each form of mass media has an important impact on society

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain the different ways mass truyền thông media affects culture.
  2. Analyze cultural messages that the truyền thông media send.
  3. Explain the ways new truyền thông media have affected culture.

When truyền thông media consumers think of truyền thông media messages, they may think of televised public service announcements or political advertisements. These obvious examples provide a venue for the transfer of a message through a medium, whether that message is a plea for fire safety or the statement of a political position. But what about more abstract political advertisements that simply show the logo of a candidate and a few simple words? Media messages can range from overt statements vĩ đại vague expressions of cultural values.

Disagreements over the nội dung of truyền thông media messages certainly exist. Consider the common allegations of political bias against various news organizations. Accusations of hidden messages or agenda-driven nội dung have always been an issue in the truyền thông media, but as the presence of truyền thông media grows, the debate concerning truyền thông media messages increases. This dialogue is an important one; after all, mass truyền thông media have long been used vĩ đại persuade. Many modern persuasive techniques stem from the use of truyền thông media as a propaganda tool. The role of propaganda and persuasion in the mass truyền thông media is a good place vĩ đại start when considering various types of truyền thông media effects.

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Propaganda and Persuasion

Encyclopedia Britannica defines propaganda simply as the “manipulation of information vĩ đại influence public opinion (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia).” This definition works well for this discussion because the study and use of propaganda has had an enormous influence on the role of persuasion in modern mass truyền thông media. In his book The Creation of the Media, Paul Starr argues that the United States, as a liberal democracy, has favored employing an independent press as a public guardian, thus putting the truyền thông media in an inherently political position (Starr, 2004). The United States—in contrast vĩ đại other nations where truyền thông media are held in check—has encouraged an independent commercial press and thus given the powers of propaganda and persuasion vĩ đại the public (Starr, 2004).


Figure 2.2 Benjamin Franklin used a powerful image of a severed snake vĩ đại emphasize the importance of the colonies joining together during the American Revolution. Wikimedia Commons – public domain name.

Like any type of communication, propaganda is not inherently good or bad. Whether propaganda has a positive or negative effect on society and culture depends on the motivations of those who use it. People promoting movements as wide-ranging as Christianity, the American Revolution, and the communist revolutions of the 20th century have all used propaganda vĩ đại disseminate their messages (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2006). Newspapers and pamphlets that glorified the sacrifices at Lexington and Concord and trumpeted the victories of George Washington’s army greatly aided the American Revolution. For example, Benjamin Franklin’s famous illustration of a severed snake with the caption “Join or Die” serves as an early testament vĩ đại the power and use of print propaganda (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2006).

As you will learn in Chapter 4 “Newspapers”, the penny press made newspapers accessible vĩ đại a mass audience and became a force for social cohesion during the 1830s (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2006). Magazines adopted a similar format later in the 19th century, and print media’s political and social power rose. In an infamous example of the new power of print truyền thông media, some newspapers encouraged the Spanish-American War of 1898 by fabricating stories of Spanish atrocities and sabotage (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2006). For example, after the USS Maine sunk off the coast of Havana, Cuba, some newspapers blamed the Spanish—even though there was no evidence—fueling the public’s desire for war with Spain.

The present-day, pejorative connotation of propaganda stems from the full utilization of mass truyền thông media by World War I–era governments vĩ đại motivate the citizenry of many countries vĩ đại go vĩ đại war. Some truyền thông media outlets characterized the war as a global fight between Anglo civilization and Prussian barbarianism. Although some of those fighting the war had little understanding of the political motivations behind it, wartime propaganda convinced them vĩ đại enlist (Miller, 2005). As you will read in Chapter 12 “Advertising and Public Relations”, World War I legitimized the advertising profession in the minds of government and corporate leaders because its techniques were useful in patriotic propaganda campaigns. Corporations quickly adapted vĩ đại this development and created an advertising boom in the 1920s by using World War I propaganda techniques vĩ đại sell products (Miller, 2005).

In modern society, the persuasive power of the mass truyền thông media is well known. Governments, corporations, nonprofit organizations, and political campaigns rely on both new and old truyền thông media vĩ đại create messages and vĩ đại send them vĩ đại the general public. The comparatively unregulated nature of U.S. truyền thông media has made, for better or worse, a society in which the tools of public persuasion are available vĩ đại everyone.

