Frankfurt School degenerates American Culture

Communication 372 – Theory and Research in Intercultural Communication

John R. Baldwin

School of Communication

Illinois State University
Updated 06/02/11

Representation of Difference/Culture

Objectives & Study Questions:

· How would scientific, humanistic, and critical researchers look at mediated texts regarding representation of difference?

· Why is mediated representation of difference and culture relevant for the study of face-to-face intercultural and intergroup communication?

· SCIENTIFIC THEORIES: What is the main point of each, especially as they pertain to culture and communication?

o Cultivation theory

o Social cognitive theory (formerly called social learning theory)

o Diffusion of Innovations

o Technological determinism

· What is content analysis? What are key findings of Dixon et al. and how did they do their research?


o What is the distinction b/t critical theory and cultural studies? What are some different theoretical lenses or focus areas that might inform cultural studies?

o What are high culture and low (popular) culture? Folk culture?

o Know key terms & defs: commodification, ideology, hegemony, text

o Be able to recognize a postmodern view and key terms often associated with it: discourse, polysemy, fragmentation, intertextuality, contradiction (for some of these, see coverage of Leta Cook’s essay on Foxwood Casino in MN&F).

o What are some things that mark much modern critical theory in terms of its view of dominance (hegemony) and ideology (especially as these differ from early Marxist ideas).

o What are 3 possible “readings” of a text?

o What is semiotics? Be able to describe the 3 steps. BTW, good application essay material (or Port 4)

Introductory Notes & Questions

For many years, “intercultural communication” research was primarily focused on face-to-face communication. In fact, in many schools, media and interpersonal communication are in separate departments or even separate colleges. In much of South America, if one studies “communication,” one is studying media communication, and, more recently, PR, but communication studies barely exists as a field of inquiry. And when I was hired at ISU, I was hired to teach “intercultural communication,” framed clearly as a communication studies-not media course. Study of “culture” in media exists in our media analysis courses, such as cultural criticism (260); studies of “international communication (369) have focused on international media systems and the history and politics that surround those (e.g., NWICO, UNESCO, international media conglomerates, and freedom of speech as it relates to media systems around the world).

Increasingly, however, studies of culture and media have been crossing paths. Thus, those who study culture in media, from issues of representation of diverse groups (people with disabilities, GBLT, “race,” and sex/gender) in media to international uses of media technologies such as IM and cell-phone have increasing representation in the intercultural division of our national conference. (I can attest to this as I was program planner for the International and Intercultural Communication Division, now one of the largest divisions of the National Communication Association, in 2007, and Chair of the division in 2008).

Just as verbal and nonverbal messages are closely related and cannot be fully separated, it may also be a mistake to separate what happens in mediated representation of difference from our face-to-face communication.

Thus, while there are many avenues related to culture and media worth exploring (e.g., media systems, the use of media in development around the world), this Webpage will focus on symbolic representation through mediated messages.

There are different ways to study representation of race, sex/gender, sexual orientation, nationality, age, and physical disability in the media. Two primary means are through quantitative content analysis and through interpretive rhetorical criticism.

For this class period, you will read two journal articles, two chapters in the MN&F reader, and my class notes. For each article, know:

Main questions:

Ø The main purpose of the article

Ø Any theories or key terms for the review of literature

Ø The specific research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of the study

Ø The method the author(s) used

Ø The key findings. For these, note how they are stated and the types of claims that can be made.

Ø Is the article scientific, humanistic, or critical (note—might combine 2 of the above!—a good chance to assumptions of research for the final exam!)

Reading 1: Quantitative (Media Content Analysis):

· Dixon, Azocar, & Casas: Representation of race & crime on televised news OR

· Li-Vollmer on race in child-targeted commercials. Skim to get an idea of how the researchers set up an argument, but mostly how they do the study and what their findings are.

Reading 2a & 2b: This semester,

· we will read essays in Martin, Nakayama, & Flores for 2nd article [See notes below!] Choose 1 essay and respond (required!).

· Everyone should read the chapter on Foxwoods Casino, as it is unique and applies notions of media/rhetorical analysis to the environment (costumes, fixtures, decorations) of an Indian-run casino. It also uses concepts from postmodern research.

Reading 3: Critical/interpretive (Media interpretation):

· Shome on Americans and (East) Indians in City of Joy or

· Watts & Orbe on Black culture in Budweiser’s ‘Whassup’ beer ads

Skim to get an idea of how the researchers set up an argument, but mostly how they do the study and what their findings are.

For a power point that summarizes some of these same points. This is a fun Ppt, with links to various videos that you can think about or analyze as a response to the Webboard Question below. There are many concepts pertaining to specific theories that are useful, but not necessary for quiz/exam. Let the red words guide you!:



Like any area of intercultural research, we can see both scientific and humanistic approaches to the study of representation in the media. First, however, we should ask why intercultural communication researchers and students should even be interested in media representation. Briefly, we can summarize two reasons that media is important (but there may be more!)

Media worldMass media produces (creates) and reproduces (passes on) ways of seeing that at a minimum reflect, and some argue, shape our culture. That is, we can look at the media of a culture to understand more about its values and norms (as long as we realize the limitations of looking at media. For example, does American news really represent what American “culture” is like, or only what “stands out” (is “new”) from everyday American culture—the noteworthy, the surprising. Or, more, does it represent what media makers, supported by advertisements, think will sell, thus the sensational, the absurd, the violent, the conflictual? Also, if we agree with certain scientific or humanistic theories of media, long-term exposure to media may lead people to see the world in a certain way or to behave in certain ways. Over time, if enough people are so influenced, then culture itself will change.
Mass media produces and reproduces stereotypes of cultural groups within a country, as well as the view of people from other cultures. It is likely that the mediated representation of cultural others is one of the primary places we gain meanings about others, especially if we don’t have contact with those others. But even if we do have contact with people from the group, we may interpret our experiences through what we “learn” in the media. Note: Most of my students today believe strongly that they are “active” individuals, making their own choices, not influenced by media. We don’t want to think that we are dupes, being fooled or misled by media images. But studies show that media does have some influence on the way we see reality or act, even if we are not aware of or will not admit media’s influences.

