Sociology | Social Problems & Policies
S101 | 4061 | VonDerHaar


Topic:  Media & Society

The link between media and society is made nowhere more self-evident
than on the pages of a newspaper.  In fact, the parts of a paper--
the layout--actually reflect the key components of the social
structure.  Major sections are fully devoted to certain social
institutions: politics, the economy, the justice system, the family,
religion, education and, of course, sports.

Culture has its place, too.  The "women’s section" (i.e. fashion,
cooking, social affairs, and Dear Abby), "arts and entertainment,"
and the "funny pages" reveal deep secrets about who we are, who we
want to be, and perhaps why the contradiction between the two is so
funny.

But the words that are exchanged through the pages of a newspaper do
not simply entertain the public.  Nor are they designed just to
inform us.  In fact, newspapers often create a great deal of
controversy.  Clearly, they intend to stir up public debate--to
engage the reader.  And the editorial pages represent, at least
symbolically, a forum where readers consider the pros and cons of
issues and ultimately judge them against society’s values.
Ironically, it seems that conflict vented through a free press
promises to strengthen rather than weaken society.

Media critics would caution us, however.  They blame television for
the deterioration of society.  Contemporary music lyrics which spout
hatred, racism, sexism, and defiance to authority take credit for
violence—homicides as well as suicides.  And voters must beware of
soundbite-slick, political campaign ads, which don’t always live up
to "Honest Abe" standards.

As the above suggests, studying the relationship between the media
and society is challenging and extends far beyond the scope of this
course.  While we will not limit our imaginations in an examination
of media and society, we will divide our attention into three main
areas.  First, we will consider ideas about how the media influences
society.  Second, we will examine specific relationships between the
media and three institutions: politics, the law, and business
(advertising).  Finally, we will look at the relationship between
the media and popular culture (television, movies, and music).