Analyzing the media
As a theory of social organization, one of pluralism's greatest strengths is that it advocates the equal sharing of power among society's many fractions, including political parties and other organizations. Pluralists defend the concept of freedom and autonomy for "the main organizations that represent man's involvement in society." Western societies, according to this theory, are composed of groups and organizations competing in the "marketplace of ideas" to promote democracy and equality. Competition, therefore, is an important element of pluralism, but none of society's competitors should be allowed to predominate over any others. The media, too, like other competing social groups, enjoy a certain level of independence from the state and other government institutions, and have their place within the pluralist model. Broadcasters, according to the pluralist ideal, have a duty to present "competing, equally valid" viewpoints to their audiences.
Audiences, accordingly, are considered equal partners with broadcasters, and even have the power to manipulate the media by rejecting, challenging or accommodating media production. The proof that audiences are able to control and manipulate the media, advocates of this model claim, is in advertising revenues. Commercial media outlets are operated by shrewd, pragmatic business people, so the argument goes, who are forced by business imperatives to produce a profit for stockholders. If audience tastes are not catered to, media outlets risk their profits, their markets, or even bankruptcy.
To illustrate this concept, Jib Fowles gives an example of the media-audience relationship in a pluralist society. "Broadcasters," says Fowles, "want shows that are popular, to the exclusion of all other criteria, because popularity translates ...into revenues." Television programs, therefore, are, "first and foremost, choices that have been made by the public-at-large." Fowles goes on to explain that "...The driving force in the television industry is the desire to do better at giving the public what it wants" [and] "television content is shaped almost entirely by the wants of the viewers." Television broadcasters, according to Fowles' argument, are "determined to satisfy...these desires".
The explanation for the pluralist phenomenon has its roots in the "revolutions" within the last hundred years "in transport and communications." Masses of people have been "brought ...into closer contact with each other," causing a division of labor. This division "has made them more interdependent," with the consequence that "individuals have grown more estranged from one another." Everyone living within this model experiences, as members of this new "mass society," itself "the product of change," a constant shifting of values, a process which brings the "masses" into still newer pluralist relationships with other groups. The result is that the newly enfranchised masses are now put in the position of making decisions regarding a world "from which they were once excluded," and the masses are now determining those matters which were once left up to the discretion of an elite. It is democracy and universal education which have served to break down the upper-class monopoly on culture. Businesses, in particular the media, have even found a "profitable market in the cultural demands of the newly awakened masses." Technological change, in particular television, has made this process possible.
Advocates of the pluralist model have concluded, therefore, that "mass culture" is "very, very democratic: it absolutely refuses to discriminate against, or between, anything or anybody. All is grist to its mill, and all comes out finely ground indeed."
By the 1950s pluralists were convinced that "America was no longer a class
society...." This claim has been questioned. "This must have been very good
news," says Stuart Hall, "to blacks, Hispanics, Chicanos, American Injuns, New
York Italians, Boston Irish, Mexican wetbacks, California Japanese, Blue-collar workers,
hard-hats, Bowery bums, Southern poor-whites and other recalcitrant elements still
simmering in the American melting pot." Even more surprising, American pluralism was
to become a model for the world. Not surprisingly, only a decade later, this pluralist
model was to be severely tested. The civil rights movement, the ghetto rebellions, the
student movement against the war in Vietnam, the movement for gay rights, the
"counter-culture," and the women's movement severely tested many of these basic
But, for a time, it prevailed. It became a global ideology, backed by the credentials
of social science. It was exported with a will around the globe. ...in sum...the
media...[according to pluralist concepts] functioned in line with and strengthened the
core value system of society.
The attractive feature of pluralist theory was the element of consensus. Television
broadcasters, as Jeff Cohen, Executive Director of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has
described it, believed "themselves to be majoritarian," producing "what the
viewers want." This point is substantiated by Fowles, who claims,
In American television, it is the taste of the public that network and advertisers
accede to. Reliance on audience ratings is analogous to maintaining a perpetual opinion
poll regarding network programming and responding to the majority in determining the
network schedules... The audience determines what television carries.
It is precisely this issue, the "perpetual opinion poll," meaning the issue of consensus and the media's role which, according to Stuart Hall caused the "cracks in the dominant view" of television in American society. At first, among social researchers, those groups who were essentially left out of the consensus were simply considered deviant. Their activities were marginalized as part of the "sub-culture," and "sub-cultural theorists set about investigating the rich underlife of the deviant communities, without asking too many questions..."
The "break" with pluralist theories "occurred precisely at the point where critics began to ask, 'but who produces the consensus?' 'In what interests does it function?' 'On what conditions does it depend?'" Significantly, these questions were raised by students, intellectuals, and other counter-culture rebels of the 1960s who questioned the authority of the commercial media and the role they played in American society. Among the dissenters were those who identified with the theories of the Frankfurt school, a group of immigrant-refugee intellectuals who had been associated with the Institute for Social Research founded in Frankfurt in 1923. Fascism in Germany had made a deep impression on the Frankfurt school, and their explanations presented a critical picture of media control and manipulation. The pluralists, according to the new theories put forward by the Frankfurt school, were wrong. The media, and not their audiences, decided what audiences would see, hear and read.
Herbert Marcuse's biting critique of postwar capitalism and its pluralist defenders denounced "liberalism-pluralism" as a system in which "competing institutions concur" in solidifying the power of the whole over the individual. Modern capitalism and the capitalist media, Marcuse asserted, in stark contrast to what the pluralists had been claiming, extended rather than reduced "manipulation" of the masses. It was Marcuse's conviction that the capitalist media serve to indoctrinate citizens with a "false consciousness," in which "one-dimensional" thought leads to faulty and self-destructive actions.
This, for the American context, radically different approach to media studies provided an alternative which allowed counter-culture intellectuals and other American media critics an opportunity to contradict pluralist explanations. The new critique was based on Marxist theory and was capable of considering television and the media in general as a class phenomenon, a tool used to further class interests, and a virtual "fourth branch of government."
J. Fred Mac Donald, for example, claimed that television in America was "apolitical" when it was invented, but eventually became a government instrument of public opinion manipulation in the Cold War, a tool used in a struggle for leverage in an unstable world. Mac Donald argued that by the 1940s private broadcasters were subservient to and instruments of the monopoly interests in the media, and they "readily fell in with the government purgists" of the McCarthy era. As a consequence, "entertainers adversely touched by the (HUAC) hearings found themselves blacklisted." Broadcasters cooperated, according to Mac Donald, because "the relationship between commercial broadcasting and government was altered by the experiences of World War II," in which the government learned to rely on the broadcast media to create consensus for its foreign and domestic policies.