Ways of studying media:

Some people study media to make claims about media in general—that is claims that can be generalized to a large section of media—such as a channel (television) a genre (primetime family shows, sports, country & western music), or to a specific genre within a specific channel (print journalism; television advertisements). Others seek to determine if exposure to media has effects on individuals (does it make us more apathetic about violence? Does it lower women’s self-esteem? Is it associated with aggressiveness in children?). Studies of either of these types are considered to be scientific (cause-effect, variables, prediction, generalizable claims of Truth). Studies in this line usually measure variables and do statistics to see if there are differences between groups (ex: Are women and men represented differently in country & western, rap, and Christian videos? Do Blacks and Whites react differently to racial representation in commercials aimed at children?) or determine whether there are relationships between variables (Is girls’ self-esteem related to their use of teen fashion magazines? Do people who read rifle and gun magazines rate higher on ethnocentrism than those who do not?). [Video to L is Marshall McLuhan,, one of the leading writers in the argument that the shape of the media, e.g., print versus televised versus digital, affects all the rest of society. See summary of his views at:

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Other studies seek to interpret a single text, like World of Warcraft. That text might be a specific speech (ex: the 2004 U.S. Presidential debates) or mediated text (The Matrix, Season Finale of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) or may be a series of texts (the James Bond movies; Road Runner cartoons). Many of these simply seek to interpret the text and see what it says about culture. We will call these “interpretive” essays humanistic. Studies of this type generally start with some framework (e.g., Benoit’s framework of corporate apologies for business crises, Greek mythology, death denial theory) and apply it to a specific text to see if we can new understanding of the text using the given theoretical “lens.”

Finally, studies of either type (scientific or humanistic) can take a specific value orientation—to fight social inequality, to criticize structural inequalities (sexism, racism, classism, etc.) in the text. We will call these studies that deliberately seek to change social structures or fight mediated forms of oppression critical. As examples, one study might present a systematic cross-cultural analysis of representation of women in rap music videos (Conrad et al., 2009). Another might look (scientifically) at the impact of repeated media exposure of Latina women on their self-concepts (Rivadeneyra et al., 2007). Humanistic studies might look at the representation of race in World of Warcraft (Nakamura, 2009) or how sexual activity in Second Life reinforces traditional sex and gender ideologies (Brookey & Cannon, 2009). In communication, most (not all) critical work has been interpretive/humanistic (see reason below)

Scientific Theories:

Several scientific theories of media effects have focused on how media might change the world (more than we can cover here). Be responsible only for those bolded in red (main idea of each theory!)

Diffusion of Innovations: Focuses on how media, as well as face-to-face communication, works to bring change to a culture or group as a majority of the group (not just single individuals) are persuaded to adopt some new idea, behavior, or artifact (the “innovation”), such as crop-rotation or use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
Technological Determinism: Marshall McLuhan (the man who coined the phrase, “the global village”) suggested that the forms of our media (e.g., writing as opposed to telegraph as opposed to television as opposed to computer) shape the rest of the culture. It is not the content of the media that has the greatest effect, but rather the form. McLuhan argued, “We shape our tools and our tools shape us.” (See, related to this, work of Neil Postman, who criticizes some modern forms of media as they impact culture).
Cultivation Theory: This theory suggests that prolonged exposure to television leads to a general way of seeing the world. While original studies and theory focused on violence (ex: the Mean World Syndrome—the idea that heavy viewers see the world as “a mean and scary place”), later work has considered stereotypes and gender roles. The idea is that heavy media users (in America) will see people of color and gender roles a certain way. The theory suggests that media images are much the same, so it does not matter what genre one watches. One will see the same stereotypes whether one watches the evening news, soap operas, or Saturday morning cartoons.

Studies often contain two important phases:

Content analysis of media content: Usually a quantitative analysis of a large number of media images, such as commercials during primetime for a month time period, a large number of romance novels, or a randomly selected (fairly large) number of magazine advertisements in a specific type of magazine (e.g., women’s variety magazines). Often the findings are presented only in terms of numbers and percentages. This stage is important because it tells us whether a group is represented in a medium and genre and often a quantitative description of how groups are represented (e.g., are Blacks or Whites more often portrayed as perpetrators or victims of crime).
Comparison of viewer’s attitudes with media content: Often, based on their own research or that of others, researchers will develop a study to measure audience attitudes towards something (such as stereotypes towards minorities, perception of appropriate gender roles) to see the degree to which people’s attitudes match what research has shown to be true of representation in s4shl2iw[1]the media.
Social Cognitive Theory: Originally called social learning theory, this theory suggests that people learn how to behavior by modeling the behavior of others (for example, parents, friends, teachers, coaches)—but that one of the primary models for our behavior is what we see on television.

Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, and Extensions Beyond

General Focus of Critical Theory

One of the problems with most quantitative research is that it has found only limited support of connections between media use and either attitude or behavior. Some writers, like Stuart Hall, have supposed that one of the reasons of this is that there is a conflict of interest—many of the research projects on these theories is supported by major media companies. Stuart Hall and others turned in the 1970s and 1980s to begin to apply tools from literature analysis to popular media, using almost exclusively an interpretive (rather than quantitative) approach. This led to the area we now call cultural studies, which looks at popular culture from a critical, interpretive (usually) perspective. But this area is grounded in a larger framework of what is called critical theory. Critical theory is any branch of socially conscious theory that seeks to fight or address some form of social oppression or inequality. Note that critical theory is the bigger “umbrella” that covers cultural studies and many other areas of critical research (such as feminism).

