Study Questions: Chapter 19
1. What are simulacra and how are they related to mass culture?
Answer: French sociologist Jean Baudrillard’s concept of simulacra (singular simulacrum) refers to aspects of mass culture that are hyperreal or are simulated versions of real life that people see as “more real” than the real things they simulate. Simulacra draw upon and promote stereotypes and are produced and reproduced as material goods or commodities by mass media. Mass culture is culture that is produced for the masses by people with power. Mass media are the vehicles for disseminating mass culture and simulacra. An example of a simulacrum is an airbrushed picture of a person on a magazine cover. The image is not a true representation but is a media manipulation that determines what we come to recognize as real. In the text, the idea of weapons of mass destruction is used as simulacra. These weapons were not, in fact, real, but came to exist as reality in many people’s minds as media inundated people with stories of their existence. (pp. 511–512)
2. What two main characteristics did C. Wright Mills convey about mass media?
Answer: In his book The Power Elite (1956) American sociologist C. Wright Mills conveyed two important characteristics of mass media. First, he stated that a small number of (often powerful) people use mass media to communicate to a large number of people. Second, he stated that this large number of people had no effective means of communicating back as mass media are typically one-way communication. (pp. 514–515)
3. What is disinformation and how does it work?
Answer: Disinformation is a concept developed by American media scholar Neil Postman. Postman argues that disinformation is what is actually broadcast by television news media. He describes disinformation as misleading information, but not as deliberately misleading. It is, in his words, a by-product of “news . . . packaged as entertainment.” Due to the dissemination of superficial and irrelevant information, which passes as newsworthy content, Postman concluded that “Americans are the best entertained, and quite likely the least informed society in the Western world.” (p. 521)
4. What is junk food news and what are the categories of junk food news that Carl Jensen identified?
Answer: Junk food news is defined by American communications professor Carl Jensen as media reporting on stories as “news” that in no way contributes to people’s understandings of important socio-political issues nor assists in making them informed citizens. Jensen identified seven categories of junk food news: (1) brand name news (e.g., any story about the Kardashians); (2) sex news (e.g., the breakup of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt); (3) yo-yo news (e.g., constant online news updates about the status the Canadian dollar against other currencies worldwide); (4) crazed news (e.g., about fads predicting the year 2012 as the end of the world, or before that, the year 2000, and before that the year 1981); (5) showbiz news (e.g., anything discussed on TMZ such as Russell Brand being spotted at a nightclub; (6) sports news (e.g., the Tiger Woods adultery scandal); and (7) political news (e.g., allegations that Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoked crack while in a drunken stupor). (pp. 521–522)
5. What is the digital divide and what role do “info elites” play?
Answer: The digital divide is the idea that society is separated by people with and without easy access to computers and the Internet and the ability/knowledge to use them effectively to communicate with others. The digital divide occurs in two ways: between nations and between people within nations. Those nations with a high proportion of the population with computer/Internet access (e.g., Canada) are referred to by Kai Hafez and others as “info-elites.” In 2013 only 41 per cent of households worldwide had Internet access and within info-elite nations, some groups lack access, such as poor people and many elderly people. (p. 531)