Media is a means for the masses to communicate with one another and has constantly been developing to further that objective. However, the messages sent can be inspiring or antagonistic to those who do not conform to its identity. There are multiple methods to approach analyzing media, each with its own structure of interpretation, thus naming them the Seven Paradigms. One of the grand two of these approaches is the Critical Approach which this post will focus itself on using the example of beauty by western perspectives.
A paradigm is a mental outlook. People talk of paradigms of successful people, meaning the mental habits that they have disciplined themselves into in order to achieve their goals. Similarly, there are methods of analyzing media based on ones outlook towards it which will form the angle in which a person will choose to gather information to substantiate said outlook. There are seven of these theoretical approaches when choosing to analyze media.
The Technological Deterministic approach focuses on the nature of technology and how that impacts society’s communication and perception. And with this how it’s increasing dominance that can change and reshape daily life and culture, as examined by Marx & Smith (1994).
The Information Society approach seeks to analyze what new media is and how new media allows for the progression of information and communication technologies and how it shapes our modern world, Global Knowledge Partnership (2004).
The Post Structural, Postmodern approach aims to deconstruct the mass perception and focuses on individual interpretations of subjects. When looking at media, this approach will focus on individual effects rather than a consensus to media’s phenomena. This approach values subjectivity from multiple sources rather than a single researcher.
The Post Colonial approach examines the information given by the media in terms of historical imbalances in which it exposes cultural superiority in its mass communication. Thus this approach is anti-colonialist and seeks to prove how our modern society is still shaped by its impact and beliefs, Chandra ( 2013).
The Meaning Production approach encompasses: phenomenology, symbolic interactionism and semiotics. Phenomenology with regards to analyzing media and its effects aims to establish that our reality is constructed by the messages sent via the media and in how we experience life amongst others in our society based of this common constructed reality. Symbolic interactionism is a sociological study which examines how people interact with things and each other based on the meanings that has been given to them, Blumer (1969). Due to the media, it has constructed a reality which has a set method of conduction in society due to its widespread communication of these standards of behavior. And lastly, semiotics is the study of signs and codes of convention and their meaning and interpretation. This term with regards to the media, looks at how the media has created and manipulated its own symbols and their meanings for society to understand.
The Positivist approach is one of the grand two theories and is an objective and scientific based means to gather and analyze information. This approach seeks to understand how the media works through: empiricism, behaviorism and functionalism. It seeks to observe society through media with the use of scientific conductions such a control groups in order to analyze our behavior within society as a whole for its harmonious existence, Fourie (2001)
The media has created a system which favors itself and has set not only unrealistic, but prejudice standards of beauty in order to construct a reality which forces individuals to consume products that will enable them to achieve this standard such as health and fitness magazines, or follow accounts or television programs which teach individuals how to achieve this look and in turn exposes itself to greater audiences thus creating a state of perpetual growth via a “monkey see, monkey do” society. This is how a critical analyzer would approach the role of the media in our society in its definition and promotion of beauty.
I have chose to delve a bit deeper into this paradigm as I find it is one which I closely relate to. I admire the opinion of those which choose to question “the norm” as the media is so integrated in our lives it is an undifferentiated component, thus allowing it to take up an authoritative position making its messages seem legitimate. Media is a wonderful mechanism for communication however it is important to look at what messages are being presented and for whose benefit.
The Critical approach acts as an antagonist towards media and seeks to uncover its injustices and its self-centered construction to further authoritative powers in society rather than the masses. As stated by Fourie (2001) the media is an idealogical agent, and the critical approach aims to uncover its ideals as unbalanced and subjective. This approach’s main pillars are: the Mass Society Theory and Popular Culture Criticism.
The Mass Society Theory examines the decline of traditional family and community relationships and customs and the enforcement of the “status quo”, Buechler (2013).