That is, there are many types of critical theory, and many critical theorists do not look at popular culture (such as feminists who look at language use). Once within critical theory, however, we should be aware that a particular study might use strands from any one of the various approaches presented here. That is, a study might look at mediated culture (cultural studies) from a feminist, postmodern stance. Or the study might look at the construction of live college football games using a Marxist, semiotic approach. Critical Theory is very diverse: it can be quantitative or qualitative; it can exist in any given field; scholars within can hold strongly opposing viewpoints. The key elements that hold CT together are the desire to view phenomena in relation to the surrounding cultural environment, and a focus on power/domination. In later versions (e.g., postmodernism), this focus is broadened to also consider pleasure/freedom of expression. Cultural Studies is a branch of CT which focuses on popular culture of a given society.

History and Key Terms:

The Frankfurt School: Critical theory began with some German philosophers (can you guess which city they were from?) who were Marxists. They fled Germany to the United States and began a school of thought called “critical theory” (they could not hardly call it Marxist studies in the 1930s U.S., now, could they?). Several things marked this early school of thought:

· A belief that capitalism was the root of many social problems, including prejudice (The Authoritarian Personality, Adorno & Horkheimer, 1950).

· A distrust or dislike of popular culture, as it deceived and distracted the workers from “revolution”

· A belief that capitalism turned everything eventually (including folk culture) into something that could be bought or sold for a price (a commodity to be consumed)—that is commodification.

ojcoversFor example, when O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend, two news magazines presented images of Simpson. Time’s cover was significantly darker, and Simpson had more stubble, even though they came from the same news photograph. Time later admitted they took artistic license with the image to make it look more criminal (note: the tie of “darkness” to criminal is based on racist assumptions about criminality).

But in terms of commodification, Simpson’s racial identity and complexion became something to be manipulated in order to sell a magazine. It was commodified.

Specifically, some authors (e.g., Martin & Nakayama, 2000), distinguish between:

§ Folk Culture: The everyday culture of a group of people, especially as presented through artifacts, dance, and so on (e.g., Carnaval, candomblé, and capoeira of Brazil). Adorno and others from critical theory felt that folk culture (before it is turned into media) is a form of resistance against dominance. However, over time, capitalism turns all things into a commodity (commodification). It “co-opts,” or takes for its own some aspect of folk culture (appropriation) and changes it into something more marketable. We can see this in the changes in rap music as well as current trends in slam poetry.

§ High culture: Cultural representations that appear “only once”—such as an original painting (seen in an art museum), an opera or play; might also include “classic” novels of the literary canon (Shakespeare, Göthe). The original critical theorists (F.S.) noted that high culture was something that was experienced by elite.

§ Low/popular culture: Culture of the everyday people, but not the artistic representations—not the creations of the everyday people (that would be folk culture), but the culture that is consumed by the everyday people—that is, mass-communicated culture: billboards, music videos, fashion, romance and mystery novels, the evening news, and so on. The F.S. did not like low culture, as they felt that it was a form of “commodification”—that it turned “art” into a consumer good and that, by purchasing it, the masses fell into a a sense of false consciousness, thinking they had “arrived” and could “experience culture.” This, in turn, distracted them from rebelling against the elite…

Ø Structuralism: Many linguists and anthropologists (like Claude Lévi-Strauss) began to note how certain social structures (e.g., capitalism) permeated all of society. One could look at the myths or religion of a culture and see the same patterns as one saw in the family and (most importantly) in the economic system. This supported what Marx said about society: that the base (the economic system) led everything else—media, religion, art, literature, politics, family, and so on (the superstructure) to support its existence. If a society is capitalistic, all aspects of the society grow to support and propagate that economic system.

Ø Neo-Marxism: Following the structuralists, many writers began a break with Marxism in some ways. To various degrees, they still believed that economic systems created and recreated themselves through other aspects of culture, but, to different degrees, some begin to think that there was more to the mess than just social class. The writers are diverse, but some of the things that came from this school become very important as we move to cultural studies (C.S. writers read and cite the authors from this school of thought extensively. For example, some have said that Antonio Gramsci and Roland Barthes are among the most cited authors in current media studies!). Some points:

o Oppression is not based on class alone! There can be different “spheres” of oppression—“race,” gender, sexual orientation, nationalism, age, and political ideology among them. Thus, even an African American who is among the economic “elite” might still face some forms of intolerance.

o Domination is of different types: Hegemony, the word for dominance of one group over another can be social, economic, political, and cultural.

o Dominance is not held in place by force alone! One writer says that there are two ways to control a people—through force (repressive state apparatus), such as courts, laws, and police (or, in the workplace, firing people, reprimands), or through ideas (ideological state apparatus)—outlets like textbooks, radio, and advertising that keep people in line. If a group can control the ideas, there is little need for repression! Thus, many neo-Marxists turned their attention to how ideas are controlled. The key term becomes ideology: This term “refers to those images, concepts and premises which provide the frameworks through which we represent, interpret, understand and ‘make sense’ of some aspect of social existence” (Hall, 1981p. 31). That, ideology is a set of ideas that is held by some group of people that shape the way we understand and respond to the world. Unlike old ideas of ideology (Marxist) as “false consciousness” or incorrect thinking, ideology refers to any set of ideas. It is not focused on whether the set of ideas are true or not. Therefore, all ideas are ideological—they have some place in some set of ideas. All teaching is ideological. All research is ideological. [I was once in a meeting where the leader proudly said, “I am only going to present the ideas here. I have no agenda.” I kindly informed him, “Everybody has an agenda. We just don’t all admit it to ourselves.]

o Domination is not (always) deliberate! While traditional Marxists believed that the elite were like puppeteers pulling the puppet strings of society, many neo-Marxist writers began to see economic (and other types of) oppression simply “within the system,” passed on without intention, as they are part of the structure. (Now a new cause arose—to help people be aware of how these invisible and often/usually unintentional forms of intolerance are passed on).

o Domination is not total! All groups in a society have some power. For example, through the 1950s and 1960s, Whites in the U.S. had most of the political power. But Martin Luther King, Jr., and others demonstrated that Blacks had social and economic power. Today’s media especially represents this, as many different groups can present their ideas (though some ideas remain in the “center”). There is a battle (of ideology) that occurs in different sites of struggle or terrains (the courts, the media, the church, the schools), with one side making ground in this terrain while another group makes ground in another terrain (example, the ideological battle over abortion).

