Saturday, April 29, 2006

Toward A Critical Theory of Advertising

Since the emergence of "critical" media studies in the 1970's, a substantial literature has developed that examines and questions the role of mass communications and advertising within the institutional structures of contemporary capitalist societies. In contrast to "administrative" media studies that focus on how to use mass communications within the given political economic order to influence audiences, sell products, and promote politicians, critical research has addressed the social and cultural effects of mass communications and their role in perpetuating an unjust social order. One facet of critical analyses of advertising -exemplified by Goffman's Gender Advertisements, Williamson's Decoding Advertisements, and Andren, et. al.'s Rhetoric and Ideology in Advertising -- has examined the content and structure of advertisements for their distorted communications and ideological impact. Employing semiotics and/or content analysis, numerous critical studies working at the micro level have examined how advertising's mass communications "persuade" or "manipulate" consumers.

By contrast, works such as Schiller's Mass Communications and American Empire, Ewen's Captains of Consciousness, and Bagdikian's The Media Monopoly present broader historical analyses which locate advertising and mass communications within the history of contemporary capitalism and examine their impact on the larger social and political economic structure. Studies such as these have probed how advertising and mass media have contributed to the development and reproduction of an undemocratic social order by concentrating enormous economic and cultural power in the hands of a few corporations and individuals.

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