Democracy and Mass Media

Term: Fall 2009

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 6428

"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being," Marx wrote, "but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness." In modern capitalist societies, what is the role of the creators of commodities for the mass media of communication (television, the press, cinema) in consciousness formation? How did the predominant mode of production of cultural commodities come about, what are its social effects, and can we conceive of alternatives to it that might be more congruent with our notions of democratic political equality? Primary topics of discussion include the concepts of ideology and representation. To call a production or communication "ideological" is to suggest that it is in some sense not a complete representation of the truth: is "truth" in fact a viable category today? If not, what are the implications of rejecting the very notion of its reality? Should there be, and are there in fact, serious distinctions between the spheres of "information" and "entertainment?" Who shapes the content of these spheres, the owners of the means of communication, professional communication elites, or mass audiences? Who "represents" and who is "represented" in the production of images and texts for the mass audience? Reading and especially viewing of commercial cultural commodities are an integral feature of the seminar. Assigned texts include Marcuse, Habermas, Chomsky, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Umberto Eco, Raymond Willaims, Stuart Hal, John Fiske, and others.

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