Ø Semiotics and the Linguistic Turn: With a turn to ideology, many critical theorists began to focus on language and “texts” as a way that groups battle over meaning and social status. Texts can be speeches, words, symbols–anything with social meaning. Specifically, a text for our purposes is a set of symbols collected together to give meaning. A “text” can be a raised, clenched fist; it can be an American flag; it can be the image of who Oliver North is (how society “constructs” Oliver North, as opposed to any objective reality of who he really is); it can be a concept such as “race” or “gender”; it can be the clothes, body piercings, and tattoos that adorn you as you read this Website. Semiotics looks specifically at the relationship between texts and their underlying meanings (specifically, at social structures which they represent). The word Semiotics refers to the study of signs in a text, and semioticians usually look at texts in very close detail to uncover what the signs are and what they mean—and, in the case of critical theorists (not all semioticians are critical theorists!), how these sign systems relate to the battle to gain dominance (hegemony) in terms of social meaning (ideology). The area is very broad, so for our focus, we will choose a critical semiotician who has a fairly simple and useful approach, Roland Barthes. Based on his approach, we see three simple, but useful principles:

o A sign is a combination of the signifier plus the signified. That is, the “sign” represents a some “real” construct or thing (abstract or otherwise)—the thing that is signified or represented. Then a thought or word image represents that thing. That is, it “represents” or “signifies” it (the signifier). The process of representation is called “signification.” Example follows!

o Signs work together to form codes, or sign systems. People who want to portray a meaning (such as through their wardrobe or in a media advertisement) rarely use only one signifier to represent an idea—they want the idea to be clear.

o Sign systems work together to reinforce ideology (Barthes’ original idea): Sign systems are never neutral, but work together to create and pass on (produce and reproduce) ways of thinking. I think today we must also realize the potential for sign systems to challenge ideology as well! [And, as we will see in Postmodernism, sometimes they do both!]. Signs systems do this by what is known as connotative shift, the rubbing of meaning from one sign to another. Sometimes signs use second-order sign systems, where a signifier in one image represents an entire sign in another image. For example, in the image below, if we put a cowboy hat on the male model, the hat (signifier) would represent cowboy (signified)—but the whole image of cowboy becomes a signifier of rugged individualism and masculinity, with an entire “mythology” behind it.

A sample analysis of an A&F ad:


o open-mouth expression (signifier) represents shock (signified)

o Wood bar, heavy quilt represent sort of a cabin

o Smiles represent fun

Sign systems:

o Beauty: long hair (women) smooth skin (all models—note most A&F men have no hair on their chest); big lips (women); slender (all models—how many heavy A&F models do you ever see?); skin tone (how many African, Asian, or Latino/Latina A&F models do you ever see?)

o Sex: torso line at man’s waist and women’s holding boxers represent that he is naked, which represents sexuality.

o Fun: Even models who have shocked expression have “smiles” in their eyes, indicating that it is a mock surprise (note, for example, model on the left).


o The most apparent (and probably deliberate) ideology is that sex is fun and that A&F is associated with sex and fun. (The meaning rubs from one image to the rest of the images).

o There is another (perhaps unintentional) ideology of masculine and feminine beauty: Who is “beautiful” in the so-called A&F lifestyle—and who is left out of that image of beauty? And what are the purposes of beauty? Here, it is tied to pleasing the opposite sex (One writer, Schwictenberg, argues that the mult-billion dollar American beauty industry is focused on making women make themselves pleasing for men and supports mostly the owners of the beauty products and the ad companies).

o Finally, it is interesting that there is one man with four women in the ad. Would the ad be understood differently or accepted differently if there were one woman in the bed with several men? What will one man do in a bed with four women? This may feed indirectly into the notion of women being there primarily for men’s pleasure and not vice versa (though many Madonna videos upset this imagery!). Also, while we might see one man with several women, we rarely see one woman with several men (what would that imply!?) unless the woman is clearly between the men. Female sexual contact can be implied or even stated explicitly, because it is often shown for the male gaze, for masculine desire (a phenomenon known as lesbian chic).

Want to see a fuller example? Here is an on-line article that analyzes the use of male imagery in perfume/cologne ads using semiotics:

Ø Postmodernism: The old notion of media was that it had a given effect on the audience. Soon, however, people began to question this. It seemed, rather, that there were multiple audiences, or segments of a public, who observed a given text. Or, another way of thinking of this is that we used to believe that “gender affected behavior” as a variable (scientific notion). We soon came to believe that “each society constructs gender in its own way, and the construction of gender changes.” What it means to be a woman or man today is different than, say, 50 years ago in the U.S. But, what if there is not a single definition of femininity or masculinity, but multiple definitions that compete against each other. Postmodernism, a view of the social world as fragmented and created by contradictory sets of ideas (for a simple definition) holds this idea. Again, very complex, it resists a simple explanation, but here are some main ideas:

o is seldom a single meaning in a text, but multiple meanings (polysemy). Some texts deliberately lend themselves to multiple possible “readings” (interpretations), such as Madonna music videos or gay-friendly commercials (just vague enough for the mainstream audience, but just same-sex oriented enough to speak to a gay or lesbian audience). Readers can take different approaches to any text, however. These readings include:

§ The dominant or preferred reading: This is the reading the text-maker intends you to take, or perhaps the ‘mainstream’ reading. The Madonna video below is a love story. Marlboro cigarettes will make you manly. Big Johnson t-shirts are funny (even the dominant reading would say that they are about sex!)

