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Media Edge

Media Logic and Social Reality

David L. Altheide

This book challenges social science to address the most important social change since the industrial revolution: the mediated communication order. More of our everyday lives and social institutions reflect the compelling media logic that resonates through conversation, interaction, marketing, as well as social programs, issues and foreign policy. We are beyond the time when people take into account media matters; rather, media matters are now incorporated as a kind of social form in routine and extraordinary activities. This thesis was first laid out in ‘Media Logic’, co-authored with Robert P. Snow in 1979.
Thirty-five years on, Altheide discusses his recent thinking about how media logic and mediation is a basic element in constructing social reality.
From the internet to the NSA, he shows how media logic has transformed audiences into personal networks guided by social media. He argues that we have reached the media edge as social media have all but eviscerated the audience as a significant factor in the communication equation; mediated communication is increasingly about media performances and individual selection to promote identity.
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Chapter 4: Media Dramas and the Social Construction of Reality

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The mass media and popular culture entertain audiences by dramatizing and presenting events and issues according to predictable narratives that are scripted with emotionally resonant stereotypes and caricatures. As noted in previous chapters, information technology and new communication formats, which provide opportunities for participants to promote their own identities, have fractured the mass audience so that only extra-ordinary events and spectacles (e.g., Super Bowl, Olympic Games) provide the cultural attractiveness to bring in the hordes that were more common in previous decades. However, even the fractured audience attunes to imminent danger and believable messages about crime and fear, which have become part of the entertainment format that characterizes the bulk of prime time viewing in the United States, as well as most local and national news. Spurred on by decades of “disaster porn”—voyeuristic widespread mayhem, murder, inhumanity, and suffering—popular culture thrives on entertaining “bad things” to attract audiences; after all, fear of unspeakable evil and gargantuan natural disasters (e.g., hurricane devastation in Haiti), especially of the random kind, is a cultural unifying theme: we’re all in this together; we must rally for the common good or at least against the common enemy. Such was the wisdom of German sociologist Georg Simmel, who proclaimed that conflict unites (Simmel & Wolff, 1964). And now it is ← 57 | 58 → entertaining and expected because audiences are equipped with some standard narratives for interpreting and participating in cultural production.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 dramatically recast the problem of...

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