CULTURAL STUDIES

 

 

Stuart Hall is a Jamaican-born Professor of Sociology at the Open University in England.

 

Cultural studies picks up where the theory of Semiotics and signs leaves off.

 

Stuart Hall examined the Gulf War. He says Desert Storm was an “ideological” war, a much larger cultural conflict fought with weapons based on media propaganda, live coverage, nationalism and censorship.

 

He says the mass media supports the status quo in that it subtly draws people toward the ideological position of the majority. (In this case, for the invasion of Iraq).

 

 

Hall joins a group of critical scholars like Stanley Deetz and Roland Barthes. They are interested in critiquing “mainstream” communication that is empirical, quantitative and narrowly focused on casual cause and effect relationships.

 

They reject the “body count” and “number crunching” of statistical surveys when translating and understanding matters that deal with signification, meaning, language, and symbolization into crude behavioral indicators.

 

Critical theorists like Hall and Barthes take Marx’ epitaph as a mission statement for their work.

 

Critical theorists want to empower people who live on the margins of society.  Example: homeless people, developing nations.

 

 

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Hall believes the mass media function to maintain the dominance of those already in positions of power. Bill Gates, Ted Turner and Steve Forbes who own multimedia holdings such as software, 24-hour news channels and newspapers and magazines. (Not the Internet.)

 

For example the whole notion of market research is that capitalism is for the common good.

 

But capitalism creates a world differentiated by the HAVE’S and the HAVE NOT’s.

 

According to Hall mainstream media serves the myth of democratic plurism. The pretense that society is held together by common norms including equal opportunity, respect for diversity, individual rights and the rule of the law.

 

Hall believes that by concentrating research on brand loyalty, the point fails to address the struggle for power that the media masks.

 

He uses the term “sanitized information” that has been manipulated and massaged into a strong universal message.

 

Hall articulates that sense of outrage by speaking out on oppression and linking that subjugation of buying into the media story of merchandizing and materialism.

 

Therefore it is not unusual that Hall refers to his work as “cultural studies” rather than “media studies”.

 

Hall deconstructs the message, as does Barthes through a Marxist interpretation of the media and the messages inherent in print and electronic broadcasting.

 

He tries to raise our consciousness of the media’s role in preserving the status quo.

 

Where Marx speaks of “the means of production” whose owners dominate society, the Frankfurt School of Critical theorists write of the “means of the production of culture”.

 

1. MAKING MEANING

 

The notion of CULTURE INDUSTRIES.

 

He uses the term “hegemony” to refer to the preponderant influence or domination of one nation over another.

 

The example of Americans influence on Canadians or the distain of Americans for the nations of Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

 

Hall says people learn about their culture through discourse, communication and culture and to illustrate this meaning we can use the symbol of a pink for breast cancer, a blue ribbon for peace or a red, while and blue stripped ribbon for Sept. 11.

 

He cautions us against labels such as “mental illness” which conjures up an arbitrary line between what is “normal behavior” and what is “abnormal behavior”.

 

2. CORPORATE CONTROL OF MASS COMUNICATION

 

Hall believes the mass media uses popular culture to help reproduce and continue the social inequities that that keep the average person powerless to do anything but live in a curtained, commodified and homogenous world.

 

He talks about these phenomena as “stories untold”.

 

Example of 9-11 and the drama, the heroism and the special effects as played out by the large networks.

 

The image of the World Trade Towers crumbling has now been supplanted by the notion of bravery and strength, of courage and hard work to clean up the rubble.

 

The site itself has come to mean many different things to different people. Many of the victims families are upset that ground zero has commodified what ever it represents.

 

·        American weakness

·        American capitalism

·        A mass grave

·        A site for tourists for their macabre curiosity

·        The sale of pins and belts and flags and t-shirts to commemorate the dead

·        The sale of pins and belts and flags and t-shirts to commemorate the American way of life

 

 

3. THE OBSTINATE AUDIENCE

 

Hall believes that just because the media presents a preferred interpretation of human events is no reason to assume that the audience will correctly “take in the offered ideology”.

 

He outlines 3 decoding operations:

 

·        Operating inside the dominant code. The audience “reading” coincides with the “preferred reading”.

·        Applying a negotiable code where the audience assimilates the leading ideology in general but opposes its application for specific cases.

·        Substituting an opposing code by organizing a concerted effort to demystify the established bias.

 

 

Sources:

 

Griffin, Em. (2000). A First Look at Communication Theory. Fourth Edition. The McGraw-Hill Company,

          USA.