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“Ideologies in TV Products”

category international | arts and media | opinion/analysis author Tuesday May 23, 2006 16:32author by Liam Mullen - Freelance Journalist Report this post to the editors

Audiences see TV as a producer of news and entertainment products but in fact its core role is producing ideologies.

Perhaps a good description of what defines an ideology is: “An ideology is a set of beliefs and ideas that provide individuals and groups with a framework for thinking about key social issues and making sense of the world around them. Ideology is a concept which has developed from Marxist Theory…the media uphold the ideologies of the dominant or ruling classes.” (Selby, Keith, Cowdery, Ron, 1995, p226).
If we look say at America and democracy in the wake of the Vietnam War, we can see a certain ideology in the types of television made and films produced:
· Mash
· Apocalypse Now
· Platoon
· Full Metal Jacket
· First Blood (and successive Rambo films)
· Hamburger Hill
· The Green Beret
Few, if any, films told the story from the Vietnamese viewpoint. Some of the reasoning for that can be gleaned from Robert Templar’s article on Infotrac – “Vietnam press: Still hampered by Ideology.” (!995). A similar thing happened in the wake of World War 11; most films and TV pieces told the story from the viewpoint of the Allies, and it is only in recent years that emerging German filmmakers have begun producing stories that focus on their side of the story. Examples include:
· Das Boot
· Stalingrad
· Sophie Scholl
· Downfall
The hidden ideology present within American films and TV suggest that western values are okay, but that everything else is suspect. Democracy is tied into the American and European way of doing business, a neo-liberalism outlook adopted from the heydays of Thatcher and Reagan. In some ways it could be argued that the media are upholding the values inherent within western societies, and in the process supporting the capitalist, businesslike ways of the west.
Effects on Audiences:
There can be little doubt that TV is an entertaining media platform, but equally there can be little doubt that there are hidden ideologies within media products. The ‘Hollywood’ effect has reinforced this view. If we look at westerns for example, it is always the cowboys, gunfighters, and soldiers who gain the upper hand over the savage Indians. Very few films succeed in telling the story from the native American Indian point of view – ‘Dances with Wolves’ is an exception.
Even the ‘soaps’ and the “super-soaps” like Dallas can contain hidden ideologies that promote American/western values. The popularity of shows like Dallas around the world show that such programme making can be highly popular, and the catchphrase “Who shot JR?” was a mantra that achieved worldwide fame. (Selby, Keith, Cowdery, Ron, 1995, p157).
Some media theorists have put forward a “Uses and Gratifications” model to attempt to explain the effects on audiences.
· “The need to be diverted and entertained.
· The need for social interaction and personal relationship.
· The need to establish, maintain and assess one’s sense of personal identity.
· The need for information.” (p186).
Selby and Cowdery’s book also discusses “performer space” in the context of a “horizontal axis” or “depth axis”, a process that refers to the way in which a viewer is drawn along by the programme. They also discuss foreshadowing in story lines, in which story characters discuss some element about others, which the audience will later relate to, a process, they call “syntagmatically redundant.” (P172). Their work breaks down the elements present in a media product: (P11)
· “Construction
· Audience
· Narrative
· Categorisation
· Agency – Media Products”
They also refer to “semiotic analysis”, and of how signs can communicate different messages. (P41). They examine the message portrayed by “The Bill” (p65), and of how it became almost a soap, with its primetime viewing slot before the ‘watershed’.
Other media theorists and writers have similar views of audience perception with regard to media products. Media products are spoken of in a “neo-Durkheimian spirit that holds that ‘mechanical solidarity’ induce ‘a sense of membership, similarity, equality, familiarity in viewers.” (Liebes, Tamar, Curran, James, 1998, p66). Perhaps this is why so many modern women can identify with the long running British soap, Coronation Street.
In a sense audiences can be drawn along by a compelling storyline, but there may be hidden morals or societal problems being tackled: issues such as rape, abortion, adoption, incest, murder, crime, drug taking, diseases, extra-marital affairs, divorce. Very few soaps have not touched upon the problems endemic in modern day society. It is a feature of modern day programming that helplines will be broadcast following a harrowing showing of a scene, which has in some ways affected viewers.
News Programming:
‘Soft news’ as opposed to ‘hard news’ features, may fulfil some of the elements sometimes portrayed in ‘soaps’. Examples might include ‘Ask Dr Ruth’, or ‘Ask Judy.’ In many ways news can also be perceived in a certain light, depending on technical considerations like the positioning of the TV camera, or the people behind the camera. Al Jazeera, for example, will often portray scenes in a different light than Fox News or CBS, or even the BBC.
In a war situation the media can bear a heavy responsibility in what they report and how they chose to do so. In many ways the media can be used for propaganda purposes. Examples include the way Dr. Goebbels ran the German media during World War 11, but also include the way the BBC broadcast Churchill’s speeches and promoted ‘The Dunkirk spirit’. Recent examples of how the media can be used as an instrument of hate and war propaganda can be seen in the example of Rwanda, where state media journalists pushed forward their own warped ideological ideas and helped promote an atmosphere of hate and subsequent genocide. The movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ is an excellent portrayal of this, and a book has been published regarding the trials of three Rwandan journalists indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal. (Temple-Raston, Dina, 2005). In her work, Dina, shows how two media outlets – Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines, and the tabloid Kangura, incited racial hatred among the Hutu against their Tutsi neighbours.
Even old favourites like Hawaii 5-O, although highly popular and entertaining with audiences, contained hidden ideological messages that put forward an anti-communist message reminiscent of the times – many of the shows were made in the sixties at the height of the Vietnam War.
The Hidden Ideology in Advertising:
Even advertising can carry hidden ideological messages. James Lull has noted that ‘because culture is entangled with struggles over meaning and social power, it is ideological’. As can be seen from previous examination papers this statement can be discussed in relation to Gloria Steinem’s experience of securing advertising for Ms. Magazine as revealed in her article ‘Sex, Lies and Advertising’.
Steinem’s findings revealed “an ideological” block among “business advertisers, reluctant to promote certain goods in what was perceived as a feminist magazine.” Steinem herself, is a renowned feminist, and as revealed by Maureen Dowd in the March 2006 edition of The Dubliner, encouraged the New York Times to “neutralize the stature of women” with the ‘Ms’ title. (Dowd, Maureen, 2006).
Steinem’s findings correlate to the experiences of two Israeli women who published their work on Infotrac. The schema of "feminine" traditionally includes the stereotypes of mother, housewife, and sex object as well as traits such as compassion, warmth, honesty, nurturance, passivity, and emotionality. At the same time, men are viewed as possessing instrumental strengths such as independence, ambitiousness, objectivity, leadership, and aggression (Sapiro, 1993; Chang & Hitchon, 1997; Kahn & Gordon, 1997). Such gender related schemas are demonstrated in common representations of female and male politicians.
Similarly a content analysis of campaign ads conducted by Banze and Declercq (1985) revealed that female candidates were more likely to emphasize compassion and warmth whereas male candidates where more likely to exhibit toughness.
There can be little doubt that western values are endemic within western programme making and news making. This is perhaps the case with every country involved in television productions. A study on Infotrac by Junhao Hong looked at the popularity of a Chinese soap opera “Ke Wang”, and he noted the effect it had on politicians within China and of how they viewed the programme material as “politically correct” and encouraged viewers to watch it. (Hong, Junhao, 1998).
Within Ireland, television production has mostly being led by RTE and includes home programmes like Glenroe, The Riordans, and Fair City. The growth of cinema in Ireland has heralded hidden ideologies and messages that might appeal to the Irish way of thinking. ‘The Field’ emphasised the importance of land, whilst ‘My Left Foot’ trumpeted disability issues. Films like ‘Veronica Guerin’ and ‘The General’ highlighted important social issues within Ireland.
Britain too has always produced a lot of home productions. Classics like Z Cars, Steptoe & Son, and Inspector Morse, portray the British way of thinking. American shows like Star Trek contain hidden ideologies in their storylines, whilst French programme and cinema making has always contained a certain panache peculiar to that country.
In many ways it is only by understanding the politics of our times that we can hope to gain insight and understanding into the hidden ideologies inherent in many TV productions. Could this be classed as an indictment of the whole industry?
Perhaps not as there is little doubt that such TV programming is hugely popular with TV audiences, and the ratings have always reflected this.


