If you ask the average teacher what he or she competes with for the minds and hearts of children as far as education is concerned, do not be surprised by the answer: television. This would not have been said of radio sixty years ago, which prompts a second question: "Why this difference between media?" One tentative answer is that Western culture has come increasingly under the influence of commercial interests outside both home and school, so that both parents and teachers compete with a new constellation of socialization agents in mass media personalities. The transmission of culture through socialization agents is a relational activity where the new generation comes into contact with the older one's cultural myths, values, and so on. The process is a dynamic interchange and in a sense there can be a reciprocity of roles between the generations. The older generation generally attempts to duplicate itself (that is, social formation or socialization) and the newer generation tends to forge changes in predominant cultural images (that is, transformation or social change). This process is dialectical and it should not be surprising that the valences change. It is safe to say that, in general, the older generation tends consciously or unconsciously to reproduce some of its dominant, accepted "cultural myths," the predominant cultural images by which a culture represents itself (Sullivan, 1980).

Culture is mediated; that is, its symbols and images are passed on by institutions. Obviously, the most important mediating institution in the socialization of children was the family structure. In simpler cultures it has been historically the only mediating device for cultural transmission. The second major mediating institution has been the school. Before the advent of the modern era, schools and family were the two main cultural mediators; that is, they carried or mediated the cultural messages to the younger generation. As already indicated, the twentieth century has seen a complete reversal of this process. In our own time, the family has been devastated as a cultural mediating device. Parents essentially relinquish this role to the schools where possible. This cultural transformation is quite complex and I cannot deal with this dramatic change for our present purposes. What I would like to call attention to is the advent of a new major mediating device for socialization in the twentieth century, that of the mass media. We will be focusing upon it in this chapter because it carries, in an unequivocal manner, the message of the central myths of "commodity culture."

When compared with parents and schools, the mass media--that is, newsprint, comics, radio, and television--are, at the same time, more anonymous and democratic. As opposed to parents, who concentrate their efforts on their own children and possibly their neighbors', the mass media are directed to a wider range of people, but with patently more utilitarian motives. In essence, the media are supported by modern advertising, whose main message is to sell products as commodities to people on a large scale as the correlate of mass production. It can be seen in some of the early advertising journals that the media were to conflict with the family. The advertising business both welcomed the demise of familial authority and, at the same time, was careful not to demystify all authority:

Rather it pointed toward the commodity market and its propaganda to replace the father's authority. Business was to provide the source of a life-style, where before the father had been the dictator of family spirit. (Ewen, 1976, pp. 131-32)

The decline of direct parental authority can be seen in all of Disney's comics, where there is a total absence of parental figures. It is indicative that this should go unnoticed (Dorfman and Mattelart, 1975).

This chapter will self-consciously concentrate on television as a moral educator. This does not ignore the fact that we are presently in the midst of what appears to be another information revolution in the development and penetration of the computer technologies into our culture. I have discussed some specific issues around this phenomenon elsewhere (see Sullivan, 1983b). One thing is certain, the computer will not replace the television as a medium. Rather, it is an amplification and extension of television. Therefore, to restrict our discussion to television is simply to provide a focus for the reader in a chapter that will consider a medium as a powerful device for cultural transmission.

The average person takes television for granted. It is a household expense, like a car or a toilet. Yet it is much more important as a moral influence than we care to think because it is a symbol-making medium. As such, one should not discount its influence. Rose Golsen, in How Television Works and Works You Over, makes a penetrating observation:

The power to dominate a culture's symbol-producing apparatus is the power to create the ambience that forms consciousness itself. It is a power we see exercised daily by the television business as it penetrates virtually every home with the most massive continuing spectacle human history has ever known. Wittingly and unwittingly, this business and its client industries set the stage for a never ending performance stripping away emotional associations that centuries of cultural experience have linked to patterns of behaviour, institutional forms, attitudes, and values that many cultures and subcultures revere and need to keep vigorous if they are to survive. The daily consciousness-raising sessions transmitted by television demonstrate the narrow range of alternatives selected by a handful of people as eminently worthy of attention and collective celebration (Golsen, 1975, pp. 14-15).


To speak of the mass media as a moral educator is to indicate that a particular type of communication system has the capacity to influence moral actions. To talk of moral acts being influenced, it is necessary to clarify the nature of the act being influenced. I have elsewhere indicated that the defining characteristics of a human act are its features of consciousness, intentionality, intention, responsibility, and significance (Sullivan, 1984). My own treatment of these features shares striking resemblances to Caputo, Samay, Nicgorski and Ellrod in Volume 1 of this series, G. McLean and F. Ellrod, Act and Agent: Philosophical Foundations of Moral Education and Character Development and Knowles's treatment of human action in Volume 2, Psychological Foundations of Moral Education and Character Development. For my purposes here, I would like to amplify on the last two features since they define human action as at once moral and communicative.