Media and Behavior

Although the mass truyền thông media send messages created specifically for public consumption, they also convey messages that are not properly defined as propaganda or persuasion. Some argue that these messages influence behavior, especially the behavior of young people (Beatty, 2006). Violent, sexual, and compulsive behaviors have been linked vĩ đại truyền thông media consumption and thus raise important questions about the effects of truyền thông media on culture.

Violence and the Media

On April trăng tròn, 1999, students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered their Denver-area high school, Columbine High School, armed with semiautomatic weapons and explosives. Over the next few hours, the pair killed 12 classmates and one faculty thành viên before committing suicide (Lamb, 2008). The tragedy and its aftermath captured national attention, and in the weeks following the Columbine High School shootings, politicians and pundits worked vĩ đại assign blame. Their targets ranged from the makers of the first-person shooter video clip game Doom vĩ đại the Hollywood studios responsible for The Matrix (Brook, 1999).

However, in the years since the massacre, research has revealed that the perpetrators were actually attempting a terrorist bombing rather than thở a first-person shooter style rampage (Toppo, 1999). But did violent video clip games ví desensitize the two teenagers vĩ đại violence that they could contemplate such a plan? Did movies that glorify violent solutions create a culture that would encourage people vĩ đại consider such methods? Because modern culture is ví immersed in truyền thông media, the issue becomes a particularly complex one, and it can be difficult vĩ đại understand the types of effects that violent truyền thông media produce.


Figure 2.3 The 1999 Columbine High School shooting led vĩ đại greater debate and criticism over violent video clip games. Mentat Kilbernes – Columbine Massacre RPG – CC BY-NC 2.0.

A number of studies have verified certain connections between violent video clip games and violent behavior in young people. For example, studies have found that some young people who play violent video clip games reported angry thoughts and aggressive feelings immediately after playing. Other studies, such as one conducted by Dr. Chris A. Anderson and others, point vĩ đại correlations between the amount of time spent playing violent video clip games and increased incidence of aggression (Anderson, 2003). However, these studies vì thế not prove that video clip games cause violence. Video game defenders argue that violent people can be drawn vĩ đại violent games, and they point vĩ đại lower overall incidence of youth violence in recent years compared vĩ đại past decades (Adams, 2010). Other researchers admit that individuals prone vĩ đại violent acts are indeed drawn vĩ đại violent media; however, they claim that by keeping these individuals in a movie theater or at trang chủ, violent truyền thông media have actually contributed vĩ đại a reduction in violent social acts (Goodman, 2008).

Whether violent truyền thông media actually cause violence remains unknown, but unquestionably these forms of truyền thông media send an emotional message vĩ đại which individuals respond. Media messages are not limited vĩ đại overt statements; they can also use emotions, such as fear, love, happiness, and depression. These emotional reactions partially tài khoản for the intense power of truyền thông media in our culture.

Sex and the Media

In many types of truyền thông media, sexual content—and its strong emotional message—can be prolific. A recent study by researchers at the University of North Carolina entitled “Sexy Media Matter: Exposure vĩ đại Sexual Content in Music, Movies, Television, and Magazines Predicts Black and White Adolescents’ Sexual Behavior” found that young people with heavy exposure vĩ đại sexually themed truyền thông media ranging from music vĩ đại movies are twice as likely vĩ đại engage in early sexual behavior as young people with light exposure. Although the study does not prove a conclusive links between sexual behavior and sexually oriented truyền thông media, researchers concluded that truyền thông media acted as an influential source of information about sex for these youth groups (Dohney, 2006). Researcher Jane Brown thinks part of the reason children watch sexual nội dung is related vĩ đại puberty and their desire vĩ đại learn about sex. While many parents are hesitant vĩ đại discuss sex with their children, the truyền thông media can act lượt thích a “super peer,” providing information in movies, television, music, and magazines (Dohney, 2006). You will learn more about the impact of sexual nội dung in the truyền thông media in Chapter 14 “Ethics of Mass Media”.

Cultural Messages and the Media

The truyền thông media sends messages that reinforce cultural values. These values are perhaps most visible in celebrities and the roles that they adopt. Actors such as John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe came vĩ đại represent aspects of masculinity and femininity that were adopted into mainstream culture during the mid-20th century. Throughout the 1990s, basketball player Michael Jordan appeared in television, film, magazines, and advertising campaigns as a model of athleticism and willpower. Singers such as Bob Dylan have represented a sense of freedom and rebellion against mainstream culture.


