Media 103 Assignment One

Essay One: Facebook

Facebook has quickly become one of the most popular social networking sites due to its dynamic set up and the ability to stay in contact with whoever you want whenever you want, keep tabs on friends and family or chat with mates instantly. There is an ideology of a connected community with Facebook where you can project who you want to be, a distorted version of oneself, whilst gaining a sense of belonging. It is with its rapid growth and huge number of members (which now exceeds 400 million) that I believe has embedded Facebook in popular culture allowing many people the cultural citizenship that is synonymous with popular culture.

Popular culture can be defined as "contemporary lifestyle and items that are well known" and well liked as well as "cultural patterns that are widespread within a population," although it is hard to define popular culture without debate. It can be deemed as the remains of anything not classified as high culture and a 'culture of the people', often related to mass media. Facebook qualifies as a part of popular culture by both of these standards as it is by no means high culture, due to the lack of barriers for joining, it is for the people, made by the people and it is directly related to the mass media. Arguably the most obvious way Facebook qualifies as popular culture is the vast number of people that are current members, coupled with the unlimited potential for people to become members. It is an easily accessible tool and service widely used, talked about and known in the mass media. The ideology of always having a connection to someone or something is very much apparent. As Louis Althusser said "ideology is encountered in the practices of everyday life and not simply in certain ideas about everyday life." Facebook becomes a daily ritual enjoyed by many yet there is also the ideology of fronting a more attractive persona of oneself; an ideal version. One definition of ideology "suggests a certain masking, distortion or concealment." This is common for Facebook where we present a distorted image of reality we want our friends and the public to see.

There is a definite sense of belonging that comes with being a member of Facebook, evoking the qualities of cultural citizenship. We can see this in Joke Hermes 'Popular Culture/Cultural Citizenship' where she states "... popular culture makes us welcome and offers belonging... Its economic and celebratory logic make it imperative that ever more buyers or like-minded fans are found." This is clearly epitomised by Facebook right from the homepage where it says "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life... It's free and anyone can join." Not only are you digitally a member of your friends and families communities you also have the ability to define yourself by joining the micro communities within Facebook. One can join certain political ideals, become fans of sports teams, celebrities or past times, which in some respects gives a sense of individuality, whilst belonging to something where mutual interests align. Another cultural citizenship quality is clearly illustrated by Facebook where, as part of popular culture, it "links the domains of the public and private." Our personal photos, information and connections are now in the public domain, where before Facebook they were private.

Through its rapid consumption and relevance in many people's lives, Facebook has become a widely accepted part of popular culture. Its ideology is prevalent whenever we log in to our accounts; we see distorted versions of reality, made not for our eyes only. We are immediately thrust into a matrix of communities, a web of cultural citizenship.

Essay Two: The Hills

The Hills is one of the most popular reality TV shows from MTV which follows the lives of the young, wealthy and subsequently famous in Hollywood, capturing the trials and tribulations of having youth, no limitations and an ever present camera crew. We see how sexuality and age are represented by the cast of The Hills in an ideal, gossip worthy world, and judging by the ratings for the show and interest in the lives of these people, the show has become a part of popular culture in modern television.

The cast of The Hills are all young people in their twenties with relatively large disposable incomes, fashion or entertainment related jobs, allowing them some degree of fame other than the show. While they may be considerably more normal than perceived, the stereotypes of being young and rich are represented through their sexuality and age. According to Hall, 1997: 258 "Stereotypes get hold of the few 'simple, vivid, memorable, easily grasped and widely recognized' characteristics about a person, reduce everything about the person to those traits" and the studio "exaggerate and simplify them."Many of the tribulations involve the represented sexuality of the cast members in their relationships; they are characterised as sexually forward and ambitious people, all being relatively good looking. They also represent an age where not yet burdened by children or families, and due to the background wealth they have little financial worries so they can enjoy their money by epitomizing frivolity. As well as being young enough to have little real worries they are old enough to drink and socialise at bars yet are free from parental constraint - any teens dream. As stated in Branston & Stafford, 2006: 141 "Media images never simply present the world directly, they are always a construction"; the sexuality and age of the cast have been represented in such a way by the editors that it looks like the ideal lifestyle, characterising The Hills.

When we see other people living cool or interesting lives it fixates us and we aspire to be like what has been deemed fashionable. As defined by Blumler and Katz (1974) this is known as 'Divergence' - "a form of escape or emotional release from everyday pressures." There are also certain aspects of 'Personal Identity' and in particular 'Personal Relationships' not only with the characters on screen but with other fans or viewers. We see their problems, past times and party lifestyles and wish to imitate it through our own existence. It is typical in The Hills for the guys to be playing around behind the girls' backs, and the girls to be overly emotional in situations, which are traits of sexuality and gender that many young people emulate in an effort to be like them and have that degree of perceived drama in their lives. Some respond to the show negatively, believing it to be a vacuous, mind numbing experience. This may be an honest opinion, or it could be caused by envy to some extent; knocking what one doesn't have, be it youth or the model girlfriend; a version of tall poppy syndrome in some respects.

The Hills has become part of popular culture, not necessarily as an individual show, but as an example of the recent divergence from the sitcom genre into the reality TV drama genre. As such, it is a very stylised, specifically edited portrait of the lives of the cast members to represent their age, sexuality and social status in the most 'fashionable light', appealing generally to a youth or young adult market. In general there would be a 'Negotiated position' to The Hills; "a mixture of adaptation and opposition."

  • Hall, Stuart (2001 [1980]). 'Encoding/Decoding'. In C. Lee Harrington & Denise D. Bielby (Eds.), Popular Culture: Production and Consumption (pp. 123-132). Malden: Blackwell.

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