Hello and welcome! My name is Samantha and I am a senior at Towson University, double majoring in mass communications and psychology. In addition to being a full-time student, I am interning at the Maryland Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure in their marketing and public relations department, as well as working as a sales associate part time at the Gap.
Over the next few months, I will be using this site to discuss all things media criticism – what media criticism is, different theories related to media criticism, why we should study media criticism, etc. – and by the time this semester is over I hope we all can consider ourselves to be well-versed experts on the topic, capable of analyzing even the most popular and complex mass media phenomena.
So what exactly is media criticism? Before we can call ourselves experts in a field of study, I think its important to know exactly what we are claiming to be experts in. Media criticism is a field of study in which we as “media consumers” become an active participant in the mass media process. As media critics we are able understand that we live in an environment completely saturated by countless forms of mass media, each individually composed of media texts, and because of this saturation we are constantly being shaped by media not only as a society and culture as a whole, but also as separate and unique individual beings.
Because so many different theoretical topics are going to be covered, I want to take a moment to define exactly what I am referring to when I talk about mass media and media texts. The easiest way to define mass media is by providing examples of what mass media can be. Mass media can be a magazine, a television show, a movie, a concert, a news program, a book, a script of some sort, a photograph, a website, the list is endless. A single form of mass media is comprised of various media texts. Think of the text as the “meat” of any mass media product. The media text is the information being analyzed.
Mass media has the power to take an ordinary person or single entity and through complete saturation of this “thing” in our environment, elevate this person or entity to a status level akin to that of full-fledged cultural icon. A perfect example of this is Justin Bieber.
The more attention Justin Bieber’s YouTube performances received, the more his online persona began to overlap into more mainstream forms of mass media (magazines, news forums, television, etc.) Fast forward through a record deak and a countless number of sold out concerts, and we arrive at the Justin Bieber known throughout the world today, the full-blown cultural staple. His fans even refer to themselves as “Beliebers” and the across the world hundreds of thousands of children and adults are being swept up in the media frenzy known as “Bieber fever.”
Some of you might be wondering why this is important. After all, it is just Justin Bieber. The point I am trying to make is that in a single instant, the media decided that Justin Bieber was going to be the newest cultural “thing.” Whether or not you actively seek out information on Justin Bieber, it is impossible not to hear one of his songs on the radio, spot a photograph of him in a magazine or watch something Justin Bieber related on television. As media critics, we develop the skills needed to be aware of when the media is making decisions for us in order to separate our own opinions, beliefs, likes and dislikes from what the media is telling us to have an opinion on, believe in, like and dislike.
Glee is another great example of how mass media try to shape our system of beliefs through an over-saturation of “media approved” ideals. If you have ever seen Glee, you know the show is all about rooting for the underdog. The show makes an effort to strip away the glitz and glamour of what media define a typical high school setting to be and shatter ideas of “normal” high school stereotypes.
With prominent story lines revolving around homosexuality, homophobia, bullying, marriage, teen pregnancy, high school popularity, divorce, inclusion, exclusion and countless other gender, race, religion and ethnic stereotypes, Glee has become a driving force in the world of television for what we as media critics would call counterhegemony.
What is counterhegemony? The easiest way to explain counterhegemony is to first explain what hegemony is. Hegemony is defined as leadership or dominance by one country or social group. Therefore, counterhegemony is simply a resistance to leadership or dominance.
In the case of Glee, not only does the show as a whole serve as a counterhegemonic force in society, all of the individual story lines or songs in Glee are counterhegemonic in one way or another, with most story lines revolving around a character or set of characters standing up for themselves and pushing back against the “norm.”
As both a mass communications and a psychology student, I have taken several classes regarding human behavior: social psychology, cross cultural psychology, the psychology of learning, science, technology and values, and now, media criticism. With each class came a new set of theories and ideas on why humans behave they way we do. One thing all of these classes have had in common, in one way or another, is the discussion of media and the powerful effects media can have on human behavior. I hope to walk away from this semester with a new and interesting approach to analyzing human behavior and an overall greater understanding of the human psyche.
We have a long journey ahead of us in order to become true media critics, so buckle up and enjoy. I look forward to sharing with you all of the knowledge I have to offer, and I look forward to learning all you have to teach me as well.