Responsibility is one characteristic of a "human act" insofar as one is accounting for the actions of a person in terms of their desires, intentions, and purposes. Of necessity, in humans this involves the negative pole of action, that is, reflection. "Responsible action" has, therefore, as part of its ongoing process, a reflective component which in ordinary language we call deliberation (Sullivan, 1984). It follows that a fundamental condition of education is the fostering of moral conduct, which by my definition is responsible action. The attribution of responsibility for an action is canceled altogether if it can be shown that the behavior was not governed, at least in some aspects, by intentions (Taylor, 1964). The deliberation involved in the reflective component of human action opens up the question of the autonomy or freedom of human action. The notion of a "deliberate action" assumes that, after the process of deliberation, there is a motive force which carries that action to some outcome or completion. Education is, in the best sense, the cultivation of responsible moral agency.

There are those who venture that education in goodness must mean education in value realization and that authentic moral education must involve the removal of all inertial obstacles which tend to block or deflect the positive direction of moral action. One of the issues that we must face in this chapter is whether the mass media foster responsible moral action (i.e., are educational) or are inertial obstacles (i.e., miseducational) in relation to responsible human action. Before going into this issue, let me turn to the feature of the human act as significant.

Elsewhere, I develop the notion that a human act has a sign quality that makes it simultaneously an act and an expression (Sullivan, 1984). Therefore, the sign quality of a human act puts it in the category of a communicative event. A human act is not an isolated event. but rather, relational. Therefore, there is no such thing as a significant act in itself. The meaning or significance of a human act is the place that it occupies in a network of relationships (Chein, 1972). I assume, after Geertz (1973), that significant human action is cultural action. "Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself spun, I take culture to be those webs" (p. 5). This notion will take on a deeper meaning later when we consider Paolo Freire's notion of "cultural action for freedom" (Freire, 1974). What is important now is to establish in the mind of the reader that "moral conduct" or "responsible action" exists within the framework of communications. My task will be to assess how mass communications influence moral actions.



It is often said that morality is fostered by good example. It is also said that evil is fostered by bad example. There is an intuition here that we are strongly influenced by the company we keep. There is also interjected into this discourse the idea that individuals can rise above their surroundings. This is usually said to someone who cannot avoid bad company, as it were. What is implicit in all of this is the belief that a moral point of view, or lack thereof, is mediated through social influences. There is nothing astounding here, except that we tend to forget the effects of normative influence. In some working-class families, one of these influences is the television which interacts with the children more even than do their parents (Sullivan, 1980). Although the school still plays a significant role in the legitimation of culture, it now has a contender in television. For example, before a child reaches the age of 20 in this country, he or she will have seen 350,000 television commercials. The average child, it is estimated, will have seen 20,000 commercial messages each year or more than three hours of television advertising a week (Sullivan, 1980). One might say that children keep a good deal of company with the ethos of consumption, for television is a mirror of commodity culture (Sullivan, 1980).

In order to consider the effects of social influences on moral character, one must not fall into the trap of thinking that those being socialized (children) are passive and those socializing (parents) are active. It is a mixture of both, as any parent will attest. What is important to consider from the side of such cultural socialization agents as parents, teachers, and mass media personnel is the extent to which they encourage a sense of agency in those whom they would try to influence. We should, therefore, judge socialization agents, such as parents, schools, and mass media, on their power to influence or detract from the development of moral agency (i.e., capacity for responsible action). While it can be said, in some instances, that parents and schools are frequently impediments to the fostering of responsible action, they are not the issue here. This chapter concerns the role of television in the fostering or impeding of moral agency. In this notion of mirror, it will be helpful to introduce the idea of images and imagining.

A mirror is a reflector. It can give us images of ourselves and our surroundings. When you look in the mirror, what you see is not yourself but your image or reflection. Depending on the qualities of the mirror, you may appear fatter, thinner, taller, or smaller; you may be flattered or miffed. The image may start you on a regimen of eating or not eating; the reflector can encourage or discourage certain types of action. Similarly, socialization agents are reflectors or mirrors of cultural codes. One part of a cultural code is its moral code, which signals whether actions are good or bad, worthy or unworthy, etc. As I said earlier, human action is embedded in webs of significance, part of that web being a culture's moral code. As it has developed in North America, where consumption is the major cultural action fostered for the attainment of the good life, television does reflect a moral code.

As a technological device, television has been around since 1925. It was not until the 1940s, however, that the advertising industry saw the commercial possibilities that this medium offered (Mander, 1978). Mander goes so far as to say that television is the invention of modern advertising. Of all the other media mentioned, it is the most active in the creation of images while reducing its watchers to a relative state of passivity (Sullivan, 1980). For example, whereas in radio you must create your own images since only the audio is supplied, television does both. That it works best for a viewer who is seated and in a dark room, aids in the achievement of a passive state. From there, Mander points out

Every advertiser, for example, knows that before you can convince anyone of anything you shatter their existing mental set and then restructure an awareness along lines which are useful to you. You do this with a few simple techniques like fast-moving images, jumping among attention focuses, and switching moods. There's nothing to it (p. 197).