§ An oppositional reading takes issue with the underlying ideology of the text. The Marlboro man image of masculine sexuality is restrictive to many other ways of expressing one’s identity. The Big-Johnson t-shirts show women as sex objects only, not as relational partners or, much less, individuals (they are “bodies,” not “somebodies”).

§ Someone who takes a negotiated reading of a text may agree with the overall message of the text (that is, agreeing with the overall ideology that Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee presents a more complex view of urban (including Black) reality than many other texts, but disagree with how the text plays out (for example, how the women in the text are still passive and framed primarily in sexual terms).

o texts borrow meaning from other texts (intertextuality), so that, rather than being very linear in how it changes, meaning leaps and jumps unpredictably from text to text. For example, Shrek makes use of Freudian psychoanalytic theory (Lord Farquhar has a big castle—he must be compensating for something), Walt Disney (the lines to enter the Kingdom of Dulat), and WWF wrestling style (as well as 20-30 different fairy tale and poetry texts and various rock-and-roll songs). But sometimes, a commercial can borrow from a whole set of meanings by just pulling a single image from that text. By putting a cowboy hat on an actor, we pull upon an entire ideology of the American West, of cowboys (rugged individualism, manliness, etc.), borrowing meaning from one text and inserting it into another.

o Any sign, image, or idea has meaning only in terms of the set of ideas with which it is placed (or discourse). As a good example, we recently saw competing fliers in Fell Hall. One said The Daily Vidette was unpatriotic because it showed a comic critiquing U.S. war generals. Another said it was patriotic because it allowed representation of different ideas. In this battle over meaning, patriotism has different a different meaning depending on the other ideas placed with it.

o Much of what was associated with modernism is abandoned. So, instead of

§ Logic, PM values emotion, spirit, irrationality, and pleasure

§ Linearity, PM values non-linearity

§ Structure, clear boundaries, PM values blurred genres (for example, the line between genres—a comedy mystery mass comm theory textbook was created by Arthur Asa Berger).

§ Metanarrative (single, overarching explanation of any kind), PM values multiple narratives, competing stories

§ Unity, PM favors fragmentation

o So, in terms of how this applies to culture, intercultural communication, and representation,

§ PM would see many different Black cultures, rather than a single African American culture

§ PM would see a single person’s identity—or the meaning in a given text, as fragmented, rather than consistent, as we are the result of competing messages.

§ PM gave rise to multiculturalism, the idea that there can be multiple cultural truths, equal validity (indeed, if we take PM to its fullest extent, there is no truth of any kind, for that would be a “metanarrative.” There are only ideas set in relation to other ideas. Of course, that itself becomes a statement of “truth” about what it is like, so the very statement contradicts PM itself! Oh, I love irony. J]

§ PM would look for fragments and difference in an account of culture, rather than the way everyone is alike (it would hate “individualism/collectivism” etc.

§ PM would not expect a text to have a unified cultural representation, but a fragmented and even contradictory representation.

Watch this Video:

(Very abbreviated!) Analysis:

A sample PM analysis: “Express Yourself”

In the video, “Express Yourself,” Madonna portrays a woman who is apparently owned by a wealthy man who owns a factory. The factory is full of male workers who work in a dark, drippy, and hot climate with lots of cogs and He sits in his elite office and hits his remote. A set of live singers come to life (one or two are black, with trumpet and sax. The signifiers tell us they are playing “jazz,” though we cannot hear it.

The man goes to check on his workers. The woman sends her cat (hmmm—wonder what that represents) to fetch one of the workers. Interestingly, he is the one without a shirt and with rippling muscles and water dripping on him. In the meantime, she dances at the top of the stairs in a men’s business suit but showing her bra while doing the Michael Jackson crotch-grab (she is “expressing herself” by playing with gender roles and dress and by calling the man she wants). There are many other images to consider but this will be enough for our analysis! Some PM points:

o The video uses intertextuality—the cogs and workplace, even before we get to the quotation at the end, link to an old movie, Metropolis, where a factory is run by an evil woman (I think).

o There is a contradiction: the singer is a strong woman, but when she shows her strength, she uses male gestures and clothes. In the end, the worker man comes up and “takes control”—she becomes strong by “letting a man take her to higher ground”

o There is another contradiction: While the video promotes self-expression and respect, it limits expression to a very narrow vision of female and male beauty AND passes on some racial stereotypes.

o A dominant reading might see it as a love story: Madonna goes after the worker in the “pit,” expressing herself and her sexual desires. This could be seen as empowering as well. An oppositional reading might totally reject the ties to women’s self-expression with sex and see Madonna, while seeking her own sexual goals, as still being a “sell-out” both in terms of traditional notions of beauty and of tying women’s identity primarily to sex (and heterosexual sex at that, if one takes Queer Theory into her or his analysis). A negotiated reading would see the text as having some very positive “libratory” (freeing, empowering) elements, such as women taking responsibility for their own elf-expression and personal pleasure, but still rejecting the way that this ideology plays out in the video.

In the end, the video is both empowering and constraining for women’s identities.