In their chapter entitled "Fourth Estate or Fourth Branch of Government?" Lee and Solomon quoted Bill Moyers, a well-known American television journalist, who said that "most of the news on television is, unfortunately, whatever the government says is news." Also, journalists "rely heavily on official sources who don't necessarily deserve the credence they are given." And the relationship between "big government" and "big media" is described as a "revolving door."
Herman and Chomsky, too, adopted this approach, and quoted Walter Lippmann who had made the claim that "propaganda" had become "a regular organ of popular government." News in the American media is, the authors pointed out, processed in such a way "that fails to place US policy into meaningful context," and "systematically suppresses evidence of US violence and aggression."
Hallin saw the media as "becoming integrated into the process of government." The professionalization of journalists gave government "certain positive rights of access to the news and accepting for the most part the language, agenda, and perspectives of the political 'establishment.' " Although, said Hallin, the American news media are "structurally" autonomous, "through the routines of the news gathering process," they are "deeply intertwined in the actual operation of government."
Returning to Herbert Marcuse's account of the media's role in modern societies (that modern capitalism extended rather than reduced "manipulation," and that the capitalist media serve to indoctrinate citizens with a "false consciousness," in which "one-dimensional" thought leads to faulty and self-destructive actions), one cannot help but consider the role of the audience. The pluralists insist that the media reflect "choices that have been made by the public-at-large," and that "television content is shaped almost entirely by the wants of the viewers." Marcuse claims that the language of the media "controls by reducing the linguistic forms." Or that "people don't believe" the "new...magic-ritual language" of the controlling media, "and yet act accordingly." The Marxists of the Frankfurt school, therefore, contradicted the pluralists by denying the existence of consensus.
Nevertheless, as Stuart Hall has so aptly remarked, "the great value of pluralist
theory was precisely that it included this element of consent...," and "what had
to be explained" by the Marxists was how the rule of the powerful classes could be
the active or inactive consent of the powerless majority. The ruling-class/ruling-ideas
formula did not go far enough in explaining what was clearly the most stabilizing element
in such societies-consent.
Marcuse's view as well as that of the pluralists is still shared by media critics today. The opponents of pluralist theories, those who consider the media manipulators, the "instrumentalists," as they are called by Murdock, see television and other media in western societies as vital tools for social control which (1) facilitate the reproduction of society's corporate-capitalist priorities by setting the agenda for the public at large through the control of information (public opinion control), but also, (2) through advertising, actively create markets for the commodity-profit-distributional needs of business in general.
The media also, accordingly, serve up ruling-class ideology to mass audiences and are active in countering ideological rivals. The media's message, therefore, is presented as a one-way informational stream of ruling-class ideas from top to bottom. It is no wonder, then, accordingly, that the media, the agents of information distribution, not the audiences, are considered to be the prime subjects of investigation and research for such critics. Audiences are largely seen as passive objects, only enduring the one-way stream of information while, in many cases, developing a false understanding of their own interests within the broader framework of capitalist society in general.
Graham Murdock has made some insightful observations about Marxist and other "instrumentalist" approaches, including those derived from the Frankfurt school, and concludes that, on one level, the "available evidence" about the capitalist economy "gives reasonable support" to the Marxist theory that the media as agents of capitalists do indeed act to control and shape public opinion, as well as to divert public demands into more manageable channels. On another level, however, this argument assumes that capitalists "act more or less coherently" in their attempts to facilitate and devise a "modest" structure for capitalist activities. In other words, the assumption often is that all capitalists make up a homogeneous group who, with shared interests-and a shared ideology-and developed class consciousness, act in unison to direct a sophisticated class struggle against the working class and other competing classes. "At its crudest," says Murdock, "this produces a version of conspiracy theory."
On the other hand, says Murdock, this view, that the media do indeed serve as
instruments of control, can succeed in sophistication over other theories, including the
pluralists, because of its implicit presupposition that corporations and governments can
and will, if only on occasion, pursue their own interests, either individually, or as a
class. Unfortunately, some of those media analysts who develop a critique based on this
particular paradigm can not always consistently supply the hard facts which are necessary
to reveal the precise corporate and government dealings at higher, decision-making,
levels. Such information is simply, in many cases, not available, and in its absence,
critics are "obliged to fall back on second-hand sources, which are neither always
accurate nor convincing" and can be often the result of intentional disinformation.
The other problem, that of placing the emphasis on the agent, that is, the large corporation, the government, the broadcaster, or the advertiser, as a subject who will inevitably defend the subject's ideological interests, projects the view that audiences are defenseless, automated pawns trapped in the hands of capitalist propagandists. Broadcasters, therefore, are often presented as relying heavily on the government to control and spread ruling class ideology, while audiences remain supple objects of manipulation. It is precisely here, with the issue of audience consensus and the question of ideology-specifically, whose ideology?--where one can find the key to understanding and criticizing this newer rendering of the media and its social role after the upheavals of the 1960s.
The dictionary defines "ideology" as "a belief or a set of beliefs,
especially the political beliefs on which people, parties or countries base their
actions." Marx and Engels, however, in The German Ideology, added the concept
of class struggle to this definition when they wrote that
The ideas of the ruling classes are in every epoch the ruling ideas. This means that
the social class which is the ruling material force is at the same time its ruling
intellectual force. The class which has under its power the means of the material
production at the same time decides what the intellectual production will be...
The Marxist definition of ideology has had the effect of causing the rejection of capitalist ideology in all its forms. The view developed that "ruling class" concepts, spread through various channels, in particular the state, have facilitated "manipulation" of thought "into all spheres of social life." This permeation of bourgeois culture has brought about a "qualitative change" which has "led to the fact that culture, in all its material and spiritual forms, is used as a factor of attachment of working people to the capitalist social order." Culture, now a commodity produced by the "culture industry," spreads a false consciousness among members of society's working class. In this light, television can only be seen as an ideological "class weapon" assisting ruling class aims. "Some theorists," Stuart Hall remarks, "took this to mean that any relationship between ruling-class and dominant ideas had therefore to be abandoned." This was, in effect, throwing "the baby out with the bath water."
Althusser gave the Marxist definition of ideology more meaning when he wrote that ideologies consist of "complex formations of montages of notions-representations-images on the one hand, and of montages of behaviours-conducts-attitudes-gestures on the other." While earlier Marxists were attempting to offer an excessively broad view of society by unmasking the "superstructure" as a product of the economic basis, they were not able to explain why those members of society who should know better still chose to respect bourgeois attitudes. Religion was simply dismissed as an "opiate," and law in capitalist societies became simply "bourgeois justice," with little redeeming substance. Cultural production received the same treatment, as did, especially, the media.
According to this deterministic reasoning, the entire Marxist superstructure came to be seen as unscrupulously dominated by bourgeois ideological agents, busily constructing a gigantic hoax on the basis of a grim economic reality. The reality was one of exploitation and domination which was able to control and manipulate all members of society by determining the character and content of consciousness. Workers were kept from revolting because of a "false consciousness."
