Essentials of Mass Communication Theory


Arthur Asa Berger

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    I would like to thank my editor, Sophy Craze, for her support and help with this book. Two of my colleagues in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Department at San Francisco State University also deserve special mention. Ron Compesi went over the manuscript and listed a number of topics that needed attention. Chaim Eyal, in a really remarkable display of collegiality and command of the subject, took my diskette for the first draft of this book and wrote a number of comments on it, some quite lengthy, about various topics—many of which I have included in the manuscript as personal correspondence. I have also benefited from the support of my colleagues in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Department, and from our discussions, over the years, about media, mass communication, and related matters. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a leave with pay to work on this book, and appreciate the support of San Francisco State University to do this.

    I was a visiting professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California during the 1984–1985 academic year, and I gained a great deal from that experience (though I found living in Los Angeles traumatic). A considerable number of scholars visited the school to give lectures, and there was a good deal of intellectual ferment. The Annenberg School also hosted a number of conferences on various aspects of communication in the early 1980s that I found extremely useful. I am grateful to Peter Clarke, who was the dean then (and who explained to me that I was “data free”), for inviting me to spend a year there and to the faculty of the Annenberg School, in particular Elihu Katz, Daniel Dayan, Bill Dutton, and Mike Noll.

    I have also benefited from the work of a number of mass communication and mass media scholars, some of whose publications are listed in the reference section of this book. I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking about mass communication, popular culture, and related topics with scholars from many different countries in recent years, and these meetings and conversations (as well as letters and e-mail in some cases) have been of great benefit.

    I want to express my appreciation to the following people: Kim Schroder of the University of Roskilde, Hyeon Dew Kang of Seoul National University, Tain-Dow Lee of Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei, Darunee Hirunrak of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Klaus Bruhn Jensen of the University of Copenhagen, Karl Erik Rosengren of Lund University, Steen Sauerberg of the University of Copenhagen, Bo Reimer of the University of Gothenburg, Michel Danesi of the University of Toronto, Irving Louis Horowitz of Rutgers University, the late Aaron Wildavsky of the University of California at Berkeley, and William Fry of Stanford University. I would also like to thank Sage Publications production editor Astrid Virding and copy editor Judy Selhorst for their assistance with this project.

    As Flaubert put it with aphoristic bitterness, 1789 had destroyed the aristocracy, 1848 the bourgeoisie, and 1851, the people. Now only the mob remained. Stendhal attributed the presence of mass attitudes to the big cities and dependence of their inhabitants upon impersonal means of communication. It was not only that the size of the community kept men from appropriating social experience first-hand. A habit of social distance and indirection had actually developed, even toward events which occurred within reach so that, as Stendhal said, a man going by a house where something unusual had happened would rather wait for the account of next day's newspapers than to look in the window. The fundamental difference between Paris and a village was that the village trusted that it could understand its life directly, whereas Paris saw everything “through the dailies.”

    César Graña, Modernity and Its Discontents, 1967
  • Appendix: Combinations: Questions for Discussion and Research

    We have examined, in some depth, the five focal points that are central to understanding the process of mass communication: the work of art (the text), the audience, the medium, America (society), and the artist. Now I would like to offer a number of suggestions for discussion and research that involve various linkings or combinations of these focal points. These suggestions are offered in the form of questions that might serve as directions for investigation and discussion.

    The field of mass communication theory is one in which there are many controversies, which, as I have suggested, is a sign of vitality and life. Wilbur Schramm, one of the founding fathers of the field of communication studies, has described it as a crossroads where many pass through, but few tarry (cited in McAnany, 1991, p. 312). That is, much of the work that is done in mass communication is done by people who are sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, economists, and so on, who become interested in communication and analyze it from the perspectives of their own disciplines. Each of these disciplines has different notions about how one investigates the world, and there are disputes within each field on this matter as well. Until relatively recently, there were no Ph.D. programs in communication. Thus it is understandable why there is so much “ferment” in the field, given that the people who do research in it come from so many different disciplines and have so many different methodological approaches. Most communication departments, even now, are made up of scholars with different disciplinary identities, though the graduate schools of communication are graduating more and more scholars with Ph.D.s in communication per se.

    With this in mind, let us consider some of the questions about mass communication that have been raised in this book, as well as others that are deserving of attention.