Figure 2.4 Tonto from The Lone Ranger reinforced cultural stereotypes about Native Americans. Do you think this type of characterization would be acceptable in modern television? Wikimedia Commons – public domain name.

Although many consider celebrity culture superficial and a poor reflection of a country’s values, not all celebrities are simply entertainers. Civil rights leaders, social reformers, and other famous public figures have come vĩ đại represent important cultural accomplishments and advancements through their representations in the truyền thông media. When images of Abraham Lincoln or Susan B. Anthony appear in the truyền thông media, they resonate with cultural and historical themes greatly separated from mere fame.

Celebrities can also reinforce cultural stereotypes that marginalize certain groups. Television and magazines from the mid-20th century often portrayed women in a submissive, domestic role, both reflecting and reinforcing the cultural limitations imposed on women at the time. Advertising icons developed during the early 20th century, such as Aunt Jemima and the Cream of Wheat chef, similarly reflected and reinforced a submissive, domestic servant role for African Americans. Other famous stereotypes—such as the Lone Ranger’s Native American sidekick, Tonto, or Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s—also reinforced American preconceptions about ethnic predispositions and capabilities.

Whether actual or fictional, celebrities and their assumed roles send a number of different messages about cultural values. They can promote courageous truth telling, hide and prolong social problems, or provide a concrete example of an abstract cultural value.

New Media and Society

New media—the Internet and other digital forms of communication—have had a large effect on society. This communication and information revolution has created a great khuyến mãi of anguish about digital literacy and other issues that inevitably accompany such a social change. In his book on technology and communication, A Better Pencil, Dennis Baron discusses this issue:

For Plato, only speech, not writing, can produce the kind of back-and-forth—the dialogue—that’s needed vĩ đại get at the truth…the text, orphaned by its author once it’s on the page, cannot defend itself against misreading…. These are strong arguments, but even in Plato’s day they had been rendered moot by the success of the written word. Although the literacy rate in classical Greece was well below 10 percent, writing had become an important feature of the culture. People had learned vĩ đại trust and use certain kinds of writing—legal texts, public inscriptions, business documents, personal letters, and even literature—and as they did ví, they realized that writing, on closer examination, turned out vĩ đại be neither more nor less reliable or ambiguous than thở the spoken word, and it was just as real (Baron, 2009).

Baron makes the point that all communication revolutions have created upheavals and have changed the standards of literacy and communication. This historical perspective gives a positive interpretation vĩ đại some otherwise ominous developments in communication and culture.


The Internet has made an incredible amount of new information available vĩ đại the general public. Both this wealth of information and the ways people process it are having an enormous effect on culture. New perceptions of information have emerged as access vĩ đại it grows. Older-media consumption habits required in-depth processing of information through a particular khuông of truyền thông media. For example, consumers read, watched, or viewed a news report in its entirety, typically within the context of a news publication or program. Fiction appeared in book or magazine khuông.

Today, information is easier vĩ đại access, thus more likely vĩ đại traverse several forms of truyền thông media. An individual may read an article on a news trang web and then forward part of it vĩ đại a friend. That person in turn describes it vĩ đại a coworker without having seen the original context. The ready availability of information through tìm kiếm engines may explain how a clearly satirical Onion article on the Harry Potter phenomenon came vĩ đại be taken as fact. Increasingly, truyền thông media outlets cater vĩ đại this habit of searching for specific bits of information devoid of context. Information that will attract the most attention is often featured at the expense of more important stories. At one point on March 11, 2010, for example, The Washington Post website’s most popular story was “Maintaining a Sex Life (Kakutani, 2010).”

Another important development in the media’s approach vĩ đại information is its increasing subjectivity. Some analysts have used the term cyberbalkanization vĩ đại describe the way truyền thông media consumers filter information. Balkanization is an allusion vĩ đại the political fragmentation of Eastern Europe’s Balkan states following World War I, when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated into a number of ethnic and political fragments. Customized news feeds allow individuals vĩ đại receive only the kinds of news and information they want and thus block out sources that report unwanted stories or perspectives. Many cultural critics have pointed vĩ đại this kind of information filtering as the source of increasing political division and resulting loss of civic discourse. When truyền thông media consumers hear only the information they want vĩ đại, the common ground of public discourse that stems from general agreement on certain principles inevitably grows smaller (Kakutani, 2010).


