Mass communication is the systematic dissemination of messages via printed, radio, television, film, sound recording, video recording, and other channels of transmission of information among dispersed audience with the aim of informing and providing an ideological, political, economic, psychological, and organizational impact on people’s estimates, opinions, and behavior. The modern society is enmeshed in a network of communication systems, which influence human mind and subconsciousness in different ways. Theories of mass communication explain that the process is public and serves as a massivization, uniting audiences around the shared ideas, political views, values, and consumption patterns. The object of the mass media impact is a human (an audience). The audience as a consumer of information is not just an object of influence but a party of the communication process as well. The concept of a mass society stresses the central role of a person in the communication system, defining it as part of a faceless set under control of the interested unities. The theory emphasizes the danger of mass communication to the public as an association of individuals; however, its impact is inevitable in the conditions of scientific and technological progress and development of mankind.
A Background of the Mass Society Theory
The processes of industrialization and urbanization, which were largely based on new technologies, including the media, changed the face of Europe and the United States in the late XIX – early XX century. Such communication means as the telegraph and telephone were immediately appreciated. Despite the fact that new technologies were perceived optimistically, they caused pessimism of the majority social scientists, for whom the media became a symbol of everything negative. They were accused of pandering to the tastes of the lower classes, fomenting political unrest, and violation of basic cultural norms. Thus, the mass society theory was formed as a scientific direction. In different times, the theory of masses was offered by monarchists, who dreamed to restore the old political system, and revolutionaries, who wanted to carry out radical reforms. The whole idea of mass society enjoyed the greatest popularity among the social elite, whose power was threatened by the new orders.
The theory of mass society is not a unitary theory; it is made up of thematically related concepts and ideas. Lebon was recognized as the first theoretician of the masses in the late XIX century. He explored a crowd as a psychological phenomenon that occurred regardless of social status, nationality, profession, and even the reason that caused its formation. He argued that a crowd is formed as a social and psychological unity of the masses. It is imbued with certain common feelings and absorbs a conscious person. Over time, the emphasis has shifted to the public. Tarde urged not to mix a crowd and an audience. He argued that people are physically united in the first case and dispersed in the second one. Later, in the scope of the theory of elites, Mills considered the influence of individual groups on mass consciousness. He focused on the fact that the mass media are required to manage a greater part of the society and are used for manipulation of human beings that are blend into a crowd. Thus, the community becomes vulnerable to various kinds of media influence. Kornhauser played the prominent role in the formation of the ideology of mass society. He also compared an individual and a mass and drew a conclusion that mass society casts doubt on democracy and personal freedom. Additionally, there is a constant confrontation between the elite and a crowd.
The mass society ideas were especially popular among the media theorists in the 1930-1940s in Europe, with its strong commitment to the traditional way of life and high culture. The US media researchers were more skeptical of the absolute power of the media. In the 1960s, the threat of totalitarianism reduced while the popularity of the limited effects theory was growing. It was argued that the media rarely caused significant, long-term changes in the thoughts and actions of people. Thus, the interest in the theory of mass society was falling, and the media culture was no more considered antidemocratic. Strengths of the theory
The concept of mass society reflects the role and place of people in the modern environment. It reveals that the masses in a mass society are a product of the existing relations and their sacrifice as well. Therefore, the massification process has both positive and negative = characteristics. Thus, on the one hand, mass society increases the middle layer of the population, thus erasing class differences. On the other hand, it causes a blurring of class styles. It is considered that masses provide access to benefits that are not available to single individuals. Moreover, mass society includes diversity and versatility. It is relatively homogeneous and presents many common spiritual values. Destratification does not deny differentiation of the society within a certain unity.
Boltanski and Thévenot considered mass society as a benefit because it makes a person less vulnerable due to its belonging to a unity. Moreover, people form the general concepts of honor and dignity. Together they protect their rights and follow the idea of common good. Mass society has a greater chance of physical survival because it uses a single system of concepts and a common language. It facilitates the process of communication and interpersonal dialogue. Hypothetically, mass society knows no racism and is not divided into friends and foes. The discussed aspects evidence strengths of the mass society theory and explain usefulness of its formation. Weaknesses of the theory
Despite the strengths considered above, the theory also attracted much criticism. Thus, the theory does not explain how to remain a person and not to be absorbed by a crowd. The theory of mass society emphasizes interdependence and interrelation of governmental institutions and the mass media. Since the content considers political and economic interests of the ruling circles, there is no point in waiting that the media offers a critical or alternative picture of the world. No doubt, the interested members of society will help the dependent public resign to its fate.