Some sample semiotic analyses from the Web (some with images):

Ø Semiotics for beginners:

Ø A very detailed guide on Semiotics for beginners:

Ø Semiotic analysis of the male body in Calvin Klein ads:

Ø analysis of political cartoons (first page, to give you an idea):

Ø Media representation of people with disabilities:

Ø Women’s bodies in sports ads (short analysis):

Ø Clearinghouse site for semiotics and new media (links to authors, brief articles on topics such as cybergluttony, signification (meaning) of icons on a computer, etc.:

Ø Semiotic analysis of designer clothing ads:

Ø Marketing on the Internet—a semiotic analysis (article):

Ø A list of some sources on semiotics (all web links):

Ø And, finally, A fun, pictorial “slide show” that guides you through some ideas of semiotics (gleaned from the above list): Semiotics and advertisements: I highly recommend this link, as it walks you through several advertisements step by step in an entertaining, but educational way! Ø Cultural Studies: Just as CT is diverse, so is Cultural Studies (Hall, 1992). In brief, cultural studies refers to a cross-disciplinary group of studies that analyzes popular culture. That is to say that, like CT, cultural studies has roots in diverse disciplines (Hall, 1992). It sometimes makes analyses based on linguistics (e.g. semiology, see above), on psychology (e.g., Freudian psychoanalysis), or on neo-Marxism. Thus, all of the above terms (hegemony, sites of struggle, etc.) become important in CS. CS is different from anthropology in that it looks often at modern urban cultures. Cultural studies is interested in all aspects of popular culture, from texts commonly understood as mediated (billboards, romance novels, newspaper comics, journalism) to texts less often seen as mediated, but that are still symbolic, in that they carry meaning, and are still mass produced.

Big Johnson Head Boats

A note on texts: In cultural studies, anything with symbolic meaning can be a text. This Website, is, of course, a text (and, thus, open for analysis!). An e-mail is a text. But then, so is clothing. Certainly, we could think of a text with words and pictures as a text—this is not a far cry from a message understood as “mediated.” For example, the Big Johnson t-shirt logo on the right (one of the cleaner ones I could fine) represents a long line of shirts (worth of analysis), many of which make innuendos to sex acts, frequently with one man and many large-breasted females in the ad. Cultural studies writers (many of whom use semiotics, feminist, and other forms of analysis) would have much to analyze in such ads and the way they treat women as objects (frequently implying the value of sexual acts with women with whom a man does not have a strong or committed relationship, much as everyday language terms like “pickin’ up babes” do).

In the ad above to the left, all the t-shirts say is “IDJ,” which is a reference to what seems to be a Dutch iPod party page (a promotional by iPod in Holland, perhaps?) Images below are from the same. But even the images on this site could be analyzed for the links of iPod to youth, ethnic, and gender identity. But Nestor García Canclini, in his essay on the definition of culture (in Baldwin et al., 2006), notes that even everyday items like refrigerators (and, by extension, laptops, cars, and underwear) have symbolic value (Canclini calls it, following Bordieu, “sign” value). That is to say, one style, size, brand of refrigerator (etc.) has a different meaning than another. This is why one whole CS text looked at the Sony Walkman—not just the advertisements, but the device itself—its use (who uses it and what does its use symbolize), its production, and its regulation. A similar analysis might now be done on the iPod, as represented not only in iPod images, but in its use, in worldwide advertising campaigns such as the make-your-own-iPod video contest featured on the IDJ Party page cited elsewhere in this discussion.

Cultural studies is different than mainstream rhetorical analysis (which might look at the themes of a text–the construction of a message–the what and how) in that it looks at social and historical structures (the why). Culture “as the site where meaning is generated and experienced, becomes a determining, productive field through which social realities are constructed, experienced, and interpreted” (Turner, 1990, p. 15, emphasis added). “Site” here hints at a site of struggle. Popular culture iDJ Kevin(art, rock and roll, Barbie dolls, detective stories) are not merely cultural representations or artifacts; they are vehicles of social meaning. In fact, texts are a primary vehicle in the power struggles between groups over meaning (who can determine the meanings for a given society) Meanings are produced and reproduced through these vehicles. Ex: Barbie dolls not only “represent” beauty, should someone 100 years from now look back at American culture. It helps to propagate (reproduce) certain notions of beauty. Beauty is articulated (joined together, represented in connection) with femininity. And this expression of femininity includes some and excludes others. In the end, it restricts woman’s expressiveness and, in some senses, creates a notion of female beauty which serves men. So, not only are “meanings” reproduced, but so are power structures and ideology.

Ideologies might surround anything from the ideology of success (tied to capital goods and consumerism), the ideology of individuality, the ideology of education, notions of what constitutes beauty (and who is excluded by that construction), Americanness, male/females roles, and so on.

In summary, CS writers are interested in particular artifacts or images of popular culture (from clothing to media texts to media hardware to cultural artifacts) and what they say about larger social issues.

iPod partygirlsØ Feminism and Queer Theory: It can be seen from above how several of the strains of CT can lead to a critique of male-dominated structures in a given society (feminism) or to structures which favor and benefit only heterosexuals (queer theory). Thus, much feminism and queer theory (a name the group of theorists has adopted for themselves) is based on some element of Marxist research or queer theory (see, for example, works by Michael Warner, Cathy Schwictenberg, Kuan-Hsing Chen). For example, Patricia Hill Collins (1990) looks at how media images and other structures, both within and outside of the black community, serve to oppress black women sexually, racially, and economically. Schwictenberg (1986) looks at feminine beauty and how it serves not women, but men and capitalism. Both seek to give women sources for resistance of these images (e.g. empowerment).

The new edge in Intercultural Critical Studies:

Finally, we see intercultural communication turning in some new, interesting directions. Note that all of these directions are treating intercultural communication more in terms of social power relations, rather than simply cultural difference or individual prejudice. They are all much more “radical” (seeking cultural and social change) than merely training people how “we can all just get along.”

