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A2 Media Studies

The Media and Collective Identity

The Media and “the family” “There are two men in my life. To one I am a mother, to the other I’m a wife, And I give them both the best, With natural Shredded Wheat” 1970s advertising jingle

In this unit we will explore how the media represents one element of our collective identity. An element of everyone’s identity is their belonging (or sometimes non-belonging) to a family of some sort. We will look at past and contemporary media representations of the family and explore why this is important. We will look at how media representations of family relate to our sense of our own identity as a member of a family. We will also look at why the concept of family is such an important one for politicians, who are always going on about family. We will see that “familialism”, the ideology of the ideal family, is a powerful political force, and we will see that some media texts and genres back up the ideology of familialism and some interrogate or undermine it. We will also see that you cannot understand representations of the family and their relationship to society and identity without also considering other elements of collective identity and other ideological positions. The quote above shows that gender is vital to consider. But so is youth, sexuality and other factors, all of which contribute to our identities. What is “identity”? Personal identity refers to an individual’s sense of her/himself as a discrete, separate entity from others. In Western capitalist societies, great emphasis is placed on the idea of personal identity through the ideology of individualism, which creates the assumption that the individual is the basic unit of society and that individual consumers can express their identity through their cultural and lifestyle (and purchase) choices. What is “collective identity”? Collective identity refers to individual’s sense of belonging to a group (the collective). From the perspective of the individual, the collective identity forms a part of his or her personal identity. Sometimes, the sense of belonging to a particular group will be so strong that it will trump other aspects of the person's personal identity (for example, the person may invest most of their sense of self-worth into their membership of the group and see other elements of their identity as much less important, or in some cases may be willing to assume great risks for the group, even as great as loss of life). (Definition from Wikipedia). Some organisations/institutions in society create such powerful senses of collective identity as a way of maintaining cohesion and controlling individuals. The politics of identity Who we are – or who we want to be – can be seen as political for a number of reasons. Firstly one aspect of our personality is about our beliefs – for example do we think that men and women are equal? Do we think that gay marriage is OK? These elements of our identity – our beliefs and attitudes – sum up whether or not we are broadly conservative or broadly liberal/progressive. Some of us may hold beliefs that are very different from these two main strands in society – we may be revolutionary in our beliefs. Secondly. And following on from this point, identity is political because political parties try to represent or stand for the values and ideals of particular collectives. So for example at the moment there is a struggle over which party represents the true interests of families in the UK. Thirdly, some advanced theorists have argued that identity itself, or the values and attitudes held by collective groups of people, are actually in large part created by society in order to keep people in their place in society. The ideas of Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci in particular are important here.


TWO IMPORTANT POLITICAL THEORISTS WHO HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT THE FAMILY AND THE MEDIA Althusser – identity and ideology Althusser was an important Marxist theorist who argued that identity was basically created by “Ideological State Apparatuses” (ISAs) such as education, law, the family, the media and religion.1 He saw human individuals being constituted as subjects through ideology. Consciousness and agency are experienced, but are the products of ideology 'speaking through' the subject. We are not really individuals with free choices, but are determined by the sum total of all the ideological formations which speak through us. The state creates us and “hails” or “interpellates” us in certain ways which mean that we find it natural to behave as the state wishes us to. A vision of the future of interpellation is seen in Minority Report as Tom Cruise walks through a shopping mall. See http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=oBaiKsYUdvg. Althusser’s ideas have been seen as very deterministic about identity and others have argued that in fact we do have some ability to overcome our ideological positioning, otherwise there would never be any struggle about ideology, which there clearly is. What is useful about Althusser for our purposes is that he clearly argues that mainstream commercial media, and the family, are both involved in attempting to reproduce good little subjects for capitalist society. We will need to investigate if we think this is true. Gramsci – the concept of hegemony Gramsci was another important Marxist theorist. He argued that the ideological perspectives ruling groups in society tended to actually become the ruling ideological perspectives through the fact that the state and the media tended to take these ideas for granted and make them “common sense”. This process of the ideology of the ruling groups becoming the ruling ideology was called hegemony. HEY YOU! MEDIA STUDENT! HERE IS YOUR HOMEWORK, which of course you will do because you are a good student, who wants to succeed: (You have just been interpellated). In these boxes write some biographical detail and a small summary of the main ideas of these two important theorists:

Althusser - biography

Key ideas

1

Gramsci – biography

Key ideas

He argues they are backed up by the “Repressive State Apparatuses” of the Police, the Army etc when necessary.


Introductory Handout