Media – inside and outside

As a working journalist, I engaged Sturken and Cartwright’s analyses of American media from multiple viewpoints. First, I followed their commentary as an American consumer of media — and I felt their views were spot-on. The sheer magnitude of media messages we take in each day is overwhelming. It’s no small wonder that we process a very small percentage of it consciously. While I disagree intensely with the hypodermic model, I see a lot of good reason in the Marxist-inspired theories put forth by the Frankfort School. However, I do not see media consumers as brainless sheep, as the text seems to suggest the Frankfort School believes.

This is precisely the point where I transitioned from reading as a consumer to reading as a journalist — because, as a journalist, I am a member of that privileged class that supposedly creates the thoughts and feelings of the masses. (Ha!) I do NOT believe that audiences docilely accept whatever argument or message is put forth to them. Everyone interprets the signifiers created by media differently; it is probably a rare exception when the intended message is received and understood in its entirety. I suspect oppositional readings are far more common than any other, precisely because the audience wants to assert agency before even thinking of agreeing with any portion of the message. (At the same time, many consumers have preconceived notions that create both oppositional and supportive readings. An ongoing CNN poll shows that only about a quarter of those who watch presidential debates would change their votes based on those debates.)

I also identified both as a woman and as a general consumer with the authors’ discussion of Lacan’s mirror stage and the search for the objet petit a on page 217. Ads are constantly telling us of ways we can be more, do more, have more — and it’s all in search of the satisfaction represented by these ads, a satisfaction that our consumer society (and perhaps any human society) will never allow us to possess. Even ads that do not conform to the typical pressures — I’m thinking of the Dove ads that celebrate all body types — urge consumers to find that objet petit a, that impossible satisfaction, in the knowledge that the push to do so will (they hope) produce commercial profit.

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