Ø Critical Race Theory (CRT): Beginning with the work of law professor Derrick Bell (Faces at the Bottom of the Well), CRT takes a much more political and social look at race relations. Very different from early theories of racism and prejudice that saw it largely as psychological (see Prejudice page), Bell and other CRT researchers see racism as deeply imbedded in the legal and social system. Thus, these writers take a clearly political look at anti-racism (fighting structural, not just psychological racism), rather than merely multiculturalism (teaching people about other cultures with the naïve belief that if we are better informed, racism will just go away—also focuses solely on individual thought and feeling and not on social change).

Ø Whiteness studies: Early writers in this area began to see that Whiteness is an invisible center of social power that maintains itself as the standard for social thought and action (my own def). This plays out in the way Whites communicate, the way they resist naming “white” as another co-culture or ethnicity, and the way that images, advertising, and much of our thinking revolves invisibly around whiteness. The world revolves around Whiteness. Thus, media analyses (e.g., Raka Shome’s analysis of City of Joy) note how often the White hero (usually male) comes and solves everyone else’s problems (see, for example, Dances with Wolves, Showdown in Little Tokyo, and countless other films). Just as the filmographic camera usually looks from a male position (masculine gaze), it also looks from a White position. Like CRT, the focus is not simply on gaining awareness, but in fighting social structures that keep White at the center.

o A classic essay by Peggy McIntosh: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack of Whiteness.

Ø Postcolonialism: Finally, many researchers are turning to postcolonialism. Like CRT and Whiteness studies (and often used together with them), this theory suggests that most world relations and world problems are related to the historical domination by some cultures (the colonized) by other cultures (the colonizers). Colonizing relations, for example, are what lead many Mexican American men to exhibit more machismo than men who still live in Mexico, as, in America, they have been “colonized.” Often people in this line of research consider ideas such as

o Hybridity: How cultures borrow from each other to create “hybrid” cultural forms (blended from two cultures)—but these hybrids always exist within the power relations of the two cultures.

o Diasporic identities: How people from a given culture (like Poland or Africa) spread across the world maintain a sense of common identity despite their existence in other cultures (and, again, the power relations between the diasporic group and the dominant cultures in which it finds itself).

Text Box: Reflecting Back on Foxwoods Casino… See general summary of the chapter by Leda Cooks on the Nonverbal Communication Website. Only after these brief notes (or more reading) on postmodern and postcolonial identities can we realize that what Cooks has actually done in that essay is applied postmodern and critical concepts to the “mediate” nature of space, architecture, and costume. This essay is important to us first because it shows the thin, even nonexistent line between he study of “nonverbal” communication (in this case, use of “Indian” clothing, the ornaments of the “space,” such as the crystal, nondescript, light-bedazzled “Indian chief” in the middle of the Casino) and mediated communication: These are, in fact, mediated, and in some cases, mass produced images (Kachina Dolls in the gift shop, even though the Pequot never used them—they are SW Indian artifacts). Further, the essay is a good example of postmodern deconstruction: It highlights fragmented meanings, meanings put together by a pastiche or collage of symbols (pictures, statues, clothes, artifacts). The images are built into discourses (e.g., a “story” about peaceful Indian-White relations in the pictures around the room); the discourses frame identity (e.g., what is “Indian” identity as portrayed in the artifacts); but the discourses serve power interests in contradictory ways. Cooks concludes that the Pequot are arguably the most visible (well-known, money-making) and invisible (effaced and erased through their own casino decorations) tribe in the United States. But, following the complex “dialectic” of power, they are both empowered (by receiving millions of American dollars through the Casino in a way that guarantees their own existence) and disempowered (robbed of common knowledge of their own cultural identity) through the Casino.

Putting it all together:

Up until now¸ we have treated quantitative and qualitative studies as if they were separate. In a way, this is true. Each gives us a different type of understanding. However, perhaps we would learn the most if we considered them together—first looking at close detail at ideologies of beauty, Americanness, democracy, femininity/masculinity, “race,” and so on through qualitative analysis, but also considering research that demonstrates rather the ideologies in these images have an effect. Consider the following quantitative research findings (abbreviated from Social Sciences abstracts)!

Johnson, Adams, & Ashburn (1995). Differential gender effects of exposure to rap music on African American adolescents’ acceptance of teen dating violence: The use of violence does not affect males’ acceptance of violence in romantic situations, but females exposed to videos were more likely to accept violence in relationships than those not exposed to videos.
Tiggeman & Pickering (1996): Role of television in adolescent women’s body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness: Questionnaires relating to how much and what television had been watched in the previous week were completed by 94 adolescent women. Results revealed that although total television-viewing time did not correlate with either body dissatisfaction or drive for thinness, the amount of time spent watching soaps, movies, and (negatively) sport predicted body dissatisfaction. Furthermore, the watching of music videos predicted drive for thinness. These findings are in accordance with sociocultural accounts for body dissatisfaction and for the emergence of eating disorders in young women.
Strouse, Buerkel-Rothfuss, & Long (1995): Gender and family as moderators of the relationship between music video exposure and adolescent sexual permissiveness: Results of a survey of 214 adolescents revealed a stronger association between permissive sexual attitudes and behavior and reported exposure to music videos for females than for males. As predicted, the association for females was much stronger for those from unsatisfactory family environments.

Further Examples from the Martin, Nakayama, and Flores reader:

Ø King, J. L. (2002). Cultural differences in the perceptions of sports mascots

1. What exactly is the study about? What is the “text” of analysis?

2. What are some of the arguments that Giago makes in response to the use of Native American mascots? What are some of the rhetorical strategies?

3. Using questions from MN&F, “What suggestions for change would you give Mr. Giago in order to make his columns more “real” for non-Native American audiences?

Thought Box: What is your stance on the use of Native American mascots? Provide your most sound reasoning, and be sure to take the position of opponents into consideration!

Ø Seiter, E. (2002). Different children, different dreams?

