Media Effects - or - The Information Industry

Dan, 27, North American psychology student

I am a third year psychology student who has decided to do research on dream analysis, more specifically if it is possible for people to insert images into other people's dreams. I would appreciate you giving me any information that could help.

Mr. Hagen's Reply: Media Effects - or - The Information Industry

Influence of Media on Dreams

The insertion (or "injection") of images into the public's and individuals' minds is done everyday, even as we speak. You listen to the radio, watch the TV, read the newspaper; all are edited to shape your thoughts and decisions about the medium, the message and the messenger. Often a political "brand" is discernable. For a good read see Fredric Jameson (see list at end). The International Institute for Dream Research has found that the commercialization of the marketplace of thought and dreaming is pervasive. This commercialization drives the culture industries of Western society.

Battle for the Mind

The print and electronic media provide the public with symbolic and metaphoric vehicles for thought thereby producing mass communication, iconography and the dreams of a speech community. Modern commercial communication is shaped by the media industries' "battle for the mind".

Elections, for example, are about getting the candidates' messages out and persuading the public that their ideas, their messages, are the "right" one made of "the right stuff". The winners of the media wars enjoy the spoils of victory while the losers usually fade away.

The new fall TV line ups have always had a high mortality rate. A recent newspaper article cited the justifications for restructuring of a local radio station as their problems with audience "ratings".

For the sociologist Emile Durkheim ("Division of Labour") speech communities must be united (or disintegrate) as observers and actors of their own cultural stage. This awakening of sense of community is achieved through ceremonies, rituals and mythology.

For Luce Irigaray the configuration of the male and female symbolic universe produces a "specular discursive economy" which have both maternal and paternal genealogy. For feminists sexism and the "battle of the sexes" has become largely a question of how women are represented in the media.

The Information Industry

The information industry configures the social cognition (ego) of its audience through the techniques of persuasion. The mantra of Social Psychology is "belief creates social reality" which is also the rhetorical guiding image of such tabloids as the National Enquirer.

Understanding follows when we recognize that individuals fill at least two roles in modern storytelling, those of spectator and actor. In both individual and communal dreamscreens, we watch ourselves, individually and collectively, interact in the micro and macro sociological patterns of everyday life. This is increasingly overt, on radio phone-in shows, social relationship talk shows, home video television shows, and individual web-sites, for instance. Movies move and move us in a constructed social space which integrates the individual and collective narratives.

Hypodermic Needle: The Injection of Information

One metaphor of media was the "hypodermic needle hypothesis" of media effects. On a pragmatic level this is most likely accomplished through rhetorical (persuasion) suggestion and contagion. More modern theories have however debunked the idea of a "universal" response to the injections of media.

Society is frequently obsessed with the role of media, particularly its dramatization of tragic events. Do the media influence behaviour, or merely reflect it? Taking that question a step further, do the methods and structures of public media reflect those found in the private medium of the dream, or does it shape them, in content and in form?

Public Interest

The public discussion about media effects is a sometimes hot sometimes cold topic. There are numerous theories surrounding the short and long term effects of the media on their audience, yet no real consensus exists as to the influence of media.

Of particular public interest are the effects of violence and sexuality in the media, especially on children and adolescents. Think of the Columbine High School tragedy. What about their dreams?

Media effects are evident in such news stories that witness ritualistic outpourings of grief following tragedies such as mass murders or the deaths of societal icons. Humans evidence a need to witness and participate in rituals that express communal identity. Rituals that were once played out in the relatively small theatres of church and family are now often large-scale media events. Have we then created news stories that require tragedy to provide a dramatic tension that will fulfill the need for ritual?

Child, Media and Socialization

Society impresses its norms, expectations, and values on the individual as the child enters the culture. This "configurational" process of language, consciousness and social reality is called socialization. The media play an essential role in the socialization of children.

The popular culture image industries which promote socialization of consciousness and the unconscious (dreams) include the art, film, TV, music, photography, fashion/clothing, cosmetics and hairstyling industries to name a few.

Studying Media Violence

Leonard Berkowitz ("Aggression: A Social Psychological Analysis") has attempted to show that exposure to aggressive stimuli will increase a person's level of physiological and emotional arousal. From a behavioural perspective, those that control the stimulus (medium/message) of arousal also gain increasing control over the behavioral response.

The gun is a masculine symbol/medium that often figures in violent crimes. It is an instrument of power, the "great equalizer" of the North American west. The gun, an instrument of violence, is the central symbol in the mythology of our present political and social organization. Yet most of us find "real" violence disgusting and grotesque. Guns, violence, cars, covert actions and dark streets are the elements in "Noir" fiction and movies.

The desire for peace is in conflict with traditional, dominant ideologies organized around the mythological symbol of the gun. Recently the Federal Trade Commission released a draft report showing that movie studios, video game producers and recording companies promote violent entertainment to children while labeling them inappropriate for young audiences.

Studying Media and the Social Environment Movement

There is a movement in America to make the streets, television, music and the public imagination safer places to live and grow up.

Most media studies in the past were primarily interested in the question of "message content"(what is injected?) as their research object. The potential for different media effects of different types of media has been largely ignored. The move from an Industrial to an Information Age has forced researchers to look differently at how social reality is constructed.

According to media expert Marshall McLuhan ("Understanding Media"), "Media study opens the doors of perception. And here it is that the young can do top-level research work. The teacher has only to invite the student to do as complete an inventory as possible. Any child can list the effects of the telephone or the radio or the motor car in shaping the life and work of his friends and his society. An inclusive list of media effects opens many unexpected avenues of awareness and investigation."


Jean Baudrillard says we in Western society have lost the fundamental structures and referents for social reality. In an information society all classical structures of reality implode which leads to a "hyperreality" dominated by an overdetermined metaphoric play of simulations. Social reality is constructed and produced by our information codes. The film "The Matrix" poignantly represents these ideas.

In the era of postmodernism, arts and fashions are primarily concerned with consumerism and the explosion of commercial communications technologies. Think of Warhol's repeated images of Campbell's Soup cans, and the iconography of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor. Tradition, history, and faith in deeply held values have given way to conspicuous consumption, hedonism revolving round the ostentatious display of goods, and superficial visual stimuli. If it feels good, "just do it".

There are numerous authorities that have attempted to explain the phenomena of media effects.

Here is a list of recommended readings;

  • Fredric Jameson's "The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act" sees the historical past only as being understood as parts of a single collective story. For Jameson literary and social criticisms are aimed at the individual and collective narrative structures of history.
  • Joshua Meyrowitz's "No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior" provides insight into how the media especially electronic media has changed our sense of place. The telegraph was the first invention that caused the initial break between the movement of information and physical movement.
  • Peter Berger's "The Social Construction of Reality" is a treatise on the sociology of knowledge. The world is made or invented and not merely given or taken for granted. Social worlds are a product of interpretative nets woven by individuals living in a speech community.
  • Vance Packard's "The Hidden Persuaders" addresses the advertising industry's attempts to shape the "image in the head" (cognition). Advertising as a producer of visual images influences desire and therefore shapes our dreams.
  • Daniel Boorstin's "The Image: Or What Happened to the American Dream" addresses the dangers that media in "their management of illusion" present.
  • Edward L. Palmer's "Television and America's Children" discusses the "quality" of media programming in terms of educational content.
  • Wilson Bryan Key's "Subliminal Seduction" addresses how the public's unconscious ways of thinking is shaped by the mass media.
  • William Sargant's "The Battle for the Mind" and Joost Meeloo's, "The Rape of the Mind" address issues surrounding "brainwashing".

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.


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