Media, Culture and Power


Media is defined as a means of communication that provide the public with entertainment, news as well as advertising; it is used as a centre to express ideas and opinions openly. The Media is widely considered as a reliable source of information in the modern culture. It takes different forms in our contemporary world, we have print media e.g. Newspaper, and electronic media which include television, radio etc. power as a concepts is inevitable, the basic common core to any mention of power in the analysis of social relationships is the notion that a subject A, in some way affects another subject B, in a significant manner. Power can be defined as ‘the capacity to act towards the achievement of one’s aims and interests, the capability to influence the occurrence of events and to shape their final outcome.


Idealist Approach to Culture

The idealist approach to culture deals with some elements that include values, ideas and beliefs whereas the materialistic approach deals with tangible signs, tools and artifacts of culture such as natural resources and physical geography. Culture entails symbols and objects, significance associated with those objects and symbols, and the values as well as beliefs that encompass social life (Williams, 1981). The definition of culture is meant to include two elements – that which sets apart one group or society from others and the perception of acquired or cultured behavior. High culture simply refers to the objects, symbols, norms, values, and beliefs of a particular group of people (Williams, 1981). Literary high culture implies the perception that some individuals and products in the society are greater in scope and form to others. An example is that limousine vehicles are held in higher cultural esteem than Toyota vehicles or classical music like that of Beethoven, Mozart, opera and established works of literature like works of Shakespeare or Jane Austen. High cultural products which are believed to be of good taste do correlate with the cultural interests of the, elite and mighty in the society.


The Marxism theory is based upon the idea that an upper class represents a ruling group in Capitalist societies such as the United States, one whose power and influence is based on their ownership of the means of economic production, ability to control and influence political and legal processes and their ability to use cultural institutions to reinforce their overall domination over other social classes. Cultural institutions represent ideological institutions; they symbolize a means for the ruling class to express their view of the world on the others and thus influence and shape the behaviour of these groups.  Marxist sociologists have tried to explain the role of culture in society; Traditional Marxism has laid emphasis on cultural institutions such as the media as a tool used by a ruling class to consolidate their control over the rest of society (Marx, 1973). Marxist theory portrays the significance of social class as a function of media ownership and the interpretation of the content of the media by the audiences.


Materialistic approach

In materialistic view or approach, any ruling class devotes a significant part in material production to establish a political order which maintains capitalist market, like the social and political struggles which created it (William, 1981). They create churches, prison, palaces as well as controlling the press so as to control the opinion of the masses; the material production is self sufficient to advance the capitalist society. Williams’ conception of cultural materialism shows the relationship between society and culture. Williams reveals that in the Marxist perception culture must be analyzed as a function of its system of production, he sees culture as a whole way of life, culture is always political, this is not to say that the crimes of the ruling class can be read off from a film or an advertisement, any more than they can from a party political broadcast (William, 1981). Many perceptions on culture portray a shift in politics as a change which affects the ordinary people’s lives from outside.


Marxist theory

Marxist theory also discusses ‘materialist’ stance that social being determines consciousness, ideological positions are a function of class positions, and the dominant ideology in society is the ideology of its dominant class.  Mass media disseminates the dominant ideology, according to Shiach (1989): the values of the class which owns and controls the media. Mass media also des not reveal the economic basis of struggle as a result of the social classes.

According to Marxism members of the dominant social class are not only rulers and administrators but are also thinkers and producers of ideas, theories and culture. So, culture as ideology acts as a justification for central political power and also distorts social reality and causes the members of society to unwillingly accept some of the circumstances that they are faced with including facts and events which are fundamentally against their real class interests. The media as an industry remains as a key facet of capitalist source of  power and strongly represents its association to the Marxian concepts of money and exchange rates which always dominates use value” since production, marketing and consumption of commodities lie on their hands and they determine people’s  mass needs. In this process they dominate the mass instead of serving them. The media is owned by the elite, they spread information which dominates people’s consciousness. Culture industry’s ideology is regarded as corrupting and manipulative, inducing absolute dominance of the market, and consumers, the power of culture industry’s ideology is such that citizens are repeatedly converted into manipulated consumers, who have no say.


In classical Marxist they term Mass media as a means of production which is controlled and owned by the ruling class of by high cultured society. According to the classical Marxist the media is seen to disseminate the ideas and world views of the ruling class and denies ideas of the masses (Marx, 1973). This is in line with Marx’s argument that the class which has the means of material production at its disposal also has control over the means of mental production, so that generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. In Marxist media analysis, media institutions are seen as amplifiers that are locked into the power structure and acting largely in favor of the high cultures the society (Swingewood, 1977).


