Adorno vs. Fiske
Does the mass media have a significant amount of power over its audience, or does the audience ultimately have more power than the media?
This is one of the key debates in media studies, and there are many different theorists to represent the different positions. Perhaps the two best theorists to look at would be Theodor Adorno and John Fiske. These two theorists have strong beliefs on the power of media, Theodor Adorno (September 11th 1903-August 6th 1969) believes that the power of the mass media over the population was enormous and very damaging whereas John Fiske (1939) argues that it is the audience, not the media, which has the most power. Adorno and Fiske are not the only theorists to represent theses positions, but they are the most famous and most celebrated theorists.
Adorno is best known as a member of the Frankfurt School. German, Jewish intellectuals mainly populated his school. These people mainly fled from Frankfurt to New York when the Nazis came in to power in the 1930s. I believe that Adorno turned against the media because of his personal experience from when the Nazis came into power and took over the media and as they did this they controlled people through the media.
Fiske was educated in Britain, attending Cambridge University where he studied English Literature. He then moved to Western Australia where he became the general editor of ‘cultural studies’ at the University of Curtin during the mid 1980s.
As Fiske believes that all audiences of the media are individuals, and they have there own say on points and not lead by the media. I believe that he got these views from becoming the editor of ‘cultural studies’ and his education had a huge affect on his thoughts and feelings towards the media.
‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’ is a book written by Adorno and Max Horkheimer in 1947 the book was about Horkheimer and Adornos views on the mass media as the ‘culture industry’. All the products of the culture industry got called ‘exactly the same’, Adorno and Horkheimer say that the products that the media produce ay seem different to what they think it means but they are in a ‘illusion’ the people are delusional in the sense of what the media try and convince the audience to think.
Axis of Awesome are a comedy act from Australia and they wrote a song showing that most songs and composers that have been released, they all use the same 4 chords. This would show Adorno and Horkheimer’s point perfectly as it shows that a song may sound different to another song but deep down has the same rhythmic flow to it. Horkheimer and Adorno believe that if an audience is used to something in the own culture then they will carry on living by this way as long as they are influenced to do so by the media.
Fiske however feels the opposite of this. He wants/tries to show people that they are individual and should not be influenced by the media. He disagrees with Adorno in many ways, for instance he says that ‘record and film companies make more mistake than they do hits, proving that audience chose what they want to like, not what they are made to’
A case study to show us the views from both Adorno and Fiske would be Madonna. In Adorno’s eyes he would say that Madonna would represent the culture industry as in the audience’s eyes she would be the person to be and everybody (the audience) would like to be like her, whereas Fiske has the complete opposite view, he reckons that the audience would connect on a level with Madonna. By this I mean that the audience would buy Madonna’s records because they like her music not because the audience have been brainwashed by the media and they are being told by the large music companies to buy Madonna’s albums so they make money.
The other case study that Fiske and Adorno could argue over would be X Factor. X factor is a singing talent competition in the UK, where the public in the long run votes for their winner. Who then gets a record deal with Simon Cowell (main host) under his record label SyCo. Fiske could argue that the audiences have their own self-beliefs and thoughts. By this I mean that the public have their own views on who they like and who they would want to win. X Factor does not force them to vote for anyone, but then Adorno would argue that all of the X Factor winners have been made into a specific type of person and recording artist to what the public (audience) wants to hear, and that is how they vote. He would also say that the winners would all be relatively the same in the way that they dress, sing and look. This would be done so that other people would do this in follow of X Factor.
In conclusion to this I feel that Adorno is more correct in my eyes. I feel that this is the case, as I do believe that the media have more power than what us as an audience thinks. Even though I do feel that Fiske has some good points and in some cases he is correct. But I feel that Adornos views are true. I feel that for instance X Factor produce pop stars each year to do the same thing, the always get a Christmas number one. Big television companies such as ITV that hosts these talent contests produce a person or a group of people that they want everyone to look up to which in the long run want everyone to be like, which leads to the record sales. This is a perfect example of the audience being tricked into doing something without them even noticing.
I feel that the media do have a lot of power over us as a public without us knowing.