Theories of Communication MCM 511
COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE
Most British cultural studies theories can be labeled neo Marxist. They deviate from classic Marxist
theory in at least one important respect- they focus concern on the super-structure issues of ideology
and culture rather than other base. The importance that neo Marxists attach to the superstructure has
created a fundamental division within Marxism. Many neo Marxists assume that useful change can
begin with peaceful ideological reform rather than violent revolution in which the working class
seizes control of the means of production. Some neo Marxists have developed critiques of culture
that call for radically transforming the superstructure while others call for modest reforms.
Communication and Culture
Social life is more than power and trade, it also includes the sharing of aesthetic experience,
religious ideas, personal values and sentiments and intellectual notion- a ritual order.
In order to take the question of the relation between mass communication and culture this sense
further, we need to be more precise about what presents itself as an object of study. This is made
difficult by the senses in which the term culture is used- itself a reflection of the complexity of the
If we extract essential points from these different usages, it seems that culture must have all of the
· It is something collective and shared with others (there is no purely individual culture.
· It must have some symbolic form of expression , whether intended as such or not;
· It has some pattern, order or regularity and therefore some evaluative dimensions (culture lives
and changes, has a history and potentially a future.)
· Perhaps the most general and essential attribute of culture is communication, since cultures
could not develop, survive, extend and generally succeeded without communication.
· Finally in order to study culture we need to be able to locate it, as essentially there are three
places to look ; in people , in things texts, artifacts) and in human practices
Characteristics of Culture
· Collectivity formed and held
· Open to symbolic expression
· Ordered and differentially valued
· Systematically patterned
· Dynamic and changing
· Communicable over time and space
Frankfurt School and Critical Theory
For the wider development of ideas about mass communication and the character of media culture,
within an internationalized framework , the various national debates about cultural quality have
probably influential than a set of ideas, owing much to Marxist thinking, which developed and
diffused in the post-war years.
The term critical theory serves to this long and diverse tradition which owes its origin to the work of
group of post 1933 scholars from the Marxist school of Applied social research in Frankfurt.
The most important members of the group were Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno but other
including Herbert Marccuse and Walter Benjamin played an important role. The school was
engaged in a critique of the enlightenment. It thought that the promise of the enlightenment, the
belief in the scientific and rational progress and the extension of human freedom, had turned into a
progress and the extension of human freedom, had turned into a nightmare the use of science and
rationality to stamp out human freedom. In this regard Adorno said:
Theories of Communication MCM 511
Enlightenment impedes the development of autonomous, independent individuals who judge and
decide consciously for themselves... while obstructing the emancipation for which human beings
are as ripe as the productive forces of the epoch permit.
This theory not only rejects the false hope of rational emancipation offered by the enlightenment but
also involves a critique of Marxism. The school had been established originally to examine the
apparent failure of revolutionary social change as predicted by Marx, and in explanation of the
failure they looked to the capacity of the superstructure (especially ideas and ideology represented
in the mass media) to subvert historical forces of economic changes also the promise of the
historical forces of economic change (and also the promise of the enlightenment).
History as interpreted by Marx seemed to have gone wrong, because ideologies of the dominant
class had come to condition the economic base, especially by promoting a `false consciousness'
among the working masses and helping to assimilate them to capitalist society.
The school sees a durability in capitalism which others have doubted, and argues that this rests upon
affluence and consumerism, and the more rational and pervasive forms of social control afforded by
the modern state, mass media and popular culture. The universal and commercialized mass culture
was seen as one important means by which this success for monopoly capital had been achieved.
The affluence and consumerism generated by the economies of capitalist societies, and the levels of
ideological control possessed by their culture industries, have ensured that the working class has
been thoroughly incorporated into the system.
Its members are more financially secure, can buy many of the things they desire, or think they
desire, and no longer have any conscious reasons for wanting to overthrow capitalism and replace it
with a classless and stateless society. The idea that the working class has been pacified into
accepting capitalism is central to the theory of the school. It links up with the critique of the
enlightenment in that rational domination is the domination of masses in modern capitalist societies.
Its debt to the theory of commodity fetishism is also evident in that commodities of all kinds
become more available and therefore more capable of dominating peoples consciousness. This
fetishism is accentuated by the domination of money which regulates the relationships between
commodities .In keeping with these ideas is the school's concept of false needs, which connects
what has been said so far with the concept of the culture industry.
The concept of false needs is identified particularly with the work of Marcuse. It is based upon the
assumption that people have true or real needs to be creative, independent and autonomous, in
control of their won destinies, fully participating members of meaningful and democratic
collectivities for themselves. The school says that these true needs are suppressed by false need .The
false needs which are created and sustained, can in fact be fulfilled, like the desires elicited by
consumerism, but only at the expense of the true needs which remain unsatisfied. This occurs
because people do not realize their real needs remain unsatisfied. As a result of the stimulation and
fulfillment of false needs, they have what they think they want. The cultivation of the false needs is
bound up with the role of culture industry .It is so effective that the working class is no longer likely
to pose a threat to the stability and continuity of capitalism.
The whole process of mass production of goods, services and ideas had more or less completely
sold the system of capitalism, along with its devotion to technological rationality, consumerism,
short-term gratification and the myth of `classlessness'.
The commodity is the main instrument of this process since it appeared that both art and
oppositional culture could be marketed for profit at the cost of losing critical power.
Theories of Communication MCM 511
Marcuse later in 1964 gave the description of `one dimensional man' to the mass consumption
society founded on commerce advertising and spurious egalitarianism (false sense of equality).The
media and culture industry as a whole were deeply implicated in this critique. The school contained
a sharp and pessimistic attack on mass culture, for its uniformity, worship of technique, Monotony,
uniformity and repetitiveness escapism and Production of false needs, its reduction of individuals to
customers and the removal of all ideological choice. The emphasis of critical theory was on the
culture of the mass media as powerful influence for preventing fundamental change. In general the
consciousness industry (media) has been an object of sustained critical attention.
The theory of `commodification' originated in which the objects are commodified by acquiring an
exchange value instead of having merely an intrinsic use value.
In the same way cultural products ( in the form of image, ideas and symbols ) are produced and sold
in media markets as commodities. These can be exchanged by consumers for psychic satisfaction,
amusement and illusory notion of our place in world, often resulting in the obscuration of the real
structure of society and our subordination in it (false consciousness).
This is an ideological process largely conducted via our dependence on commercial mass media.
The theory of commodification applies especially well to the interpretation commercial advertising,
but it a wider reference. In general the more art and culture are commodified the more they lose any
critical potential, and intrinsic value distinctions are replaced by or equated with market criteria of
cost and demand.
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