What is ideology? How can it help usunderstand media? Use academic literature to support your argument.What is ideology? And how can it help our understanding ofmedia? There are many different theories as to what ideology is, from beingabout people’s beliefs and how people see themselves in the world. In thisessay I shall be looking at different theorists and how each of their theorieshelps us to understand what ideology is, and how ideology can help us to understandmedia.
Ideology is a setof beliefs or ideals that are followed by a group of people or an individual.These beliefs are then used as a format for political or economic systems. Anexample of one of these ideological systems is Republicanism, which is thebelief that a country should be run by the people, and that there should be nomonarchy. Gill Branston and Roy Stafford, authors of the ‘The Media Student’s Book’, state that ideology is a “set of ideaswhich give some account of the social world” and “the relationship of theseideas or values to the ways in which power is distributed socially” (Branstonand Stafford, 2010, p.172). What Branston and Stafford are saying here is thatideology tells us where we belong in the world (in terms of social class) andhow we view it, as well as how the power that comes with ideology isdistributed between different social classes.
Terry Eagleton, author of the ‘Ideology: An Introduction’ book, saysthat ideology is “a body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group”and “ideas in which help to legitimate a dominant political power” (Eagleton, 1991,p.1). What Eagleton is saying here is that ideology can be used by powerfulpolitical groups to help them convince others that their ideology is thecorrect idea/belief; one that the people should believe in.
Karl Marx, aGerman philosopher and author of the ‘CommunistManifesto’, believes that ideology is used to keep a power structuretogether. Branston and Stafford write: Marx argued that class difference, or people’s relationship to the meansby which goods and wealth are made and distributed (‘means of production’) werekey to the kinds of values and political ideas that they have. Do they own andprofit from factories, banks, country estates, or do they have to earn theirliving by working for the owners of the factories, banks and so on? (Branston and Stafford, 2010, p.174) What Branston andStafford are saying here is that Marx believed that depending on what socialclass people came from, their ideals and beliefs would be determined by whetheror not they owned the means of production or worked for the people that do ownit. This is the basis for Marxist/communist ideology. According to Marx, the bourgeoisieare the social elite (the people who own the means of production) that have theproletariat (the working class and the majority) work for them to createprofit. Marx saw class struggle between the two classes, where the bourgeoisieexploited the work of the proletariat so that they could create profit andbenefit from their labour. Marx writes: Let the ruling classes tremble at a communisticrevolution.
The proletarians have nothing lose to but their chains. They have aworld to win. Working men of all countries unite! (Marx, 1848). What Marx issaying here is that the proletariat could break free and rise up against theiroppression from the bourgeoisie, seize the means of production and thendistribute the wealth gained equally amongst the working class. What Marx isalso saying here is that the working class from all countries should rise upagainst their oppression by the bourgeoisie, thus starting a worldwide communistrevolution. Ultimately, Marx believed that the world would soon change from capitalistdominated societies to communist dominated societies, where there is no socialclass and everyone is equal. Hegemony isanother way to look at ideology. Hegemony is where a dominant power exercisestheir influence over others.
Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist, argued thathegemony was used as a way for the bourgeoisie/dominant powers to gain consentfrom the people. Branston and Stafford write: Gramsci argued that particular social groups in modern democraciesstruggle for control of consensus, or hegemony. In this they use persuasion andconsent as well as occasional brute force. (Branston and Stafford, 2010, p.177) What Branston and Staffordare saying here is that Gramsci argued that the bourgeoisie /dominant powers incapitalist societies were gaining consent to their rule using ideology, insteadof using force or coercing the people in to giving their consent.
This ideologythen becomes part of the norm and everyday life, so Gramsci called this the’common sense’ values. This then becomes part of the bourgeoisie ‘status quo’,where the working class now share the same values and ideas as the bourgeoisie,thus preventing them from revolting against their rule. Louis Althusser, aFrench Marxist and philosopher on ideology, argued about the ideas of ISA(ideological state apparatus), which includes family, media, education etc. andRSA (repressive state apparatus), which includes prisons and laws. According toAlthusser, a person’s desires or choices are social practices, or morespecifically products of socials practices. Althusser saw the importance inthis, and thought it was necessary to understand how society makes a personinto its ideological image. Vincent B.
Leitch, author of the ‘The Norton Anthology of Theory andCriticism’ mentions that there is a distinction between the two concepts.Leitch writes: The distinction between an RSA andan ISA is its primary function in society, respectively, the administration ofviolent repression and dissemination of ideology. (Leitch, 2001, p.
1488-1491) What Leitch isexplaining here is the distinction between Althusser’s concepts of RSA and ISA,and the ways in which both of the concepts distribute ideology. The repressivestate apparatus (RSA) is used by the ruling classes to control the workingclass. The RSA functions by the ruling classes using the courts or the policein their favour to violently (though this is not always the case) repress theworking class.
However, the ISA (ideological state apparatus) belongs tosociety – to schools and families etc. The ISA doesn’t use force to repress theworking class, it however enforces the rule of ‘dominant classes’ throughideology; people instead accept the rule of others because they fear beingridiculed in society, instead of being forced to submit through violence. Ideology can beused to help us understand media. Media is used by dominant powers to spreadtheir ideological beliefs and to help maintain social control.
Althusser (1971)explains that, as an ideological state apparatus, media doesn’t use pressure asa way to bind society together under one dominant ideology, but instead usesthe will of the people to make them accept the dominant ideology. However,media is also used as a way for people to challenge the dominant ideology.Newspapers, for example, will have articles that openly criticise and opposethe dominant ideology for what it is, whilst at the same time providing perspectivesand opinions on different ideologies (such as feminism) that society canbelieve in. Although these alternate ideological perspectives exist, they areusually overlooked and only ever reach small audiences. Ideology can also helpus understand the media because of the way in which it distributes ideology. Alot of different types of media, such as film and TV; reflect different ideologies,though we are not always aware that they are doing so. An example of this wouldbe action/adventure films, which shows that using force or violence to solveproblems is acceptable and reflects upon certain ideologies. This helps us tounderstand the media because the ideology that is reflected in these films iscapable of reaching big audiences through the use of TV and film, thus allowingfor it to become a more common belief within society.
So then, we canunderstand media through the use of ideology because it shows us how it’s usedby dominant powers to use it make their ideology the social norm. It helps usto understand how the media is used to impose ideology onto society, whichallows those who are in control to keep order and control the masses. It alsohelps us understand how media is used by the people to question the dominantideology, as well as outright criticise it. So to concludethen, ideology is a complex term that has different meanings depending on thecontext that it is used in. In most cases, it is used to refer to the beliefsand ideals of a particular group of people, but can be used to give us an indepth understanding of the world. Ideology gives us an understanding of who weare and what our place in the world is.
It also gives us purpose in life, as itmakes us strive towards being something more. Ideology can also be defined asthe way in which ruling classes use it to consolidate their rule, as well ashow they use ideology to oppress the working class.