The socially constructed nature of television makes it more of a private event, even though the viewer-listener is receiving communications. A morally responsible actor is not a private actor. As I have already said, a human act is an expression which has as one of its distinguishing characteristics, significance. Significance implies that moral action has a public nature. It is a premise of commercial television that the viewer is a consumer rather than an actor. Whereas a responsible actor deliberates, reflection is the enemy of commercial interests. Modern advertising is designed to short-circuit reflection and deliberation, because your judgment may arrive at a different conclusion than the product being advertised.

There are some research indications that television viewings tend to disengage analytical thinking (Nelson, 1980). This finding does not mean that it is impossible to be analytical while viewing, but it is not a normal outcome of conventional viewing:

Thus, as viewers, it is possible to watch television in an analytical-critical frame of mind: noticing specific camera angles, camera distances, sound-image and relationships, the use of moving camera, etc., and determining the extent to which such techniques constitute to overall meaning. This kind of attentive viewing engages both hemispheres rather than putting one on "hold" [the left]. Yet the typical viewing situation is one which discouraged this kind of critical attentiveness (Nelson, 1980, p. 30).


Moreover, the advent of commercial television a cultural institution follows a steady development that can be characterized as a decline in "public life." This decline has been going on since the nineteenth century (Sullivan, 1983a). The paradox here is that the decline of public presence is synonymous with the steady advance of communications technologies, which presently have reached revolutionary proportions. What has increasingly occurred since 1945 is that with the indirect mediation of significant events through the new technologies provided by the media without other forms of public expression, these vicarious events become our public rituals. We depend on them as a means of communication with a wider world than our own immediate surroundings. The turning point for this was the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 (see Goethals, 1980). Television was the focal point for a national ritual. It has increasingly taken on this role since that time. With satellite communications the viewing audience for major public events, such as a royal wedding, is greater than for any prior events in the whole history of the human race.

We are now in the midst of what is being called a "communications revolution." It is a revolution because we are said to be moving, in a rather dramatic fashion, from an industrial to a communications society. There are some indications that something of the nature of a "cultural revolution" is taking place. Increasingly, our way of life and our cultural interests are being molded by the new communications technologies. Many North Americans, at least, wake up to early morning programming via TV, commute in a car where a radio gives them traffic reports, news, and financial information, etc. Some watch children's programming, soap operas, game shows, health, beauty, and exercise programs, etc., during the day. Some watch the evening news, more will congregate to watch popular dramas such as "Dallas," or detective crime stories. The less socially sensitive members of the family may tune out the spuriously public event of night-time TV watching and tune into another world offered by the Walkman. Others will read a newspaper. Some will leave the room and go to their personal computer to play games. In sum, examples underline the dependence that our culture is developing on communications technologies. It is likely, in a typical North American family, that each individual in that family will have been spoken to by TV figures more than they have spoken to one another.

Moreover, what is interesting and important to note about these communication technologies is that the programs and the commercial interests which sponsor them proceed on the assumption that there is a public to be formed (i.e., a passive public) to certain commercial and consumption values. Kavanaugh (1981) refers to these values as the "commodity form." What is very evident in conventional commercial programming of whatever variety, be it news, soap, game shows, etc., is that there is no expectation that you will go out into the streets and do something other than consume the advertised products. In fact, the main objective of a network such as CBS, be it radio or television, is to keep the viewer or listener tuned in, in order to hear the commercials. Many programs have a hooker advertisement for some of the fare to be seen later than evening. Richard Sennett makes the same point:

The mass media infinitely heighten the knowledge people have of what transpires in the society, and they infinitely inhibit the capacity of people to convert that knowledge into political action. You cannot talk back to your T.V. set, you can only turn it off. Unless you are something of a crank and immediately telephone your friends to inform them you have tuned out an obnoxious politician and urge them also to turn off their T.V. sets, any gesture of response you make is an invisible act (Sennett, 1978, p. 283).

In the process of discussing the new technologies of mass communications we have moved to the opposite of public expression, that of the privatizing of consciousness and human experience. It seems contradictory to say, for example, that a viewer, having increased access to world events via the evening news, should be privatized in terms of her or his own consciousness. Nevertheless, there is a paradox here which needs elucidation. The media give viewers access to many events outside their immediate awareness, but in a form that leaves one as a private spectator to the events seen. The viewer is asked to make no public commitment on the basis of the communication. It is done in the privacy of one's own home; therefore, at the level of structure, it is a private experience.