A truly scientific analysis would not allow speculations about a hidden force or conspiracy to manipulate. The analytic-methodological solution lies in the realization that the superstructure, an element of which is the object of our analysis, is in fact a structure with its own logic, and this logic can be revealed by studying the relations between the various elements. Ideologies, myths, common sense, etc., become, when viewed in this way, strategies of containment, "a way of achieving coherence...mankind's attempt to work through to coherence and comprehensibility within the false limits imposed by the economic order it inhabits...
To illustrate this new approach, let us turn to Roland Barthes, writing in the early
1970s, who recalls a visit to the barber shop. While waiting his turn, he is offered a
copy of Paris-Match. On the magazine's cover was a picture of a "young Negro
in a French uniform" saluting the French tricolor, "with his eyes
uplifted." The content of the magazine's cover is clear, but Barthes goes beyond the
question of content and asks the question: What does it signify?
...whether naively or not, I see very well what it signifies to me: that France is a
great Empire, that all her sons, without any colour discrimination, faithfully serve under
her flag, and that there is no better answer to the detractors of an alleged colonialism
than the zeal shown by this Negro in serving his so-called oppressors.
As Barthes explains, the reader is faced "with a greater semiological
system." The signifier, that is, the black soldier giving the French salute, and the
signified, namely, "Frenchness and militariness," is compounded by the
"presence of the signified through the signifier." Barthes concludes that
ideology, or "myth," "is a double system; there occurs in it a sort of
its point of departure is constituted by the arrival of meaning. ...French imperiality
condemns the saluting Negro to be nothing more than an instrumental signifier, the Negro
suddenly hails me in the name of French imperiality; but at the same moment the Negro's
salute thickens, becomes vitrified, freezes into an eternal reference meant to establish
Stuart Hall describes the process which led up to the discovery, or as he calls it,
"rediscovery" of ideology in media analysis. The customary approach, says Hall,
to the analysis of media was to study content. The use of a particular style of discourse,
or the fact that certain broadcast practices become over the years established to the
point of being taken for granted, or even the use of music or archived materials, were all
considered "technical issues," and they related to the media's messages only in
relationship to the question of viewer comprehension."
What emerges powerfully from this line of argument is that the power to signify is not
a neutral force in society. ...Ideology, according to this perspective, has not only
become a "material force,"... It has also become a site of struggle (between
competing definitions) and a stake-a prize to be won-in the conduct of particular
It would be an error, therefore, to interpret the meaning of "ideology" as a "mere reflection of a pre-given reality in the mind," such as "ideology of the bourgeoisie," or "working-class ideology." Also, to attempt to be able to predict the consequences of behavior on the basis of one's presumed ideological affiliations would be just as erroneous. One's own ideology depends instead "on the balance of forces in a particular historical conjuncture..." [italics mine]. Instead of perceiving the media as direct organs of propaganda and manipulation, in the sense of a fascist ministry of propaganda, the critic can henceforth see them as entities acting within the greater context of capitalist society at large.
When seen in this context, that is, the context of capitalist society at large, it is
easier to decipher the functionality of the media. The dominant groups in society are,
according to Hall's concept, obliged to use the media in order to formally present
themselves to the public and demonstrate their accountability to the opinions of the
"popular majority," the assumed "sovereign will of the people." It is
in this manner that the powerful can appear to maintain their power over consent. As Hall
has stated, "if the interests of a particular class or power bloc can be aligned with
or made equivalent to the general interests of the majority," this "rule by
consent" can be legitimated. All elements of society, by this means, can appear to be
in agreement. Hall's concept of a legitimating functionality of the media can often be
verified by observing political campaigns in the United States and analyzing how they are
presented to the public by the media. "The consensus is the medium, the regulator...
But if the consensus of the majority can be so shaped that it squares with the will of the
powerful, then particular (class) interests can be represented as identical with the
consensus will of the people."
Although Gitlin's approach is different, he supports Hall's interpretation of the media's role in modern capitalist societies. "A certain paradigm," says Gitlin, "has been developing during the seventies, after the collapse of the New Left and the translation of Antonio Gramsci's prison writings, and it is this paradigm...that can help situate the history of media-movement relations." "There exists," says Gitlin, "no full-blown theory of hegemony, specifying social-structural and historical conditions for its sources, strengths, and weaknesses." Gitlin directs the reader to Gramsci's Prison Notebooks which can "help situate the history of media-movement relations" and to find a better understanding of Gramsci's idea of ideological hegemony.
In his Notes, Gramsci described the internal workings of society as being that
of a relationship between basis and superstructure: Certain "forces...are active in
the history of a particular period," and the "relations between them" must
A crisis occurs, sometimes lasting for decades. This exceptional duration means that
incurable structural contradictions have revealed themselves... and that, despite this,
the political forces which are struggling to conserve and defend the existing structure
itself are making every effort to cure them... it is upon this terrain that the forces of
opposition organise....in the immediate, it is developed in a series of ideological,
religious, philosophical, political, and juridical polemics ...
The "crisis" of society takes the outward appearance of polemics, which
becomes visible in the form of public discourse. It is in the realm of public discourse,
and its main distributors, the media, in which an attempt is made to defend the present
structure from the demands of oppositional forces. Internally, this comes down to a
frictional relationship between opposing groups who express themselves "in a series
of ideological, religious, philosophical, political, and juridical polemics."
However, as Gramsci warns, "the theoretical error," for the analyst,
"consists...in making what is a principle of research and interpretation into an
"historical cause." It is therefore false to believe that, as critics, we are
able to predict the outcome of one particular polemical phenomenon during any particular
time frame, or to suggest that any particular ideological form or level of consciousness,
based on assumed criteria, is correct or false.
"Hegemony," according to Gramsci therefore,
exists when a ruling class (or, rather, an alliance of ruling class fractions, a
"historical bloc") is able not only to coerce a subordinate class to conform to
its interests, but exerts a "total social authority" over those classes and the
social formation as a whole.
As Stuart Hall explains, it is a matter of "a combination of force and consent. But-Gramsci argues-in the liberal-capitalist state, consent is normally in the lead, operating behind the armour of coercion."
Gitlin explains Gramsci's concept of hegemony as "a ruling class's (or alliance's)
combination of subordinate classes and groups through the elaboration and penetration of
ideology (ideas and assumptions) into their common sense and everyday practice; it is the
systematic (but not necessarily or even usually deliberate) engineering of mass consent to
the established order.
