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Sociology Mckee's Theories Essay

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Alan McKee lists five related themes common to popular and academic concerns about the media sphere; that it’s too trivialised, too commercialised, too fragmented, that it relies too much on spectacle, and has caused citizens to become passive/apathetic. Focusing on the concept of audience, discuss one or more of McKee’s themes using an example from new and traditional media.
As social groups and fragments naturally transform themselves parallel to the stages of the development of modern technology, the concept of audience will always in turn be the product of this environment. In the modern day world, one cannot help but question if the evolution of society has been accelerated in such a way partially due to the influence of the media sphere. Audiences are now more interactive in the media and public sphere in partnership with the Web 2.0 movement as a form of new media. Even though the new age media revolution has taken over the bigger part of our lives, the means of traditional media outlets such as television are more open to all the different societies that now exist. As the quality of media outbreaks dwindles and quantity is dangerously on the rise, the idea of commercialized and fragmented elements in our society is what we are subjected to within today’s media realm. Allan Mckee in his text The Public Sphere: An Introduction discusses these topics in depth as well as others in relation to the concept of audience and how the transformation of media has affected social behaviors. It is imperative to note that progressions in social transformation and the transgression of new age media run parallel of each other, as they feed off relevant decisions and developments.
Jurgen Habermas, the writer of ‘The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’, is the founding father of the public sphere ideology that has been debated and discussed throughout its existence since the text was published in 1979. The notion of the public sphere is one of historical importance which can be used a tool to assess the development of communal discourse and political debate. He defines the public sphere as a ‘social domain’ which ‘is to give expression to public opinion by allowing people to openly and equally express their views’. (Habermas 1979) His definition of the public sphere addresses the hopefulness of a consensual society with a common goal for the development of society. Although in theory this is would create a harmonious aura throughout the world, this is sadly not what the world has resulted to. Dahlgren argues that ‘…like the concept of democracy, to use the notion of the public sphere does not suggest that what we see today is its consummate embodiment, Again, we would be advised to try to position ourselves between ‘dismally ideological’ and ‘blatantly Utopian’ views’. (McQuail, 2002. pp 195)
This argument draws the realization that a fragmented and divided society is what we have been concluded from centuries of evolution and revolutionary ideas. Fragmentation by definition refers to ‘the process whereby the same amount of audience attention is dispersed over more and more media sources’.(McQuail 1997) McKee reasons the cause of fragmentation with Habermas’ thought process in mind. He says ‘…He’s (Habermas) quite explicit in his argument that historically the public sphere was better when the working classes, women and blacks were excluded (however) he genuinely wants equal access to the public sphere for all citizens. But he doesn’t want those citizens to bring their distinct cultures and identities with them, for he thinks this works against equality.’ (McKee 2005) For a public sphere to obtain any kind of possibility for existence, all parties are called to leave their personal views and prejudices separate from public debate, and historically speaking, Habermas concludes that women and the middle class workers have been unable to do this. Due to this occurrence, the developing fragmentation of society was the inevitable end point for social progression.
As society becomes increasingly fragmented in relation to the rapid development of the public sphere, an inner working for the media sphere was created. The media sphere is one of the realms inside the public sphere which adds to its progression in relation to media outlets and their effects on audiences. Through the greater world of the public sphere, audiences are now given the opportunity to develop their own ideas and positions on public issues. Although this kind of society has been sought after over many eras and now has been noticed as a present force, there are certain downfalls which can hinder the evolution of society - one of these being the replacement of consensus with compromise. As different groups naturally develop over time, general agreements on politics, social mannerisms and communal acceptances are now an idea of the past. Through fragmentation, the audience is now unable to reach a state of content. Instead of this, society is only capable to reach compromise. Mckee argues this idea by using the example of the gay community and the increase of their voice in the 21st century society.
The idea of queer activism is ‘… by definition, whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant”. (McKee 2005) Although a Utopian society would call for a given right for all groups to have a free say in society, fragmented groups and conflicting audiences do not allow for this to occur as freely as it should. The introduction of Web 2.0 has created a new realm of self expression, conflicting theories and a further divided fragmented society. One fragment of society who objects to the queer lifestyle can express their opinions through tools such as blogs, whereas the gay social fragment expresses their views of the underrepresentation of heteronormativity (cultural bias in favor of opposite-sex relationships) in the media through these same tools. A prime example of this is the Gay News Pulse (GNP) – a blog site created for the gay community to freely express their opinions and virtues, as well as recognizing the certain fights they are coming up against. A video posted up on their blog was of an extreme homophobic Pastor in America who called for ‘…a great big large fence…put all the lesbians in there… do the same with the queers and the homosexuals. Have that fence electrified so they can’t get out… In a few years they’ll die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce.’ ( Not only does this site bring light to the negative fragments that exist in today’s society, but it also creates an opportunity for awareness to be raised. Audiences are now able to be more aggressive, involved and vocal with the world, although the fragments will never be on the same wave length. The way that society has developed highlights definite links to the argument that Habermas first raised in his text, as he points out ‘…The public sphere was burdened with the tasks of settling with conflicts of interest that could not be accommodated within the classical forms of parliamentary consensus and agreement. Compromise literally had to be haggled out’. (Van Kreiken et. al 2006)