Television, as already indicated, is also monological in form. There is the program communicator and the listener. People are not encouraged to discuss and problematize what they are seeing or hearing. For each viewer or hearer it is a private and intimate event between the communicator and the individual. For this reason I call this an event of "privatized consciousness." Because of its privatized nature, public mass communications avoid public scrutiny. The television is as familiar to the family as the family pet; it's taken for granted. At the same time it is the reflector or mirror of the most powerful commercial interests of our culture (Smythe, 1981).

Let me now make some summary statements before proceeding to some new issues. I have characterized the human act as conscious, intentional, intending, responsible and significant (cf. Sullivan, 1984). I have specifically elaborated the characteristics of responsibility and significance because they amplify the moral and public nature of human action. A moral act is a responsible act that involves deliberation in order for it to be called a free act. It is public because it is an expression that opens on a "world": it is significant. It seems to me that the task of the moral educator is to foster institutions which encourage human acts which are responsible and significant. Part of that moral education is to eliminate or, at least, raise the problem regarding those institutions that reduce us to irresponsibility and insignificance and encourage us to be patients rather than human agents (Sullivan, 1984).

Because of the powerful influence of television as an inertial obstacle to human agency, there is a positive case to be made for problematizing this medium as part of a program in moral education. Let me now suggest some parameters for the development of a problem-posing experience with television.


The idea that a moral act is responsible and significant assumes a "culture" which can enhance or deplete one's responsibility and significance as a moral actor. In other words, moral action is not simply an individual action; it is at the same time cultural action (Sullivan, 1984). Moral action and the development of character must be seen as a gift from one's society or culture (Nicgorski and Ellrod, Volume 1): the formation of character takes place within the womb or matrix of one's culture. Every culture produces a set or cluster of images which, in some way, characterizes the important concerns that culture must deal with in order to be called a culture. There are images for social maintenance and social change, which can be combined or separate. Either way, these images become part of the symbolic system of the child as he or she moves toward adulthood. Television is a medium par excellence of these images (Sullivan, 1980). The issue of control over our symbol-making capacities has some important consequences for the cultivation, or lack thereof, of moral action. Every stable culture has within it dominant symbols which rehearse why a culture is what it is and also symbols of what it ought to be. Thomas Groome refers to these symbol systems as stories and visions. The story is the linkage of the past into the present. The vision is the linkage of the present into the future. These are not distinct, but the dynamic interplay of humankind's need for stability (story) and change (vision). It is in this interplay that cultural values are created, maintained, and altered. Elsewhere I refer to the cultural story as its habitus, or that dynamic within a culture that preserves our cultural memory.

Through the stabilizing aspects of the cultural story or habitus, individuals are given a continuity with the past. This perception of order and continuity is buttressed by "ideological symbols" which give a sense of stability and inevitability to a particular cultural synthesis. To live is to change, however, and any culture which denies this will eventually die. A culture's vision is its ability to continue coherent change. I call this vision the cultural project. The project is that dynamic within a culture that augments a future; it is the work we do today for a tomorrow. Because of the transformative nature (i.e., challenged form) of the cultural project or vision, members are given a projection into the future. This perception of cultural change is buttressed by utopian symbols (i.e., the not yet) which give a sense and direction to cultural change. A culture's perspective or value consensus lives ambiguously within this story and vision.

It is important to understand that these symbol systems are not separate at the level of practical life. Any culture is a complex mixture of a dominant story and project and non-dominant alternatives. Western culture, in our case North American culture, is the receiver of a dominant story and project that has been developing over several centuries. While I cannot go into the complexity of this history, I would like the reader to attend to the contemporary version of that dominant myth (i.e., cultural story and vision) as it is reflected in the culture's most important medium of communication, television. It is here that one can see rehearsed our culture's habitus and project (i.e., ideological and utopian symbols).

Let us first notice that the communicator addresses us on the TV as individuals, rather than as groups, and that the individual, for all intents and purposes, is a receiver of information. We are individuals who have a right to own, a duty to consume, and the cultural task of believing that this is the best of all possible worlds. It is the cultural story of consumer capitalism; its main cultural memory is that we have consumed yesterday and therefore have a right, indeed an obligation, to consume today. We also come to learn that there are those who know more and those who know less; as a viewer, we happen to be the one who knows less.

We are never asked to use our judgment: We are to rely on the judgment of "experts." With rare exceptions, they never problem pose their expertise so we, in effect, accept their judgments as absolute. At the level of viewing we come to realize that although all people are equal, some nevertheless are more equal than others. Thus merit becomes an essential caveat to our notion of equality. Therefore, at the level of media images, men are said be equal to women. At the same time, the portrayal of men's roles, in contrast to women's, shows the male species to be more important and significant. The same applies when capital and labor, whites and blacks, first and third world, are considered (Sullivan, 1983a). Further, one of the dominant actors within our culture is not a person but technology.

