Comment on 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

  • 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.
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