Introduction To The Visual Culture Cultural Studies Essay

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According to Raymond Williams (cited in Storey 2001, pp.1-2), 'culture' can be broadly defined in three senses. First of all, it refers to 'a general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development' such as philosophy, art and poetry. Secondly, it is 'a particular way of life' such as holidays, sports and religious festivals. Finally, culture can be thought of as the works and practices of intellectual such as texts and practices 'whose principal function is to signify', or to produce meaning. Stafford (1993) argues that 'mass education as the culture' becomes increasingly based on images rather than on texts since the enlightenment. (pp. 465) Rose (2008) elaborates Stafford's argument that 'modern forms of understanding the world depend on a scopic regime that equates seeing with knowledge. The visual are important means through which social life happens. (pp.xiii, 3) Jenks (1995) notes that "Looking, seeing and knowing have become perilously intertwined…the manner in which we have come to understand the concept of an 'idea' is deeply bound up with the issues of 'appearance'…The modern world is very much a 'seen' phenomenon" (pp.1-2). Rose (2008) points out that visual culture is concerned about 'the way in which images visualise (or render invisible) social difference'. (pp.7) Berger (1972) suggests that 'way of seeing' is affected by the way images are made. In a photograph, some subjects stand out than others as a result of the photographer's choice of subject. My research is consistent with visual culture's theory of myth and ideology which explains the way images visualise social difference through the production of partial account of the social world for the benefit of the ruling class.

1.2 Myth and Ideology

According to Branston and Stafford (2008), ideology can refer to a set of ideas 'which gives some account of the social world, usually a partial and selective one'. (pp. 174) The study of 'ideological forms' is intended to draw attention to the way in which images present a particular meaning about the world. (Storey 2001, pp.3-4) There is an assumption such as the one from the semiotic analysis that the meanings of advertisements are designed to move out from the screen or page to shape our experience of reality. According to Hall (cited in Laughey 2010, pp.63), television is a 'primary myth-maker' or 'constructor of ideology'. Barthes (2009) critiques the ideology bearing on the analysed image through his semiological method that demonstrates the 'mythical signification' of the image. (pp.xvii) Van Leeuwen (cited in Pattanatabud 2010b, ibid.) elaborates that "Myths are broad and diffuse concepts which condense everything associated with the represented people, places, or things into a single entity…They are ideological meanings, serving to legitimate the status quo and the interests of those whose power is invested in it". Myth, for Barthes (cited in Bignell 2003, pp.25), is "a type of speech about social realities which supports ideology by taking these realities outside of the arena of political debate". Laughey (2010) points out that even though Barthes does not theorise ideology in great depth, he is clear that 'myth contains ideological meanings'. Myth and ideology are similar in their structuralist senses. "The concept of ideology has been theorised in a greater extent by structuralist Marxists who followed Barthes, such as Louis Althusser and Stuart Hall". (pp.60)

Louis Althusser (2008) argues that individuals in capitalist societies are governed not only by the 'Repressive State Apparatus' which functions by violence such as the police and the army, but also by the 'Ideological State Apparatuses'. Althusser (2004) notes, "Ideology is a 'representation' of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence". (pp.317) It is 'a system (with its own loci and rigour) or representations (images, myths, ideas or concepts) endowed with a historical existence and role within a given society'. (Althusser 1986 pp.231) For Althusser, ideology is not simply a set of ideas. It exists in material practice as ideological apparatuses. (Seidman and Alexander 2008, pp.95) The Ideological State Apparatuses include the media, the arts, religion, education, family, political system, trade-union etc. They serve to produce and reproduce ideologies of the ruling class. (Althusser 2008, pp. 17, 19-20) Individuals internalise these ideologies without realising that their lives are oppressed by institutions that represent and serve such ideologies.

while admitting that ideologies 'do not correspond to reality, i.e. that they constitute an illusion, we admit that they do make allusion to reality, and that they need only be 'interpreted' to discover the reality of the world behind their imaginary representation of that world'. (ibid., pp.36)

Stuart Hall (1996) finds Althusser's theory of ideology too functionalist in the way that ideology always functions to reproduce capitalist social relations. (pp.30) The idea of ideological struggle should not be neglected. Hall revises the concepts of ideology into a 'more systematic theory of media in their social and cultural functions'. (Laughey 2010, ibid.) According to Hall (1977), ideologies are 'ideas, meanings, conceptions, theories, beliefs, etc. and the form of consciousness which are appropriate to them'. (pp.320) Hall (2007) says in his book Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices that "There is no one true meaning. Meaning floats. It cannot be finally fixed". However, it is possible to find the preferred meaning" (pp.228) as Barthes (1990) suggests that "the system of meaning is that of a supervised freedom". (pp.161) It should be noted that this 'preferred meaning' is not determinate. (Laughey 2010, pp.62) Hall (cited in Laughey 2010, pp.61) points out that a direct correspondence between the meaning intended by a sender and how that meaning is interpreted by a recipient should not be taken for granted. In other words, reception is not deterministically dominated by 'omnipotent, oppressive force manipulated by the ruling class, as opposed to the classical Marxist tradition of political economy. (ibid., pp.64)