    Art and Artist
    • Is the intention of the artist a significant concern in the analysis of a communication text? If intention is not important, what is important?
    • How does one text by an artist relate to that artist's other work?
    • How does a given text relate to other texts by other artists? How does one limit the notion of intertextuality, or can one limit it in any way? Is using a formula an example of intertextuality?
    • In collaborative art forms, who is the auteur? How do you justify your choice?
    • How do an artist's age, sex, race, religion, socioeconomic class, geographic region, and general social situation affect his or her work?
    Art and Audience
    • What is the relation between the audience and the text? Is there a difference between the “lowest common denominator” and the “largest common denominator”?
    • Is it possible that certain texts “create” their audiences? If so, give examples.
    • Is there a connection between the formulaic nature of certain texts and their audiences? If so, show the connection and give examples.
    • What uses do audiences make of texts and what gratifications do they get from them? Cite specific examples by analyzing a text.
    • Is there a difference between a use and a gratification?
    • How is it that a particular text can appeal to so many different subcultures in a society? Is there something like “national character” or something else that explains this?
    • Why is it that texts (especially films and television shows) made in America for Americans also appeal to people in other cultures with different values and belief systems?
    Art and Medium
    • How does the medium affect the text? Answer this by examining a specific text and showing how the possibilities and limitations in the medium have shaped the text.
    • What role does the ownership of the medium play in the creation of texts? Consider here texts in music, film, television, and the comics as well as newspapers (and print and electronic journalism, in particular).
    • Why is it that heroes and heroines move from medium to medium? Consider such figures as Superman, Batman, Orphan Annie, Li'l Abner, and the characters in Peanuts.
    Art and America
    • How does a particular text relate to American society, culture, and character? What aspects of society does it emphasize and what aspects does it neglect?
    • How are various groups portrayed by the media? Consider, for example, women, Jews, African Americans, old people, working-class people, the disabled, Arabs, and young children. If these groups are stereotyped, what are the stereotypes? How do stereotypes work? Why are stereotypes used?
    • Does a text essentially reflect the values in the society in which it is found, or does it affect those values? Is there so much violence in American media because we are a violent society, and the texts mirror this violence? Or do these violent texts exacerbate the problem of violence?
    • Is there a vicious cycle relative to violence and the media? Do the media reflect violence and overemphasize it, which then leads to more violence in the society, which the media then reflects and again overemphasizes, leading to a spiral of violence?
    Audience and Media
    • How do the attributes of a medium affect its potential audience?
    • Do certain media, irrespective of the texts found in them, tend to attract certain audiences? Is the “medium the message” for these audiences?
    • What role does the economic system play in the development of media?
    • Will the new technologies “democratize” the media and empower audiences, or will we end up with “57 channels and nothing on”?
    • Even if we have 500 cable channels, given that there are only a limited number of genres, will an audience's choices be significantly enhanced?
    • Does the mainstream culture depicted in most of our films and television programs influence the various American subcultures and lead to the homogenization of American society? Do American films and television shows impose our culture on people in other societies?
    Audience and America
    • What is the relation that exists between an audience and the society in which the audience is found? Can we say that the larger the audience, the more representative it is?
    • Are audiences “unified,” or are they assemblages of people with different demographics: ages, sexes, races, religions, and so on? Is there such a thing as mass culture?
    • The theory that there are four political cultures in democratic societies suggests that there are four different media audiences in these societies. Do you think this is the case? What is going on if a hierarchical elitist watches an egalitarian television show? Is it possible that members of all the political cultures can like the same text? If so, use a specific text as an example, to show how this might work.
    Audience and Artist
    • How does the potential audience affect the artist? Give specific examples, citing particular texts.
    • Are there differences between the ways artists working in the elite arts and those working in the popular arts relate to their potential audiences? If so, explain the differences.
    • Can artists create their own audiences? New audiences? Justify your answer with examples relating to the work of specific artists and their texts.
    • How do you explain the phenomenon of taste? Why do people like particular artists—actors, actresses, singers, musicians, directors, play-wrights?
    • Why are some artists successful in one medium (such as television) and not successful in a different medium (such as film)? Cite specific artists and their case histories.
    • If you could be any kind of artist you wish, what would you be? Explain the rationale for your answer, citing the benefits and negative aspects involved.
    Media and Artist
    • How does a given medium affect the work of artists working in that medium? Cite specific examples.
    • Take each of the mass media and consider what aspects can be exploited by artists and what limitations each medium imposes on artists.
    • Which medium do you think allows the greatest possibilities for personal expression and creative achievement? How would you rank the media in this respect? If you could work in any medium, which one would you choose?
    • Do artists who work in media that require collaboration lose something? That is, is creativity intrinsically an individual matter?
    General Questions
    • Does the framework of the five focal points (the artist, the work of art, the medium, the audience, and America/society) make it easier for you to understand the field of mass communication, or is it a procrustean bed, forcing various issues into a questionable set of categories? Justify your answer.
    • Can you think of a different way of organizing a book on mass communication that makes more sense? What is it? What advantages does it have over the focal points perspective?
    • Do you think there will ever be a period when there will be no “ferment” in the field of mass communication theory? If so, how will it happen? If not, why not?
    • What criteria do you use in evaluating the truthfulness, validity, and usefulness of a concept? Is it a matter of whether you are familiar with it? Whether it makes sense to you? Whether it explains things well? Just because you think some idea, concept, or theory is ridiculous, does that mean it really is ridiculous? How do you separate your opinion from truthfulness and correctness? On what bases do you hold your opinions?
    • How have you been affected by the process of mass communication and the mass media that are its instruments? Can you think of anything you have done because you were influenced by commercials, characters in texts, songs you have listened to, or some other mass-mediated text?


