Chapter 16. Media and Popular Culture

Chapter 16 Resources and Activities

William Little and Ron McGivern

Key Terms

algorithmic society: A global society in which digital platforms and their proprietary algorithms organize the social distribution of attention and information.

audience reception: The process by which an audience receives and decodes media messages.

authenticity: A quality of charismatic authority based on the percieved sincerity, “realness” or truth of their messages.

bias of communication: The influence of a form of communication on the organization of society.

code: A set of instructions for how to assemble signifying elements into a message that communicates meaning and makes sense to an audience.

cognitive mapping: The ability to locate oneself within a meaningful whole or mental map of the social world.

collective conscience: The shared beliefs, morals, attitudes or mental life of a society.

collective representations: The meanings, symbols, concepts, categories, and images shared by a social collectivity.

culture industry: The collection of media corporations and commercial enterprises that produce standardized cultural goods — films, radio programmes, TV, pop music, magazines, etc. — that are used to transform audiences into a mass of passive consumers.

decoding: The process whereby an audience actively interprets or deciphers the meaning of a media text or representation.

digital divide: The uneven access to technology around race, class, and geographic lines.

digital media: Computer mediated communication networks.

dominant‐hegemonic position: The standpoint of a media audience member who interprets a media text in terms of the dominant or preferred meanings of society.

echo chamber: A social media environment in which a person only see beliefs or opinions that align with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced or uncritically confirmed back to them and exposure to alternative ideas is inhibited.

encoding: The process whereby events or raw reality depicted in a representation are turned into messages that convey specific cultural meanings.

filter bubble: A social media condition created by algorithms that personalize or filter an individual’s online experience in which users encounter only information and opinions that align with and confirm their existing beliefs.

fourth estate: The watchdog role of the professional news media that monitors the government of society by exposing excesses and corruption, and holding those in power accountable.

fragmentation of knowledge: The condtion in which members of a society no longer share a single, unified universe of meaning and understanding.

gatekeeping: The sorting process by which thousands of possible messages are shaped into a mass media — appropriate form and reduced to a manageable amount.

grand narratives: Overarching narratives of that give order, meaning and direction to a society.

ideology: A set of ideas that conceal, distort, or justify power relations in a society.

ideology critique: The critical practice of revealing, analyzing, and challenging the underlying ideological assumptions of social discourses.

influencer: An authority able to filter, interpret, and explain media messages to an audience.

influencer marketing: A form of social media marketing that involves product placements and endorsements from online personalities who use their social media following as a ready made and motivated market.

information silo: An information management system in which one component is not able to freely communicate or share information with another component.

information society: A society in which the sources of economic productivity and political power are based on new information technologies (e.g., micro-electronic computation, digital communications technologies, genetic engineering) and the generation, processing, and transformation of information.

knowledge gap: The gap in information that develops through unequal access to digital technology.

latent functions: The unrecognized or unintended consequences of a social process.

mass: A large and disperse group, lacking self-awareness and self-identity, whose members are largely unknown to one another, and who are incapable of acting together in a concerted way to achieve objectives.

mass media: Forms of communication like newspapers, radio, television, social media platforms, that pass from from a centralized location to the masses.

media: All print, digital, and electronic means of communication.

media bias: A prejudice in favour of a particular viewpoint in the selection of the events and stories that are reported and how they are covered.

media effects: The outcomes of a causal relationship between media content and audience behaviour.

media filters: Mechanisms like ideology, sourcing, and flak in which media messages are crafted to present and support the interests of dominant groups in society.

mediascape. The mediated environment of a society based on the circulation of media images, messages, news stories, and representations.

medium: A means or channel of communication.

narcotizing dysfunction: When people are too overwhelmed with media input to really care about the issue, their involvement becomes defined by awareness instead of by action about the issue at hand.

negotiated position: The standpoint of a media audience member who interprets a media text in terms of the dominant or preferred meanings of society but makes exceptions to the dominant interpretation based on specific situations or local conditions.

network media economy: The combined economic activity of communication infrastructure companies, digital and traditional media, and internet application companies.

new media: All interactive forms of information exchange.

oppositional position: The standpoint of a media audience member who interprets a media text by rejecting the dominant or preferred meanings of society and replacing them with a set of oppositional meanings or alternative frame of reference.

panoptic surveillance: A form of constant monitoring from centralized observation posts in which the the observed is never communicated with directly.

parasocial: One-sided relationships between celebrities and audiences in which the celebrity remains unaware of their impact on fans, while fans dedicate significant time and energy in getting to know the celebrity.

platform: A website or application that enables two or more individuals or groups to interact.

platform capitalism: A form of capital accumulation in which value and competitive advantage are extracted from the data of platform users.