The structure and its elements
Barthes' observation that, ideology, or "myth" is a "double system...whose point of departure is constituted by the arrival of meaning," is important for revealing strategies used for "containment" in media discourse. The saluting Negro was "condemned" to be nothing more than an instrumental signifier," signifying for the benefit of Imperial France's detractors that the so-called "oppressed" of colonalism serve France with zeal. But in the same moment as "the Negro...hails me in the name of French imperiality; ...the Negro's salute ...freezes into an eternal reference meant to establish French imperiality."
It is really no wonder that structuralist concepts from the study of linguististics
would be applied to culture and society. By the 1970s, "after the collapse of the New
Left," as Gitlin so conclusively put it, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which surmised
that all cultures have different ways of categorizing the contents of the world around
them, was by now known to most students of linguistics. Also, by this time, Lévi-Strauss
had published his theories on the general science of signification, following Saussure's
lead, to establish that meaning is bestowed upon objects and concepts by society. The
generally accepted concept of language, therefore, began to merge with some of the
concepts developed earlier among Marxists, which stated that language is a production of
Television: "message center, mission control, Big Neighbor," and an
"electronic Elmer's Glue-All"
Snobbery and "TV priggery," as Jim Fowles has called it, is often blamed for the narrow view among academics that television is bad for audiences. Fowles is not in the minority. Author John Leonard, writing in The Nation, claims that American television audiences "turn on their television sets because they ...are hungry, angry, lonely or tired." Television, according to Leonard's rendering, is more to the average viewer than just a source of information. Television in the United States has become a "message center, mission control, Big Neighbor," and an "electronic Elmer's Glue-All." Leonard points to the obvious, which is that television "...is always there for us." It is "a twenty-four-hour user-friendly magic box" which grinds out "narrative, novelty and distraction." It also gives us "news and laughs, snippets of high culture, remedial seriousness and vulgar celebrity." In addition to being an "incitement," it can also be a "sedative, a place to celebrate and a place to mourn, a circus and a wishing well."
Leonard poses a perplexing question: In America today, "We can't control guns, or
drugs, and each year 2 million American women are assaulted by their male partners, who
are usually in an alcoholic rage, and whose fault is that? Miami Vice?" If television
is bad for audiences, why do audiences watch it? If television is manipulation, who do we
blame for the "ills in American society?" Before there was television, says
Leonard, we blamed "public schools for what went wrong." American neighborhoods
"didn't resemble Beirut" in those days, "and whose fault is that? The
A-Team?" The problem, says Leonard, is that "academics" who criticize
television persist in their view that audiences are manipulated by broadcasters.
John Fiske: Who's in control?
It would seem, from the academic research carried out by Chomsky, Gitlin, Gans and many
others in the United States and other countries, that there is indeed substantial evidence
which points to the fact that our media are controlled and manipulated. After all, most
broadcasting corporations are huge enterprises which themselves are owned by corporate
"behemoths." But before we can really speak of "control" or
"manipulation," says John Fiske in his book, Television Culture, we must
consider the "entire social dimension," not just proprietors, marketers and
sponsors. "When audiences are understood as textual objects...they are seen as
relatively powerless and inactive..." Instead, Fiske suggests that the Audience must
be viewed as the "real subjects" of television program production because
audience "subjectivity ...results from 'real' social experience... The actual
television viewer is a primarily social subject." Fiske also echoes Gramsci
when he writes:
Meanings are determined socially: that is, they are constructed out of the conjuncture
of the text with the socially situated reader. This does not mean that a reader's social
position mechanistically reduces meanings for him or her in a way that would parallel the
authoritarian way that texts used to be thought to work.
Fiske 's observations challenge, as they should, the assumption that television audiences are submissive, passive objects of broadcasters' persuasive and manipulative tactics. And like many American television broadcast executives, Fiske is critical of "academics" who turn their noses up at commercial television programming. He argues in favor of the acceptance of popular television culture because, he insists, it does indeed have relevance as culture and should therefore not be ridiculed or belittled. Why should soap operas, or quiz shows, for example, be any less valid, as an art form, than operas?
Contradicting some critics on the left, Fiske insists that popular culture and ideology
do not function as deterministically as some like to claim.
So, to take an example, a Catholic trade unionist working in a Detroit car plant will
inflect working-class social experience quite differently from, say, a Protestant,
"nonpolitical," agricultural worker in Wisconsin.
To support his point of view, Fiske mentions certain changes which have come about "in capitalism" during the last 15-20 years. He points specifically to the civil rights movement in the United States, as well as other social changes which occurred during the 1960s as events which, he claims, have changed the nature of television audiences and has made it impossible for television producers to disregard the demands of women and racial and other minorities. Media criticism, therefore, must now begin to take these audiences into account, not as objects of manipulation "from above," but as subjects who actually produce their own individual readings of television programs. This, accordingly, represents a new situation which challenges previous prominence given to "the textual and ideological construction of the subject to socially and historically situated people." With this argument Fiske dismisses many of the view from the left as old fashioned, and as belonging to the ideology of the "old left."
Also, a television audience, says Fiske, consists of a variety of elements and should not be considered a homogeneous mass. "Thus television news will often include radical voices, spokespeople from trade unions, from peace demonstrators, or from environmentalists." However, these elements will appear in "controlled doses" chosen by the "agents of the dominant ideology." Audiences, at the same time, will actively "read" television in order to produce for themselves meanings that touch on their own lives and experiences.
Borrowing from Barthes' metaphor of inoculation, Fiske describes a process by which broadcasters can protect their programs "against the risk of a generalized subversion" through which the contents is immunized "by means of a small inoculation of acknowledged evil." The "hegemonic line of force" can then, "at any time, meet an equivalent line of resistance." This "line of resistance" then "pluralizes the meanings and pleasures" that audiences can find in a television broadcast Television, especially commercial television, has a distinct need to be popular within a society composed of a variety of groups with conflicting interests.
Fiske's structuralist approach, therefore, goes far in contradicting the concept of manipulation and a one-way street in information distribution. Because television producers know that television's texts must remain "open," such texts (which Fiske terms "producerly") can be made to be accessible to large numbers of viewers with varying tastes and points of view. Television's producerly texts address themselves to audiences which are able to make their meaning from the messages and are motivated to watch by the "pleasures" being offered. For this reason, Fiske concludes, audiences are in fact the active agents who construct meaning from the seeming trivialities of daily commercial television programming, and these meanings "are determined socially: that is, they are constructed out of the conjuncture of the text with the socially situated reader."