Although it is not a person it is personified and we come to believe that technology accomplishes cultural tasks. For example, a multinational such as United Technologies presents advertisements depicting technology as a cultural actor and transformer of our world. Here we come to believe that technology creates culture, rather than being the by-product of a cultural consensus. What is absent from all of these commercials is the "human agency" and judgment which decides how our technological inventions come to fruition. For example, nuclear reactors don't just happen, but are the outcome of human decisions, which are not shown in these commercials (Sullivan, 1983a).

The cultural vision or project of the dominant myth is the idea of progress. Progress symbols project the vision that we go forward gradually but inevitably. The mass media encourage us to think that we can move forward best by not questioning the integrity of the dominant cultural story. Thus the agents of utopian change remain the same as the agents of the cultural story. They are capitalist white men from the first world. Progress achieves equality by molding all within the confines of the dominant myth. This is done by exploiting nature or manipulation. It is the cultural myth of mastery over stewardship.

In addition, the utopian symbol of progress constantly erodes the cultural story by tying it to the "myth of consumption." The products or the effects that we have acquired from products are constantly eroded by new products for consumption. Thus, the car, toothpaste, or stereo that we bought yesterday is no longer adequate, given the new line of commodities. The only stability in the story is the process of consumption itself and not the products. Although it is never the center stage of TV programming, it is intimated that lethal armaments, although undesirable, are inevitable necessities for the maintenance of progress.

I might add that all of this cultural myth making can be done in the privacy of your own living room. It is best done when the communication is private and unquestioned. Thus, a public political life in which we make judgments is not encouraged. The TV frequently eclipses the need for public rituals that go beyond addressing the individual by providing quasi-public events, such as the football Super Bowl. It is interesting that a sports event of this kind could assume such prominence. However upon closer scrutiny, it becomes clear why this is so. The event extols the nation with a flag ceremony, male dominance, technology, competition, and merit rewarded in the games "star" system. There is even a moment of "ideological silence" to pray for a suffering people.

Commercial television,* then, if looked at carefully, allows one to codify the dominant cultural story and vision. It is the dominant story and vision because commercial television is the forum for the most powerful commercial interests in our society. They sponsor the programs. It is within this dominant story and vision that we individually and collectively attempt to make our way as responsible and significant moral actors.

What I would like to consider now is the extent which the dominant cultural story and vision increasingly detract from our capacities to be moral actors within culture.



May I say at the outset of this section that it is essential for people to have a sense of order (i.e., habitus) in order to perform responsible action. Freedom is built on an ordered social fabric (Marris, 1974); a sense of order is the matrix for responsible and significant action. Simone Weil, the French philosopher, dramatizes the need for a stable social fabric:

The first of the soul's needs, the one which touches most nearly its eternal destiny, is order; that is to say, a texture of social relationships such that no one is compelled to violate imperative obligations in order to carry out other ones. It is only where this, in fact, occurs that external circumstances have any power to inflict spiritual violence on the soul (Weil, 1971, p. 18).

Weil is saying that a culture's "sense of order" is an antidote to violations of the soul which, as she states it, are the negations to one's sense of responsible moral action. I maintain that the dominant story and vision of commercial capitalism has progressively eroded our moral sense in the twentieth century. The dominant story and vision of the mass media mirror is not moral action, but consumer action. The intent of a commercial is not to encourage you to be a moral agent. Its objective is to penetrate any sense of order or resistance you might have to the message and thus render you a passive subject with consumption needs.

Media carry the messages of legitimation and mass media, as we shall see, help to manipulate public opinion into consumptive patterns of commodity culture. Stuart Ewen gives a current history of the new mass media and its systematic attempts to manipulate public opinion through advertising. In North America, a significant turn of events took place around 1920. Up to that time there was a considerable amount of labor unrest, which focused upon both working conditions and wages. Concentrations of wealth (e.g., those of Rockefeller and Ford) increased the resentment against these "captains of industry." By 1920 North American labor was receiving better wages and there were significant attempts to bring the working people in line with industry.

One of the carrots was to sell labor on the idea of the need to consume products. With higher wages, it was found that labor could buy more products and this stimulated industry. The question was, how could the mass population come to accept poor working conditions which many industrial jobs have as a natural outcome of mass production? The consensus was to draw the attention of the public away from the alienating production process and focus it upon the attractiveness of the products to be consumed or purchased as the outcome of that process. To this day, it is extremely rare for an advertisement to show a product in the making.

This refocusing away from production to products was to be accomplished through advertising. The legitimacy of the capitalist world order would be achieved not by coercion symbolized by the presence of the "captains of industry." Rather, a more anonymous group of people (the ad men and women) would achieve this through the manipulation of the public's consciousness on a mass scale. Ewen calls advertisers the "captains of consciousness." The message would be common to the population at large. In essence and in all of its guises, that message would be the advertising pitch for the consumption of products. We seem to take all of this for granted for in advertising we live and move and have our being, but one must realize that this is an invention of the twentieth century (Sullivan 1980).

