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Social Class and the media

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  1. Social Class and the media The powerful influence most denied in the United States

  2. Social stratification • In all societies there is some form of hierarchy • Distribution of social rewards/values is not entirely equal in any society • Hierarchy varies • How steep • Bases for hierarchy

  3. Social Class • Stratification within a society based on a number of variables • Income • Education • Breeding (Tastes) • Blood (Old rich v. nouveau riche)

  4. Does class exist in America? • Largely denied by U.S. culture • “Classless society” • “The belief that the United States is a classless society or, alternatively, that most Americans are “middle class” persists . . . despite pervasive socioeconomic stratification” • (Bullock, Wyche and Williams, 2001)

  5. Reasons for denial • Meritocracy • Market system • Equal opportunity • Legal blindness to most demographic differences • Upward mobility • Overshadowed by other concerns • Race • Sex (Gender) • Religion • Nationalism

  6. Yes—social class exists in America • Vast differences among Americans in their incomes, property, power • Life chances are significantly influenced by social class at birth • Education • Access to technology • Network of opportunities

  7. But things are getting better, right?

  8. What about social mobility? • Mobility among classes is relatively common in the United States, but: • Children of the rich tend to be afforded a great deal of advantage in education, networking, ability to try and fail, etc. • People of different classes have fairly limited personal contact • Geographic segregation • PRIZM • Intermarriage across widely differing social classes is uncommon • Cinderella • Pretty Woman • Princess and the Pea • The Nanny • Old money tends to maintain the class position of the next generation • Greatest access to higher circles has been through technology

  9. Social class affects: • Media access/choice • Content preferences • Interpretation of media content • Representation within media content • Power over media

  10. Social class and media use • Access to media • More expensive media tend to be used more by the relatively well-to-do • Digital divide • Literacy levels • Written materials • Taste cultures • “High culture” v. “low culture” (popular culture) • Opera v. hip-hop

  11. Internet use by household income

  12. Source: Mediamark Research, Inc.

  13. iPods/MP3 players are gadgets for the upscale. Fully 18% of those who live in households earning more than $75,000 have them; 13% of those living in households earning $50,000 to $75,000 have them; 9% of those living in households earning $30,000-$50,000 own them and 7% of those living in households earning less than $30,000 have them. (20% of respondents did not tell us their household income.) • Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project

  14. Content Preferences

  15. Source: NEA 2002 Survey of Participation in the Arts

  16. Source: 2000 Porter Novelli Healthstyles Survey

  17. Interpretation of content • Class-based worldview influences interpretations

  18. Stereotypes • Just as for African Americans or women, etc. there are stereotypes that go with being working class or lower class • Usually negative for those lower on the status hierarchy

  19. What are lower-class women like? • Trashy • Oversexed • Unsophisticated • Domestic • Kids • Dependant/“Golddigger” • Focused on men

  20. What are lower-class men like? • Violent • Brutish • Dominant • Stupid • Ignorant • Focused on cars, sports, sex • Racist • Sexist • Engage in hair-brained schemes to get ahead • Lack taste

  21. Representation • Over-representation of professionals and relatively well-to-do on TV • Parallel situation in film, though more varied • Working class and poor ‘invisibility’ • Except as cops and criminals • Occasional representations are often stereotypic

  22. When lower- and working-class people are depicted • Tend to be portrayed as foolish or ignorant • “Trailer trash” can be portrayed in ways that would cause significant outcry if applied to racial minorities, etc. • Archie Bunker • Homer Simpson • Seen as sexist, racist, violent, unintelligent and entirely lacking in taste • Jerry Springer • WWE • Blue Collar Comedy Clampetts go to Maui

  23. Prime Time programming • Early television included a number of working-class leads • Ralph Cramden • Marty • More recent examples • All in the Family • Roseanne

  24. However, the tone of Prime Time is heavily white-collar/professional or upper class • The main exceptions are law enforcement personnel in “cop shows,” ‘reality’ shows and daytime talk shows • Often connect poor and working class with negative depictions, low culture