    • Aberrant decoding: The decoding or interpretation of texts by audiences in ways that differ from the ways the creators of the texts expect them to be decoded. According to semiotician Umberto Eco (1972), aberrant decoding is the rule, rather than the exception, when it comes to the mass media.
    • Administrative research: Research that focuses on ways of making communication by organizations and other entities more efficient and more effective. Compare with critical research, which has more interest in social justice and related considerations.
    • Aesthetics: When applied to the media, aesthetics involves how technical matters such as lighting, sound, music, kinds of shots and camera work, editing, and related matters in texts affect the ways members of audiences react.
    • Agenda-setting theory: The theory that institutions of mass communication determine not what we think, but what we think about. They set the agenda for our decision making and thus influence our social and political lives.
    • Archetypes: Images found in dreams, myths, works of art, and religions all over the world (see Jung, 1968). Archetypes are not transmitted by culture but are passed on, somehow, genetically, in a collective unconscious. They reveal themselves in our dreams and works of art. One of the most important archetypes is the hero.
    • Artist: In the context of this volume, anyone involved in the creation or performance of a media text.
    • Attitude: A relatively enduring state of mind in a person about some phenomenon or aspect of experience. Attitudes generally are either positive or negative, have direction, and involve thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
    • Audience: In the context of this volume, a collection of individuals who receive a media text—watch a television program, listen to a radio program, attend a film or some other kind of artistic performance, and so on. Members of an audience may be together in one room or scattered; in the case of television, each may be watching on his or her own set.
    • Auteur: French word meaning “author,” used to point out who is the most significant artist, whose vision dominates, in collective art forms such as film and television. Auteur critics look for hidden themes and stylistic traits in the collected works of film directors.
    • Broadcast: Made available over wide areas through radio or television signals. Broadcasting is one way of distributing television and radio texts; other ways include cablecasting and satellite transmission.
    • Class: A group of people or things that have something in common; in this context, social class or, more literally, socioeconomic class—based on income and lifestyle—is of interest.
    • Codes: Systems of symbols, letters, words, sounds, and so on that generate meaning. Language, for example, is a code. It uses combinations of letters that we call words to mean certain things. The relation between the word and the thing the word stands for is arbitrary, based on convention. In some cases, the term code is used to describe hidden meanings and disguised communications.
    • Cognitive dissonance: The psychological conflict that results within a person when he or she holds clashing beliefs or when his or her actions and beliefs are opposed to each other. In general, people wish to avoid exposure to ideas that challenge those they hold, because entertaining new ideas can create inner conflict and other disagreeable feelings.
    • Collective representations: Broadly speaking, texts that reflect the beliefs and ideals of groups and other collectivities. Durkheim (1967) uses this concept in addressing the fact that people are both individuals, pursuing their own aims, and social animals, guided by the groups and societies in which they find themselves.
    • Communication: A process that involves the transmission of messages from senders to receivers. We often make a distinction between communication that uses language (verbal communication) and communication through facial expressions, body language, gesture, and the like (nonverbal communication).
    • Communications: The messages communicated during the process of communication, described above.
    • Concept: A general idea or notion that explains or aids in the understanding of some phenomenon or phenomena.
    • Content analysis: A nonintrusive methodology in which the researcher examines particular elements in a text or collection of texts to quantify them and use them for statistical analysis.
    • Convergent selective conditions: Decisions we make about relatively minor matters, ones that are not tied to deeply held beliefs, which are described as social controls in Stephenson's (1967/1988) play theory.
    • Critical research: Approaches to media that are essentially ideological, that focus on the social dimensions of the mass media and the way they are used by organizations and others allegedly to maintain the status quo rather than to enhance equality. Compare with administrative research.
    • Cultivation theory: The theory that television dominates the symbolic environment of its audiences and gives people false views of what reality is like. That is, television cultivates or reinforces certain beliefs in its viewers, such as the notion that society is permeated by violence.
    • Cultural homogenization: The destruction of cultures (such as Third World and certain regional cultures) other than the dominant culture, leading to cultural sameness and standardization.
    • Cultural imperialism or media imperialism: The alleged domination of Third World cultures through the transmission of certain values and beliefs via the flow of media products (such as songs, films, and television programs) and popular culture from the United States and a few Western European capitalist countries.
    • Culture: The specific ideas, arts, customary beliefs, ways of living, behavior patterns, institutions, and values of a group, transmitted from generation to generation. When applied to the arts, the term culture is generally used in reference to “elite” kinds of artworks, such as operas, poetry, classical music, and serious novels.
    • Daydreams: Dreamlike musings and fantasies that people have while they are awake.
    • Defense mechanisms: The methods used by the ego to defend itself against pressures from the id, or impulsive elements in the psyche, and super-ego elements such as conscience and guilt. Some of the more common defense mechanisms are repression (barring unconscious instinctual wishes, memories, and so on from consciousness), regression (returning to earlier stages in one's development), ambivalence (a simultaneous feeling of love and hate toward some person or thing), and rationalization (offering excuses to justify one's actions).
    • Demographics: Statistical characteristics of people, including race, religion, gender, social class, ethnicity, occupation, place of residence, and age.
    • Deviance: Difference from the norm, whether in values and beliefs or in actions.
    • Dysfunctional: Contributing to the breakdown or destabilization of an entity.
    • Ego: The executant of the id and a mediator between the id and the superego. The ego is involved with the perception of reality and the adaptation to reality.
    • Emotive function: The function of expression of feelings. This is one of the functions of messages, according to Jakobson (1988); others are referential and poetic.
    • Ethical criticism: Criticism that is concerned with moral aspects of texts and the texts’ possible impacts.
    • Ethnocentrism: The belief that the ideas, customs, values, way of life, and so on of one's own group (ethnic group, nation, or other body) are better than those of other groups.
