Media studies is a social science that studies the nature and affects that mass media has on individuals and society as a whole. Today, media provides us with information on a nationwide basis and is designed to reach the largest possible audience. Thus, news, entertainment and advertising, produced by different mediums are designed for and reflect society’s tastes, lifestyles and views. At its most basic media studies critically analyses what we know and how we came to know it.
In the quest to develop information about the media, and their role in everyday life, two general schools of thought have evolved. The North American tradition uses ‘content analysis’ to describe media messages and measure audience reactions. On the other hand, the European tradition, or the ‘critical’ approach, examines media texts as complex structures of meaning. It utilises ‘semiology’ and qualitative analysis in an attempt to understand the meaning of texts. (Sinclair “media and Communications: Theoretical Traditions” 2002).
Regardless of which approach is used textual analysis is crucial as media texts form such a big part of our world and has vast effects on all elements of society. Mass media began in the late 18th century with the Industrial Revolution and although it has only been around for a short time, it has progressed, evolved and spread at such a rapid pace. Emerging in the 1900’s with the mass circulation of press and the introduction of cinema, media today now spreads as wide as to include as television, internet, magazines and computer games.
It has developed so much that media is now seen in all areas of life and its impact on society and the world we live in is therefore inevitable. Bazalgette, G. “why media studies is worthwhile. “(2000) argues, that it is because mass media and communications are so much apart of our life that it is essential that we evaluate its effects on society. Furthermore, the development and wide spread of mass media provides individuals with a broader interpretation in the world we live in.
Thompson, J. B. self and Experience in a Mediated World”, (1995) contends that an individuals self formation becomes increasingly dependent on access to mediated forms of communication, as they are no longer constricted to “face to face interaction, but are shaped increasingly by the expanding networks of mediated communication. ” In order to evaluate the way in which media affects us both economically and politically it is important to view the media industry as a commodity, something in which many people have a financial interest.
Consistent with Orthodox Marxism, political economy assumes that audiences automatically accept messages of capitalism since, as Sinclair (2002) reveals, the media are owned and run by the dominant class, and therefore, the political economy involves the examination of relationships between media industries and the general capitalist structure. Bazalgette (2000) further reveals that when studying media, it is essential that we question how media fields are financed and why they produce what they do. A strong nexus can be drawn between media content and the cultural and social tastes of a particular society.
The fundamental aim of mass media is to reach out to all members of society. Therefore, different medium not only reflect the cultural and social make up of that area but if fact influence it as well. News, entertainment and advertising all help to communicate and at times dictate society’s customs and way of life. They heavily influence the general publics’ views and tastes in areas such as cars, clothes, music, food and drink. Moreover, Thompson J. B (1995) suggests that individuals are increasingly dependent on a range of social institutions and systems which provide them with a way of constructing their life systems.
Agencies such as “educational systems, the labour market the welfare system,” influence the ways individuals construct their own social systems. Media studies is about questioning. We are forced to critically analyse what we know and how we came to know it. When analysing a text “we make and educated guess at some of the most likely interpretations that might be made of that text. ” (McKee, A. “A Beginner’s Guide to Textual Analysis” 2001). McKee (2001) contends that there is no single description of reality against which all texts can be measured and judged for their accuracy.
Rather, every version of reality can only be accepted as another representation of reality. Accordingly, McKee (2001) suggests that when performing textual analysis in newspaper stories, for example, it is crucial that we relate texts to their surrounding context. In doing so, we hope to attain a more relevant and accurate interpretation of the way the text represents the world around us. The North American tradition, also known as the pragmatic approach believes that society is based on consensus, and thus media content is expected to have direct effects upon its audiences.
This theory has adopted ‘content analysis’ as an empirical form of analysing and describing media messages and a way of measuring audience reactions. This method involves breaking down the components of a media text into units and counting them. Sinclair (2002) refers to an example where the frequency of acts of violence on a television series is measured. McKee (2001) suggests that data produced by content analysis provides “hard evidence” on topics and creates standard and replicable results.
The figures produced depend on ‘what’ is being counted; this involves categorising stories according to the group that they are assumed to best fall into. Results appear to be credible and legitimate due to their scientific nature, which is particularly useful in a world that trusts scientific findings. This model of textual analysis considers communication to be unidirectional and non-interactive. It consists of the sender, the message and the receiver, but it privileges the sender since the tradition’s functionalist perspective constructs the media as having a direct affect on its audiences.
It is thus assumed that meaning can be successfully dispatched to the receiver so long as it accords with societies shard values. McKee (2001) argues that while content anaysis is replicable and quantitative, it does not allow for the interpretation of texts. It limits the analysis to ‘what appears’ in the media however it fails to recognise the complexity of texts and the acknowledgment that audiences may bring their own interpretation and meaning. The European tradition of textual analysis uses a more ‘critical’ approach in examining media.
It draws upon semiotics as a way of analysing the structure of communication systems. Developed by Ferdinand Saussure, the scientific discipline of semiotics breaks down the elements in a text and labels them as signs. The semiotic model anticipates that readers of different cultures, backgrounds and religions will bring their own emotions and attitudes to their readings of texts. This technique of textual analysis pays close attention to the fact that people’s cultures impact on the meanings they make from texts.
McKee (2001) clarifies that a variety of feasible interpretations of the same text can come from people of different cultures. This variety is made possible since, as McKee (2001) contends, there is no “one single interpretation of a text”. Unlike the American tradition, semiotics utilises qualitative analysis and emphasises the receiver end in the semiotic model of communication. It provides audiences with an active role in the process of making meaning and interpreting media messages.
However while each model places emphasis on different aspects of the communication process both treat communication as a social interaction whereby individuals are seen to comprise a culture or society. Textual analysis assumes that signs structure the way in which the world is seen. Because mass media constitutes so much of our every day life and consequently has a profound influence over it, its study is necessary to help understand the world around us. Media studies involve reflecting on all elements of society.
It allows for us to analyse the political and economic dimension of society, as well as providing us with information about our culture and social makeup. In order to make sense of our complex world, there is a need to know how people producing media texts are interpreting the world around them. Two different techniques and traditions have evolved in an attempt to do so. Both content analysis (as stemming from North American tradition) and semiology (stemming from European tradition) provide us with a guideline of analysing and interpreting the media world around us.