Although individuals do not necessarily have to conform to dominant ideologies represented in the media, I would like to argue that we should not pretend that the problem concerning the relationship between the unconscious and ideology does not exist in the media, or neither should we act as if the problem had already been solved as Corpet and Matheron (2003) put it, "the problems men pose are not always those they are capable of solving, we cannot pretend to believe that they have solved a problem simply because they have ceased to pose it". (Althusser and Methoron, pp. 37) I find a careful investigation of the image as significant as a research on both the production and reception of the image, as Cottle (2000) notes that "The media are a key site and perform a crucial role in the public representation of unequal social relations" (pp.2), especially when no access to interview the producers is granted and the research on the site of reception faces the difficulty of finding the audiences who have seen all of the media contents of which the research refers to.

2. Social Classes, the State and Ideology

In modern societies, the major agents are social classes of which can be broadly divided into the bourgeois or the capitalists (the owners of the means of production) and the proletarians or the working class (those who own simply their own labour). Labour are more or less expensive 'according to their age and sex'. Nonetheless, minimum wage always keeps labourer 'in bare existence as a labourer'. (Marx 2003, pp.9, 15) Karl Marx (cited in Craib 1997, pp.117) believes that some classes such as the middle classes and the peasantry do not share the life conditions that enable them to act as collective agents. The lower middle class like the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper and the artisan exist as fractions of the middle class. (Marx 2003, pp.11) And they tend to follow a strong leader. With industrialisation, the peasantry declined. Peasants became poorer agricultural labourers due to, as Marx (2003) pointed out, centralised means of production and concentrated property in a few hands. (pp.7) They were 'forced off the land into the urban working class'. Marx's discussion of class also leads to his explanation of the nature of the state. (Craib 1997, pp.98, 102) According to Marx (2003), political power is 'merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another'. (pp.20) Marx is clear about his view that the state serves the interest of the capitalists as he puts it, "The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie". (Marx 2003, pp.5) In the long run, the state always serves the interests of the capitalists as a whole. (Miller 1999, pp.66)

The legal system and judiciary is one of the principal ideological supports of the bourgeois state. (Giddens 2008, pp.40-41) Apart from the legal system, religion is counted as an ideological support of the state. It is why Marx wanted to abolish all religion (Marx 2003, pp.19) as he pointed out that religion is the 'opium of the people'. (Marx 1963, pp.44) Giddens (2008) points out that dogmas must be questioned whether they are religious or political. "Religious systems express the creation of human values". (pp.7, 212)

3. Construction and Reconstruction of Class Ideology in Alcohol Advertisements

According to Kellner (1995), "Media culture helps shape the prevalent view of the world and its deepest values: it defines what is considered good or bad, positive or negative, moral or evil". (pp.1) Holzman (2000) points out that "As we investigate fictional characters and themes in popular film, television and music, it is important to keep in mind the ways that entertainment media serve to…reinforce cultural beliefs and norms'. (pp.119) Adams (2007) gives a working definition of class as "a relative social ranking based on income, wealth, status and/or power". (pp.314) Holtzman (2000) points out in her book Media Message: What Film, Television and Popular Music Teach Us about Race, Class and Sexual Orientation that 'one way of understanding class identity is by type of occupation'. (pp.105) Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking: A Report to Amsterdam Group conducted by Social Issues Research Centre (1998) indicates that a bottle of alcohol, in different societies or situations, can serve 'as a tradition or novelty, masculinity or femininity, the working class or the elite', and so on. (pp.51) For example, by presenting the man holding a bottle of alcohol constructs a relationship between men and alcohol. "Its meaning will be readily understood". (ibid.) Ideology can be found in advertisements when the represented people and things are, what Laughey (2010) puts it, 'hardly a typical cross-section of society'. (pp.69) Malikaew (2008) points out that the anti-drinking TV advertisements from ThaiHealth particularly focus on poor drinkers and labourers, widely known in Quit drinking…Stop Being Poor advertisement and Big Bro advertisement. Alcohol is misconstructed to be working-class even though alcohol consumers can be found in every socioeconomic class in Thailand according to the research on Religious Beliefs and Practice, And Alcohol Use in Thai Men. Assanangkornchai, et al. (2001) note in their research that there were no significant differences in terms of harmful drinking between the case study groups with regards to level of education, location of residences, working status and social class. (pp.194)

Bootwala, et al. (2007) explains that advertising can persuade receivers to do something but cannot compel. (pp.1.11) I would like to add that the act of persuading is the act of sending out the message that it is compelling to do something. In this dissertation, I will demonstrate the way ThaiHealth provides reasons for drinkers to stop drinking. And in the act of sending out the message that it is compelling to stop drinking, there is something more - an ideology bearing on the adverts that persuades audiences to obey the prevailing structures of power.

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