It is important to note that the public sphere, once whole and now fragmented, has always differed from country to country. The communicative structures, tolerance of compromise and the need for consensus are subjective to the political and social stands of each country at each given time. However with the Web 2.0 revolution taking over and connecting the world as one, global fragmentation may possibly slowly dwindle, the creation of the global public sphere reached the surface. Ingrid Volkmer analyses the operation of a public sphere in an international capacity by ‘describing a process of ever-expanding trans-border communication and distribution’. (Van Kreiken et. al 2006) It is possible for different audience fragments to embrace each other’s differences and still remain distinctively cohesive in a global public sphere capacity. Although the presence of fragmentation on a global scale strongly encourages this, there still remains a negative aspect that will most probably never cease to exist. The emergence of Web 2.0 is both the positive and negative factor in this newly reconstructed global community. As audiences are given the option to positively recognize other opinions and outlooks which are opposed to their own, Web 2.0 has further complicated this picture adding a ‘multi-channeled, multi-layered information network’ (Van Kreiken et. al 2006) which gives ample amount of opportunity and space for contradiction, argument and irreconcilable differences. The presence of the global sphere is presenting challenges to the newly generated international community such as making ‘…events from different micro-spheres comprehensible to everyone’. (Van Kreiken et. al 2006) It is vital to reflect and investigate if this challenge is being met in relation to the concept of audience and its interrelation between social and international fragments. As fragmented communities collide with each other due to difference of opinion, the concept of commercialization that subjects the public sphere to an increase in the public divide, effects the progression of society drastically. Habermas argues that the world of mass media is for all quantity purposes, therefore characterized as cheap yet powerful. ‘Commercialisation is the realization of an opportunity’ (Dilanchian, 2009) – this has no restrictions and will happen regardless of any means and costs. Today’s society has proven itself consistently to be constantly creating new fragments, which in turn means new niches are created for product subjectivity. These niches, the advertising version of a social fragment, are applied in a business sense to create a possible market to accomplish high range productivity. This social influence of productivity and capital consumption is taking the idea of media into a new respect. The purpose of the media is to focus ‘…on the social practices of everyday life and the ways in which people consume and understand the media’ (Turner 1996) - however commercialization manipulates this definition to one with a means for capitalism. However, as the concept of commercialization constitutes the presentation of a product which is made to attract a targeted niche, they are furthermore characterized into social classes – the two being upper and working class.
The advertisement procedures and products, due to this further divide, are drastically different from one another. The upper class is seen to have been targeted with lavish and more expensive products through traditional media sources such as television, whereas the working class is subjected to mass produced and poorer quality products. Through this segregation of the classes, and exploiting them for a capitalistic reason, it acts as a reflection of the audience. Habermas argues that when commercialization reaches the working class, it goes from quality to trash and is no longer authentic. The differences between the two classes and the commercialized ploys they are subjected to lies within the language used, explicit nature and necessity for the product through traditional mediums such as television. The upper class audience is given the opportunity to have their minds broadened to the probability to purchase objects that would be nice to have through television advertisements, whereas the working class are targeted with necessity rather than leisure. Although a business mind would argue that through a simple Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT) analysis that by segregating classes is cleverly distinguishing the smart choices from the dangerous, the effects go beyond business and into social.
Habermas argues that by increasing commercialization in society will lead to the downfall of the public sphere as discourse is replaced with productivity. The process ‘…of commercialization… have increasingly targeted the individual consumer while eliminating the mediating contexts of reception and rational discussion’. (Eley 1994) The product and its place in society have the ability to distract the consumer from other realms of society, therefore hindering them to exercise their minds and comment on important social aspects. Traditional media forms such as television which became the exercised tool for commercialization was the beginning of the decline of authentic broadcast media and the ‘subsequent democratization of communication… based upon multiple producers/distributors/consumers’ (Van Kreiken et. al 2006)
Commercialisation, as referred to in the arguments created by Habermas, is the hindrance of the realization of the issues that are worthy of discourse in society. He identifies that audiences who belong to certain fragments, more likely the lower class, have become influenced with the idea of consumerism. The original concept of the public sphere and freedom of public commentary of religion and criticisms of the state has drastically diminished. It has led to ‘…contemporary media is comparatively commercialized… and that this character has led to social fragmentation and apathy among members of the public’. (Fraser 1999) This train of thought directly highlights how the concept of audience is affected through the process of commercialization. The consumer due to the increase in social fragmentation by the increase in commercialized consumerism is not only classed into a fragment, but is now belonging to a socially classed fragment which deems the individual as worthy or un worthy. These audiences are also disadvantaged by now not experiencing the full potential of Habermas’ suggested ideal of the public sphere as it is now saturated with factors that take away from the political ideals that Habermas originally exemplified.
The concept of audience is one that changes on par with the media and public spheres, as without one the other would not exist the way that we know it to. Through concepts such as commercialization and fragmentation, society is able to grow and distinguish itself from the past as its characteristics run their natural course.

20112391 Natasha Ishac

Dahlgren, P. 2002, ‘the Public Sphere as Historical Narrative’’ in McQuail’s Reader of Mass Communication Theory, ed. D,. Sage, London, 195 – 200.
Dilanchian, N. Commercialisation Defined. Dilanchian lawyers and consultants, Australia. 2009.
Fraser. N. 1999, ‘rethinking the public sphere: a contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. S. During, Routledge, London
Freedman, D. The Politics of Media Policy. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK 2008
McKee, A. The Public Sphere: An Introduction. 2005, Cambridge, UK.
O’shaughnessy, Stadler. Media and Society: Fifth Edition. Oxford Publications, Australia 2012
Turner 1996
Van Kreiken; Habibis; Smith; Hutchins; Haralambos; Holborn Sociology: Themes and Perspectives 3rd Edition. HarperCollins, Australia. 2006.
Habermas, J. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. (quotations assembled by Laura Mandell)

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