Friday, July 20, 2012

Media is the Culture vs. Culture is the Media

 Since the dawn of humanity there has been the need of communication. The communication is done through many mediums. Depending on the objective of it, the mediums vary. Sometimes the need of communication between two people can be fulfilled with a simple conversation, but what if one pursues to send the message to a larger group of audience?
 Media is the answer. That is why we developed media, from the very initial form of it, such as cave drawings, to its more modern forms, like newspapers, television, and social media.
 Amplifying one’s ideas through media, may affect the audiences’ mindset. Depending on how right or wrong that idea is, how good or bad it has been conveyed whether on purpose or accidental, the target audience grasps the essence of that message consciously or unconsciously and apply it to their personal life.
 Children from very small age are already consumers of this media. They grow up constantly being fed how to think, how to act, and what to believe. Many people are addicted to this media. Many have shaped their lives based on what they have been told by the media. Many believe in something, because the media has told them to.
 The question arises; is media getting out of hand? The answer depends on who’s “hands” are we talking about. For the regular people who are the consumers of this media, it has been out of their hand for a very long time. But the owners of the media, or to be more precise, those who own the owners of the media know exactly what they are doing.
 Media is dangerously powerful. The concept of having such a powerful source, that is capable of manipulating minds, can never remain clean from the hands of power, or those who seek it. The reason is clear. Controlling people’s mindset is the power itself. Once you control what people read, watch and hear, their thinking will be shaped in the way you design it to be. They will be obeying you without them knowing it.

 It is a sad truth that most of the mass media today is owned by very few but extremely powerful corporations. These corporations are based on making profit.  Companies such as Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., CBS Corporation and NBC Universal are working for more and more power and dominance. Delivering the truth is not always profitable for them. Instead delivering the message of their clients to their audience regardless of how healthy or unhealthy it might be, is the path these giant corporations have taken.
 The way this mass media affects our societies and cultures, is by giving us the illusion of what is right and what is wrong. For example if you take a Hollywood movie with a lot of sexual content to another country with a much more conservative culture, the people of that country will have difficulty accepting the movie. But if this process happens continuously for few years the same people will finally start to accept that content, because after a while people will get used to that behavior and they will find it normal. We have to bear in mind that this process is constantly happening in our world. Media products from big corporations of powerful countries always find their way into other countries of different culture, and they do leave their effects in those societies.
 To say whether media is culture or culture is media is a very subjective matter. It depends on what media are we talking about, and which culture are we studying. A society’s culture can be reflected in their media, whereas the same media can manipulate culture in another society. Also for two different media in one society, one can be their culture and one can be changing their culture. Even sometime within one media in a society both of the properties can be found.
 In a global view, we have very little number of media corporations in a few countries which are feeding the rest of the world. So as a whole it is safe to say that media is culture for most of the world’s population. As most of the money and power is concentrated in the hands of few, the chance of reflecting every culture in the form of an appealing media does not exist. Therefore those rather smaller societies are bound to be affected by the media products of the societies more powerful than them.
 Media being culture and culture being media are both currently happening in the world. Media will not be appealing if it has absolutely no relation with the culture of that society. If you want the media to manipulate the culture, first you must attract the audience, and then imply your message in that media.

A good example can be Korean music industry, and how it is finding its way into affecting Korea’s culture. The so called phenomenon “K-pop” started not so long ago with concepts such as “cute” and “fresh”. The songs were clean and their music videos as well. Their tag was unlike American music industry, K-pop is not about too much revealing of sexuality, but it’s more focused on the quality of the music and the performance. Because of all that and how close that was to the culture of Korea at that time, people started accepting this new trend of Korean pop music. Its fame passed the boundaries of Korea and K-pop became very well known in most parts of the world. That was when the corporations behind the industry changed the path of K-pop. The concepts changed. Despite the decrease in the quality of the music, many songs were published with very unhealthy contents. The music videos became different as well. Sexuality and even very obvious satanic content became a part of K-pop. The fans that have started liking K-pop for its previous values are now following it for absolutely opposite values, and little by little whether they know it or not, they are going to get affected by the changes the corporations made in Korean music industry. And that change will affect the culture of Korea eventually.

Propaganda is another very good example of how media can manipulate societies and their cultures. Making movies, computer games and television shows praising soldiers and then scaring people from an imaginary enemy and inviting them to join the army to invade a country and fight that enemy is what has been going on in the mass media for the past few years. A person from a third party country that has not been exposed to the media of either of the two countries in a war, might have a different opinion about the conflict than the people in those two countries, or he might simply not be interested in that matter at all. But if you show that same person a compilation video of soldiers going back to their families after the war, with some romantic background music, he might as well cry, and consciously or unconsciously pick a side for that war.

 As a conclusion, every culture that has been exposed to media has been affected by it somehow. Some cultures a little, some a lot. There is no escape from it. As marshal McLuhan said, “We shape our tools and they in turn shape us”. Mediated culture is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on from which perspective we are looking at it. Sometimes the little changes made in a culture can help them to open up, or help them to change some traditional habits with more modern and reasonable behaviors. As long as mass media exists and there are people who want power, our cultures will be mediated.

Pouria Roshan