Media Magic: Making Class Invisible, by Gregory Mantsios

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 15 Nov 1998 19:45:47 -0400


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FWD  Excerpt below overviews common MEDIA STEREOTYPES about poor people:

"The Poor Do Not Exist"
"The Poor Are Faceless"
"The Poor Are Undeserving"
"The Poor Are an Eyesore"
"The Poor Have Only Themselves to Blame"
"The Poor Are Down on Their Luck"


MEDIA MAGIC: MAKING CLASS INVISIBLE, by Gregory Mantsios
Rothenberg, P.S., ed. "Race, Class and Gender in the US" 3d ed.
New York: Martins, 1995.

[excerpt]

Of the various social and cultural forces in our society, the mass media
is arguably the most influential in molding public consciousness.
Americans spend an average twenty-eight hours per week watching
television. They also spend an undetermined number of hours reading
periodicals, listening to the radio, and going to the movies. Unlike
other cultural and socializing institutions, ownership and control of
the mass media is highly concentrated. Twenty-three corporations own
more than one-half of all the daily newspapers, magazines, movies
studios, and radio and television outlets in the US [which are all owned
by a rich white elite]. The number of media companies is shrinking and
their control of the industry is expanding. And a relatively small
number of media outlets is producing and packaging the majority of news
and entertainment programs. For the most part, our media is national in
nature and single-minded (profit-oriented) in purpose. This media plays
a key role in defining our cultural tastes, helping us locate ourselves
in history, establishing our national identity, and ascertaining the
range of national and social possibilities....

The US is the most highly stratified society in the industrialized
world. Class distinctions operate in virtually every aspect of our
lives, determining the nature of our work, the quality of our schooling,
and the health and safety of our loved ones. Yet remarkably, we, as a
nation, retain illusions about living in an egalitarian society. We
maintain these illusions, in large part, because the media hides gross
inequities from public view. In those instances when inequalities are
revealed, we are provided with messages that obscure the nature of class
realities and blame the victims of class-dominated society for their own
plight....

About the Poor

The new media provides meager coverage of the poor people and poverty.
The coverage it does provide is often distorted and misleading.

"The Poor Do Not Exist"

For the most part, the news media ignore the poor. Unnoticed are forty
million poor people in the nation -- a number that equals the entire
population of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island,
and New York combined. Perhaps even more alarming is that the rate of
poverty is increasing twice as fast as the population growth of the US.
Ordinarily, even a calamity of much smaller proportion (e.g., flooding
in the Midwest) would garner a great deal of coverage and hype fro ma
media usually eager to declare a crisis, yet less than one in five
hundred articles in the New York Times and one in one thousand articles
listed in the Readers Guide to Periodic Literature are on poverty. With
remarkably little attention to them, the poor and their problems are
hidden from most Americans.

When the media does turn its attention to the poor, it offers a series
of contradictory messages and portrayals.

"The Poor Are Faceless"

Each year the Census Bureau releases a new report in our society and its
results are duly reported to the media. At best, however, this coverage
emphasizes annual fluctuations (showing how the numbers differ from
previous years) and ongoing debates over the validity of the numbers....
Coverage like this desensitizes us to the poor by reducing poverty to a
number. It ignores the human tragedy of poverty--the suffering, the
indignities, and misery endured by millions of children and adults.
Instead, the poor become statistics rather than people.

"The Poor Are Undeserving"

When media does put a face on the poor, it is not likely to be a pretty
one. The media will provide us with sensational stories about welfare
cheats, drug addicts, and greedy panhandlers (almost always urban and
black). Compare these images and the emotions evoked by them with the
media's treatment of middle class (usually white) "tax evaders,"
celebrities who have a "chemical dependency," or wealthy business people
who use unscrupulous means to "make a profit." While the behavior of the
[rich] offenders is considered an "impropriety" and a deviation from the
norm, the behavior of the poor is considered repugnant, indicative of
the poor in general, and worthy of our indignation and resentment.

"The Poor Are an Eyesore"

While the media does cover the poor, they are often presented through
the eyes of the middle class. For example, sometimes the media includes
a story about community resistance to a homeless shelter or storekeeper
annoyance with panhandlers. Rather than focusing on the plight of the
poor, these stories are about middle class opposition to the poor. Such
stories tell us that the poor are an inconvenience and an irritation.

"The Poor Have Only Themselves to Blame"

In another example of media coverage, we are told that the poor live in
a personal and cultural cycle of poverty that hopelessly imprisons them.
They routinely center on the black urban population and focus on
perceived personality or cultural traits that doom the poor. While the
women in these stories typically exhibit an "attitude" that leads to
trouble or a promiscuity that leads to single motherhood, the men
possess a need for immediate gratification that leads to drug abuse or
an unquenchable greed that leads to the pursuit of fast money. The
images that are seared into our mind are sexist, racist, and classist.
Census figures reveal that most of the poor are white not black or
hispanic, that they live in rural or suburban areas not urban centers,
and hold jobs at least part of the year. Yet, in a fashion that is often
framing in an understanding and sympathetic tone, we are told that the
poor have inflicted poverty on themselves.