    • Expressive theories of art: Theories based in the notion that the principal function of art is to express the feelings, beliefs, and emotions of the creators of works of art.
    • False consciousness: In Marxist thought, the mistaken ideas that people have about their class, status, and economic possibilities. These ideas help maintain the status quo and are of great use to the ruling class, which wants to avoid changes in the social structure. According to Marx, the ideas of the ruling class are always the ruling ideas in society.
    • Feminist criticism: Criticism that focuses on the roles of women and how women are portrayed in texts of all kinds. Feminist critics argue that women are typically depicted as sexual objects or in other stereotyped ways in texts, and that this has negative societal effects for both men and women.
    • Flashback: A scene in a narrative text that depicts action that took place at an earlier time; used to explain motivation or to provide other kinds of information.
    • Focal points: In the context of this volume, the five general topics or subject areas used to organize the discussion of mass communication: the work of art or text, the artist, the audience, America or society, and the media.
    • Formula: In the context of this volume, a set pattern of characters and actions used in a narrative text and with which audiences are familiar. Genre texts, such as detective stories, westerns, science fiction adventures, and romances, are highly formulaic.
    • Functional: Helping to maintain a system. A functional institution contributes to the maintenance of society.
    • Functional alternative: Something that functions to take the place of something else. For example, professional football can be seen as a functional alternative to religion.
    • Gatekeepers: Those with the power to determine who or what gets to pass through a certain point. In the context of this volume, gatekeepers include the editors who determine which stories are used in newspapers and on television and radio news programs. In a broader sense, gatekeepers determine which programs and films we see, what songs we hear, and so on.
    • Gender: The sexual category of an individual—masculine or feminine—and the behavioral traits connected with each category.
    • Genre: A type of text characterized by a particular style, such as soap opera, news show, sports program, horror show, or detective story. In French, genre means “kind” or “class.” (For in-depth discussion of genre texts, see Berger, 1992.)
    • Hypodermic needle theory: The theory, generally discredited now, that holds that all members of an audience “read” a text the same way and get the same things out of it. The metaphor of a hypodermic needle is a reference to how media are assumed to be injecting all audience members with the same message.
    • Hypothesis: An assumption that something is true for the purposes of discussion or argument or further investigation. In a sense, a hypothesis is a guess or supposition that is made as a basis from which to explain some phenomenon.
    • Id: The element of the psyche that is the representative of a person's drives, according to Freud's theory of the psyche (his “structural hypothesis”). Freud (1933) calls the id “a chaos, a cauldron of seething excitement.” It also is the source of energy, but it lacks direction, and so the ego must harness and control it. In popular thought, the id is connected with impulse, with “I want it all now” kind of behavior.
    • Ideology: A logically coherent, integrated explanation of social, economic, and political matters that helps establish the goals and direct the actions of some group or political entity. People act (and vote or do not vote) on the basis of their ideologies, even those who have never articulated or given any thought to them.
    • Image: In the context of this volume, “a collection of signs and symbols—what we find when we look at a photograph, a film still, a shot of a television screen, a print advertisement, or just about anything” (Berger, 1989, p. 38). An image may be a mental or a physical representation. Images can have powerful emotional effects on people, and some images have historical significance. (For in-depth discussion of image, see Adatto, 1993; Messaris, 1994.)
    • Intentional fallacy: The idea that it is an error to consider the intention of the artist an important element in the analysis of that artist's work. This has been the subject of considerable debate; some critics believe that we should consider an artist's intention in analyzing his or her texts, to some degree at least.
    • Latent functions: Hidden, unrecognized, and unintended functions of some activity, entity, or institution. These are contrasted by social scientists with manifest functions, which are recognized and intended.
    • Lifestyle: The way people live, including the decisions they make about how to decorate their homes (and where they are located), the kinds of cars they drive, the styles of clothes they wear, the kinds of foods they eat and the restaurants they go to, where they go for vacations, and so on.
    • Limited effects (of media): Minor effects of media on society. Some mass communication theorists argue that the influence of the mass media is relatively small in the larger scheme of things. They cite research that shows, for example, that effects from media do not tend to be long lasting.
    • Manifest functions: Obvious and intended functions of some activity, entity, or institution. These are contrasted by social scientists with latent functions, which are hidden and unintended.
    • Mass: In the context of this volume, a large number of people who form the audience for some communication. There is considerable disagreement about how to understand the mass of people who are reached by mass communication. Some theorists believe the mass is made up of individuals who are heterogeneous, do not know one another, are alienated, and do not have a leader. Others attack these notions as not based on fact or evidence; they assert that such theories concerning the mass are incorrect.
    • Mass communication: The transfer of messages, information, texts, and the like from a sender of some kind to a large number of people, a mass audience. This transfer is done through the technologies of the mass media—newspapers, magazines, television programs, films, records, computer networks, CD-ROM, and so on. The sender often is a person in some large media organization, the messages are public, and the audience tends to be large and varied.
    • Mass media: Technically, the instruments by which mass communication is achieved. In common parlance, the media such as radio, television, print, records, and film that carry texts and can be used to communicate to large numbers of people.
    • Medium: In the context of this volume, medium refers to a communication medium—a means of delivering messages, information, and texts to audiences. There are different ways of classifying media, one of the most common of which is to divide them into print (newspapers, magazines, books, billboards), electronic (radio, television, computers, CD-ROM), and photographic (photographs, films, videos).
    • Metaphor: A figure of speech that conveys meaning by analogy. It is important to realize that metaphors are not confined to poetry and literary works; according to some linguists, the fundamental way we make sense of things and find meaning in the world is through metaphors. A simile is a weaker form of metaphor that explicitly uses either like or as in making an analogy.
