How Far Can It Be Argued That Popular Culture Is Ideological: A Discussion In Relation To Feminism

2599 words - 10 pages

The Marxist concept of ideology is used to express the way in which the dominant group in a society controls the norms and values of that society at the level of ideas. As they own and direct the production of popular cultural products the dominant group are able to present their ideas as both normal and natural and `so mystify the `real' conditions of existence' (Hall.1992.p348). In this way the group holding power exercises maximum control with the minimum of conflict. The general population accepts the status quo as inevitable, and revolution is avoided. While Marxists view this as a matter of Capitalist control, Feminists see ideological domination as the means by which women are encouraged to accept a subordinate role in patriarchal societies. Simone de Beauvoir articulated the experience of being a woman as being socially constructed, suggesting that,

No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature.

(de Beauvoir.1989. p694)

Part of that civilization is popular culture and feminists suggest that women construct their identities in accordance with the female stereotypes that are presented to them in newspapers, magazines, television programmes, films and popular literature. Feminists see these stereotypes as being based on patriarchal definitions of gender and femininity. Women come to see the traits displayed by the stereotypes as innate and desirable in all females, and seek to emulate them, thereby actively conforming to a patriarchal ideal. This is, of course, an oversimplification, but such a model suggests that popular culture is inherently ideological.

Feminist critique of popular culture and mass media developed from the late 1950's onwards, and early feminist theorists tended to be radical in their approach, suggesting that the media has been used as a `major instrument of ideological domination' (Hall.1997.p348). Feminist theory shares much common ground with Marxism and many of the ideas of European Marxists have been appropriated and used by feminists. It has been suggested that this is particularly true of the ideas of Althusser and Gramsci (Gramman and Marshment in Strinati.1995.p180). Both of these theorists place emphasis on the idea of ideology as a means of control. Althusser suggests that ideology is not merely inherent in popular cultural practices but becomes `material practice' (Storey.1998.p97) and a part of daily existence. For Althusser ideology is found in the customs, traditions and patterns of behaviour of everyday life in such a way that social actors are not aware of their participation in the acceptance and propagation of the ideas of the most powerful group in society. Using Althusser's theories feminists may suggest that a tradition such as the celebration of Mother's Day can be seen as valourizing that particular role for women, while failing to recognize any other....

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