Media power vs people power are key debates in media, two theorists which represesnt opposite sides of this arguments are Theodor Adorno who represents media power and John Fiske who represents people power.
Adorno (1903 - 1969) was a member of the Frankfurt School for social research, a group of mainly Germans, Jewish intellectuals, who fled from Frankfurt to New York and Los Angeles when the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s.
Adorno being from Germany saw and new that Hitler had been able to use the media organisations as a tool for widespread propaganda and saw how it was being used in a negative way by the Nazis against the Jews. This is why I think he believes that media has more power over the audience, unlike John Fiske who represents the people power side of the argument.
Adorno and his colleague Max Horkheimer wrote the book ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) this book tells us their theory’s on the mass media and the impact it has on our society. The mass media was referred to as the ‘culture industry’ to indicate its nature: a well oiled machine producing entertainment products in order to make a profit. This comes as no surprise to us today because we recognise the music ‘industry’ the film ‘industry’ - but for the Germans it was devastating that ‘culture’ was reduced to a set of manufactured products. But John Fiske didn’t agree with this statement and he wants to show that the people are not drones and they don’t exist as a mass audience, they are a range of individuals with different tastes. And says ‘‘Culture is a living, active process. It can be developed only from within; it cannot be imposed from without or above”.
Adorno and Horkheimer also believed that All products of the culture industry are ‘exactly the same because they reflect the values of the established system. Products may seem different, but this is an illusion and unusual talents are quickly absorbed into the system. But Fiske disagrees and thinks that pop music is not a set of recordings that we’ve been tricked somehow into liking, but instead they reflect what is genuinely popular at that time. He says that record and film companies make more flops that they do hits proving that audiences chose what they want and like. He says that audiences relate to their favourite songs or films in a complex way, based on their own identity, which is unique to themselves.
He says that audiences don’t accept a stream of similar products, instead there is a drive for innovation and change which comes from audience activity in the cultural economy.
Horkheimer and Adorno’s points can seem very relevant to the Hollywood films of today. They say it’s too easy to work out the ending, as soon as the film start for example the film sword fish explains this point. Axis of Awesome is also an example of a recent argument complimenting Adornos and Horkheimers point. They are an Australian comedy act and they’ve recently performed a song which tells us that what we hear in the popular songs today is actually all the same, consisting of just 4 chords. This makes us believe that actually the media is the same and we are just made to think that it’s different.
John Fiske was born 1939 and educated in Britain, graduated from Cambridge University. John Fiske’s work represents the opposite views of Adorno’s. He is a fan of popular culture and was one of the most influential media scholars in the world from the 70s to the 90s.
Fiske agrees that our choices are limited to an extent but, he argues, audiences interpret different meanings from texts. Most texts contain the preferred reading but also offers possibilities for audiences to interpret or create their own meanings. He argues that audiences are not merely consumers of texts, they produce meanings and pleasures from the texts, to make sense of their existence.