the Role of the Media
Even now, in 2000, I am staggered
all over again by the amazing lack of reflexivity in this account. What
the hell does Hall think educators like him are doing that is so different?
Professors of Sociology also 'map meanings' (lay out important work that
is to be managed), include some approaches ( Gramsci and Althusser), exclude
others (Adorno and Lukacs), make snide remarks about 'deviant' approaches
(Lacan's) --and, above all, manage and code the elements they discuss.
Of course this is 'effective communication' too: at the Open University,
(where Hall was about to work) this notion of 'effective communication'
masqueraded precisely as a set of specific and technical principles which
concealed its originating 'premises and principles'. Those were rooted,
of course, in the cultural preferences and forms of cultural and linguistic
practices of dominant groups, possibly serving to maintain their privileges
and powers. As a special irony, the codes at the Open University were actually
closely parallel to those in the BBC -- indeed, BBC personnel advised course
teams on making 'acceptable' educational programmes. These often involved
the codes recogniseable to any media critic as those of 'realism' ( which
left-wingers were condemning as a very ideological practice indeed). These
codes involve precisely those attempts to manage the de-coding of the audience
which are cited here -- and the education system has another powerful device
to 'prefer' these decodings -- the assessment system
back to main
So did the fearless critics of media
as the unconscious reproduction of dominant ideology protest at having
to use these codes? If they did it was but rarely -- and some leading lights
simply accepted them (and the assessment system) as an untheorised part
of some natural teaching system to which they felt they had to adapt!!
This is especially ironic, since a major objection to Althusserian analysis
of the school as an ISA arose from teachers who insisted they were actively
struggling against its ideological function. Did their intellectual leaders
in the Open University Popular Culture Group do the same for their institution?
Did the critics of the mass media never
feel that there might be a 'good side' to this marshalling of power --
an educational function, perhaps? After all, presumably they justify their
own uses of similar 'encoding' techniques precisely in this way. Can it
ever be necessary to try to present a persuasive view of the world which
reflects dominant values? Of all ironies, none other than Gramsci (probably)
argued that it sometimes was, to break out of the limits and the parochialism
of proletarian 'common sense'! On a more specific level,one piece on the
media in the same collection as Hall's argued that the media sometimes
damp down and counter ideologies such as vulgar racism.
Hall gets so close in this piece to
seeing how education can be an ISA. Raymond Williams was on the scent,
he acknowledges (Williams went on to express considerable doubts about
the Open University especially). Education is one of the ISAs mentioned
by Althusser - and, indeed, many used education as the prime application
of his work. Hall's only reference is that rather obscure remark about
Althusser's unfortunate appearance of functionalism.