Making Meaning: Words and Images
‘Language—more specifically human language—refers to the grammar, structure and other rules and norms that allow humans to make utterances and sounds in a way that others can understand’. (Nordquist, 2019). The origin of language and its evolutions is highly speculative and has been debated vigorously amongst some of the greatest minds- many of which, have attempted to source its first emergence and develop upon that- i.e. The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, who defined the modern discipline of linguistics using his Theory of Structuralism. The language was not the creation of one person or one period but it is an institution, on which hundreds of generations and countless individuals have contributed and developed. Language is very characteristic of human beings that establish their superiority of communication above all other species, as identified by Darwin in his ‘TU-TU Theory of Language’ when he wrote, ‘The distinction of language in man is very great from all animals”, he wrote (Barrett ed. 1987, p. 542-3). Language is a constituent element of civilization.
Therefore, the importance of language for man and society cannot be minimized. Language impacts the daily lives of members of any race, creed, and region of the world. Language helps express our feelings, desires, and queries to the world around us. Words, gestures, and tone are utilized in the union to portray a broad spectrum of emotion. The importance of language and communication is often overlooked. Language extends its power through mass areas of social media platforms, news media, entertainment programs and even the music we listen to- it can be social, educational and cultural. It has allowed humans to feel apart of a community and extends to them a place that they can belong to. The ways in which the media use language are interesting linguistically in their own right; these include how different dialects and languages are used in advertising, how tabloid newspapers use language in a projection of their assumed readers’ speech, or how radio personalities use language—and only language–to construct their images and their relationships to an unseen, unknown audience. Fourth, the media are important social institutions.
They are crucial presenters of culture, politics, and social life, shaping as well as reflecting how these are formed and expressed. Media ‘discourse’ is important both for what it reveals about society and for what it contributes to the character of society. Although language provides us with all these media and connective freedoms, it would be arrogant to believe that is doesn’t pose a threat when abused. The power of a word is often minimized. The effects of language abuse or hate speech threaten to turn a word to a feeling and a feeling into action. For example, a journalist for The Guardian newspaper, Gary Younge, highlights the rippling undertone of hate speech even within politics through his comment ‘Donald Trump shows hate speech is now out and proud in the mainstream’ as the leader of ‘The Free World’, shocked the globe with his ‘ani-Muslim rhetoric’ branding them “Muslim cheats”. The Guardian later responded further, “Once discrimination on this scale enters the political market, it debases the currency of democracy and leaves everything weaker and everyone more divided. He wouldn’t be the first political figure to make the transition from ridiculous to dangerous.’ (Younge, 2015)fx
Ideology: Power of words and images
John B. Thompson said, “Ideology is meaning in the service of power”(John B. Thompson, 1990). An ideology is a set of normative beliefs and values that a person or other entity has for non-epistemic reasons. These rely on basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis (Wikipedia, 2018). Ideology has been ever-present throughout history. It has been seen to have changed the world for the greater good i.e. Nelson Mandela and his fight for equal rights for all men – and for the worst, i.e. Hitler and the Nazi regime. Regardless, to fully understand the power of ideologies we need o understand its origins- Karl Marx. Marx explains ideology in his book ‘ The German Ideology’ as a ‘production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness,’ all that ‘men say, imagine, conceive,’ (Marx, 1846). “Ideology functions as the superstructure of a civilization: the conventions and culture that make up the dominant ideas of a society. The ‘ruling ideas’ of a given epoch are, however, those of the ruling class: ‘The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of their dominance’ (Marx, 1846). ideology (for example, literature) can have a semi-autonomous existence; that is, that such cultural products can exert an influence that is at odds with the dominant mode of production. Ideology strives to establish, sustain, legitimize and rationalize unequal power relations- It challenges us to think about them. Ideology holds a mythical principle- it doesn’t indoctrinate people into what they are expected to believe in but on the other hand, it remolds the truth into a more desirable form that people willingly choose to believe in. For example, it has become a mas belief that immigrants ‘steal’ British jobs and ‘rob’ the country of its benefits budget- this is false. The Guardian newspaper has reported that ‘the HMRC figures also show that those who arrived in Britain in the last four years paid £2.54bn more in income tax and national insurance. The Office of Budget Responsibility has estimated that their labor contribution is helping to grow the economy.’(Travis, 2016). The LSE’s Jonathan Wadsworth said: “The bottom line, which may surprise many people, is that EU immigration has not harmed the pay, jobs or public services enjoyed by Britons’. (Travis, 2016). Regardless of the continuous studies and facts reported to the British public false ideologies, politically and socially motivated, still hold favor to the public as it gives them an explanation of rationale to their hardship.
Political Economy and ownership
Language and images represent the world, while simultaneously impacting that world, molding and manipulating our understanding of it, how we experience it and how we act in it. Western society is dominated by a medicated democracy. The involvement of media representations not only in popular knowledge about politics but in the conduct of politics becomes a factor of primary systemic significance. The media has an enormous effect on societal influence over political systems. For example, totalitarian regimes such as the KPD Communist party in Russia often used their political power over popular newspapers to sway citizen votes to maintain popular support for the government. This is a prime example of how our media platforms portray bias influence on the masses.
Capitalism is an economic and political system that is driven towards the pursuit of wealth. Marxists argue that the economic system of Britain, i.e. capitalism, is characterized by great inequalities in wealth and income which have been brought about by the exploitation of the labor-power of the working classes. Thus, the media is a product of a dictating capitalist system that taunts society- driving it to use its ownership and influence to proliferate its chosen message. Britain has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world. For example, statistics have shown that just ‘three companies dominate 83% of national newspaper circulation; five companies account for 80% of national newspaper news brands reach; five companies command 80% of local newspaper titles…’ (Freedman, 2015). The dangers of media ownership put public opinion at risk as they have the opportunity to censor, manipulate and mold false media and portray it as truth to society. The Guardian comments that “This kind of concentration creates conditions in which wealthy individuals and organizations can amass huge political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests and personal views.’ (Sweaney, 2015).
Thus, to avoid this the UK has called for media reform like in 1901 when Australia added regulations an restrictions to broadcasting laws i.e. the Broadcast and Television Act 1942 which held broadcasters and the media responsible for providing ‘adequate and comprehensive’ (Devereux, 2007) programmes to protect the public from biases’ manipulated by media ownership. It grows clear that mass corporations have fallen victim to the drive of capitalist pursuits, such as financial gain. For example, ‘Facebook has ‘quietly’ rescinded a policy banning false claims in advertising, creating a specific exemption that leaves political adverts unconstrained regarding how they could mislead or deceive, as a potential general election looms in the UK.’ As stated by The Guardian Newspaper (Hern, 2019)