Cultural stability is accomplished through the education of our children, yet in a real sense children bring new realities into our world. In one sense, there is a feeling of hope for the new generation in our elders. This occurs partly by accident through a certain slippage in the socialization process. As we have already indicated, parents and schooling are partly responsible for the reproductive process of culture, but in the twentieth century a significant new organ of socialization has, in some significant ways, replaced, or at least encircled, these traditional socializers. In 1964, television as a medium created the "child market" which specifically pitches its programming at children from 3 to 11 years of age (Golsen. 1975). Television enters almost every home, rich and poor alike, and makes no literacy demands (Mander, 1978). It is, if I may be facetious, a very democratic instrument. In their own distinct way, all of the mass media serve the cause of consumer culture. As Dorfman and Mattelart point out about the Disney comics:

As we have observed, all the relationships in the Disney world are compulsively consumerist; commodities in the marketplace of objects and ideas. The magazine is part of the situation. The Disney industrial empire itself arose to service a society demanding entertainment; it is part of an entertainment whose business it is to feed leisure with more leisure disguised as fantasy. The cultural industry is the sole remaining machine which has purged its contents of society's conflicts, and therefore, is the only means of escape into a future which otherwise is implacably blocked by reality. It is a playground to which ail children (and adults) can come, and which very few can leave. (pp. 306-307)

At this point, I would like the reader to understand that I do not believe that people arc inherently passive and pacified by consumer images. We bring to these media a certain complicity with our dominant culture:

It is obvious that as children, teenagers, and adults, audience members come to the TV tube with rich past experience, with commodities-in-general. They have observed and evaluated old and new models of products on the street, in the homes of friends and peer group members, and on the persons of people they see at the job front, the school, and in all other social relationships (including transportation vehicles). They will also have discussed with family members, friends and strangers the merits and demerits of the old and new models in any of a thousand different social contexts (Smythe, 1980).

At some level we must assume responsibility for the lives we lead or are prepared to tolerate. It would be educationally dishonest to blame the mass media for our passivity before commercial images of the good life. At the same time, we cannot ignore the power of the mass media as a powerful instrument for value formation within our culture today. Moreover, educators must come to terms with the fact that a medium such as television is a moral education into the dominant cultural story and vision of North American culture. It is the bard for the glorification of technological wizardry, consumption, competition, individualism, narcissism, etc. (Sullivan, 1983c).

The anchor-persons for the evening news are now assuming the legitimacy of cardinals in time past. Walter Cronkite was revered more than presidents and trusted more than clergy. This new class of experts extol the values of expertise and technology. Technological experts are constantly marched out to explain to the unwashed public the significance of an event. This is not restricted to the news. A football game is a national ritual for those in the U.S.A. The Super Bowl pulls out all the stops on the wonders of science and technology. Statistics, experts, bards of the turf all converge on the event, the game proper being a small portion of a larger extravaganza (Sullivan, 1983c). If McDonald's does it all for you and Walter Cronkite says "that's the way it is," where in this discourse is the opening for your capacities for critical judgment on cultural events? Without a sense of resistance to our present dominant cultural forms, our capacities for moral actions are rendered inert. This is irresponsibility and social anomaly.



The general description of the dominant cultural story and vision does not exhaust the stories and visions within a complex culture such as our own. There always exist within a culture oppositional stories and visions. Normally, these currents are contained and do not challenge the dominant myth (Sullivan, 1983c). In the normal course of events, the dominant cultural form is said to be hegemonic (see Gramsci, 1971). Hegemony refers to a form of ideological control in which dominant social practices, beliefs, and values are reproduced and solidified through a range of institutions (e.g., schools, church, and, in the present case, television). The hegemonic presence of the dominant cultural story and vision is not restricted to only mass media communications. Hegemony, because of pervasiveness, relates to all major spheres of social existence. It is convenient here to consider what Kellner (1978) identifies as the four major ideological realms: (1) the economic realm, which encompasses the ideologies of production, exchanges, distribution, etc.; (2) the cultural realm, encompassing the ideologies of culture, values, mass media, etc.; (3) the political realm, encompassing ideologies of the state, legal-judicial system, police, military, etc.; and (4) the social realm, encompassing ideologies of the private sphere, family, education, social groups, etc.

If the powerful legitimations of modern capitalism exert themselves with such a dominating force (i.e., hegemony) in all ideological realms, it would seem that there is no room for any independence from this pervasive consciousness. To say that our personal worlds are not powerfully determined (i.e., reproduced) under the hegemony of capitalism would be patently naive. Almost all social classes in our society adopt the powerful consumer values of the dominant culture, even if some of those classes are hardly in a position to consume. Nevertheless, we do see breaks in the dominant form. Sartre (1968) in defining his notion of the human project declares that, "every man is defined negatively by the sum total of possibles which are impossible for him; that is, by a future more or less blocked off" (p. 95).

