Monday, September 10, 2007

Abstract of Chapter 5: Newspapers and Magazines
by Mike Peterson

Description of Article

In this chapter, John Storey outlines four approaches to understanding the “popular press,” two approaches for analyzing “magazines for women and girls,” and one approach to “reading visual culture.”

Peter Dahlgren: The connection between tabloid journalism and popular culture is storytelling. While journalism is committed to the analytic mode, it often still uses the mode of storytelling, and the difference between “serious” and “tabloid” news, therefore, isn’t really that different (75).

Colin Sparks: The difference between serious and tabloid (what he calls quality and popular) press, is the marked reliance of popular press on the “personal” as an explanatory framework (76). This reliance, he argues, makes it nearly impossible for the popular press to engage in “popular productivity,” but will, instead, usually fall in the realm of the “reactionary popular,” which can only “speak of their concerns, joys and discontents within the limits set for it by the existing structures of society” (76).

John Fiske: “Popular culture is potentially, and often actually, progressive (though not radical)” (77). Fiske lumps the types of press into three categories: popular, official, and alternative (though nothing more is said in this chapter about the alternative press). The official press represents the interests of the power-bloc in a “top-down flow of information” and ensures the “maintenance of the prevailing structures of society” (77). The popular press, on the other hand, takes a tone of “skeptical laughter” and sees through the power-bloc. One such way this happens is through the popular press’s utopian fantasies, which challenge the “normalising ‘reality’ of the power-bloc” (78). The official press, Fiske argues, would have its readers “deciphering” its texts—subjecting themselves to its “truths,” whereas the popular press would have its readers “reading” its texts—actively participating in the production of the text’s relevance.

Ian Connell: The popular press is somewhat ineffective for social change because it merely produces resentment for those in the stories (celebrities, politicians, etc.) but not resistance to them (80). In other words, in the clash of the “haves” and “have-nots,” the popular press merely causes the “have-nots” to want to be a member of the “haves,” rather than questioning why there are “haves” and “have-nots” to begin with. The popular press has three players: the characters (the haves), the narrator (who writes about the haves but isn’t necessarily one himself), and the powerless readers (presumably the have-nots) (81).

Angela McRobbie: There has been a satisfying shift in how feminity is portrayed for teenage girls between Jackie of the seventies and Just Seventeen and Mizz of today. All of Jackie’s articles, ads, and columns center around one or more of four strategies: the code of romance, the code of personal/domestic life, the code of fashion and beauty, and the code of pop music—all of which function “to map and, ultimately, to limit the feminine sphere” (83). The newer magazines talk about love and sex and boys, but not in the “conventionally coded meta-narrative of romance which…could only create a neurotically dependent female” (84).

Janice Winship: Feminists shouldn’t simply dismiss women’s magazines. Instead, they should “critically consider its limitations and potential for change” (84). All women’s magazines, she argues, follow the same formula regardless of politics: they operate as survival manuals through a combination of entertainment and useful advice (85). Each magazine works to draw the reader into a world of consumption, but this isn’t necessarily bad. Advertisements, for example, can be aesthetically and emotionally pleasing, letting readers “vicariously indulge…in the fictions they create” without necessarily duping or fooling the reader (85). The problem with the magazines is that they are survival manuals for the “mythical individual woman” which encourages woman to “do alone what they can only do together” in fighting “powerful social and cultural structures and constraints” (85, 87).

Roland Barthes: In the process of signification, the secondary signification, or connotation, is where myth is created. A myth, according to Barthes, is an “ideology understood as a body of ideas and practices which defend and actively promote the values and interests of the dominant groups in society” (88). Barthes uses the example of the image in Paris Match: a picture of a black man in a French uniform saluting the French flag. At the level of connotation, there are considerations that go into reading the visual: the context of the publication is paramount in this example. As we understand the role of semiology in the construction of connotative readings, we can go beyond being innocent consumers of myth (90). Images rarely appear without text, and Barthes argues that “the image does not illustrate the text; it is the text which amplifies the connotative potential of the image” (91). The text helps readers pin down the denotative meaning as well as limit the connotative interpretations. It is important to remember that how an image/text is read depends on the “location of the text, the historical moment and the formation of the reader” (92).


Jenny said...

Thanks Mike. I find it interesting that in both this chapter and the one on Television there are specific references to women "readers". Are women really that different from men?

tom peele said...

I think the emphasis on women as readers has to do with an historical dismissal of women's interests. Lots of folks would take sports (dominated by men) more seriously than romance novels (dominated by women). There's a fairly strong cultural narrative that tells us that women's activities aren't important (taking care of babies, sewing, cleaning). It's all dismissed as "women's work," beneath men. Of course that's changed somewhat, but just last week I was at the house of a couple who'd just had a baby, and the man indicated that he should get some special attention for changing a diaper. Both parents work full time. What makes him think he's doing everyone a favor?

Diane said...

I also think that a lot if it has to do with who is being targeted by the message sent in a TV show or in a magazine article. The difference between men and women have already been pre-determined for us by many of these cultural institutions. There's a reason why there are so many shows on TV that feature a bumbling, less than attractive, but kind-hearted man who is the breadwinner for his family while his super hot wife stays at home with the kids (Everybody Loves Raymond, According to Jim, etc.). And then, hilarity ensues. The message is that the man works hard, and he will be rewarded with a beautiful wife who will make his home a haven. The veritable "Angel of the House" from the Victorian era. While she might now have some "sass," and lead the man around, she is still fulfilling that very traditional gender role of homemaker, wife, and mother.

Bill said...

You're right, of course: television does promote and continue the inequitable tradition of male dominance as the "breadwinner" and female subservience as the domestic presence. Seems like a good example of Hall's dominant-hegemonic postiion in action.

I think it would be great to see a program that negated or overturned this relationship--to borrow Hall's ideas again, a program that provided an example of a "break" in typical comsumption/thinking.
I wonder, though, how such a program would be received? Interesting to consider anyway.