Critical Theories

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An understanding of media
content as a text that provides
insight into our culture and our
Critical Theories
 The
analysis of media messages
to try to figure out how they
affect people and the societies
in which they live.
 Here are some common ones:
The science of signs and symbols
Looks at how people create and understand signs
and symbols in order to comprehend
Semiotics can also be known as
symbolic interactionism by those
who don’t like semiotics
Examines how mass media messages influence
the audience’s social rules in order to suppress
instinctive anti-social impulses
Sociological Analysis
The most common type of analysis done by
Comes in many flavors that have evolved over
the years
Direct Effects Model
Often considered propaganda
Based on the idea that people are passive targets
of mass media messages that cannot help but be
Points at such messages as advertising and
government propaganda that people will follow
like lemmings
Denies that people are individuals
Limited Effects or indirect effects
Found that people may take in the messages, but
will turn to opinion leaders for how to
interpret and follow or not follow those
People with strong opinions are unlikely to change
 People pay more attention to messages they already
agree with
 The most persuadable don’t pay attention
Critical Cultural Model
Rather than effect, it looks at how people use
and construct messages
The media control the flow of information and
what can be discussed
Those who control the media control the
Rooted in neo-Marxism – those who can control
the culture control the media and thus society
Agenda Setting
The media don’t tell us what to think, they tell
us what to think about
 Martin Luther
 Tom Paine
 William Randolph Hearst
 Modern news
Book of the Dead
Ramses II and the Battle of Kadesh
The Torah
Uses and Gratifications
People actively seek and use those media
messages that they personally feel gives them
They use the media to get something they want
 They feel gratification when they get what they want
Such U&Gs can include to be amused, to find
models to imitate, to see authority figures
inflated or deflated
Social Learning Theory
There’s no way a person can experience
The media provide information about the world
and society that the individual can’t experience
Can create a person’s reality: what things are,
how to think, how to behave, how to interact
with others, how to be in society
Cultivation Analysis
Media messages tell people what the world is
like and how people respond to what happens in
the world
An example is the mean world syndrome:
heavy users of the media think the world is a
more violent, dangerous place than it actually is
because so many media messages contain
violence (e.g., news, cop shows, dramas)
No one technique or theory has all
the answers
All hypotheses start with assumptions
Scientific hypotheses start with assumptions about
the world that can be empirically checked and
 Social science hypotheses start with assumptions
about people that usually can’t be empirically studied
and are taken as axiomatic (they’re true because I
think they’re true and can’t prove it one way or the
All are ways to examine the
media; none are the final answer