Fiske's notions about "television culture," however, run into a wall of
contradictions when confronted with the many sociological studies which have been made of
American television, such as that by Hoynes and Croteau from 1985 to 1888, in which it was
shown that open debate and real differences of opinion are indeed rarely allowed on
American television, and that the presentation of "critical public interest
viewpoints from consumer groups, civil rights organizations, labor unions, peace and
anti-intervention movements" are largely absent from American television. Media
critics who view the media as "information givers," or "agenda
setters," are only following a long tradition of sociological enquiry and
investigation. Still, such studies are criticized as having been written by academics that
believe "'the people' are 'cultural dopes'." According to Fiske,
The workings of the financial economy cannot account adequately for all cultural
factors, but it still needs to be taken into account in any investigation of popular art
in consumers' society. It is useful, if only up to a point, to be able to describe texts
as cultural commodities, but we must always recognize crucial differences between them and
other goods in the marketplace.
The critical observer, when confronted with Fiske's methods of criticizing television
culture, can not help but wonder if the radical potentials of American commercial
television are being exaggerated. Can television sitcoms, MTV, Madonna and soap operas
really offer audiences that much "resistance" to hegemony? Whether or not one is
able to detect any real resistance against the dominance of capitalist values and its
hegemony over culture among audiences viewing programs produced by Madison Avenue
marketing executives, the question must still be asked: How far can such resistance, if it
exists, actually go towards solving the world's problems of environmental pollution,
poverty, racism, and war? Is popular culture, in particular commercial television culture,
really the place from which one should be seeking resistance? Could the pursuit of other
goals, such as the establishment and protection of alternative, non-commercial
broadcasting serve the cause of resistance better? To completely embrace Fiske's approach,
it seems, would place the concerned critic in danger of over-emphasizing radical
rhetorical analysis while under-emphasizing the actual operations of the capitalist
economy and the culture over which it exercises hegemony.
Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)
As this discussion hopefully indicates, a structuralist approach to media studies has the advantage that it is indeed able to open up many new areas for analysis and criticism. However, questions about structuralist assumptions and methods still remain, and seriously lacking satisfactory answers, many of which remain beyond the scope of this investigation.
But if we persist in the conviction that audiences should be granted the role of subject, that is, a role of "active agent" in television production, one capable of constructing meanings from the language of the media, then it is also necessary to continue under the assumption that language and meaning are in some way social constructs. Although much of the methodology and research goals used in the study of language have resisted this trend, today "society" and "criticism" have become key words in various new approaches to language study and its application to the analysis of media as discourse. Ruth Wodak, writing in Language, Power and Ideology, defines her field, which she calls "critical linguistics," as "an interdisciplinary approach to language study with a critical point of view" for the purpose of studying "language behavior in natural speech situations of social relevance." Wodak also stresses the importance of "diverse theoretical and methodological concepts" and suggests that these can also be used for "analyzing issues of social relevance," while attempting to expose "inequality and injustice." Wodak underscores and encourages "the use of multiple methods" in language research while emphasizing the importance of recognizing the "historical and social aspects."
Emphasis on both the structure and the social context of media texts can provide a
solution which enables the media critic to "denaturalize," or expose the
"taken-for-grantedness" of ideological messages as they appear in isolated
speech and, when combined with newer ethnographic studies and newer methods of discourse
analysis, create a broader common ground between structuralists and and those who see the
media as manipulators. The critical use of discourse analysis (CDA) in applied linguistics
is leading to the development of a different approach to understanding media messages.
Robert Kaplan expressed some of these new concepts when he wrote: "The text, whether
written or oral, is a multidimensional structure," and "any text is layered,
like a sheet of thick plywood consisting of many thin sheets lying at different angles to
each other." The basics of a text consist of syntax and lexicon; its grammar,
morphology, phonology, and semantics. However, "The understanding... of grammar and
lexicon does not constitute the understanding...of text." "Rhetoric
intent...," says Kaplan, "coherence and the world view that author and receptor
bring to the text are essential." The comprehension of meaning
...lies not in the text itself, but in the complex interaction between the author's
intent and his/her performative ability to encode that intent, and the receptor's intent
and his/her performative ability not only to decode the author's intent but to mesh
his/her own intent with the author's.
Critical discourse analysis has made the study of language into an interdisciplinary tool and can be used by scholars with various backgrounds, including media criticism. Most significantly, it offers the opportunity to adopt a social perspective in the cross-cultural study of media texts. As Gunter Kress points out, CDA has an "overtly political agenda," which "serves to set CDA off...from other kinds of discourse analysis" and text linguistics, "as well as pragmatics and sociolinguistics." While most forms of discourse analysis "aim to provide a better understanding of socio-cultural aspects of texts," CDA "aims to provide accounts of the production, internal structure, and overall organization of texts." One crucial difference is that CDA "aims to provide a critical dimension in its theoretical and descriptive accounts of texts."
More specifically, according to Kress's definition, CDA treats language as a type of social practice among many used for representation and signification (including visual images, music, gestures, etc.). Texts are produced by "socially situated speakers and writers." The relations of participants in producing texts are not always equal: there will be a range from complete solidarity to complete inequality. Meanings come about through interaction between readers and receivers and linguistic features come about as a result of social processes, which are never arbitrary. In most interactions, users of language bring with them different dispositions toward language, which are closely related to social positionings. History must also be taken into account, as ideologically and politically "inflected time." Finally, precise analysis and "descriptions of the materiality of language" are factors which are always characteristic of CDA.
In addition to language structure, ideology also has a role to play in CDA. Kress
stresses that "any linguistic form considered in isolation has no specifically
determinate meaning as such, nor does it possess any ideological significance or
function." Consequently, "the defined and delimited set of statements that
constitute a discourse are themselves expressive of and organized by a specific
ideology." Language, "can never appear by itself-it always appears as the
representative of a system of linguistic terms, which themselves realize discursive and
ideological systems." For example,
...in The chairman has advised me that ..., The Chairman occupies first position
and has the emphasis conveyed by that, in the equivalent passive clause I have been
advised by the Chairman that... that emphasis now attaches to I. Hence a syntactic
form signals not simply the prior presence of a specific ideological selection, it also
signals or expresses the meaning or content of that ideological choice.
The speaker (or writer) expresses ideological content in texts and so does the linguistic form of the text: "...selection or choice of a linguistic form may not be a live process for the individual speaker...," but "the discourse will be a reproduction of that previously learned," discourse. Texts are selected and organized syntactic forms whose "content-structure" reflect the ideological organization of a particular area of social life.
To illustrate his point, Kress offers as an example the transcript of a news report in which "transactive clauses" are used (in the active voice) to portray causally the role of demonstrators against apartheid at a football match. The demonstration, therefore, which was against a particular injustice, was in fact portrayed by the media as having been somehow caused through the actions of the demonstrators. The report portrayed the demonstrators in a violent way, as "protesters" who "chanted slogans, ...blew whistles," and even tried to " ...disrupt the match, ...invade the pitch." In another incident, "the demonstrators stormed the fence," and even began "tearing the fence down." As Kress points out, "Clearly," in this particular incident, "the mode in which an action is presented, either as transactive or as nontransactive, is not a matter of truth or of reality but rather a matter of the way in which that particular action is integrated into the ideological system of the speaker, and the manner in which such an action is therefore articulated in a specific discourse." [Italics mine]
The actual decision on the part of the journalist or editor to use either a transactive
or a nontransactive clause, Kress insists, was definitely a matter of choice and not
chance. Kress offers another example to illustrate a common way in which nontransactive
clauses are used:
Things began peacefully enough, police hurried to the back fence, violent clashes
followed; More clashes...erupted, the confrontation was to last several hours; emotion
In the example (above) one can see that the adoption of a particular ideological-discursive structure on the part of the journalist expresses the values of an ideological system and of a specific "discourse authority."
