Thursday, June 1

The masses

In mass media and communication theory, two fields which I enjoy studying and such on my own time(come on, I'm a journalism major, what can you expect?), the idea of the masses comes up all of the time, yet I don't believe that there is a good, commonly accepted definition of this term. It's simply one that these otherwise decent theorists, researchers and thinkers seem to understand as, "Not me." I guess it's up to me to define it, in fifteen minutes or less since I'm predicting that's all I have the patience for.

First of all , does anyone ever consider theirself a member of the masses? After reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra, does anyone who agrees with Nietzsche's philosophy say, "I'm no overman?" Or, since the term philosophy may drive some away from that particular work, let's consider George Orwell's second, shorter high school staple, Animal Farm. Has anyone who read it ever say, "That's me, a sheep?" Perhaps the right question here is, "Does anyone want to be a part of the masses?" Considering the American predilection towards individuality, I'm guessing not in this country. Not that these rhetorical questions do anything for my investigation. Just because you don't believe you're a certain way, doesn't mean you aren't.

Okay, so I have another rhetorical question, the difference being that the answer to this one actually applies to the larger question. Does partaking in mass media make one a part of the masses or is there more to it? Two people go to the latest multi-million dollar blockbuster, one to heckle and the other to enjoy it. Are they both part of the masses? I imagine the studios prefer the ones who enjoy the movie for what is, so they fit more of the mold the studios are looking for, but let's take a look at it from another angle. Now two people watch Plan 9 From Outer Space, one of the most famous bad movies of all time. Again, one heckles and the other goes to appreciate a distinct piece of movie history. This time, the hecklers make up the majority of that movie's viewing population. Is that person a part of the masses now since they are part of the majority? Furthermore, releases of Plan 9 From Outer Space are targeted towards this demographic of movie watchers, and hecklers now fit their marketing mold. I think I'll hold on to these questions until the next paragraph, a cliffhanger of sorts. Of course, I imagine it's near impossible to find an American who is completely oblivious to mass media. I really think it's impossible to completely avoid it in Western countries.

Personally, I believe being a member of the masses relates closely to one's level of self-awareness. If one participates in mass media while being conscious of the originators intentions and act and think on their own volition after considering all choices, they are not part of the masses. For me, mass membership is closely tied to mob mentality (and not only because they're both alliterative). When one ceases to think and consider before acting, they have become part of a larger entity. So, with this loose definition, both people in both examples could be part of the masses. It all depends upon one's level of awareness.


Jessalynn said...

Mm, but you're working through this with the assumption that being part of the target demographic for a media work designed to have wide appeal is equivalent to being a 'sheep,' which has generally negative connotations. Is that true? People often enjoy the same things. I'm not certain that it can be stretched to mean that succumbing to that enjoyment indicates a complete dearth of individual will.

Emmett said...

The "masses" is definitely a term that is applied often but has a vague meaning. The problem of defining a certain group of people (in this case, nearly everyone) has bothered people for years. There is nothing other than sloppy thinking in the idea that the majority of people can be defined as those who are not self-conscious of the reasons for their actions. It is only statistically true that people act in certain ways, and I'm not a big fan of statistical facts.