propaganda model: A framework for understanding the role of the media as means of manufacturing consent to the rule of powerful corporate interests.

public sphere: An open democratic space for public debate and deliberation.

representations: The use of signs and symbols to stand in for referents: experiences, events, things, ideas, and people, for example.

rhetoric: The art of using language to persuade or influence others.

simulation: The blurring of the boundaries between reality and representation through the creation, dissemination, and consumption of models of reality.

social construction of reality: The way in which an understanding of what is real is created through human interaction and communication with others.

social control: The regulation and enforcement of norms.

social order: An arrangement of regular, predictable practices and behaviours on which society’s members base their daily lives and expectations.

social solidarity: The degree to which a group of people cohere or are bound together through shared consciousness, qualities or social ties.

space-biased media: Forms of communication using impermanent but easily transportable materials like paper or papyrus that are suited to transmission of messages over distances.

space of flows: A reconfiguration of space through digitally mediated linkages and continuous flows of information that bypass traditional geographical, state and institutional boundaries.

stereotypes: Oversimplified ideas about groups of people based on rigid generalizations.

time-biased media: Forms of communication using durable materials like clay tablets, carved stone or pictographs that sustain a consistent message through time.

timeless time: The degree to which the sequencing of time into a clearly demarcated succession of past, present and future is eliminated through the use of instantaneous media communication technologies.

two-step flow of information: A communication model in which the effectiveness of the message is enabled by an influential intermediary between the sender of a message and the audience.

vertical integration: An organization structure in which a corporation owns different businesses within the same chain of production and distribution.

virtuality: The quality of having the attributes of something without sharing its real or imagined physical form.

Section Summary

16.1 Media and Society
Forms of communication and media have a powerful role in the way societies are structured. Time biased media, space biased media, mass media and digital media all affect the organization of society. Over the last 150 years, societies have seen change in their dominant media of communication from the print newspaper and photographs, to film, radio and television, to the platforms of digital media today. Changes in media tecchnology continuously transform the media landscape people move through and the mediated ways in which they are connected with others.

16.2 Sociological Frameworks for Understanding Media
Questions about media and mediated society can be examined from different sociological perspectives. Positivist approaches tend to discuss the effects or impacts media have on audiences. Structural functionalists focus on the social functions of media in society: social solidarity, social coordination, entertainment, socialization or social control. Critical sociological approaches examine the exercise of power through the media. For example, the sociological focus on media concentration and corporate ownership of the media is largely a question concerning whose ideas and worldview are being transmitted and whose are marginalized. Interpretive approaches tend to focus on the construction of meaning in the media and the processes whereby audiences interpret or receive those meanings. For example, interpretive sociologists would examine the codes that operate in media representations, since these codes often are the means by which racial and gender stereotypes, ideologies, or commercial messages are transmitted in the guise of news, information, or entertainment.

16.3 Media and Postmodern Culture
The relationship between media and postmodern culture revolves around the effects of living in a thoroughly mediated society in which people base their opinions, identities, information and connection to the world on media representations rather than direct experience. Postmodern culture is characterized by (1) a fragmentation of knowledge, (2) simulation, or a blurring of the boundaries between reality and representation, and (3) a skepticism of grand narratives and universal truths. Forms of contemporary media such as social media, digital technologies and algorithms amplify or promote these aspects of postmodern culture. In the thoroughly mediated society of the 21st century, “what is real,” “what is unifying” and “what is true” seem increasingly uncertain.


Quiz: Media and Popular Culture

16.1 Media and Society

  1. McLuhan’s insight that “the medium is the message” means                              .
    1. The eye is an extension of the human nervous system.
    2. The technological form of the media is less important than the messages presented in the media.
    3. The messages presented in the media are less important than the technological form of the media.
    4. Oracles do not need advertising.
  2. In the sociological study of media, “representations” are                              .
    1. Arguments made by media lawyers.
    2. Signs and symbols that stand in for directly lived experiences or referents.
    3. Ideal forms used to model aspects of mediated experience.
    4. Biases of the ruling class.
  3. An example of time-biased media is                              .
    1. Papyrus
    2. A smoke signal
    3. Email
    4. A petroglyph
  4. An example of mass media is a                              .
    1. Magazine
    2. Telephone
    3. Megaphone
    4. Written order
  5. The products of the culture industry are characterized by                              .
    1. Avant garde art, heteroglossic literature and 12 tone scales.
    2. Advertizing, sourcing and flak.
    3. Standardization, stereotype and conservativism.
    4. Democratic “talk back,” accountability and rational discourse.
  6. An information society is one in which the sources of economic productivity and political power are based on                              .
    1. Mass communications and marketing.
    2. New information technologies.
    3. Social media branding, industrial productivity and profits.
    4. All of the above.
  7. Digital media are                              .
    1. Based on series of digits in a computer code.
    2. Conducive to ad hoc networks of actors.
    3. Sources of virtual mediascapes.
    4. All of the above.
  8. Which of the following is not a form of digital media?
    1. Cable television
    2. A cooking blog
    3. Facebook
    4. All of the above
  9. Digital media communicate                              .
    1. From the one-to-many.
    2. From one-to-one.
    3. From many-to-many.
    4. All of the above.