    • Metonymy: A figure of speech that conveys information by using the name of one thing to describe another with which it is associated (for example, using the name Rolls Royce to convey that something is expensive or high quality). Along with metaphor, one of the most important ways people communicate information to one another is through metonymy, although we tend not to be aware of how much we use association to get our ideas across.
    • Mimetic theories of art: Theories, dating from Aristotle's time, based in the notion that art imitates reality.
    • Model: In the context of this volume, an abstract representation that shows how some phenomenon functions. Theories are typically expressed in language, but models tend to be represented graphically or through statistics or mathematics. McQuail and Windahl (1993) define a model as “a consciously simplified description in graphic form of a piece of reality. A model seeks to show the main elements of any structure or process and the relationships between these elements” (p. 2).
    • Modern: Falling within the period approximately from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1960s. Modernist artists rejected narrative structure for simultaneity and montage and explored the paradoxical nature of reality. Important modernists include T. S. Eliot, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Eugene Ionesco.
    • Narrowcast: Disseminate a media text narrowly, by focusing on particular discrete groups. This contrasts with broadcasting, which tries to reach as many people as possible.
    • Nonfunctional: Neither functional nor dysfunctional. Something that is nonfunctional plays no role in the maintenance or breakdown of the entity in which it is found.
    • Nonverbal communication: Communication that does not involve words; carried out through body language, facial expressions, styles of dress, hairstyles, and so on.
    • Objective theories of art: Theories based in the notion that art functions to project reality (that of the artist), like a lamp, as opposed to reflecting reality, like a mirror.
    • Opinion leader: A person whose opinions influence those of others. Opinion leaders play an important role in the two-step flow theory of communication.
    • Phallic symbol: An object that resembles the penis, either in shape or function. Symbolism is a defense mechanism of the ego that permits hidden or repressed sexual or aggressive thoughts to be expressed in disguised form (for further discussion of this topic, see Freud, 1965).
    • Phallocentric: Dominated by the masculine point of view. Some critics assert that the ultimate source of this domination, that which shapes our institutions and cultures, is the male phallus. In this theory, a link is made between male sexuality and male power. (More detailed discussion of this concept is found in Berger, 1995.)
    • Poetic function: The function of expression through poetic language. According to Jakobson (1988), one of the functions of messages is the use of such literary devices as metaphor and metonymy. Messages also have emotive functions and referential functions.
    • Political cultures: Cultures comprising people who are similar in terms of their political values and beliefs and in relation to the group boundaries and rules and prescriptions they observe. Wildavsky (1989) asserts that all democratic societies have four political cultures and need these cultures to balance off one another. He calls the members of these four cultures individualists, hierarchical elitists, egalitarians, and fatalists. For an example of how Wildavsky's theories can be applied to mass media and popular culture, see Berger (1990).
    • Popular: Literally, “of the people” (from the Latin popularis). This term can be defined in many ways, but for purposes of this volume, it generally is used in the sense of appealing to large numbers of people.
    • Popular culture: The culture of the people, usually understood to include certain kinds of texts that appeal to large numbers of people. Mass communication theorists often identify (or confuse) popular with mass, and suggest that if something is popular, it must be of poor quality, appealing to the mythical “lowest common denominator.” Popular culture is generally held to be the opposite of “elite” culture, which includes arts that require a certain level of sophistication and refinement to appreciate, such as ballet, opera, poetry, and classical music. Many critics now question this popular culture/elite culture polarity.
    • Postmodern: Falling within the period after the modern era, or from approximately the 1960s to the present. According to a leading theorist on the subject, Jean-Francois Lyotard (1984), postmodernism is characterized by “incredulity toward metanarratives” (p. xxiv). In other words, the old philosophical belief systems that had helped people order their lives and societies are no longer accepted. This has led to a period in which, more or less, anything goes.
    • Power: The ability to implement one's wishes as far as policy in some entity is concerned. In the discussion of texts, power is also used to describe their ability to have emotional impacts upon people—readers, viewers, or listeners.
    • Pragmatic theories of art: Theories based in the notion that art must do something, must have certain consequences that are held to be desirable. Thus art should teach, or indoctrinate, or perform some other function.
    • Psychoanalytic theory: A theory based on the notion that the human psyche includes an element Freud calls the “unconscious” that is ordinarily inaccessible to us (unlike consciousness and the preconscious) and that continually shapes and affects our mental functioning and behavior. Imagine an iceberg: The tip of the iceberg, showing above the water, represents consciousness; the part of the iceberg that is visible just below the surface of the water represents the preconscious; and the rest of the iceberg (most of it), which we cannot see (but we know is there), represents the unconscious. We cannot access this area of our psyches because of repression.
    • Psychographics: A marketing term (combining the words psychological and demographics) to describe the psychological characteristics of groups of people.
    • Public: A group of people, a community. Terms such as public arts and public communication are sometimes substituted for popular culture and mass communication to avoid the negative connotations of the words mass and popular. Public is also used in opposition to private, as in public acts—those meant to be known to the community—contrasted with private acts—those not meant to be known to others.
    • Rationalization: In Freudian thought, a rationalization is a defense mechanism of the ego that creates a justification for some action (or for inaction when an action is expected).
    • Reader-response theory or reception theory: The theory that readers (who include those who read books, watch television programs, go to films, and listen to texts on the radio) play an important role in the realization of texts. Texts, then, function as sites for the creation of meaning by readers, and different readers will interpret a given text differently.
    • Referential function: The function of the expression of relationships between people and/or things. According to Jakobson (1988), the referential function of messages is to help speakers relate to their surroundings. He contrasts this with emotive and poetic functions of speech.
