The Gift Economy, Anarchism and Strategies for Change
Terry Leahy's website
Lecture: What is Conservative/ Respectable/ High Status Dress?
Lecture: The Media as Dominant Ideology
Lecture: Postmodernism
Lecture: Can Ads Ever Be Radical?
Lecture: Types of Media Analysis
Lecture: Is Xena a Feminist Heroine?
Lecture: Radway's approach to Romance Novels
Lecture: Popular Media as Patriarchal Ideology
Lecture: The Debate About Madonna
Lecture: Soap Operas and Feminism
Lecture: Walkerdine on Rocky
Lecture: Feminist Arguments Against Pornography
Lecture: The Media as Dominant Ideology


The Media as Dominant Ideology



In his writing Marx argues that the main structuring feature of society is the kind of ownership of the means of production.

In all class societies (e.g. Ancient Egypt; The Roman Empire; Feudal Society; Capitalist Society) - there is a ruling class and a subordinate class.

The ruling class owns the means of production (e.g. land, factories etc) and uses this contol over the things that are produced in society ( food, manufactured goods etc) to control the subordinate class.

The subordinate class is forced to work in order to have access to society’s goods. A part of what they produce as a whole is always siphoned off by the ruling class and is referred to by Marx as the surplus product. So the subordinate class is exploited in the sense that they have no control over the means of production and only some of what they produce actually ever gets to be used by them.

In capitalism the two main classes are the capitalist class or bourgeoisie and the working class or proletariat. This subordinate class of capitalism is all the people who have to work for a wage in order to live. The capitalist class are the owners of the means of production. For example in capitalist countries today, most shares are owned by a small fraction of the population - e.g. 90% of shares in companies are owned by 5% of the population. Note that in Marx’s day the industrial working class was the major part of the subordinate class. However in today’s capitalist society, this is only part of what we may broadly regard as the proletariat - the middle class that we usually speak about also have to work for a living and have little control over the means of production.

Marx believed that the political control of the state - the means of coercion - was always dominated by the ruling class.

He also argued that the ruling class was the class which dominated the production of the ideas which were circulated in society.

These ideas supported the power of the ruling class and were referred to by Marx as "ideology" - for example in Ancient Greece, philosophers such as Aristotle argued that slaves were by nature different to free men and that they were fitted by nature to be ruled by the citizen class.


Gramsci was a theorist of the Italian communist party in the period prior to the second world war. He could see that most people voted for parties that supported the capitalist class. He argued that there was a dominant culture which supported capitalism. He called this dominant culture "hegemonic". Ruling class hegemony meant that the ruling class was backed up by the power of the police and the army - physical coercion - but also by dominant ideas in the culture - the cultural hegemony of the ruling class. In this way, societies could appear to be governed democratically but the ruling capitalist class could still have a determining say in the political and economic life of society, and ensure that these spheres of society were organised to defend their interests.


Tends to agree with the ideas of Marx and Gramsci and most of the chapter analyzes Rambo and Top Gun as examples of ruling class ideology, showing how they suppport the power of the capitalist class.

He departs from the marxist approach in two ways:

  1. He admits that some popular culture is oppositional and confronts ruling class ideology - for example films like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket that were critical of the role of the American army in the Vietnam war. However he also believes that a great deal of popular culture is not at all critical but instead can best be seen as capitalist ideology.
  2. He believes that the concept of dominant ideology should also be applied to other power structures in society. While Marx developed this concept in relationship to the capitalist class and its power over the proletariat, it should now be extended to cover power relationships between men and women; whites and blacks; gays and straights etc. Some authors in the marxist tradition argue that these other power conflicts are necessarily tied into a central basic power conflict between capitalists and the proletariat. Kellner does not suggest this and implies that these other conflicts have their own dynamics which may or may not intersect with class issues.

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