"The Poor Are Down on Their Luck"

During the Christmas season, the news media sometimes provide us with
accounts of poor individuals or families (usually white) who are down on
their luck. These stories are often linked to stories about soup
kitchens or other charitable activities and sometimes call for
charitable contributions. These "Yule time" stories are as much about
the affluent as they are about the poor: they tell us that the affluent
in our society are a kind, understanding, giving people--which we are
not. The series of unfortunate circumstances that have led to
impoverishment are presumed to be a temporary condition that will
improve with time and a change in luck.

...The media tells us that poverty is either an aberration of the
American way of life (it doesn't exist, it's just another number, it's
unfortunate but temporary) or an end product of the poor themselves
(they are a nuisance, do not deserve better, and have brought their
predicament upon themselves).

By suggesting that the poor have brought poverty upon themselves, the
media is engaging in... "blaming the victim." The media identify in what
ways the poor are different as a consequence of deprivation, then define
those differences as the cause of poverty itself. ...The message is that
there is something fundamentally wrong with the victims--their hormones,
psychological makeup, family environment, community, race, or some
combination of these--that accounts for their plight and their failure
to lift themselves out of poverty.

But poverty in the US is systemic. It is a direct result of economic and
political policies that deprive people of jobs, adequate wages, or
legitimate support. It is neither natural nor inevitable: there is
enough wealth in our nation to eliminate poverty if we chose to
redistribute existing wealth or income. ...Poverty also impacts
dramatically on the nonpoor. It has a dampening effect on wages in
general (by maintaining a reserve army of unemployed and underemployed
anxious for any job at any wage) and breeds crime and violence (by
maintaining conditions that invite private gain by illegal means and
rebellion-like behavior, not entirely unlike the urban riots of the
1960s). Given the extent of poverty in the nation and the impact it has
on us all, the media must spin considerable magic to keep the poor and
the issues of poverty and its root causes out of the public
consciousness.

END FORWARD
HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page
ARCHIVES  <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN
TO JOIN  <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <wgcp@earthlink.net>
--============_-1300948939==_ma============
Content-Type: text/enriched; charset="us-ascii"

FWD  Excerpt below overviews common MEDIA STEREOTYPES about poor
people:


"The Poor Do Not Exist"

"The Poor Are Faceless"

"The Poor Are Undeserving"

"The Poor Are an Eyesore"

"The Poor Have Only Themselves to Blame"

"The Poor Are Down on Their Luck"

<paraindent><param>right,left</param>


MEDIA MAGIC: MAKING CLASS INVISIBLE, by Gregory Mantsios

Rothenberg, P.S., ed. "Race, Class and Gender in the US" 3d ed.

New York: Martins, 1995.

</paraindent>

[excerpt]


Of the various social and cultural forces in our society, the mass
media

is arguably the most influential in molding public consciousness.

Americans spend an average twenty-eight hours per week watching

television. They also spend an undetermined number of hours reading

periodicals, listening to the radio, and going to the movies. Unlike

other cultural and socializing institutions, ownership and control of

the mass media is highly concentrated. Twenty-three corporations own

more than one-half of all the daily newspapers, magazines, movies

studios, and radio and television outlets in the US [which are all
owned

by a rich white elite]. The number of media companies is shrinking and

their control of the industry is expanding. And a relatively small

number of media outlets is producing and packaging the majority of
news

and entertainment programs. For the most part, our media is national
in

nature and single-minded (profit-oriented) in purpose. This media
plays

a key role in defining our cultural tastes, helping us locate
ourselves

in history, establishing our national identity, and ascertaining the

range of national and social possibilities....


The US is the most highly stratified society in the industrialized

world. Class distinctions operate in virtually every aspect of our

lives, determining the nature of our work, the quality of our
schooling,

and the health and safety of our loved ones. Yet remarkably, we, as a

nation, retain illusions about living in an egalitarian society. We

maintain these illusions, in large part, because the media hides gross

inequities from public view. In those instances when inequalities are

revealed, we are provided with messages that obscure the nature of
class

realities and blame the victims of class-dominated society for their
own

plight....


About the Poor


The new media provides meager coverage of the poor people and poverty.

The coverage it does provide is often distorted and misleading.


"The Poor Do Not Exist"


For the most part, the news media ignore the poor. Unnoticed are forty

million poor people in the nation -- a number that equals the entire

population of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode
Island,

and New York combined. Perhaps even more alarming is that the rate of

poverty is increasing twice as fast as the population growth of the
US.