The media is seen to reproduce the viewpoints of dominant institutions. The media is portrayed as drawing away from the detested practices and to draw on high culture practices and beliefs which are highly valued and are considered to be justifiable. The media is supported by institutions like the police, judiciary to extend their beliefs and viewpoints which are representative of the dominant culture. It also portrays elections as a way of legitimizing the power structure in democracies and voting is seen as an ideological practice that helps to sustain the myth of representative democracy and political equality (Conrad, 1982).


The Frankfurt school of critical theory

The Frankfurt School of critical theory is critical of the issue of economism and high regard for material values due to the viewpoints it is associated with.  The Frankfurt School was influenced by primarily conventional perceptions of ‘mass society, Shiach (1989) gave a negative view of the media as an irresistible force. The means of communication is portrayed as an enticing product of the entertainment industry which carries with them approved attitudes and practices, as well as certain scholarly and emotional reactions which act as a link between the consumers and the producers. The products manipulate the customers; they uphold a false perception which is resistant to its false nature. Thus emerges a pattern of one dimensional thought and behavior (Swingewood, 1977).The Frankfurt School had a negative perception on the mass media. The mass media and the culture industry are controlled by the privileged few forms a key basis for the domination of ideas which destroys the individual ideas and the radical abilities associated with the working class’ (Swingewood, 1977).


Mass Society and the Critique of Mass Culture

Mass culture as a concept is associated to the idea of mass society, a type of society the masses are seen by the ruling elite who has high culture as being Socially Isolated, mass society have little or no meaningful daily face-to-face contact and social interaction is largely instrumental. Mass society is seen as socially isolated individuals who are bound together by cultural forms manufactured by a ruling class that give the illusion of a common culture. An example here might be the contemporary media and public obsession with the lives and much love of celebrities creates the impression that  the  mass society knows and care about such people when in reality the mass society can never meet or talk to them .The cultural  merchandise of mass culture  are produced and circulated in an industrial setup which is controlled by the ruling class with an ultimate goal of maximizing profit for the producers and distributors by appealing to as many consumers as possible (Shiach, 1989). The ruling class uses cultural institutions such as school, churches and the media to appeal the masses on the cultural products which in the end benefits the elite or the high cultured societies.


The mass society theory explains the fall of the organic community and the rise of mass culture, the social atomization of mass man; it also tries to explain negative and pessimistic reactions to the processes of industrialization, urbanization and the development of political democracy and eventually the beginning of popular education and the emergence of contemporary forms of mass communication. Atomization of the masses has made them susceptible to exploitation by the elite (Adorno, 1977).


Development of the mass society was followed by the formation of new culture called mass culture which threatens to destroy and contaminates the qualities of morals and aesthetic excellence associated in the high culture of the elite; mass society was associated with common people and folk culture which was cultural life of common people (Adorno, 1979). Fork art was the peoples own institution which was very different from masters, while high culture grew from below, mass culture was spontaneous and grew without the support of high culture; mass culture was imposed from above and was fabricated by technicians and their audiences were consumers whose participation was limited to the choice of buying and not buying.



The media has been used as a cultural institution to pass manipulative messages of the elite who are associated by high culture. Through the power media poses to the society, society is seen as a hostage of the media, it has manipulated and even brainwashed ways of doing and thinking of the mass society. The media as a powerful tool has been biased and looked down upon other cultures and separate societies into different class of different cultures; it has the capacity to change culture, activities and the worldly view of people.



Adorno T.W 1979, ‘Television and the Patterns of Mass Culture’ in H. Newcomb (ed.),     Television: The Critical View, pp.239-259.

Adorno, T.W. & Horkheimer, M 1977, ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception’  in J.Curran et al. (eds), Mass Communication & Societ, excerpts pp.349-374.
Conrad, P 1982, Television: the medium and its Manners, London: Routledge & Kogan Page,       excerpts pp.1-17.
Marx, K 1973 ‘The Materialist Conception of History’ in T.B. Bottomore & M. Rubel (eds), Karl Marx : Selected writings in Sociology & social philosophy, Excerpts pp.67-80.
Shiach, M 1989, ‘Television: Technology and Cultural Decline’ in Discourse on Popular culture,   Oxford: policy, excerpts pp.178-181.
Swingewood, A 1977, ‘ The Theory of Mass Society’, in the Myth of mass culture, London: Macmillan excerpts pp.8-10.
Williams, R 1981, ‘Towards a Sociology of culture’, in culture, Glasgow: Fontana excerpts pp.9-    14.