Liebes, Tamar, Curran, James, 1998. ‘Media Ritual and Identity.’ USA & Canada: Routledge
Selby, Keith, Cowdery Ron, 1995. ‘How to Study Television.’ Basingstoke, Hampshire & New York: Palgrave
Temple-Raston, Dina, 2005. ‘Justice on the Grass: Three Rwandan Journalists, Their trial for War Crimes, and a Nation’s quest for Redemption.’ New York: Free Press
Dowd, Maureen, 2006. ‘If you think Desmond Fennell is a chauvinist pig, you’ve never read Maureen Dowd.’ The Dubliner, March 2006, p73.
Newspaper Articles/Reports
Hong, Junhao. 1998. ‘The Internationalization of Television in China: The Evolution of Ideology, Society, and Media since the reform.’ Foreword by John Lent. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers (An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group Inc). 1998. xvii, 165 pp. US$55.00, cloth. ISBN 0-275-95998-8. Accessed on Infotrac 27/02/06 (A review by Graeme Lang)
Lemish, Dafna; Tidhar, Chava E, 1999. ‘Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. Still Marginal: Women in Israel’s 1996 Television Election Campaign {1} (Statistical data included) Accessed Infotrac 27/02/06
Templer, Robert, 1995. ‘Vietnam Press still hampered by ideology’, The Asian Media, Winter 1995 v49 n4 p51 (4) {Accessed Infotrac 27/02/06}

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