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Sociology 101 - the Mass Media

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Karen Cosey

Sociology 101: Introduction to Sociology

Instructor: Willie Whited

June 26, 2013


        The mass media paints a picture of how society is perceived. This perspective has an effect on how people view themselves and the world around them. The deliverance of these perceived messages comes in the form of television and magazine ads, movies, and music videos. These media sources uses celebrities are other people that mirror members in today’s society. By using these methods, media dictates current trends and sends a message as to how a person should look, think, or behave. Mass media greatly influences the youth because they are the ones who typically adhere to the messages society delivers. The theories of functionalism, conflict, and interactionism will show the effect mass media has on society.

        The goal of mass media is to offer some form of entertainment, whether it is playing games on the computer, using social networks, or texting on cell phones. The functionalist perspective looks at mass media as being a contribution and a benefit to society (Dean, 2010). Functionalists also believed that in order for society to continue to thrive there must be a balance. They also look at how society can grow and change over a period of time (Vissing, 2011). The conflict perspective views mass media as being controlled by outside influences, such as corporations. These corporations control mass media for their own personal gain (Dean, 2010). By doing this corporations are able to improve upon their financial standings. For example, when there are advertisements played over the radio or television, posted upon billboards, in magazines, and newspapers, companies are trying to get consumers to buy and use their products. This is usually the goal of advertisements, to sell a product (Pope, 2003). The interactionist perspective views mass media as being used to define and shape one’s perception of a particular event (Dean, 2010). This perspective looks at how a person views the world around them based upon what they see. What a person sees on television in movies, sitcoms, and reality shows, may have them believing this is how life is or should be and try to model that behavior.

        The way these sociological perspectives share similar views on mass media is based upon three theories, limited-effects, class-dominant, and culturalist. The limited-effects theory states that people watch what they want based upon what they believe. Therefore, if people believe in aliens, they will watch a lot science fiction programs. The class-dominant theory states that corporations control media output. This basically means that corporations decide what is shown on television and in print. This ideal also mirrors that of the conflict perspective. The culturalist theory suggests people interact with media and come up with their own ideas of how things are (Dean, 2010). This is typically when technology comes into play. Cable companies offer services where they supply a DVR box which allows the viewer to control programs they watch. These three theories suggest that people base their media decisions on what is around them, personal preference, and what is available for them to use.

        Just as these perspectives are similar, they differ as well. These differences are based upon how each perspective applies to individuals and societies as a whole. The functionalists believe that media serves an important role in society. This perspective also operates on the notion that the media serves five basic functions: it acts a means of socialization; enforces social norms; confers status; promotes consumption; and keeps us informed about our environment (Knight, 2010). In short, it brings people closer together. From the conflict perspective, mass media is looked at as being an omen. It is to say that media sources are a necessity but many people allow it to control their lives. The interactionist focus on how personal interactions change as a result of media (Vissing, 2011). For example, many people eat and watch television at the same time or others try to text and drive. Either way people rely on the media as a means of survival.

        When using media sources, the functionalist believes media makes it easier to communicate by transmitting data. This is when technology begins to play a role in the communication process. Technology has come a long way over the years. The Internet being introduced into mainstream mass media has changed the way people communicate with each other (Dean, 2010). Using technological sources such as the Internet or smart phones, makes it easier for people to keep in touch by using, email, social networks (Facebook, Twitter), shop, and pay bills. The Internet can also be an addicting tool. Based upon an open forum, one student warns how using certain tools can be addicting and has drawbacks. He mentions an app that allows a person to create a virtual girlfriend for those with the desire but not the time. This app may keep the user up at odd hours of the night, which may incur symptoms from headaches to insomnia because of lack of rest (Noll, 2012). If not careful, technology can ruin a person’s life. This shows how much people rely on the use of technological sources rather than doing things the old fashioned way.

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