The choice of lexical items, as well, is mentioned by Kress. With only minimal inspection, one is able to see that some reports, as Kress puts it, are "guided by the metaphor of a military clash." One side is cast by the journalist as "enemy" and the other as "friend or protector." "So the police guard the ground," (the policing representing the defenders of "good") "which the protesters attempt to invade, storm" (the aggressors, in this case). "In this way," says Kress, "the newscast audience's perceptions or readings [Italics mine] of the text are structured so that they will not only regard the report as 'simply reporting the facts as they were' but will also structure their interpretation [Italics mine] of the relevance of the text overall.
The visual portion of a television text, says Kress, is also important for interpretation. This includes the portrayal of the anti-racist demonstrators as being aggressive through the use of certain camera shots. Kress mentions other examples, taken from newspaper reports, in which government authorities, such as the Prime Minister, are consistently presented in thematic [Italics mine] positions, and the main events, such as talks or backlash, union unrest, etc., are presented as if they are acting on the Prime Minister.
Consequently, according to Kress, "From an ideological point of view this presents
the Prime Minister (through a syntactic-textual metaphor, so to speak) as the most
significant individual, but nevertheless, as acted on, nonactive himself, responding
rather than initiating, with a network of interactive relations." The result is, that
"The main actions of people in government are," according to the existence of a
syntactic-textual metaphor, "not real actions, but the mediation, facilitation,
interrelation between individuals, groups, and abstract categories."
Ideology, society, cognition and discourse analysis
Although Teun Van Dijk places emphasis on ethnic affairs, his study of racism and the press provides a detailed discourse analytical approach to media studies. Van Dijk's focus is also on content from an interdisciplinary point of view. Discourse analysis, when used together with a "multidisciplinary approach to the study of language," provides the critic with a tool for studying communication within "socio-cultural contexts." Specifically, Van Dijk states that the focus on "textual or conversational structures" derives its "framework" from the "cognitive, social, historical, cultural, or political contexts." Van Dijk's approach, however, differs from linguistics in that it is not "limited to the study of ...the surface structures and meanings of (isolated, abstract) sentences.... Once such a structural analysis has been made," according to Van Dijk's method, it is possible to "proceed to establishing relationships with the context... We are ...interested in the actual processes of decoding, interpretation, storage, and representation in memory, and in the role of previous knowledge and beliefs of the readers in this process of understanding."
Ideology also plays a "crucial role" in Van Dijk's analytical method. To Van Dijk, "ideologies" are viewed as "interpretation frameworks" which "organize sets of attitudes" about other elements of modern society. Ideologies, therefore, provide the "cognitive foundation" for the attitudes of various groups in societies, as well as the futherance of their own goals and interests.
Van Djik offers a "schema" of relations between ideology, society, cognition and discourse: Within social structures, social interaction takes place. This social interaction is presented in the form of text/discourse, which is then cognizized according to a cognitive system/memory. This "system/memory" consists of short-term memory, in which "strategic process," or decoding and interpretation takes place. Long-term memory, however, serves as a holder of "socio-cultural knowledge," which consists of knowledge of language, discourse, communication, persons, groups and events-existing in the form of "scripts." "Social (group) attitudes" also reside within long-term memory and provide further decoding guides. Each of these "group attitudes" can represent an array of ideologies which combine to create one's own personal ideology which conforms to one's identity, goals, social position, values and resources.
One can therefore say that Van Dijk's theory is, in some imporatant ways, a development
of Fiske's own concept of cognition, which he expressed follows:
... to take an example, a Catholic trade unionist working in a Detroit car plant will
inflect working-class social experience quite differently from, say, a Protestant,
"nonpolitical," agricultural worker in Wisconsin.
This "process" of framing "beliefs and opinions," say Van Djik, that benefit one particular group, is not final. "Some people may be forced or persuaded, socially or economically" to go against their "best interests...." Therefore, in contrast with many Marxist or other critics who interpret the role of the media in modern societies deterministically, Van Dijk does not suggest that ideologies are "essentially 'false' forms of consciousness, as in the case of many traditional theories of ideology." Still, the possible discrepancy between group ideology and group interests implies that power relations in society can also be reproduced and legitimated at the ideological level, meaning that, to control other people, it is most effective to try to control their group attitudes and especially their even more fundamental, attitude-producing, ideologies. In such circumstances, audiences will behave out of their own "free" will in accordance with the interests of the powerful. Van Dijk's thesis, like Wodak and Kress, implies that the exercise of power in modern, democratic societies is no longer primarily coercive, but persuasive, that is, ideological.
The other essential element of Van Dijk's thesis, especially as it applies to an intercultural approach to media analysis, is "the systematic analysis of implicitness." Journalists and media users are in possession of "mental models...about the world." Consequently, the text is really like "an iceberg of information," and it is really only the "tip" which is "actually expressed in words and sentences. The rest is assumed to be supplied by the knowledge scripts and models of the media users, and therefore usually left unsaid." [Italics mine.] Van Dijk concludes, therefore, that "the analysis of the implicit...is very useful in the study of underlying ideologies."
As this description of Van Dijk's method should make clear, there are many messages communicated through the text and structure of a television news broadcast, and what we see on the surface is really only the "tip of the ice berg." The ritualization and formalization of broadcast styles impart another implicitly understood message-carrying dimension to media studies, a dimension which has only recently been opened to observation and study because of the accessibility of foreign broadcasts through satellite technology. In most modern cultures, the familiar television newscast follows a formalized format, one which may have been in use, with only minor modifications, for decades. After many years of familiarity with a particular style of news broadcasting, broadcasters and audiences tend to overlook the implicitly "hidden" messages which accompany news content. In other words, the coding and decoding of television news has a tendency to become formalized to the point that many of the messages contained within the broadcast style are taken for granted by one culture, but interpreted differently, misinterpreted or not even decoded by another.
Both, audiences and broadcasters, learn to recognize and expect the familiar style
typical of "their" television news. Today, however, through the availability of
international broadcasts on satellite and cable, it is possible to examine, in the company
of a foreign audience (one which expects a different style in television news
broadcasting) many of those ritualized and implicitly understood formulas and turn them
into visible phenomena.
