Notable theorists like Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895-1973) had spoken about how popular culture and mass media were tools to manipulate society into passivity. In the years since, with the boom in computer and mobile technologies and the heightened internet accessibility, mass media has gained greater control over our lives through our activities on the social platforms we all use.
Let us now explore some of the manipulative methods employed by the media.
One of the major strategies of popular media is to divert the public’s attention away from the pressing issues of the time and keeping them distracted with other trivial but entertaining matters. Although internet did not actually solve this issue, it increased our possibilities of getting real and important news.
Trivial or even imaginary problems are given immense attention and made the public’s only concern. For instance, in 2016, NASA argued that astrology could be considered scientific only if the zodiacs could change their positions. This was presented by Cosmopolitan as a ‘scientific discovery’ which re-wrote the zodiac chart, sparking a huge reaction among the public and forcing NASA to clarify its stand.
Public opinion about any product, person, or issue is developed by providing materials gradually and not all at once. This makes us internalize the idea without much resistance as the process itself remains invisible to us. The popularization of smoking in the 20th century was a vivid instance of this media strategy.
Media convinces a person that they have to make the “painful, but absolutely necessary” decisions in the future. It’s much preferable for us to sacrifice for the future than for the immediate present. This strategy is used for propaganda by dictatorial regimes or to prepare the public for referendums of independence.
Presenting itself as ‘trustworthy’ is one of the major motives of the media. Advertisements employ a tone that makes us uncritical of them, while they assure us that they absolutely know ‘what we need’, far better than we ourselves do. In other words, media becomes our ‘trusted friend’.
In most cases, news makes negative use of emotions, just to clog our capacities of thinking critically and objectively. Reality is often distorted and information manipulated, in order to produce a desired effect which forwards the newsmakers interests.
Inadequate education makes a society vulnerable to manipulations by their media and government. Media controls the access different sections of people have to different information, in ways that benefit them and their patrons. However, internet has made possible access to almost any information from anywhere and has thus weakened this media strategy.
The various media contents like daily soaps, TV shows, sitcoms and mainstream movies, among others, are produced in ways which help in distracting public attention away from major issues, apart from its primary functions of providing recreation to the public. They justify and foster the notion that it is alright to be mediocre, dumb and even rude or vulgar.
Videos and photos are presented in ways that make us feel guilty and responsible for the problems faced by the world. We are made to feel guilty for all the war and violence taking place, even though we had no active role to play in their initiations. The public is convinced that the fault is theirs when, in fact, these are mostly doings of the government.
In these times of immense media activity, there is hardly anything called the private world. The media wants to know everything that we do in order to be able to control the way we think. Personal information of consumers is used to manipulate their actions and decisions in various fields such as politics, fashion, lifestyle etc.
Nowadays, ‘data’ is a tool of multiple uses and, although we don’t have many options but to surrender our data to different agencies, we must be fully conscious of this situation.
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