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C. Wright Mills – Early observations on mass media

January 14, 2015

“Early observers … believed that the increase of the range and volume of the mass media would … enlarge and animate the public, but what it has done has helped kill it off. I do not refer merely to the higher ratio of deliverers of opinion to receivers and to the decreasing chance to answer back. Nor do I mean merely the violent banalization and stereotyping of our very sense organs which these media make almost necessary. I have in mind a sort of technological illiteracy, which is expressed in three ways:

          a. these media, especially television, have encroached upon the small-scale discussion, upon the leisurely human interchange of opinion.

          b. these media do not connect the information on issues that they do provide with the troubles felt by the individual. They do not increase rational insight into tensions, neither those in the individual nor those of the society which are reflected in the individual. On the contrary, they distract attention from such tension. … As they now generally prevail, the media not only fail as an educational force, they are a malign force – in that they do not reveal to the viewer the sources of his tension and anxiety, his inarticulate resentments and half-formed hopes.

          c. these media do not enable the individual to transcend the narrow milieux in which he lives, or truly connect them with the larger realities of what is happening in the world. On the contrary, they obscure these connections by distracting his attention and fastening it upon artificial frenzies that are resolved within the program framework, usually by violent action, or by what is called humor.”

(from ‘Mass Society and Liberal Education’ [1954], reprinted in Power, Politics, and People: the collected essays of C. Wright Mills; edited by Irving Louis Horowitz [1963])

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