, choose and act out. Adverts sell images and style rather than content and substance. For example, jeans are not marketed as hard-wearing and value for money but instead as style in the context of rock or R & B music.
  • According to postmodernists, people are increasingly constucting their own identities from images and lifestyles promoted by the media.
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Time, Space and Change

  • The media allows us to criss-cross time and space, for example, Romeo and Juliet was written in the 16th century but the current film takes place in the present day. Watching TV news we can go around the world in 30 minutes from Iraq to the USA, from Afghanistan to Northern Ireland. Adverts use music from the 1960s and 1970s to sell beer, washing powder and clothes whilst fashion recreates styles from the past. 
  • This results in time and space becoming less stable and comprehensible, more confused, more incoherant and more disunified (Strinati).
  • Images and styles are also constantly changing as the media regularly presents new styles of music and fashion, new food, drink, household products etc. Many of these are linked to new lifestyles and are often associated with media personalities.
  • As a result of this constant change and emphasis on the new, things appear fluid as nothing appears permanent. The mainstream culture of society is replaced by the fleeting, unstable, fragmented culture of postmodern society.
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Evaluation

Many sociologists are critical of postmodernists' perspectives on the media. Philo and Miller make the following points:

  • There is no way to say reality is distorted by media imagesbecause, according to postmodernists, those images and the way people see them is the reality.
  • It carrying the idea of an active audience to a ridiculous extreme.
  • People are well aware that there is a reality beyond the images broadcast by the media. They recognise that media messages are often onesided partial and distorted.
  • Many people are not free to construct their own identities and select lifestyles, for example, people living in poverty don't have the money to buy Gucci sunglasses.

However, many sociologists accept that the media is increasingly influential in today's society.

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