    • Relativism: In philosophical thought, the belief that truth is relative and not absolute; there are no objective standards. In ethical thought, relativism suggests there are no moral or ethical absolutes. Thus different cultures have different ways of living and practices that are as valid as those of any other culture. That is, morality and ethical behavior are relative to particular groups and cannot be generalized to include all human beings. This contrasts with the notion that there are ethical absolutes or universals that can and should be applied to everyone.
    • Role: A socialized way of behaving that is appropriate to a particular situation. A person generally plays many roles with different people during a given day: parent, student, worker, and so on.
    • Romanticism: A 19th-century movement in artistic and literary endeavor in which emotion, feeling, freedom from social restraints, and similar notions were stressed.
    • Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: The hypothesis that language is not something transparent that merely conveys information from one person to another but something that affects the ways people think and act. According to this hypothesis, language is not like a windowpane but more like a prism.
    • Secondary modeling system: The system beyond that of language, our first modeling system (Lotman, 1977), through which we use language to create art.
    • Selective attention: Attention paid only to what we choose. We have a tendency to avoid messages that conflict with our beliefs and values (see cognitive dissonance, above).
    • Semiotics: Literally, the science of signs (from the Greek semion, meaning “sign”). A sign is anything that can be used to stand for anything else. According to C. S. Peirce, one of the founders of the science, a sign “is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity” (quoted in Zeman, 1977, p. 24). (See Berger, 1984, for discussion of many important concepts in semiotics and how they can be applied to popular culture.)
    • Serial texts: Texts that continue over long periods of time. Examples include comic strips and soap operas and other television narratives that are on for extended periods of time. Serial texts pose the problem for critics of deciding what to consider when analyzing the text—the whole of the series or individual episodes?
    • Shadow: In Jungian thought, the dark side of the psyche, which we attempt to keep hidden. The shadow contains repressed and unfavorable aspects of our personalities as well as normal instincts and creative impulses. Thus in all of us there is a continual battle between shadow aspects of our personalities and our egos, which also contain some negative features.
    • Social class: A term used by sociologists to refer to people who occupy or have a similar place, by virtue of matters such as education, occupation, taste, and lifestyle in the class structure. In America it has been suggested we have, according to W. Lloyd Warner, six classes: upper-upper, lower-upper, upper-middle, lower-middle, upper-lower, and lower-lower, each with distinctive traits and behavior patterns. Social class does not always correlate with income and socioeconomic class. A garbage collector may have a higher salary than a clergyman, but that does not translate automatically into higher social class.
    • Social controls: Ideas, beliefs, values, and mores of a society that shape people's beliefs and behaviors.
    • Socialization: The process by which societies teach individuals how to behave: what rules to obey, roles to assume, and values to hold. Socialization has traditionally been a function of the family, educators, clergy, and peers, but the mass media are serving as a socializing force to a considerable degree nowadays, with consequences that are not always positive.
    • Socioeconomic class: A group categorized according to income and related social status and lifestyle. In Marxist thought, history is, in essence, a record of socioeconomic class conflict between the ruling class and the working class.
    • Status: Whereas class refers to something that people have in common, status deals with one's relative rank in some stratified entity. There are two kinds of status: achieved status, which we gain through our own efforts, and ascribed, or awarded status, which we are given due to birth (into royalty, for example), race, religion, gender, age, and so on.
    • Stereotypes: Commonly held, simplistic, and often inaccurate group-held portraits of categories of people. Stereotypes can be positive, negative, or mixed, but generally they are negative in nature. Stereotyping always involves gross overgeneralizations.
    • Subculture: A subgroup within the dominant culture that differs in religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, beliefs, values, behaviors, lifestyles, or in some other way from the dominant culture. Any complex society is likely to have a considerable number of subcultures.
    • Superego: The agency in the psyche that is related to conscience and morality. According to Freud, the superego is involved with processes such as approval and disapproval of wishes on the basis or whether or not they are moral, critical self-observation, and sense of guilt over wrongdoing. The functions of the superego are largely unconscious, and are opposed to the id element in the psyche. Mediating between the two, and trying to balance them, is the ego.
    • Text: In the context of this volume, any work of art in any medium. The term text is used by critics as a convenience, to avoid the need to specify particular kinds of works.
    • Theory: A systematic and logical attempt, expressed in language, to explain and predict phenomena. Theories differ from concepts, which define phenomena that are being studied, and from models, which are abstract, usually graphic in nature, and explicit about what is being studied.
    • Trickster figure: In Jungian thought, a figure who represents the earliest period in the development of the hero. Characteristics of the trickster include mischievousness, physical appetites that dominate behavior, desire for the gratification of primary needs, and actions that are often cynical, cruel, and unfeeling.
    • Two-step flow theory: The theory that mass communication reaches and affects people in a two-step process: First, the media influence opinion leaders; second, the opinion leaders influence others.
    • Typology: A classification scheme or system of categories used to make sense of some phenomenon.
    • Uses and gratifications theory: A sociological theory that audiences use communication media for certain purposes and that they gain certain gratifications from the use of those media. Researchers who subscribe to this theory focus on how audiences use the media, rather than on how the media affect audiences.
    • Values: Abstract and general beliefs or judgments about what is right and wrong, or good and bad, that have implications for individuals’ behavior and for social, cultural, and political entities. From a philosophical point of view, values are the source of several problems. First, how does one determine which values are correct or good and which are wrong or bad? That is, how do we justify our values? Are values objective or subjective? Second, what happens when groups that hold different central values conflict?
    • Youth culture: A subculture formed by young people around some area of life interest, usually connected with leisure and entertainment, such as rock music or some aspect of computers—games, hacking, and so on. Typically, youth cultures adopt distinctive ways of dressing and develop institutions that cater to their needs. (Frith, 1981, discusses this topic at length.)

