Chapter Five: Newspapers and Magazines
From: Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture, by John Storey
Summary by: Diane Neu
Storey outlines various approaches to understanding cultural studies within three separate contexts of newspapers and magazines: “The Popular Press,” “Magazines for Women and Girls,’ and “Reading Visual Culture.”
The Popular Press
Storey begins his explanation of the role that the popular press plays in cultural studies by quoting from Jostein Gripsrud that while we do not need to come to the defense of the press “in any simplistic populist or ‘anti-elitist’ manner,” we should strive to understand it and the way it functions (87). He then moves into discussing four different cultural studies approaches to the popular press:
Peter Dahlgreen: For Dahlgreen, storytelling is the “ ‘key link’ ” “between tabloid journalism and popular culture” (87). Storytelling is “one of the two basic modes of knowing and making sense of the world, the other being the analytic mode” (87). While the analytic mode is made up of facts, logic, and navigational information, the storytelling mode makes sense of the world through narrative accounts. Though journalism may aim for the analytic mode with straightforward facts, it is “the storytelling mode which is most often brought into play” (87). Dahlgreen sees a “ ‘storytelling continuum’ ” existing “ ‘between serious and tabloid news, between fact and fiction’ ” (87).
Colin Sparks: Sparks contends that the “key difference” between “quality” journalism and the popular press is the use, by the popular press, of “an explanatory network” (88). While the “quality” press may prefer to present a strict timeline of events and facts and leave inference up to the reader, the popular press decides to bridge that gap for the reader. The reader does not need to create human-interest stories to go along with the news – the popular press will create it for them.
John Fiske: Fiske maintains that while the popular press is “ ‘not radical,’ ” it is often “ ‘potentially, and often actually, progressive’ ” (89). Fiske explains that the popular press “ ‘may be progressive in that they can encourage the production of meanings that work to change or destabilize the social order, but they can never be radical in the sense that they can never oppose head on or overthrow that order” (89). While the official press serves as the mouthpiece “of the prevailing structures of power,” the popular press “is full of utopian fantasies of another way of understanding the world which challenges the normalizing “reality” of the power-bloc” (89-90). The popular press functions as a way for “the people” to enter into conversation with the official news through a process where this official news is “ ‘re-informed’ ” in order to “ ‘be made relevant to everyday life’ ” (91).
Ian Connell: Connell focuses in on the ways in which the popular press devotes its pages to detailing the lives of the rich and famous. Connell argues that readers are simultaneously “ ‘engaged by the stories,’ ” imagining themselves as one of the mega-wealthy while also
“ ‘mount[ing] a populist challenge on privilege’ ” (92). At the heart of these stories of the wealthy is an articulation of “a moral economy in which the world is divided between those with power and privilege and those without power and privilege” (93).
Magazines for Women and Girls
Storey skips the lead-in quote here, and begins right away by discussing one of the three approaches to looking at magazines created for women and girls:
Angela McRobbie: McRobbie begins by dissecting the role of magazines in the lives of women and girls through the 1970s magazine Jackie. She posits that magazines like Jackie strive “ ‘to win and shape the consent of the readers to a particular set of values’ ” (94). These magazines do so by appealing to its readers through four “ ‘subcodes’ ” which serve to define these areas of the reader’s life (94):
1. The code of romance: Girls must fight each other over men. Girls cannot trust other girls. Heterosexual romance is the only path to happiness (94).
2. The code of personal/domestic life: The values from the other codes must be instilled into the everyday workings of a girls personal life as well. The magazine uses its “problem page” to send “explicit messages to girls about what is right and expected of them (95).
3. The code of fashion and beauty: Wearing make-up and dressing nicely should be “ ‘of paramount importance’ ” to a girl (95).
4. The code of pop music: Pop stars (male, I presume) are a suitable release for young, female emotions. You can look and listen – but do not touch (95).
McRobbie “welcomes the fading popularity of Jackie, and other magazines like it” while welcoming magazines like Just Seventeen and Mizz as examples of magazines for girls that have been “influenced by the success and circulation of feminist ideas” (95).
Janice Winship: Winship contends that we cannot “ ‘simply dismiss women’s magazines’ ” because to do so would be “ ‘to dismiss the lives of millions of women who read and enjoyed them each week’ ” (96). Winship desires to explain why women enjoy these magazines so much, and she does this by explaining the ways in which these magazines directly appeal to their demographic (96-7). These appeals, according to Winship, are organized around different “ ‘fictions.’ ” These fictions are essentially the stories the magazines creates through its articles and advertising, in order to draw the reader “into a world of consumption “ where they will be sold on the idea of “pleasurable femininity” (97).
Joke Hermes: Hermes’s approach is similar to Winship’s in that she finds fault with those that simply criticize the women who read the magazines written for them. She rebels against the idea of feminists who think that the readers of such magazines must be saved and enlightened away from their choice of reading material (99). Instead, she advocates for an “ ‘appreciation that readers are producers of meaning rather than the cultural dupes of the media institutions’ ” (99). Hermes is more interested in the meaning that readers construct from the text for themselves as opposed to the message that the text may or may not be trying to impose on them. After conducting interviews with readers of women’s magazines, Hermes identifies the four main meanings that readers constructed, which she refers to as “repertoires.” They are:
1. “ ‘easily put down’ ”
2. “ ‘relaxation’ ”
3. “ ‘practical knowledge’ ”
4. “ ‘emotional learning and connected knowing’ ” (101)
Reading Visual Culture
In this section, Storey only focuses on Roland Barthes’s approach to reading visual culture, as Storey sees the “foundational work” of Barthes to be some of “the most influential work on popular visual culture within cultural studies” (103).
Roland Barthes: Each visual image is involved in a process of “ ‘signification’ ” (103). In this process, there is both a “primary signification (denotation)” and a secondary signification (connotation)” (105). Barthes uses the example of a cover of Paris Match magazine. On the cover is a “black soldier saluting the French flag.” This is the primary signification – the surface level picture. However, the secondary signifier is that of “Paris Match’s attempt to produce a positive image of French imperialism” (105). However, there are several things to consider before coming to a conclusion about an image’s secondary signifier. The context of the photo is extremely important to making meaning of the secondary signifier. If the same photo had been placed “on the cover of a socialist magazine, its connotative meaning(s) would have been very different” (105). In such a context, the reader would have likely looked for humor and irony. As photos “rarely appear without the accompaniment of a linguistic text of one kind or another,” each photo is carefully placed within a context and can be removed from one context and then reused in another context through the use of new text, layout, etc. Barthes calls this process anchorage (107-8). Ultimately, what makes the reader able to jump from the level of primary signification to that of secondary signification is “the store of social knowledge (a cultural repertoire) upon which the reader is able to draw when he or she read the image. Without access to this shared code (conscious or unconscious), the operations of connotations would not be possible” (108).