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Mass Mediated Collective Myths

Media play a central role in many children’s lives. As such they have an important influence on the values children develop about themselves, their bodies and the world. This is an important relationship to think about as mass media, just like religion, are part of our cultural institutions. As such, they are invisible tools of power crucial to political and economic life (Miège, 1995)[i].

Mediated communication is not neutral and often serves to prepare the public to specific institutional agendas, ideas and/or markets (de La Haye and Miège, 1983)[ii]Sociologists have long established that organizations that strive for power will try to influence the ideology of a society to become closer to what they want it to be. Political organizations, governments included, and other groups such as lobbyists, have historically tried to influence the public. Those who controlled access to mass media production and distribution could influence a larger portion of the public’s  perception of societal evolution by broadcasting meta-narratives tailored to their needs.

Meta-narratives are considered the main tool of legitimation of modern society where cultural superstructures (social organizations such as school, churches or media) serve to create ideology (Lyotard, 1979)[iii]. An ideology represents the interests of a specific social class, tacitly carried within the actions of actors (Weber, 1930)[iv], which in turn affects individuals’ notions of reality (Althusser, 1971)[v]. This has been possible because mass media content have been implicit representations of specific ideologies that still participate in creating what sociologists call societal imaginaries.

Societal imaginaries become the set of values that governs an entire society (Castoriadis, 1975)[vi]. In his book The Imaginary Institution of Society, Cornelius Castoriadis explained that social change cannot be understood in terms of any determinate causes or presented as a sequence of events. Change emerges through social imaginaries without determinations. A societal imaginary bounds the members of the society by establishing what is considered “real” often via culture.

Each historical period is marked by a specific dominant societal imaginary.  Ideology organizations that have most control over access to messages, or can amplify their voice, can influence the public’s imaginary of the self and societal evolution and obtain a dominant place in history.

What is unique about an imaginary, is that it emerges out of a field of images, imagination and deception (Lacan, 1962-1963)[vii].  It is a sort of mirror that reflects an image of reality that is in conflict with our Ego. The French psychologist Jacques Lacan understood the Imaginary order to be a place of alienation and its relationship to the Ego to promote narcistic tendencies, valuing egotism, vanity, conceit and competition. These values could be argued to insure that by keeping the mass public self-absorbed and focused on consumption via its media, promoting social ascension via competition for the best replica of the ideal fashionable middle class life style of the time, the dominant ruling class could operate freely with very little resistance.  Occupying the middle class with its own reflections of the imaginary could prevent this class from joining lower classes and excluded groups in their struggle to subsist (Miège, 1995).

These imaginaries have become our collective myths. According to Joseph Campbell a myth is a society’s dream. Given that: “ the myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth”  (Campbell, 1988, 40)[viii]. Dreaming is important to our lives, as a dream:

“ is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is a society’s dream.  If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of society, you are in accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you. (…) If you are forced to live in that system, you’ll be neurotic” (Campbell, 1988, 40)”.

Mediated myths replaced personal dreams. Without personal dreams, we become denaturalized and much less aware of what is happening to our lives and much easier to control. The less aware of our senses we became, the less able to listen to ourselves. Images replaced sensorial experiences as “truth”.

Next: Disembodied Images of Disembodied Selves

[i] Miege, B. (1995). La pense communicationnelle. Grenoble: PUG.

[ii] Miège, Bernard, and de la Haye, Yves (1983): “Ce que cachent les discours sur la communication”, in Mattelart, Armand, Stourdzé, Yves (1983): Technologie, culture et Communication. Paris: La Documentation française.

[iii] Lyotard, Jean-François (1979). La condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir. Paris: Minuit.

[iv] Weber, Max (1930). The protestant ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Scribner.

[v] Althusser, Louis (1971). “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”, in L. Althusser (Ed.),. Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press.

[vi] Castoriadis, Cornelius (1975). L’Institution imaginaire de la société. Seuil: Paris.

[vii] Lacan, Seminar III: The Psychoses.

[viii] Campbell, Joseph (1988). The Power of Myth. Betty Sue Flowers (ed.). New York: Doubleday





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