The implicitness of style in discourse
The concept of implicitness, explicitness and change in language was developed by
Edward T. Hall in the 1950s. His thesis is that the "formal," that is, the style
which is accepted implicitly by audiences, "is seldom recognized as such."
The formal provides a broad pattern within whose outlines the individual actor can fill
in the details for himself. ...Since the formal is seldom recognized as such, the American
abroad often has the impression that other people's formal systems are unnecessary,
immoral, crazy, backward, or a remnant of some outworn value that America gave up some
What comes across to foreigners visiting a strange country as incomprehensible, says
Hall, is in fact another "formal" system of communication which is accepted
implicitly as "natural" within the other cultural system. In the case of the
language of television news, it, too, changes and fluctuates within a culture through the
process of the "implicit" and the "explicit."
Explicit culture, such things as law, was what people talk about and can be specific
about. Implicit culture, such things as feelings..., was what they took for granted or
what existed on the fringes of awareness.
Within American and Finnish societies, for example, certain implicit assumptions exist about how a news report should be written and presented. Audiences and broadcasters take certain templates for news reports for granted. Such news reports seem "natural," because they incorporate a ritualized code with a certain history and tradition, including detailed scripts which are understood by audiences to be the "only" way to present the news.
Changes, of course, do come about. When a change is introduced, as is now happening in
Finland because of competition from European and American broadcasters and the need for
advertisers to have more exposure for their products, the whole structure enters a state
of flux, becomes transitional and ultimately changes, but only in conformity with the laws
of the given social, economic and cultural circumstances prevalent. "While one
(assumption) will dominate, all three are present in any given situation." Edward
Hall presents the following scheme:
EXPLICIT 0-------------> TRANSITIONAL
Finland, therefore, may in the future be obliged to adapt its public service
broadcasting monopoly, YLE, to a different discourse style, and one derived in part from
Finnish culture, but based on the advertising advantages of the American commercial style
Exposing and analyzing implicitness
Each culture has its own way of classifying the contents of the world. This truth was discovered in the linguistic-anthropological studies of Sapir-Whorf. Stuart Hall offers a masterful summary of the consequence of signification, as it was first employed in the work of Sapir-Whorf. As Hall sees it, meaning in a text is constructed by society, and the world is created by human beings for the purpose of that meaning. The linguistic and semantic structures which make up different languages, as symbols are the means by which humans produce meaning.
"Reality," or the way we see reality through the prism of our own culture's means of assigning meaning to the various elements of our world, especially as this applies to television news reports, is a phenomenon which will inevitably be defined differently according to the dictates and needs of different cultures. Different formulas in different societies will be used to decode the different scripts, or codes used in television news production-a process which is dependent upon our culture's history, its evolution and development. The meaning of "reality," therefore, will depend very much on the way a particular society defines it. All elements of that society's history, the totality of its development, including its present economic, cultural, racial, class and political balance, will make it unlikely that any two societies, no matter how similar, will look at one issue in exactly the same way.
The language of television news, as a particular style of discourse, is a complex blend
of national, social, economic, and linguistic traditions which work in tandem with
audience expectations. These expectations may vary and create a situation in which
misunderstandings and misinterpretations may occur. Eco has remarked that differences in
the ideological makeup of any audience in terms of ethical, religious, and psychological
points of view as well as tastes, values, etc., inevitably lead to some sort of
misunderstanding, or gap, especially under those circumstances where one culture comes in
contact with the other.
Understanding and mis-understanding between cultures is a topic which has invited much attention, a result of a growing interest in translation theory, applied linguistics and language teaching. As Edward T. Hall has warned:
The more precisely our linguistic components are examined, the more abstract and
imprecise the old observations become...one can only be precise on one analytic level at a
time and then only for a moment.
There is much discussion of "intercultural sensitivity" in the field of
foreign language teaching. Milton Bennet has asserted that sensitivity to other cultures
is not even natural, and that "cross-cultural contact usually has been accompanied by
bloodshed, oppression, or genocide." To remedy the problems of intercultural
sensitivity in the foreign language classroom, Bennet has developed a comprehensive
program of education and training for both students and teachers in the art of
"intercultural communication." Whether Bennet's observations concerning the
history and belligerent consequences of intercultural contacts is true or false remains to
be investigated. However, his method operates from what he calls "an ethnocentric
assumptive base," in which it is assumed that the learner attaches false meanings to
observable cultural differences in other individuals. To include, within the field of
foreign language teaching, extra-linguistic phenomena, such as cultural mis-understandings
and mis-interpretations of others' intentions, is a significant development in language
learning theory. This development also recognizes the fact that successful communication
in a foreign language precludes a realization and understanding of cultural diversity.
Bennet's theoretical outline traces "ethnocentrism" in the foreign-language
learner from the level of "denial," in which cultural differences are ignored
and denied by the culturally uninitiated, through "defense," in which the
ethnocentric student believes his/her culture is superior (and acts accordingly), to
"integration," in which cultural differences are understood by the student who
is, supposedly, in a position to realistically evaluate the actions of individuals from
The lacuna model
Bennet's model is especially useful for achieving understanding between cultures within the classroom, which is not, however, within the scope of this study. A lacuna model, therefore, was chosen for the present study because it permits more freedom in developing a comprehensive, analytical description of cross-cultural phenomena which arise from one culture's confrontation with another culture's news media. Also, the lacuna allows a discussion of cross-cultural differences without approving or disapproving of the practices of one culture or the other. As outlined by Schroeder, the lacuna was developed as a means for classifying and examining the linguistic components of languages when used cross-culturally. The lacuna method of cross-cultural analysis begins with the assumption that "Texts are the flesh and blood of a culture." Access to another culture can "only be achieved through exemplary examinations of texts while integrating these texts into a more comprehensive cultural analysis." Lacuna theorists see the problems which develop from a lack of cross-cultural understanding as communications problems. In contrast to Bennet, lacuna theorists assume that the lacuna can be developed in cross-cultural communications, which would make communication between cultures as normal as communication within a culture, if only one could develop more precise codes and supply them to users. The main problem, therefore, is that "a text from a foreign culture is nearly always received through the prism of one's own culture." This "prism" pre-programs the receiver to mis-understand, mis-interpret or not receive the encoded message.
"Lacuna," therefore, refers to perceived or unperceived "gaps" in
cross-cultural texts (in which there is a nonequivalent lexis) or other poorly understood
cultural items. Lacunae are single specific objects or events and specific processes and
situations which "run counter to the usual range of experience of a speaker of
The "fundamental characteristics" of lacunae are as follows:
...lacunae are perceived by the recipient as something incomprehensible, unusual
(exotic), strange (unknown), erroneous or inaccurate in a text. ...further characteristics
of lacunae can be described as follows: lacunae are perceived by the recipient as
superfluous, astonishing (peculiar), unexpected, i.e., unpredictable ...
