Battleground: The Media (vol. 1 and 2)
Few institutions are as powerful or as thoroughly suffused into every aspect of our daily lives as are the media. From computers to television, film to music, cell phones to newspapers, most of us spend much of our waking hours using, consuming, or creating media. From entertainment fare to nonfiction programming and from videogames to theme parks, media corporations are highly conglomerated, profit-seeking entities, and also the couriers, purveyors, creators, and editors of the messages, texts, and images that comprise the information age.
It is, therefore, no surprise that the media have become a hub of controversy and a battleground for issues as disparate as election campaigns and the critical satire of Comedy Central, to depictions of race, gender, and sexuality.
With its power to regulate such a powerful industry, government has become a battleground site as independent media producers and public interest groups struggle over the policies that shape the landscape of media—from current public access television to the future of the Internet. Many of these controversies extend well into cultural and social realms because they focus debate around the values expressed in media messages and the effects they have on children, teens, our knowledge of the world, members of other religions or groups, and even of our own bodies and social identities. As entries on the Digital Divide and Representations of Class illustrate, media issues also provide a lens into social and economic inequities. The ways in which we define ourselves and our communities are reflected and shaped by such formats as the so-called reality shows and by citizens themselves as they create media content and find their voices as bloggers on the Internet.
In this ever evolving geography of symbolic techniques, media and marketing strategies, new and traditional genres, and new media technology, the task of editing a collection of entries on controversies has proven challenging, illuminating and remarkably difficult, as each new day and news cycle brings yet more issues worthy of coverage. Nevertheless, in these two volumes, we have assembled some of media studies’ smartest critics, experts, and researchers to discuss the more pressing concerns and “battlegrounds” in contemporary media. Some entries focus on age-old topics that precede our modern era and others chart more recent trends.
However, rather than become distracted by the superficial details and names of 2007, these entries focus on underlying issues and concepts. In addition to comprehensive definitions and dominant themes, we have tried to present key influences that set the parameters for the arguments brought to bear in media debates by scholars, public interest groups, industry professionals, and readers and audiences alike. True to the nature of media studies—an interdiscipline sitting at the crossroads of more traditional fields such as sociology, political economy, art, rhetoric, anthropology and political science (just to name a few)—we offer here a broad range of entries concentrating not only on humanistic themes but also from social scientific perspectives. Undoubtedly all readers will imagine entries that could have been written, more controversies that could have been explored, and favorite arguments downplayed, but we hope these volumes illuminate core principles and provide a set of guideposts able to direct the inquisitive reader in continued exploration of the themes, issues and perspectives of their choice. We offer ways of beginning discussion, thought, and deliberation, not, as is often the case with encyclopedias, to close off discussion. The production of these two volumes has proven to be a dynamic process, and we hope Battleground readers engage with these volumes with equal enthusiasm.
By way of defining “the media,” we have frequently concentrated on mass media, and this emphasis has in turn resulted in thorough coverage of television. New media theorists often argue that the day of a computer-centered media diet will soon be upon us, but in 2007 television remains the preeminent mass medium in the United States, with near-total coverage across the population, and frequently central to popular culture. Even those who do not watch television are often aware of its key figures and programs. Television is often the central cog in many media empires’ machinery, it is cause for more alarm and concern than are most media, and it networks many other media, telling us, for instance, of movies to come and of magazine heroes and villains. Much of the commercial content and traffic on the Internet is directed from more traditional forms of media, including television, and their formats, themes, economics, and regulatory histories help shape the landscape of new media. This increasingly wide range of new technologies, varying formats, and symbolic practices are interconnected through economies and technologies; with this in mind, we include in this collection a variety of entries on film, magazines, newspapers, music, new media, and mobile media.
The need for some entries will appear patently obvious to many readers, while other entries focus on “buried” issues—ones that achieve less popular presence often precisely because corporate-owned media either willfully neglect discussion of such issues, or at the least, find it beneficial to their business practice to allow issues to go unnoticed, thereby avoiding needed public debate. The Video News Release, for example, may not be a household phrase, but we argue that it should be; similarly, other entries examine noncorporate media. Since the media industry enjoys such a considerable monopoly on many citizens’ attention, everyday discussions are often informed and framed by the news and entertainment content brought to their attention by media companies. In this collection, we hope not only to examine the agendas set by mainstream media, but also to unearth hot-button issues that corporate media do not discuss with enough frequency. In addition, considering the aesthetic influences, motivations, and struggles of alternative media and independent cultural productions, allows us to see the dominant media in new and revealing ways. As Marshall McLuhan noted, just as fishes do not notice the existence of water till out of it, the media flows all around each one of us, our habitat and our lived environment, and thus this collection will at times focus on media issues that have become as invisible to us as water is to fish.
While it is common to talk of “the media” as if it were a monolithic entity, and while corporate collusion sometimes makes it appear uniform and singular, of course there is no such entity called “the media.” Instead, the media is a collection of programs, films, songs, stars, and games from varying sources, which are consumed by varying citizens and consumers, often in varying ways. Media are regulated differently and are produced differently. Thus, “the media” is a huge amalgam of variation and difference, rendering it hard if not impossible to generalize about “the media” as a whole. We intend the entries in these two volumes to tackle different zones of the media universe, thereby not only presenting disagreements and controversies within any given entry, but also producing disagreement between different entries. With audiences, programs, producers, regulators, citizens, artists, and institutions all active agents in the production of “the media,” one will find a different picture of the media universe depending upon which agent(s) one focuses on, as will be evident across the many entries in these two volumes.
Each entry includes an opening that explains a key controversy or battleground topic, the entry proper, and a list of further readings. The latter, in conjunction with the general bibliography at the end of Volume 2, should help readers find more discussion of the issue at hand. We also encourage readers to follow the cross-references throughout, as inevitably many issues build on the shoulders of others, and some entries are illuminated further by yet other entries. The cross-references should offer readers an Ariadne’s thread through the collection.
Finally, as editors, we must offer thanks to the many individuals who have helped us put this collection together, namely our fantastic contributors and Daniel Harmon at Greenwood Press. We would also like to thank Guy Robinson and Monica Grant for assistance and support: juggling so many entries taxes the brain, and we thank them for helping us to keep our gray matter in order.
Robin Andersen and Jonathan Gray, August 2007