The Mass Society Theory with regards to the example shows how media has influenced western beauty on a global scale. Traditional ideals of beauty in Fiji were full-figured and curvy women however once television was introduced to the island that perception changed. Goode (1999) describes how girls developed eating disorders and went on diets in order to achieve the beauty of “the western women”. This posses the question of how was the media able to dismiss thousands of years of traditional beliefs within a short period of time to its introduction. This could be due to the desirability beautiful western women are projected to have and thus women aspire to obtain this attention, also looking at the males perspective in how the introduction of western girls then lead to a shift of beauty standards for them thus leading Fijian women to meet this.
Popular Culture criticism focuses on the negative aspects of social lifestyles and beliefs in which the public are involved in due to mass media. It seeks to expose its subjectivity and intentions of self upliftment. Using the medium of films or television we see western’s popular culture perception and influence of what “the popular girl” is. She is depicted as a fair-skinned, skinny and vogue cover worthy beautiful, along with this she is also wealthy. e.g. Mean Girls
In this way media acts as an agent for itself by promoting these ideals so that individuals conform to capitalist absurdity by buying a range of products to enable them to reach this standard.
Popular: liked, admired, or enjoyed by many people.
Analyzing the definition we see why individuals would succumb to this ideal as humans seek acceptance. However we question the diction of “liked”, as in most cases the popular girl is depicted as a mean and superficial individual who is not liked for who she is, but who she is for what she posses materialistically and so we question how even though the media itself address this, individuals still strive to achieve this social superiority. Can we say it is due to the media painting the image that the benefits outweigh the costs?
The Critical approach also includes: Political Economy, Cultural Studies and Feminist Studies. Political Economy refers to the way in which the advancement in communications shape these relationships to understand its effects on social institutions. Examining factors such as the affects on different economic classes due to corporate and political authorities affecting what the media produces. Comparing America to North Korea, we see how America’s democratic capitalists state encourages purchases of beauty products and branded clothes to achieve the American Dream of happiness and success and so the media releases multiple advertisement trying to sell these products. In North Korea however this western idea of beauty is punishable by law, sending individuals to labour camps, Rothwell (2016) and thus the state-controlled media only advertises products considered to be not too western.
Cultural Studies focuses on the the investigation of certain media studies from a mono perspective in its favor, instead of evaluating where it takes place and how that impacts established cultured societies. This can be seen in how western influences of beauty have become a target for achievement by South Korean men and women in which they have a double eyelid surgically inserted so that they can have a less oriental appearance.
And lastly Feminist Studies debunks the media’s objectification and standardized image of women.
In this way women are pressured to look and conduct themselves in a certain way in order to be considered beautiful or else they will be unwanted for romantic and sexual interest. As well as the discriminatory exclusion of or stereotypical portrayals of other: race, ethnic or non-heterosexual groups. This is best explained by Lupita Nyong’o emotional and inspiring speech:
The media is an extraordinary device for communication, spreading information and entertainment and we can analyze it’s pros and cons, codes and conventions via the various methods of the seven paradigms, however noting how nothing is as it seems and one should be critical of the messages that the media sends to build a cultured society based on its beliefs.
Fourie, P.J. 2001. Media Studies: Media History, media and society. 2nd ed. Cape Town: Juta&Co. pp. 122-123 and p.130.
Marx, L. & Smith, M.R. 1994. Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. P. ix.
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Chandra, U. 2013. The Case of Postcolonial Approach to Study Politics. New Political Science. p.3.
Blumer, H. 1969. Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. Los Angeles: University of California Press. p.2.
Buechler, S.M. 2013. Mass Society Theory. The Wiley Blackwell: Encyclopedia of Social & Political Movements. [online] Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9780470674871.wbespm473/full. [Accessed 6 Aug. 2017].
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Rothwell, J. 2016. North Korea bands piercings and Western-style clothing. The Telegraph. [online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/17/north-korea-bans-piercings-and-western-style-clothing/. [Accessed 6 Aug. 2017.]
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