On one hand, the growth of the Internet as the primary information source exposes the public vĩ đại increased levels of text, thereby increasing overall literacy. Indeed, written text is essential vĩ đại the Internet: Web nội dung is overwhelmingly text-based, and successful participation in Internet culture through the use of blogs, forums, or a personal trang web requires a degree of textual literacy that is not necessary for engagement in television, music, or movies.

Critics of Internet literacy, however, describe the majority of diễn đàn and blog posts as subliterate, and argue that the Internet has replaced the printed newspapers and books that actually raised the standards of literacy. One nuanced look at the Internet’s effect on the way a culture processes and perceives information states that literacy will not simply increase or decrease, but will change qualitatively (Choney, 2010). Perhaps the standards for literacy will shift vĩ đại an emphasis on simplicity and directness, for example, rather than thở on elaborate uses of language.

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Figure 2.5 President Barack Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal after a controversial Rolling Stone story in which McChrystal spoke poorly of the Obama administration was leaked on the Internet. Wikimedia Commons – public domain name.

Certainly, the Internet has affected the way that cultures consume news. The public expects vĩ đại receive information quickly, and news outlets respond rapidly vĩ đại breaking stories. On Monday, June 21, 2010, for example, a spokesperson for Rolling Stone magazine first released quotes from a story featuring General Stanley McChrystal publicly criticizing members of the Obama administration on matters of foreign policy. By that evening, the story had become national news despite the fact Rolling Stone didn’t even post it vĩ đại its trang web until Tuesday morning—some time after several news outlets had already posted the entire story on their own sites. Later that same day, McChrystal issued a public apology, and on Wednesday flew vĩ đại Washington where President Barack Obama fired him. The printed Rolling Stone issue featuring the article hit newsstands Friday, 2 days after McChrystal had been replaced (Timpane, 2010).

Convergence Culture

The term convergence can hold several different meanings. In his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Henry Jenkins offers a useful definition of convergence as it applies vĩ đại new media:

“By convergence, I mean the flow of nội dung across multiple truyền thông media platforms, the cooperation between multiple truyền thông media industries, and the migratory behavior of truyền thông media audiences who will go almost anywhere in tìm kiếm of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want (Jenkins, 2006).”

A self-produced video clip on the YouTube trang web that gains enormous popularity and thus receives the attention of a news outlet is a good example of this migration of both nội dung and audiences. Consider this flow: The video clip appears and gains notoriety, ví a news outlet broadcasts a story about the video clip, which in turn increases its popularity on YouTube. This migration works in a number of ways. Humorous or poignant excerpts from television or radio broadcasts are often posted on social truyền thông media sites and blogs, where they gain popularity and are seen by more people than thở had seen the original broadcast.

Thanks vĩ đại new truyền thông media, consumers now view all types of truyền thông media as participatory. For example, the massively popular talent show American Idol combines an older-media format—television—with modern truyền thông media consumption patterns by allowing the trang chủ audience vĩ đại vote for a favorite contestant. However, American Idol segments regularly appear on YouTube and other websites, where people who may never have seen the show comment on and dissect them. Phone companies report a regular increase in phone traffic following the show, presumably caused by viewers calling in vĩ đại cast their votes or simply vĩ đại discuss the program with friends and family. As a result, more people are exposed vĩ đại the themes, principles, and culture of American Idol than thở the number of people who actually watch the show (Jenkins, 2006).

New truyền thông media have encouraged greater personal participation in truyền thông media as a whole. Although the long-term cultural consequences of this shift cannot yet be assessed, the development is undeniably a novel one. As audiences become more adept at navigating truyền thông media, this trend will undoubtedly increase.

Bert Is Evil


Figure 2.6 Jughead – evil bert – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In 2001, high school student Dino Ignacio created a collage of Sesame Street character Bert with terrorist Osama bin Laden as part of a series for his trang web. Called “Bert Is Evil,” the series featured the puppet engaged in a variety of illicit activities. A Bangladesh-based publisher looking for images of bin Laden found the collage on the Internet and used it in an anti-American protest poster, presumably without knowledge of who Bert was. This ended up in a CNN report on anti-American protests, and public outrage over the use of Bert made Ignacio’s original site a much-imitated cult phenomenon.