16.2 Sociological Frameworks for Understanding Media

  1. The hypothesis that violent media content will desensitize audiences to violence in society is an example of a model of                              :
    1. Media effects
    2. Decoding effects
    3. Media bias
    4. Narcotizing dysfunction
  2. When it comes to media and technology, a functionalist would focus on                              .
    1. The symbols created and reproduced by the media
    2. The association of technology and technological skill with men
    3. The way that various forms of media socialize users
    4. The digital divide between the technological haves and have-nots
  3. Age is a risk factor for negative outcomes associated with social media use including:
    1. Lack of self-regulation among children and adolescents may impede their ability to avoid risks such as overuse of social media or use at inappropriate hours
    2. Over-posting on Facebook among seniors may lead to lost sleep and contribute to daytime dysfunction, such as having trouble concentrating.
    3. Social comparison poses a greater threat to the mental wellbeing of middle age women than men, possibly because middle age women place more emphasis on social comparison when assessing their self-worth.
    4. Younger demographics in developing countries are more exposed to the “timeless time” of dominant, digitally mediated economic processes, leading to generational conflict with older demographics who are still subject to seasonal time, biological time and clock time.
  4. The use of the term ideology in sociology refers to                              .
    1. A set of ideas that define a social perspective like conservativism, liberalism, socialism, racism, environmentalism, etc.
    2. A set of ideas that socially construct the experience of reality.
    3. The collective conscience of a society.
    4. A set of ideas that conceal, distort, or justify power relations in a society.
  5. When all media sources report a simplified version of the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, with no effort to convey the hard science and complicated statistical data behind the story,                               is probably occurring.
    1. The digital divide
    2. Gatekeeping
    3. Vertical integration
    4. Platform capitalism
  6. Three of the media filters described in the propaganda model of media bias include:
    1. Sourcing, advertising and flak.
    2. Ideology, ownership and algorithms.
    3. Panoptic surveillance, gatekeeping and censorship.
    4. Granular, molar and molecular.
  7. Influencers’ ability to filter, interpret and explain media messages to an audience is an example of                              .
    1. Interpretive redundancy or re-presentation.
    2. The dominant‐hegemonic position.
    3. The social integration function of the mass media.
    4. The two-step flow of communication.
  8. The use of Facebook to create an online persona by only posting images that match your ideal self exemplifies the                               that can occur in forms of digital media.
    1. Social construction of reality
    2. Ability to express authenticity
    3. Tracking of personalized data
    4. Virtual idolatry

16.3 Media and Postmodern Culture

  1. Three qualities of postmodern culture are                              .
    1. Neo-Luddites, technophiles and cyberfeminism
    2. Fragmentation of knowledge, simulation and skepticism toward grand narratives.
    3. Cognitive mapping, critique of superficiality and belief in progress
    4. Artificial intelligence, algorithms and 3D virtual reality technology
  2. A parasocial relationship is                              .
    1. An attraction towards French umbrellas.
    2. An online or mediated relationship such as online dating
    3. A one way relationship between a celebrity and an audience member.
    4. A shared identity with an online tribe.
  3. Pastiche refers to                              .
    1. A postmodern media form that imitates the style of previous work or genre.
    2. A delicious egg based meal.
    3. The use of speech or expression to indicate the opposite of what is said.
    4. Media forms that reveal the contrivances of their own production.

[Quiz answers at end of chapter]

Short Answer

16.1 Media and Society

  1. Where and how do you get your news? Do you watch network television? Read the newspaper? Go online? How about your parents or grandparents? Do you think it matters where you seek out information? Why or why not?
  2. Do you believe digital media allows for the kind of unifying moments that television and radio programming used to? If so, give an example.
  3. Where are you most likely to notice advertisements? What causes them to catch your attention?
  4. How has digital media changed social interactions? Do you believe it has deepened or weakened human connections? Defend your answer.
  5. Conduct sociological research. Google yourself. How much information about you is available to the public? How many and what types of companies offer private information about you for a fee? Compile the data and statistics you find. Write a paragraph or two about the social issues and behaviours you notice.

