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In media analysis, ”hegemony” refers to the ways in which film and television help to represent political and social issues. These representations favor the interests of dominant groups, and help keep the rest of the population consenting to political and social systems.
Even entertainment media are seen as ”political.” None is suggesting that films or TV offer direct propaganda messages upholding government foreign policy, masculinity, or nationalism, but support for all of these views can be found in popular examples, nevertheless, often from the ways stories are told and characters managed.
For example, some substantial early analysis suggested that the James Bond movie offers us all sorts of constructions about other ”races” and nationalities. North Koreans are sinister totalitarians in Die Another Day; Afro-Caribbeans are excitable and superstitious in Dr No; Central American dictators run the drug trade in Licence to Kill. In British popular opinion and in Bond films, the Americans are well intentioned, well resourced but lacking finesse, the Russians puritanical, bureaucratic and ruthless. As Bennett and Woollacott (1987) say, this enables the British to appear as resourceful, intelligent, and able to claim some imaginary post-imperial role as offering a ”middle way” in international conflicts.
James Bond also features strong views about women. Some are exotic and expendable, and some are ambiguous sexually. In the latter case, Bond restores them to conventional sexuality and political loyalty simultaneously by displaying vigorous heterosexual masculinity.
Television examples in the same tradition have focused on newspapers, documentary and current affairs programs. These programs apparently follow a code of neutrality and balance, for example by letting each political party have equal time. However, this very debate legitimizes the overall political system which gets depicted as the only feasible form of ”democracy.” Radical alternatives that might lie outside the inter-party consensus are never considered as serious politics.
Brasfield (2006) offers a typical and more feminist version of the analysis, reading Sex and the City. The characters are feisty, independent individuals, but in the end they do nothing to challenge a society that supports the dominant position of white middle-class women. In popular media, women can challenge their place in the social order to a limited extent, and only in a way that leaves intact its main shape.
The critics might see mostly political implications, but ordinary members of the viewing public might not even be aware of them. Perhaps this failure to ”read” films or programs in this way could mean that the analysis is exaggerated and partial. Defenders of the approach might suggest instead that viewers have been unconsciously influenced so deeply that they are not aware of it: the problem with that defense is that it makes the analysis immune to virtually any criticism.
Work on the actual responses of ”active viewers” also suggests that people are often capable of ”seeing through” dominant readings, sometimes drawing upon other sources of information about the world, and from their own everyday experiences of domination and resistance.
- Bennett, T. and Woollacott, J. (1987) Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero. Macmillan, London.
- Brasfield R. (2006) Rereading Sex and the City: exposing the feminist hegemonic narrative. Journal of Popular Film and Television 34 (3): 130—9.
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