Lacunae, however, can also be ascertained, systematized and classified. In addition a
distinction can be made between cultural lacunae and linguistic lacunae. Linguistic
lacunae are involved with the actual translation of texts, but cultural lacunae are
classified according to four principle categories:
1) Subjective, or "national psychological" lacunae
2) Lacunae of communicative activity
3) Lacunae related to cultural space
4) Text lacunae
Under (1) subjective, or "national psychological" lacunae, subdivisions are
created in which we get the following categories:
a) Character lacunae: Certain "invariable" qualities "in the character of particular cultural communities," including stereotypical conceptions of character ("pragmatic Americans, etc.); different ways of conceiving activities ("Americans are workaholics"); self-definition ("Finns have sisu"-an inner, unstoppable strength and determination).
b)Syllogistic lacunae: Includes "modes" of thinking ("American academics are devoted to facts" whereas "German academics are more interested in theory."
c)Cultural-emotive lacunae: Concerned with the expression of feelings in public. Very often rhythm, pace, pauses, interruptions, etc., are based on the "national temperament."
d)Lacunae of humor: Cultural differences in a sense of humor.
Under (2) lacunae of communicative activity, the following are listed:
a) Mental lacunae: All culturally-specific problem-solving strategies. For example, representatives of different cultures may exhibit differences in the amount of time deemed proper to be used in certain tasks.
b)Behavioral-specific lacunae: Differences in non-verbal behavior when used for
conveying information. Includes kinesics (mime, gesture), movements involved in routine
habits, and etiquette.
Lacunae relating to cultural space (3) include incongruities, between cultures, in
"conceiving and assessing aspects of one's cultural milieu." This includes a
particular culture's typical "inventory of knowledge" which forms the
"cultural identity" of the average citizen. This includes:
a)Perceptive lacunae: assessments of distance.
b)Ethnographic lacunae: culturally specific tastes in drink, food, clothing, interior decorating, eating out, etc.
c)Lacunae of cultural stock: incompatibilities between cultures in the volume and size
of the inventory of knowledge, including a knowledge of one's own history, cultural and
social symbols, color symbolism (blue jeans), and other implicit symbols which are
"substantially more numerous."
Finally, text lacunae (4) occur as a "specific property of the text as a means of communication in both form and content." In other words, an understanding of genre and technique are expressed within cultures through the text. "Breaches or gaps" in the text can be "intentional or unintentional." Texts can even contain "direct errors" or "inaccuracies," but still have meaning to the culturally initiated recipient.
Satellites and international broadcasting have made it technically much easier to study foreign audience decoding of television news broadcasts and their deeper cultural and political connotations. Language is the main barrier, but Finland presents us with a unique environment. Ten years of English-language instruction in school, combined with intensive exposure to English-language films and television-programming on Finnish television, makes Finns, especially those members of the younger generation, as non-native speakers of English, especially fluent. To paraphrase Gumperz, they can be described as "individuals who speak English well and have no difficulty in producing grammatical English sentences" but may nevertheless have significant difficulties "in what they perceive as meaningful discourse cues..." When working cross-culturally with audiences who live only on the periphery of the American commercial news environment, and with audiences who are also linguistically competent in English, it becomes possible to isolate certain contextualization cues by means of intensive interviews. By borrowing from the lacuna model for the systemization and classification of these audience-perceived defects or gaps in cultural understanding, one is able to reveal cross-cultural differences between implicitly understood discourse styles.
A lacuna study also enables the exploration of the concept of broadcast news as discourse by imposing a new perspective on implicit knowledge, that which is taken for granted about television by audiences. Conceptualization cues which lead to cross-cultural "misunderstandings" can be systematized and those unexplainable phenomena which occur in one culture but not invariably in the other can be recorded. Russian ethnopsycholinguistics pioneered the lacuna method and stressed the social significance of communication. Lacuna advocates emphatically dismiss the common notion that society is an entity made up of isolated individuals pursuing their own individual goals. Language and communication are carriers of society's cultural characteristics and the search for lacunae is a search for the "social composite" which regulates the encoding of intent and its correct decoding. A text is therefore "meaningless until it is read, or listened to, by someone." The lacuna is the act of labeling this composite meaning, because, the "performative abilities of author and receptor are constrained by their respective knowledge of syntax." Syntax, however, is not the only constraint on understanding. Decoding also depends on the recipient's "awareness of key conventions" which are "often historically defined."
Ertelt-Vieth's lacuna model develops the lacuna for use in the revealing of implicit understanding in oral communication. For her study, she used a group of German students in Moscow to present examples of culturally relevant contacts between German and Russian students in which intercultural differences (misinterpretations and other cultural gaps) arise. Interviews were carried out in Moscow with visiting German students who were asked to evaluate contacts with their Russian colleagues. Russian students were then asked to elaborate on the contacts in their own words, mentioning the problems that may have arisen. Her experiment is significant because it considers both linguistic and extra-linguistic factors in intercultural contacts. Above all, her interviews attempt to expose implicitness of understanding, as well as national prejudices, by evaluating such factors which arise to activate prejudices. Vieth's lacuna model, therefore, avoids cultural differences without trying to "solve" them or "appreciate" them.
Television news programs generate messages, and those who generate those messages may not, themselves, be completely conscious of their own rules and categories of message encoding. Awareness of historically defined key conventions is crucial. If television news is a system of encoding reality, then the intentions of those who encode must be understood before proper decoding can occur.
By analyzing news broadcasts with lacunae, we are not attempting to cloak a critical
comparison of American and Finnish television discourse styles in a mantle of objective,
empirical science in which every utterance is submitted as a scientifically measurable
unit. However, this study is an attempt to structure and explain Finnish audience
perception of American commercial news broadcasts. CNN's news broadcasts can and will
appear to the (US) culturally uninitiated as incomprehensible manifestations; or, perhaps,
as unusual or exotic, foreign and bizarre occurrences; or as unexpected, astonishing,
omissable or incorrect utterances. Contextualization cues are culture-bound and lead to
confusion and stereotyping, but through the use of the lacuna model, a classification and
organization of cross-cultural misunderstandings can be constructed. While the
classification of lacunae originated with Markovina and Sorokin, the Ertelt-Vieth analysis
of behavior, language and meaning in the everyday life of Moscovites will serve, with
revision and modifications, as the procedural model.
Finnish Views of CNN Copyright © 1995 by Brett Dellinger
Order the book:
BRETT DELLINGER (1995). Finnish views of CNN television news: A critical cross-cultural analysis of the American commercial discourse style. Linguistics 6. (Väitöskirja). 337 s. 136 Finnish Marks.