The Frankfurt School was a group of German neo-Marxists who focused on the domination of the masses through culture. They claimed that contemporary capitalist societies are ‘mass societies’ and that traditional working-class culture has been replaced by a false, trivial consumer culture, created by big business and the media in order to stupefy the masses.
This is a similar idea to the ‘bread and circuses’ used by Roman emperors – keep the masses’ bellies full and their minds focused on entertainment, and they won’t revolt!
The Frankfurt School saw the modern equivalent of bread as being all the consumer items provided by modern capitalism. The circuses are all the different aspects of mass culture. These may include soap operas, page three girls, royalty, celebrity gossip, football, reality TV, and so on. The masses are kept happy and do not recognise the repressive nature of their ‘freedom of choice’.
As a group, collect together a range of daily newspapers. Carry out a content analysis of one newspaper each, assessing the extent to which the content could be categorised as ‘mass culture’. Look for each of the following:
- How many items relate to mass culture as defined above? What proportion of the newspaper is devoted to this type of material?
- How many items relate to serious news? What proportion of the newspaper is devoted to serious news?
- What is the ratio of text to pictures? How are pictures used?
- To what extent are stories sensationalised? Do the headlines reflect what is actually in the stories?
- Where serious news is reported, is trivial material also included?
Now compare your findings with the rest of the group.
- What patterns did you find?
- What differences did you find?
Do your findings give any support to the arguments explained above?