Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cultivation Theory (Gerbner) & Agenda-Setting Theory (McCombs & Shaw)

Cultivation Theory (Gerbner):

Axiological Assumptions:

Gerbner claims that people who use television heavily tend to believe and perceive the world as scary and mean. Since the television is the dominant force in shaping society, he considers the television as society’s storyteller, which gives society “a coherent picture of what exists, what is important, what is related to what and what is right.” (Griffin) He also claims that the most predominant story that television tells the society is that of “violence.” This made Gerbner concerned that television violence convinces viewers that it indeed is a “jungle out there” and that they will have to resort to violence to survive.

Ontological Assumptions:

George Gerbner established the cultivation theory to show that heavy television viewing makes its viewers perceive the world as mean and scary.

Epistemological Assumptions:

To find out if the level of dramatic aggression is on the rise, Gerbner first did some preliminary research to gather knowledge on TV’s violent content. He conducted a content analysis of violence on TV where he found that the cumulative portrayal of violence varied very little from year to year (Griffin). Gerbner also conducted a Cultural Indicators project that revealed to him that Americans who are at the border of society are significantly understated in their portrayal in television, while their vulnerability to violence is overplayed. He also noted that when these people are characterized in the stories, they are often made to portray as a victim. This is why Gerbner believes that these people are the ones who end up being afraid of violence in real life.

Agenda-Setting Theory (McCombs & Shaw)

Axiological Assumptions:

Piggy-backing on the Watergate incident, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw believe that “mass media” have the ability to bring forth to public agenda, items of news that are considered important on the news agenda. However, they do point out that such an attempt is not deliberately done by “mass media.” The only reason why “mass media” seems influential is because people in general look to the media to decide what issues they should focus their attention on. Hence, it was these underlying beliefs that spurred McCombs and Shaw to establish the agenda-setting theory.

Epistemological Assumptions:

McCombs’ and Shaw’s established the agenda-setting theory to show that media agenda influences public agenda, particularly during election campaigns. This theory has two distinct features in that it acknowledges the power of the press while still maintaining that individuals act on their free will. The two researchers set off to test their hypothesis that the theory predicts a cause and effect relationship between the content in the media and voter perception.

Ontological Assumptions:

McCombs and Shaw set off to test their hypothesis during the 1968 Presidential race between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. They did so by conducting a content analysis of a mix of nine broadcast and print media that were sources of political news. They then measured public agenda by asking undecided candidates what they thought were the key issues in the campaign. The result of the content analysis and the public agenda were then compared only to find that both the media agenda and public agenda were almost perfectly correlated. However, the problem with this research was that correlation does not mean causation and hence the research did not prove that it was media that affected public agenda. However, a strong research done by Iyengar, Peters and Kinder confirmed that media agenda does indeed influence public agenda, hence validating the agenda-setting theory.

Do you agree with the notion that TV has ‘the power’ to help create a reality of a more dangerous world for a heavy viewer (from Cultivation theory)? Why or why not? Explain.

Yes I do agree. While media literate people may be conscious to effects of media, the same cannot be said about those who are not and are uncritically taking in information from media. There are many people out there who do believe and are influenced by the media. Certainly TV programs like “Everybody Loves Raymond” or “FRIENDS” may not be taken seriously by heavy television viewers. However, the power of news programs and even late night talk shows cannot be underestimated. Let us suppose that CNN were to tell a lie and announce that the world was coming to an end and that we need to be prepared to die, I would think that viewers would not doubt the information they received and would probably act on it and panic. Hence, I believe that this concurs with the idea that TV has the power to create a reality of a more dangerous world, especially for a heavy viewer.

Give an example of agenda-setting in which the media agenda has affected public opinion and priorities. Explain.

Many viewers of the “Oprah Winfrey” show are women. In her show, she talks about issues that are supposedly of greatest importance in our society. One of the episodes aired talked about some women in Africa who after giving birth, did not get the proper medical attention and were deemed sick by the rest of the tribe and were just left to die without food or water. This episode showed many dramatic and tragic scenes that would get to the emotions of many women watching the show. The impact of that episode was that many of her viewers poured in thousands and thousands of dollars in donation to help those people as they considered it to be a very important issue. As much as we would like to believe that the issue brought up in her show was indeed of importance, in reality it may not necessarily be so. Why would you be busy helping people so far away in another continent when there are people who are doing just as badly in our own country? Is it not more important to help those who live close to us rather than those so far away?

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