An improvement of the living standards of masses is accompanied by spiritual degradation and depersonalization of a human. Modern life becomes too complicated to comprehend for a mass-man; thus, he builds, considering the average model, adjusting to widely adopted and habitual patterns. Mass consciousness is exposed to an unprecedented manipulation. Mass character of democracy creates a greater likelihood of functioning of unskilled power and its irresponsibility. Mass society is closely related to the presence of mass democracy and universal suffrage, when every person has equal rights and possibility to influence the government. However, in practice, it turns out to be misleading because the elites use the mass media to manage the crowd and take advantage of their positions. Formation of mass culture helps to stimulate this process. Thinking individuals are transformed into a single organism that lives according to generally accepted standards. This organism becomes easily manageable since it does not provide any alternative options to the information interpretation and decision-making. Mass society theory in a practice
Historically, the implementation of the mass society theory took place in totalitarian regimes. Thus, the ideology of the Third Reich had broad support of the masses due to a well-constructed policy of influence on the crowd. Adolf Hitler’s rise to power launched the mechanism of racial cleansing operations, which were supported by many Germans. Paradoxically, they sincerely believed that the society should be uniform and strong. However, it was not intended for the merger of peoples in a single power but destruction of anyone who did not correspond to the accepted criteria. In fact, mass society was created inside Germany. Moreover, it was managed by a small group that controlled media. Thus, the power of Hitler and his followers, like all totalitarian regimes, used the mass media to control people.
In the modern society, the theory is reflected in the organization of mass protests and demonstrations. Firstly, it could be observed how people with common interests unite together to defend their rights and to demonstrate the power of discontent. Such association becomes strong and influential. In the second phase, it can be used to define a leader or leadership group, who exert control over unification. Thus, a crowd becomes manageable and awe-inspiring, which makes it vulnerable to external control.
Mass society involves popular culture that people face every day. The usual situation, when the theory works, may be following fashion or maintenance of popular trends in arts, politics, sports, etc. Mass society is easily managed during the election because it is influenced by the mass media, which offers several candidates. Even if they do not meet the necessary criteria, they still win because the crowd is inspired by the idea of their exclusivity. For this reason, the theory of mass society does not work according to the desires of individuals. It is one of the foundations that embody the essence of the modern society.
Future Research for the Theory
I believe that the theory research should be aimed at realizing the potential of mass society and choosing the ways of mass democracy implementation. It can become a significant force if the role of propaganda is reduced. The development of each individual as a potential unit of mass society can make it more progressive because it will start to lose its rigid framework. The theory should be developed for the positive impact of the mass media and focus on the protection of common values and freedoms. Mass society concept in understanding mass communication
The theory of mass society explains the concept of mass communication as revealed in the essence of the relationship of communication and associations. According to the theory, the media are given priority as the cause and preserver of mass society. It should be stressed that media is a powerful tool for manipulating people, offering a private view of the world media, substitute or pseudo, while contributing to their mental survival in difficult conditions. For many people, the media have become the primary means of knowledge of the world. However, many forms of national culture fell into disrepair with the advent of the mass media. There is a transition to the media based on the global cultural environment. Overall evaluation of the theory
Undoubtedly, the mass society theory has a right to exist. It is embodied in the development of scientific and technological progress and evolution of mankind. Despite the fact that I do not support the idea of prosperity of a homogeneous society that blurs the frames between cultures and personal characteristics of the peoples, I believe that the theory must be supported and thoroughly studied to protect human rights and universal values. In any case, it fully explains the trends in the global society and explains the role of advocacy and communication. In fact, the theory predicts creation of supranational communities with their giant cities and markets and a rapid development of multimedia systems.
The mass society theory is a set of socio-philosophical, political, and cultural concepts that explain the growing role of the masses. A person is leveled in the mass social and political structure. An individual becomes an impersonal element of the social machine, tailored to its needs, or a victim of impersonal social progress. Mass society is easily ruled by the forces interested in using communication tools. As one of the theories of mass communication, the mass society theory is realized in the modern world as a part of the globalization process.