Tag Archives: individuality

The Labelling of a Mass Society

I don’t know about you, but I know that I don’t consider my perspective of the world as identical to everyone else’s. I don’t interpret information in the same way, and I certainly don’t come to the same conclusions. And yet when society is addressed in terms of cultural studies, and especially in the study of propaganda, we begin to hear the term “the masses.”

What is meant by mass society? Propaganda is often defined as a way of manipulating “the masses.” But with this description comes the assumption that each person is receiving and responding to information in an identical way. Given, it is valid that propaganda campaigns address people in this way. But the use of the term isn’t limited to this argument.

When we hear about “mass media” and “mass culture” as they appeal to a mass society, we are essentially being told that within society there is this uniformity, this simplistic structure that simply doesn’t exist. While there are definite similarities in terms of lifestyle (sources of information, entertainment, basic behaviors and decisions), this in itself does not mean that each individual is one and the same.

When analyzing any given society, it needs to be considered that each individual makes decisions and assumptions based on personal experiences and beliefs. Simply because the sources of media and culture are generally similar, this doesn’t mean that people derive meaning in the same way. One needs to consider differences in personality and experience, both of which inevitably affect how people look at the world.

This also applies to the perception of perceived enemies, considering that in wartime the generalization of an enemy’s people is a common way of removing the humanity from those people. It is interesting that this removal of humanity extends to the interpretation of our own culture.

It all comes down to the issue of reception…

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The Individual versus the Community

Okay…now that I brought up the issue of dichotomies, here’s one that I’ve been personally conflicted about. Maybe it’s because there’s this underlying perspective that fiction and non-fiction are generally at odds. Fiction is the “opiate of the masses” and non-fiction is “the truth.”

When it comes to resisting propaganda, it is often suggested that the power really is in the people. It’s the work of the public that can promote media reform and a change in political standards. This is a really hopeful notion, one that I believe, for the most part, to be true.

But there is a certain association that goes with the word “activist.” It is the revolutionary, the person who devotes their life to a cause. It is the person functioning on behalf of the community.

I think this term scares a lot of people away. I remember an activist friend of mine once saying that it’s as if people who are trying to promote change have to work exponentially harder to make up for everyone who doesn’t. I think that to a large extent this is absolutely true. Change isn’t an unlikely goal–it only requires that everyone work a little harder.

But then it comes down to the individual functioning for the community. And this in itself isn’t fulfilling enough. For me, I can’t imagine not devoting time to these issues. It’s an important part of being human to have empathy for others, to look out for each other, to speak up for those who have been denied a voice. But then there’s the side that needs something more. To focus on the personal. To be an artist.

It can be different things to different people. To be successful. To be a good parent. Everyone has their own way of defining themselves.

I think it comes down to the fact that those in the spotlight–whether it be activists, scholars, journalists, politicians–are held to entirely different standards than everyone else. That’s why their personal lives are so pettily scrutinized. Anyone who carries their cause on their sleeve is bound to be criticized.

I think it’s the issue of balance that is so difficult. It’s essential for people to see these perspectives as one and the same–as essential components of being human. They might address different aspects of the human condition, but both are equally necessary.

Joseph Campbell once said that communities should be designed for the benefit of the individual rather than the individual for the benefit of the community. But I think a recognition of this balance is necessary before this goal can be achieved.

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