Ordinarily, even a calamity of much smaller proportion (e.g., flooding

in the Midwest) would garner a great deal of coverage and hype fro ma

media usually eager to declare a crisis, yet less than one in five

hundred articles in the New York Times and one in one thousand
articles

listed in the Readers Guide to Periodic Literature are on poverty.
With

remarkably little attention to them, the poor and their problems are

hidden from most Americans.


When the media does turn its attention to the poor, it offers a series

of contradictory messages and portrayals.


"The Poor Are Faceless"


Each year the Census Bureau releases a new report in our society and
its

results are duly reported to the media. At best, however, this
coverage

emphasizes annual fluctuations (showing how the numbers differ from

previous years) and ongoing debates over the validity of the
numbers....

Coverage like this desensitizes us to the poor by reducing poverty to
a

number. It ignores the human tragedy of poverty--the suffering, the

indignities, and misery endured by millions of children and adults.

Instead, the poor become statistics rather than people.


"The Poor Are Undeserving"


When media does put a face on the poor, it is not likely to be a
pretty

one. The media will provide us with sensational stories about welfare

cheats, drug addicts, and greedy panhandlers (almost always urban and

black). Compare these images and the emotions evoked by them with the

media's treatment of middle class (usually white) "tax evaders,"

celebrities who have a "chemical dependency," or wealthy business
people

who use unscrupulous means to "make a profit." While the behavior of
the

[rich] offenders is considered an "impropriety" and a deviation from
the

norm, the behavior of the poor is considered repugnant, indicative of

the poor in general, and worthy of our indignation and resentment.


"The Poor Are an Eyesore"


While the media does cover the poor, they are often presented through

the eyes of the middle class. For example, sometimes the media
includes

a story about community resistance to a homeless shelter or
storekeeper

annoyance with panhandlers. Rather than focusing on the plight of the

poor, these stories are about middle class opposition to the poor.
Such

stories tell us that the poor are an inconvenience and an irritation.


"The Poor Have Only Themselves to Blame"


In another example of media coverage, we are told that the poor live
in

a personal and cultural cycle of poverty that hopelessly imprisons
them.

They routinely center on the black urban population and focus on

perceived personality or cultural traits that doom the poor. While the

women in these stories typically exhibit an "attitude" that leads to

trouble or a promiscuity that leads to single motherhood, the men

possess a need for immediate gratification that leads to drug abuse or

an unquenchable greed that leads to the pursuit of fast money. The

images that are seared into our mind are sexist, racist, and classist.

Census figures reveal that most of the poor are white not black or

hispanic, that they live in rural or suburban areas not urban centers,

and hold jobs at least part of the year. Yet, in a fashion that is
often

framing in an understanding and sympathetic tone, we are told that the

poor have inflicted poverty on themselves.


"The Poor Are Down on Their Luck"


During the Christmas season, the news media sometimes provide us with

accounts of poor individuals or families (usually white) who are down
on

their luck. These stories are often linked to stories about soup

kitchens or other charitable activities and sometimes call for

charitable contributions. These "Yule time" stories are as much about

the affluent as they are about the poor: they tell us that the
affluent

in our society are a kind, understanding, giving people--which we are

not. The series of unfortunate circumstances that have led to

impoverishment are presumed to be a temporary condition that will

improve with time and a change in luck.


...The media tells us that poverty is either an aberration of the

American way of life (it doesn't exist, it's just another number, it's

unfortunate but temporary) or an end product of the poor themselves

(they are a nuisance, do not deserve better, and have brought their

predicament upon themselves).


By suggesting that the poor have brought poverty upon themselves, the

media is engaging in... "blaming the victim." The media identify in
what

ways the poor are different as a consequence of deprivation, then
define

those differences as the cause of poverty itself. ...The message is
that

there is something fundamentally wrong with the victims--their
hormones,

psychological makeup, family environment, community, race, or some

combination of these--that accounts for their plight and their failure

to lift themselves out of poverty.


But poverty in the US is systemic. It is a direct result of economic
and

political policies that deprive people of jobs, adequate wages, or

legitimate support. It is neither natural nor inevitable: there is

enough wealth in our nation to eliminate poverty if we chose to

redistribute existing wealth or income. ...Poverty also impacts

dramatically on the nonpoor. It has a dampening effect on wages in

general (by maintaining a reserve army of unemployed and underemployed

anxious for any job at any wage) and breeds crime and violence (by

maintaining conditions that invite private gain by illegal means and

rebellion-like behavior, not entirely unlike the urban riots of the

1960s). Given the extent of poverty in the nation and the impact it
has

on us all, the media must spin considerable magic to keep the poor and

the issues of poverty and its root causes out of the public

consciousness.


END FORWARD

HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page

ARCHIVES  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN

TO JOIN  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <<wgcp@earthlink.net>

--============_-1300948939==_ma============--