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The Mythic Element of Mass Media and Its Relation to Plato’s Cave

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Abstract:

This paper compares some influential critiques of mass media and the mythic element they diagnose within it. Each theory is compared to the myth of the cave, described by Plato in his Republic, which suggests that whatever the format of our sociocultural communications systems, they falsely maintain a paradigm we assume equates with some kind of abiding truth or reality. This relatively ‘illusory’ quality must be qualified, however, by the transformative power and potential of mass media both as a paradigm and as a vehicle of cultural change. This tension is discussed in regards to Marshall McLuhan’s thesis that The Medium is the Message, the Frankfurt School analysis performed by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the ‘Culture Industry’ chapter of their Dialectic of Enlightenment, and in Karl Marx’s theory of the commodity fetish as revised by Jean Baudrillard (in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign) and Slavoj i ek (in The Sublime Object of Ideology). Close readings of these influential critical analyses of the cultural and symbolic elements in the proliferation of mass media and communications industries today reveal an age-old tension between ignorance and knowledge, illusion and truth that is far from settled. My conclusion considers the degree of agency we, as consumers of mass media in the early twenty-first century, might enjoy in terms of its dominant message. It assumes that a Marxist critique of the media and communications industries remains relevant in the twenty-first century.

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