Less a singular theory of media than a dominant intellectual orientation within mass communication research during the first half of the 20th century, the mass society theory of media influence holds that mass media (e.g., newspapers, magazines, radio, television, film) wield immense power to marshal large, impersonal, homogenized audiences out of previously heterogeneous and geographically dispersed aggregates. While some American progressives such as Charles Horton Cooley initially saw constructive potential in the these new mass-mediated collectivities, their cautious optimism largely gave way to the overriding pessimism of social theorists such as Dwight Macdonald and members of the Frankfurt School, who viewed mass media audiences as highly susceptible to persuasion and manipulation by virtue of their atomization (i.e., their connection to media but simultaneous isolation from ...

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