The voyage of this collage from a high school student’s trang web vĩ đại an anti-American protest poster in the Middle East vĩ đại a cable television news network and finally back vĩ đại the Internet provides a good illustration of the ways in which nội dung migrates across truyền thông media platforms in the modern era. As the collage crossed geographic and cultural boundaries, it grew on both corporate and grassroots truyền thông media. While this is not the norm for truyền thông media nội dung, the fact that such a phenomenon is possible illustrates the new directions in which truyền thông media is headed (Jenkins, 2006).

Key Takeaways

  • Propaganda and persuasion have long been a part of the interactions between truyền thông media and culture.
  • Most studies on truyền thông media and behavior vì thế not establish direct links between the two but vì thế reveal important correlations among truyền thông media, violence, and sexual behavior.
  • Through the truyền thông media, celebrities have come vĩ đại signify important cultural values and tendencies, and they transmit specific cultural messages.
  • New digital forms of truyền thông media have revolutionized the way people access and consume truyền thông media nội dung. Rather than thở simply replacing old truyền thông media, however, new forms of truyền thông media encourage participatory truyền thông media consumption and nội dung migration.


  1. Celebrities can represent cultural values and principles when they are portrayed in the truyền thông media. The same celebrity can represent very different things depending on the khuông of truyền thông media and its portrayal of that person. Find a celebrity magazine, such as People or Us Weekly, either online or in print, and choose one of the celebrities mentioned. Then, answer the following questions:
    • How is this celebrity portrayed in the magazine?
    • What kind of roles does the celebrity take in other forms of truyền thông media, such as television or film?
    • How vì thế these portrayals associate with specific cultural values?
  2. Explain how the truyền thông media has affected culture. Be sure vĩ đại discuss the following topics and vĩ đại provide examples of each.

    • Propaganda and persuasion
    • Behavior
    • Cultural messages
  3. How has new truyền thông media affected literacy and information consumption? How is this different from older forms of media?


Adams, Jill U. “Effects of Violent Video Games,” Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/03/health/la-he-closer-20100503.

Anderson, Craig A. and others, “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth,” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 4, no. 3 (2003): 81–110.

Baron, Dennis. A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 5.

Beatty, Alexandra. “Studying Media Effects on Children and Youth: Improving Methods and Measures, Workshop Summary,” March 2–3, 2006, The National Academies Press, http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11706; “Media Influence on Youth,” Crisis Connection, http://www.crisisconnectioninc.org/teens/media_influence_on_youth.htm.

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, s.v. “Propaganda.”

Brook, Tom. “Is Hollywood vĩ đại Blame?” BBC News, April 23, 1999, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1999/03/99/tom_brook/326529.stm.

Choney, Suzanne. “Internet Making Our Brains Different, Not Dumb,” MSNBC, Feb. 19, 2010, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35464896/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/.

Doheny, Kathleen “Mass Media May Prompt Kids vĩ đại Try Sex: Study,” Health Scout, April 3, 2006, http://www.healthscout.com/news/1/531862/main.html.

Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda and Persuasion (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006), 60–61.

Goodman, Peter. “Violent Films May Cut Real Crime, Study Finds,” New York Times, January 7, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/07/technology/07iht-violence.4.9058958.html.

Jenkins, Henry Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: Thành Phố New York University Press, 2006), 2.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Texts Without Context,” New York Times, March 17, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/books/21mash.html.

Lamb, Gina. “Columbine High School,” Times Topics, New York Times, April 17, 2008, http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/organizations/c/columbine_high_school/index.html.

Miller, Mark Crispin. introduction vĩ đại Propaganda, by Edward Bernays (Brooklyn, NY: IG Publishing, 2005), 11.

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Starr, Paul. Creation of the Media (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 394–395.

Timpane, Jim. “New Media Too Speedy vĩ đại Outflank,” Philly.com, June 24, 2010, http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20100624_New_media_too_speedy_to_outflank.html.

Toppo, Greg. “10 Years Later, the Real Story Behind Columbine,” USA Today, April 13, 2009, http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-04-13-columbine-myths_N.htm.