How could this be if the hegemony we have just spoken of is all pervasive? Left at this point, we are locked into a total determinism of reproduction ("Whatever has been will be"). Raymond Williams (1973) introduces the notion of "oppositional forms" to the dominant ethos as a way of handling this problem:

We have to think again about the sources of that which is not corporate of those practices, experiences, meanings, values, which are not part of the effective dominant culture. We can express this in two ways. There is clearly something that we can call alternative to the effective dominant culture and there is something we can call oppositional in a true sense. The degree of existence of these alternative and oppositional forms is itself a matter of constant historical variation in real circumstances. (p. 206)

Williams (1973) identifies two oppositional forms to the hegemony of the dominant culture. A residual is in essence a carryover from a previous historical period. The presence of a residual form is indicative that some experiences, meanings, and values which cannot be expressed or verified in terms of the dominant culture are, nevertheless, lined on the basis of the residue of some previous social formation. A certain nostalgia for a past cultural synthesis can be laced with romantic utopianism or a cultural pessimism. Values conserved from a previous epoch are remembered and extolled. A sense of history or lost history is intimated in the rejection of the anomaly of the present dominant commercial form. This nostalgia can be held with a sophisticated criticism of present values and, in many cases, a repulsion at the moral outcomes of our present cultural values. One could characterize a residual position as both reactionary and conservative. It is reactionary in the sense that a residual system is a reaction to a dominant system or process. It is conservative in the sense that certain historical values are considered to be worthy to be conserved (i.e., respect for parents).

To speak of an "emergent form" in opposition to the dominant culture is to assume that new meanings and values, new practices, new significances and experiences are continually being created (Williams, 1973). The emergent form, like the residual form, questions the dominant cultural images but does not retreat from those images to an earlier cultural synthesis. What we see in emergent form is the culture's development of a new set of moral concerns that have not been on the culture's moral agenda up to now. The concerns of ecologists for the environment, feminists for gender domination, the peace movement, etc., are some of the new moral agendas that our culture is facing. The stories and visions for these nascent concerns are in the making and are thus emergent.

To be a moral actor within these types of concerns demands new responsibilities and significances. Part of the problem of realizing new moral responsibilities is the veritable crowding out of these oppositional images within the media organs of the dominant culture (see Cover, 1983; Kavanaugh, 1983; Slinger, 1983). The onslaught of mass media images acts as a veritable eclipse, overriding oppositional images. If one thinks that part of what constitutes a moral action is deliberation and critical reflection, then it is necessary to come to terms with factors which discourage deliberation. Why deliberate when there are "experts"? Does not TV extol the value of expertise in its day-to-day programming? Television suggests that technological expertise makes unnecessary our need for deliberation and reflection. Technological experts are not only there to sell products in the programming. The experts are constantly marched out to explain to the audience public the meaning of events. This hermeneutical exercise is what Paolo Freire (1974) calls "naming the world." The main function of the larger commercial venture, of which programming is only a part, is to make you a consumer rather than an actor. Advertisers frequently talk about "penetrating an audience" (Ewen, 1976). The image it conveys to me is that of an invader. At the level of culture it is what Paolo Freire (1974) calls "cultural invasion":

Cultural invasion, which like divisive tactics and manipulation, also serves the end of conquest. In this phenomenon the invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, in disrespect of the latter's potentialities, they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression. (pp. 150-51)

I call the reader's attention to the last sentence in the above quote where it is indicated that creativity is linked to expression. I have already indicated that moral action is an expression which must have significance and responsibility (i.e., deliberation). In order for moral action to be significant, it is necessary to reflect and deliberate on those institutions which culturally act as a narcotic on moral awareness. This moral awareness is what Freire (1974) calls "critical awareness." It is a reflective cultural action (praxis) which poses problems about one's circumstances and is open to new ideas and new ways of looking at "taken for granted" cultural realities. The normal communication framework of TV is monological in nature. Critical awareness through the problem posing of media programming moves the situation to that of a dialogue. Linguistically, education for a critical (deliberative) consciousness has, as an essential ingredient, dialogue with one's world and events. This renders the person involved in this dialogue less prone to hyperbolic images to mystify events in the world (McDonald's does not do it all for you).


Within our culture today there are emergent themes which are oppositional to the dominant social mythology capitalism. Frequently these oppositional forms are coordinated into a larger social expression of opposition (i.e., a movement). Thus, many oppositional strains within our culture exist as independent expressions (e.g., ecology, labor concerns, third world solidarity movements, peace movements). At times, these opposition strains converge on a social concern (e.g., peace movement activities), but this is the exception rather than the rule. In addition, the mass media accent their differences and cover up their similarities as oppositional currents to the dominant social mythology of capitalism. Rather than being viewed as resistance to the dominant myth, these oppositional strains are frequently characterized within the mass media as simply deviance from the accepted cultural norm (i.e., hegemony).