    Suggested Further Reading

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    Name Index

    • Abrams, M. H., 41, 42, 43, 51
    • Adatto, Kiku, 175
    • Adorno, Theodore W., 132
    • Allen, Woody, 156
    • Anderson, Laurie, 140
    • Bagdikian, Ben, 75, 76
    • Bauer, Raymond A., 99
    • Berelson, Bernard, 49, 67
    • Berger, Arthur Asa, 47, 67, 174, 177
    • Berger, John, 151
    • Bernstein, Basil, 87, 108
    • Blumer, Herbert, 8, 9
    • Blumler, Jay, 100
    • Boylan, J., 107
    • Brewer, John, 24
    • Butler, Jeremy, 49, 50
    • Caesar, Sid, 147
    • Cantor, Muriel G., 88, 149, 150
    • Cantril, Hadley, 86
    • Cawelti, John, 45
    • Chopin, Frederic, 2
    • Coca, Imogene, 147
    • Compesi, Ron, ix
    • Comte, Auguste, 104
    • Coser, Lewis, 134
    • Craze, Sophy, ix
    • Danesi, Michel, x
    • Davidson, James F., 40
    • Davison, W. P., 107
    • Dayan, Daniel, x
    • DeNitto, Dennis, 163
    • Dinh, Tran Van, 137
    • Disney, Walt, 71
    • Dorfman, Ariel, 71, 72
    • Dostoevsky, F., 159
    • Douglas, Mary, 96
    • Durkheim, Emile, 109, 110, 171
    • Dutton, Bill, x
    • Eco, Umberto, 26, 106
    • Edwards, Jonathan, 98
    • Eliot, T. S., 139, 176
    • Elliott, S., 113
    • Ellis, R., 104, 121
    • Erikson, Erik, 87, 90, 91, 92, 93, 114
    • Esslin, Martin, 61, 62, 63, 79, 83
    • Eyal, Chaim, ix, 22, 48, 65, 99
    • Faulkner, William, 139
    • Featherstone, Mike, 139
    • Flaubert, Gustav, xii
    • Freud, Sigmund, 145, 157, 158, 159, 164, 174, 178, 180
    • Friedman, Ted, 3
    • Friedson, Eliot, 7, 8
    • Frith, Simon, 132, 181
    • Fry, William, x
    • Fuller, Mary, 46
    • Gans, Herbert, 116
    • Gaudet, Hazel, 67
    • Gerbner, George, 14, 25, 66, 77, 78, 79, 80, 129
    • Gitlin, Todd, 139
    • Gowans, Alan, 151, 152
    • Graña, César, xii, 154
    • Graves, Michael, 139
    • Gurevitch, M., 100
    • Hemingway, Ernest, 2
    • Henderson, Joseph, 40
    • Hendin, Herbert, 93
    • Heuscher, Julius E., 93, 94
    • Hirunrak, Darunee, x
    • Horowitz, Irving Louis, x
    • Horowitz, Vladimir, 2
    • Hunter, Albert, 24
    • Huxley, Aldous, 20
    • Ionesco, Eugene, 139, 176
    • Iser, Wolfgang, 110
    • Jakobson, Roman, 14, 15, 16, 25, 55, 105, 177, 178
    • Jameson, Frederic, 140
    • Jenkins, Henry, 46
    • Jensen, Klaus Bruhn, x
    • Johnson, Mark, 23, 24
    • Joyce, James, 46, 139
    • Jung, Karl, 40, 170
    • Kafka, Franz, 139, 176
    • Kang, Hyeon Dew, x
    • Kak, Elihu, 100, x
    • Koch, Howard, 86
    • Koestler, Arthur, 158
    • Kris, Ernst, 144
    • Kurosawa, Akira, 27, 28, 43, 145, 162, 163, 164
    • Lakoff, George, 23, 24
    • Lasswell, Harold, 13, 25, 121
    • Lazarsfeld, Paul F., 7, 67
    • Le Bon, Gustav, 9
    • Lee, Tain-Dow, x
    • Lettterman, David, 140
    • Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 34
    • Lewin, Kurt, 65
    • Liebling, A. J., 75
    • Lotman, Yuri, 44, 45
    • Lowenthal, Leo, 50, 51
    • Lyotard, Jean-François, 178
    • Madonna, 2, 98
    • Marx, Karl, 136
    • Mathis, Johnny, 2, 8
    • Matisse, Henri, 139, 176
    • Mattelart, Armand, 71, 72
    • McAnany, Emile, 165
    • McBride, S., 73
    • McCombs, Maxwell E., 64
