Hegemony and its relationship to mass media is also relevant to this study. News outlets act as gatekeepers and interpreters of political themes by selectively choosing to cover one or both sides of an issue, putting forth their own interpretation. Therefore, scholars apply Gramsci’s (1971) notion of hegemony to deconstructing the news-making process. Hegemony does not refer to a deceitful plan crafted purposefully by those in positions of power to manipulate the system to serve dominant interests. Instead, it is “manufactured consent” (Herman & Chomsky, 1988).
The process aims to build a consensus among the masses that a certain ideology is normal and that any contradictions to it are deviant (Berger, 1995; Schiller, 1973). Rather than using physical force, hegemony is psychological, requiring the consent of those ruled. Consent is evident in the normalization of stereotypical, one-dimensional representations that under other circumstances would seem inappropriate. Hall (1997) further explained how members dominant groups use ‘‘Otherness’’ to maintain power. This process becomes problematic when there is an abuse of power. Hall asserts, ‘‘Stereotyping reduces people to a few, simple, essential characteristics, which are represented as fixed by Nature’’ (Hall, 1997, p. 257). One way that power is wielded is through a constructed ‘‘knowledge’’ centering on the dominated group.
For instance, Karl Marx argued that the ruling class controls its society’s means of production; therefore, the superstructure of society, including its ideology, is determined according to the ruling class’s best interests.Echoing Marx, Orbe (1998), concluded that every society has a hierarchy that privileges some groups above others. Groups at the top establish the society’s method of communication. News stories send viewers, readers and listeners hidden messages that suggest a story’s importance and ultimately people’s importance within society.
Gitlin (1980) explicated that those in positions of power do not directly maintain the status quo: “The task is left to writers, journalists, producers and teachers, bureaucrats and artists organized within the cultural apparatus as a whole” (p. 254). In other words, economic interests, dominant ideologies, government influences and journalistic norms shape media frames (Parenti, 1986 & Chomsky and Herman, 1979). In the end, news outlets perform a crucial role in defining events, which is secondary to the primary definers such as accredited sources in government and other institutions. The media also reinforce a consensual viewpoint by using local idioms and by claiming to voice public opinion (Woollacott, 1982).
Historically, these factors have led to negative media portraits of women and other underrepresented groups. Subsequent media studies scholars have elaborated on Gramsci’s (1997) concept of hegemony in order to study these themes in a less deterministic way (e.g. Fiske 1989; Hall 1980; Hall & Jefferson, 1975 and Hebdige, 1979). They stress that the dominance sustained in ideological spaces like the media and popular culture is never permanent. One must fight for it; consequently, resistance to power is possible. However, the norm in this country is that the perspectives of white, mainstream men generally create the lenses through which America, whether peripherally or directly, views race and itself (Dates & Pease, 1994).
For instance, as blatant racism in media became less acceptable in the latter 20th Century, more subtle forms of ‘‘modern’’ or ‘‘enlightened’’ racism developed. The framing of seemingly objective news stories located the blame for crime and poverty in the individual choices and behaviors of people of color, rather than in the institutions that systematically denied equal access to racial minorities for quality education, housing and employment (Campbell, 1995; Entman, 1990, 1992). Other scholars conclude media outlets typically avoid discussions of the structural reasons for racial inequality in favor of paradigms that blame the victim or frame racism as merely a product of intolerant attitudes (e.g. Entman and Rojecki, 2000; Omi and Winnant, 1994). For instance, Marchi (2008) found that a stock feature of modern racism is the prominent news coverage that focuses on people of color who have been able to succeed against the odds and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
Kaiser et al. (2009) and Knowles, Lowery and Schaumberg (2009) conclude Obama’s victory might provide people with a new justification for the claim that racism no longer exists in the U.S. today and therefore policies to address racism are no longer necessary. Echoing Kaiser et. al., Effron, Cameron and Whites (2009) demonstrated that expressing support for Obama might license people to favor whites at the expense of African Americans, illustrating enlightened racism described previously by scholars such as Jhally & Lewis (1992) and Entman and Rojecki (2000).
In his landmark study, Entman (1990) concluded that the presence of black anchors and authority figures on the news contributes to the characteristics of modern racism, or the belief that racial discrimination no longer exists in the United States. In addition, the press espouses tolerance but subtly perpetuates racist stereotyping by showing respect for black people’s claims for justice but in the process framing them as a people who have or cause problems, or a “problem people” (Hartmann & Husband, 1974).
Such stories validate the status quo socio-political system by implying that anyone, regardless of race, can achieve the American Dream (see Campbell, 1995; Entman, 1990, 1992; Jhally and Lewis, 1992; West, 1993; Wilson et al., 2003). Consequently, scholars classify multicultural celebratory news stories within the realm of modern racism (Campbell, 1995; Entman and Rojecki, 2000). They often dismiss them as stereotypical and ineffective gestures towards providing coverage of minorities (e.g. Wilson and Gutierrez, 1985; and Wilson et al., 2003; Marchi, 2008).
Such racism relies on the misunderstanding of the natural condition of most African Americans in the United States. For instance, progressives who highlight positive images of African Americans, while ignoring serious problems faced by the black community, are guilty of enlightened racism. More recently, Entman and Rojecki (2000) concluded that the media have made great progress in portraying blacks; however, components of enlightened racism such as news coverage, television shows, advertising and films, often inadvertently reinforce conventional hierarchies and stereotypes. Enlightened racism also creates the belief that anyone can succeed in the United States because of its fair system. Therefore, it is the individual’s fault if he or she does not succeed (Jhally & Lewis, 1992).
Joseph (2011) provides an alternative to enlightened racism with “postidentity.” She maintains that postidentity ideology provides a means to understand how power, privilege, racialized and gendered discrimination and resistance function in the new millennium United States (p. 54). Joseph (2011) describes it as an umbrella term that encapsulates many types of post oppression, including race and gender. She concludes:
Post identity, intended to mean post bias, is largely presented in the mainstream media somewhere along the spectrum from fact to aspiration. In reality, the discourse and concomitant ideology of post identity dictate a contemporary, media-fueled moment in which ‘‘different’’ racialized and gendered identities (those of color and those female) are somehow magically granted equal status and are therefore given the mandate to set aside historic, structural, interpersonal, and institutional discrimination, which are imagined to exist exclusively in the past or paranoia (p. 58).
In postidentity, merely referencing race or gender in popular media is often dismissed or attacked as outmoded, irrelevant or sexist under a post identity paradigm. Lorde concludes that the effect of ‘‘postidentity’’ culture is that ‘underclasses’ are perceived as having their own equal access to forms of power, which are just as potentially threatening as those forms available to the capitalist upper classes and dominant groups under previous hierarchical organizations of power.
Hegemony is useful for textual analysis since media frames are shaped by economic interests, dominant ideologies, government influences, and journalistic norms (Chomsky & Herman, 1988). Media studies scholars have elaborated on Gramsci’s (1971) concept of hegemony in order to contemplate these themes in a less deterministic way.