Mass media is communication whether written, broadcast, or spoken that reaches a large audience. This includes television, radio, advertising, movies, the Internet, newspapers, magazines, and so forth. Mass media is a significant force in modern culture. Sociologists refer to this as a mediated culture where media reflects and creates the culture. Communities and individuals are bombarded constantly with messages from a multitude of sources including TV, billboards, and magazines, to name a few. These messages promote not only products, but moods, attitudes, and a sense of what is and is not important. As recently as the 1960s and 1970s, television, for example, consisted of primarily three networks, public broadcasting, and a few local independent stations.
These channels aimed their programming primarily at two‐parent and middle‐class families. Even so, some middle‐class households did not even own a television. Today, one can find a television in the poorest of homes, and multiple TVs in most middle‐class homes. Not only has availability increased, but programming is increasingly diverse with shows aimed to please all ages, incomes, backgrounds, and attitudes. Three main sociological perspectives on the role of media exist:
Limited Effects Theory:
The limited‐effects theory argues that because people generally choose what to watch or read based on what they already believe, media exerts a negligible influence. This theory originated and was tested in the 1940s and 1950s. Studies that examined the ability of media to influence voting found that well‐informed people relied more on personal experience, prior knowledge, and their reasoning.
Class dominant theory:
The class‐dominant theory argues that the media reflects and projects the view of a minority elite, which controls it. Those people who own and control the corporations that produce media comprise this elite. Advocates of this view concern themselves particularly with massive corporate mergers of media organizations, which limit competition and put big business at the reins of media especially news media. Their concern is that when ownership is restricted, a few people then can manipulate what people can see or hear.
The culturist theory, developed in the 1980s and 1990s, combines the other two theories and claims that people interact with media to create their meanings out of the images and messages they receive. This theory sees audiences as playing an active rather than a passive role in mass media. One strand of research focuses on the audiences and how they interact with media, the other strand of research focuses on those who produce the media, particularly the news.