16.2 Sociological Frameworks for Understanding Media

  1. Contrast positivist, critical and interpretive approaches to media. What does each approach focus on?
  2. Contrast a functionalist viewpoint of digital surveillance with a critical perspective viewpoint.
  3. In what ways has the internet affected how you view reality? Explain using a symbolic interactionist perspective.
  4. The issue of media ownership has changed focus with the rise of digital media. How and why?
  5.  Select an advertisement and describe the codes used to convey a meaning about the product being sold. What background knowledge do you rely on to decode the meaning of the ad? Compare how a functionalist, critical sociologist and interpretive sociologist would understand how the ad “works.”

16.3 Media and Postmodern Culture

  1. As we now have access to media products like TV or film from different eras, it is possible to compare different styles of media. Is there something distinct about contemporary pop culture that distinguishes it from pop culture of the 1970s or 1950s? Would you call this distinction postmodern? Why?
  2. Compare your media feed or recommendations on Google, YouTube, Instagram, or similar social media platform with your parents’ feed. How do algorithms affect what you and your parents see on social media? Do you think that they they create an echo chamber or filter bubble?
  3. Some have argued that there has been a reaction against postmodern irony and pastiche, which has taken the form of a desire for meaning, sincerity, hope and progress (sometimes refered to as “metamodernism”). What do you think? Has postmodernism run its course? Is there a post-postmodernism?

Further Research

16.1 Media and Society

For a general survey of media sudies from a Canadian perspective see

For more on the work and legacy of Marshall McLuhan see the website of Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto.

To learn more about the digital divide and why it matters, check out the Learning Portal on digital citizenship.

16.2 Sociological Frameworks for Understanding Media

Noam Chomsky has spent a career developing critical analyses of media and public policy that goes beyond the propaganda model of the media. Read his work at Chomsky.Info: The Noam Chomsky Website.

To explore the implications of panoptic surveillance, review some surveillance studies at the free, open source Surveillance and Society website.

The interpretive sociology of coding and decoding is based on the field of study known as semiotics. For an introduction to the concepts and terminology of semiotics see Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners.

16.3 Media and Postmodern Culture

See reports of virtual pop star Hatsune Miku’s holographic concert in Toronto in 2016 on CBC Radio’s q review: q review: Enter Hatsune Miku’s hologram concert.


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Verduyn, P., Lee, D. S., Park, J., Shablack, H., Orvell, A., Bayer, J., Ybarra, O., Jonides, J., & Kross, E. (2015). Passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being: Experimental and longitudinal evidence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(2), 480–488.

Verduyn, P., Ybarra, O., Résibois, M., Jonides, J. and Kross, E. (2017). Do social network sites enhance or undermine subjective well‐being? A critical review. Social Issues and Policy Review, 11(1), 274–302.

Vicary A. and Fraley, R. (2010). Captured by true crime: Why are women drawn to tales of rape, murder, and serial killers? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1(1), 81–86.

Vogel, E. A., Rose, J. P., Roberts, L. R., & Eckles, K. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteemPsychology of Popular Media Culture, 3(4), 206–222.

Winseck, D. (2022). Media and internet concentration in Canada, 1984–2021. Global Media and Internet Concentration Project. Carleton University.

Woods, H., and Scott, H. (2016). #Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Journal of Adolescence, 51, 41–49.

World Association of Newspapers. (2004). Newspapers: A brief history.

16.3 Media and Postmodern Culture

Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press.

Burrell, J. and Fourcade, M. (2021). The society of algorithms. Annual Review of Sociology, 47, 213–237.

Hong, S. (2020). Technologies of speculation: The limits of knowledge in a data-driven society. NYU Press.

Jameson, F. (1984). Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism. New Left Review, 146, 53–92.

Juntiwasarakij, S. (2018). Framing emerging behaviors influenced by internet celebrity. Kasetsart Journal of Social Sciences, 39(3), 550–555.

Lyotard, J. F. (1984). The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge. University of Minnesota Press.

Nouri, M. (2018). The power of influence: Traditional celebrity vs social media influencer. Pop Culture Intersections, 32.

Su, J., Sharma, A. and Goel, S. (2016). The eect of recommendations on network structure [Conference paper]. Proceedings of the 25th international conference on World Wide Web (pp. 1157–1167).
Zignani, M., Gaito, S., Rossi, G. P., Zhao, X., Zheng, H., & Zhao, B. (2014). Link and triadic closure delay: Temporal metrics for social network dynamicsProceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media8(1), 564–573.

Solutions to Section Quiz

1 C, | 2 B, | 3 D, | 4 A, | 5 C, | 6 B, | 7 D, | 8 A, | 9 D, | 10 A, | 11 C, | 12 A, | 13 D, | 14 B, | 15 A, | 16 D, | 17 A, | 18 B, | 19 C, | 20 A, [Return to Quiz]


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Introduction to Sociology – 3rd Canadian Edition Copyright © 2023 by William Little and Ron McGivern is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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