    • McGuire, William J., 22, 73, 74
    • McLuhan, Marshall, 18, 53, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 84
    • McQuail, Denis, 12, 13, 14, 16, 68, 176
    • Messaris, Paul, 175
    • Nisbet, Robert, 158
    • Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth, 68, 69, 70, 71
    • Noll, Mike, x, 10
    • Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, 161
    • Osgood, C. E., 16, 17, 25
    • Parenti, Michael, 75
    • Parsons, Talcott, 104
    • Paton, George E. C., 102, 133
    • Peirce, C. S., 179
    • Peterson, Theodore, 118
    • Picasso, Pablo, 139, 176
    • Pierce, J. R., 10
    • Postman, Neil, 125
    • Pound, Ezra, 139
    • Powell, Chris, 102, 133, 134
    • Propp, Vladimir, 33, 34
    • Radcliffe-Brown, A. R., 104
    • Reagan, Ronald, 61, 128
    • Reid, Elizabeth, 160
    • Reimer, Bo, x
    • Renoir, Jean, 161
    • Richie, Donald, 162
    • Riley, J. W., 68
    • Riley, M. W., 68
    • Rosenberg, Bernard, 131
    • Rosengren, Karl Erik, x
    • Sapir, Edward, 17, 18, 25, 179
    • Sauerberg, Steen, x
    • Saussure, Ferdinande de, 79
    • Schramm, Wilbur, 16, 17, 25, 118
    • Schröder, Kim, x
    • Schwartz, Tony, 52, 55, 56, 107
    • Selhorst, Judy, x
    • Shakespeare, William, 156
    • Shannon, Claude, 10
    • Shaw, Donald L., 64
    • Sholes, Robert, 15
    • Siebert, Fred, 118, 142
    • Signorelli, Nancy, 78
    • Simpson, O. J., 63
    • Smythe, Dallas W., 137
    • Steiner, George, 148
    • Stendhal, xii
    • Stephenson, William, 19, 20, 21, 25, 122, 172
    • Stravinsky, Igor, 139
    • Striker, Fran, 147, 148
    • Sutton-Smith, Brian, 20
    • Thompson, M., 104, 121
    • Tocqueville, Alexis de, 9, 69
    • Tuchman, Gaye, 128
    • Virding, Astrid, x
    • Warren, Austin, 156
    • Wellek, Renee, 156
    • Welles, Orson, 86
    • White, David Manning, 65
    • Whorf, Benjamin Lee, 17, 18, 25, 179
    • Wildavsky, Aaron, x, 95, 96, 97, 98, 104, 114, 121, 138
    • Windahl, Sven, 12, 13, 14, 16, 176
    • Wollen, Peter, 161
    • Wright, Charles R., 121
    • Yu, F. T. C, 107
    • Zeman, J. J., 179
    • Zito, George V., 48, 49

    About the Author

    Arthur Asa Berger is a writer, artist, and self-styled secret agent, searching out hidden meanings and latent functions in popular culture and the mass media. He is Professor of Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts at San Francisco State University, where he has taught since 1965. He is the author of numerous articles and books on popular culture and related concerns. Among his books are Media Analysis Techniques (revised edition, 1991), Seeing Is Believing: An Introduction to Visual Communication (1989), An Anatomy of Humor (1993), Blind Men and Elephants: Perspectives on Humor (1994), and Cultural Criticism: A Primer of Key Concepts (1995). He is film and television review editor for Society magazine; editor of a series of reprints, “Classics in Communication;” and a consulting editor for Humor magazine. He has appeared on 20/20 and The Today Show, and appears frequently on various local radio and television programs in the San Francisco area. This is his seventh book for Sage Publications.

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