1. What exactly is the study about? What is the “text” of analysis?

2. What are some of the images or thoughts frequently associated with Whites and Blacks by gender (e.g., White men, Black women, p. 213). How does Seiter see some of these images played out in advertisements with and for children? Consider making a grid of the common themes, something like this:

Image Thematics







3. Why does Seiter (or do you) feel that these images are important? Note the definition of ideology on bottom p. 217, L column.

4. What does the representation of non-White groups tell us about our ideological construction of Whiteness?

5. This article uses more of an interpretation of texts. Do you feel that it would be more or less persuasive if Seiter had done a content analysis with frequency counts of images? Defend your answer.

Thought Box: Do you think that Seiter’s comments are justified at a societal level regarding the way children in advertisements are portrayed? In what ways do you feel that other groups are portrayed justly or injustly in American media (are some groups stereotyped, and if so, how? Or have images in advertisements become more equalized?

Ø Orbe, M. P., & Hopson, M. C. (2002). Images of Black males on The Real World

1. What exactly is the study about? What is the “text” of analysis?

2. What are some of the themes (ideologies) surrounding male blackness that Orbe & Hopson see in their analysis of the text(s)? Note the main themes highlighted pp. 220-224.

3. Do you think that there is anything special about representation in “reality TV” shows that might make it different (more, less convincing) than traditional comedies or dramas?

Thought Box: Consider another group, such as East Asian women, Latino men, senior citizens (male or female), “Arabs,” and so on. What do you think some of the ‘stock images’ (or archetypes) of this group are? (An archetype is an ”idealized model” of a person—a set of stereotypes that surround a category of person, such as “cowboy,” “rebel,” and so on). What are the ideologies about the dominant group (Whites, Americans, younger adults) that become apparent when we look at the stereotypes and archetypes of the other groups?

Note: An archetype (see above) is broader than a stereotype. A stereotype might be that “women are more talkative,” but archetypes of women might each contain a whole set of stereotypes, such as “mother,” “seductress,” “businesswoman,” “athlete,” and so on. The stereotypes might vary for women from archetype to archetype.

Ø Hasian, M., Jr. (2002). The Siege and American media portrayals of Arabs and Moslems

1. What exactly is the study about? What is the “text” of analysis?

2. What are some of the stereotypes people have of Arabs or Muslims (aside from the obvious that Arabs are Muslims and Muslims are Arabs)?

3. What are some of the images within the movie that struggle against the common stereotypes? What are images that promote the stereotypes? What is Hasian’s final conclusion?

Thought Box: Possible App 3: Choose a text of your choice and analyze it to the best of your ability. The text should have something to do with either cultural ideology (something, for example, about American values or the values of your culture) or about representation of difference (for example about the representation of masculinity or femininity, the representation of women of color, etc.). Typically, if the text is shorter, you might be able to analyze several ideologies; if it is longer, like a movie, you might want to focus on a specific set of ideologies. Try to determine whether the set of ideologies is useful or negative. Does it stereotype a particular group? Does it promote one way of thinking and marginalize another?

WebBoard Ideas

Read an article of your choice and summarize it (why they did it, what they did, what they found, implications). There are some fun-looking articles in “Social Sciences Index” under “music videos” for example! Consider:
A qualitative study of religious images in music videos (McKee & Pardun); also, religion and sexuality combined in imagery (Pardun & McKee)
Construction of Indian national identity in Indian music videos:
A Cantonese soap opera (Granitsas)
Gender and sexuality in Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel (Kaloff)
Gay voice in popular music video: Don’t Leave Me This Way (Attig)
Or many articles in Critical Studies of Media Communication (can search through “Com Abstracts” Milner on-line), such as this article that compares White and Black readers’ perceptions of two African American comics, Jump Start and The Boondocks:!!WHITENESS

Thought Box: Consider doing your own mini-study! Do a thematic or content analysis of race and/or gender in the morning comics. Take a clipboard and analyze the imagery on the covers of toys at the local toystore. Analyze the ideas surrounding men and women or people of different races in your favorite video game. Or do some other analysis of your own.


For Example: “The Real American Fragrance”

Quick analysis! (In essay I would spell this out in more detail). For this text, I would use semiotic analysis and I would look for various sign systems:

o Status: the cape cod house, the humongous flag, the style of the perfume bottle, the clothing.

o Gender and ethnicity: The posture of the women versus the men, the positioning in the ad of the Whites (center and top) and the Blacks, noting the dominant posture of the man in the white shirt in the middle

o America: A sign system noted by the flag, but also the TH logo, the color of the clothing, and the slogan, “The real American fragrance.”

o Diversity: The various skin tones and hues, and yet the non-diversity in body shape, physical beauty, and age.

In this ad, after uncovering the various sign systems, I would note how the ad centers ideologies of youth and beauty as “the real American” way to be, marginalizing other notions of beauty. While the ad seeks to promote (ostensibly) a view of “The Real American” as diverse, the posture and position of the models, the limit to only two ethnic groups (those with the most power in the American political, economic, and media spheres), and the focus on youth suggest a very restrictive ideology of what it means to be a “Real American.”

Resources: A fun site on many aspects of critical theory. Get your critical theorist trading cards here! Extensive resources on semiotics a database of visual advertisements!


· Brookey, R. A., & Cannon, K. L. (2007). Sex lives in Second Life. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26, 145-164.

· Conrad, K., Dixon, T., & Zhang, Y. (2009). Controversial rap themes, gender portrayals and skin tone distortion: A content analysis of rap music videos. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 53, 134-156.

· Nakamura, L. (2009). Don’t hate the player, hate the game: The racialization of labor in World of Warcraft. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26, 128-144.

· Rivadeneyra, R., Ward, L. M., & Gordon, M. (2007). Distorted reflections: Media exposure and Latino adolescents’ conceptions of self. Media Psychology, 9, 261–290.

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