In a very real sense, the pervasive onslaught images acts as a veritable eclipse, trivializing oppositional images. The media act as a "cultural invader" (see Freire, 1974), that is, because they rule culturally oppositional forms of their creative significance within dominant culture. I use the term creative significance because as moral agents our expressions must have (and be seen to have) the qualities of significance and responsibility (i.e., deliberation). In order for oppositional expression to be significant, it is necessary to reflect and deliberate on those institutions which act in culture as a narcotic to critical oppositional awareness.

Culturing of Resistance

One must accept, as a given within present day popular culture, that the mass media are a popular molder of the dominant cultural values of capitalism. It is, therefore, politically obtuse to treat the media as a peripheral concern in a liberatory educational praxis. It is now possible to use media programming as a curriculum for a critical pedagogy of our cultural values. With video playback machines, the viewer now has a chance to control and edit dominant images and reflect on their influence for mounting the oppositional currents. Therefore, a critical media pedagogy confronts dominant images (i.e., resistance) rather than withdrawing from them (as if ignorance could detract from their cultural power). With a playback the viewer assumes a modicum of control so as to gain a footing to problem pose dominant images (see Freire, 1974).

This media image should be problem posed in groups where people can have a dialogue about the cultural realities that form their awareness. The normal viewing of TV, for example, does not allow dialogue and usually the viewers do not converse with one another (i.e., monological). Under the hegemony of the mass media, we have been cultivated as passive consumers of information. Therefore, a critical pedagogy of the mass media would be a culture of resistance to the dominant cultural myths of liberal capitalism. The need for a critical pedagogy, of course, will only be experienced when there is a sense that the dominant cultural myths are problematic to human survival and enhancement.

What I am saying may first appear contradictory, given that the media communications system is a veritable communications eclipse around transformative and oppositional cultural stories (habitus) and visions (project). The cultural domination of the media presents a practical problem for oppositional currents within mass culture. Problem posing a medium such as television has the effect of giving one easy access to the dominant myth making in our culture. Since we are culturally saturated with these stories and visions, it is important to assess the effect they have on us. This is a first step in a problem-posing process (i.e., critical awareness).

To explore media images further, one does not have to devise complicated learning processes. For example, a simple way to problem pose television programming is to ask, "what is left in and what is left out of a program? Who benefits from what is left in and what is left out?" These probes are purposively simple because they tap into what Gramsci (1974) calls the public's "good sense." This is there to be developed and does have to be contained. One can see this good sense, or critical ability, when one asks children to do some reflection on TV commercials. One can see this "good sense" when one problem poses soap operas in a women's reflection group. It is a latent awareness, in the viewers, that media images conceal more than they reveal and that the concealment serves to subjugate the viewers' awareness of real social processes.

Developing Societal Projects

Developing resistance to media images as a critical pedagogy cannot be an end in itself. The culturing of resistance can be only one aspect of a deliberative moment in critical pedagogy. In a certain manner of speaking resistance is a negative moment which has the potential to reveal the normally concealed condition of domination. To reiterate, domination or oppression operates when the agency of one's person or group (i.e., their conscious intentionality, intentions, responsibility, and significance) denies that of the other person or group. This situation for those dominated turns its agent conditions listed above into their opposite. Thus, for consciousness we have repression or concealment, for intentionality we have withdrawal or privatization, for intentions we have an absence of goal orientation or rootlessness, for responsibility we have dependency, and for significance we have meaninglessness or anomie (Sullivan, 1984). This is the condition of the consumer vis-a-vis the mass media.

The education of resistance to mass media images simply names the oppression and codes existing power relations. Thus, reflection on the media cannot be considered as complete unless it opens on and is motivated by the domain of politics in the public sphere (e.g., schooling, state apparatuses, work settings, etc.). The latter cannot be done in front of a television. It is in the public sphere that the world can be named and this is where the action of agents (not consumers) becomes cultural action that has significance (it means something). McDonald's will not do it all for you anymore than Walter Cronkite could have told us, without question, that "that's the way it is." A critical pedagogy serves the educational function of helping actors to "name the world" with their own reflective judgment.


I close with a selected set of examples which are only suggestive of the particular form that a critical pedagogy of mass media might take in specific instances. It seems to me that it is possible to use the media in an infinite number of ways for cultural reflection. One can raise questions about peace, ecology, health care, sexual stereotyping, corporate images, labor images, to name a few. I will here suggest three areas in what the reader must realize are my own idiosyncratic examples.

Children's Values. The case can be made that children's cultural values can be strongly influenced by a medium such as television (Sullivan, 1980, 1983a,b). A teacher who would like to have children reflect critically on their values concerning consumption, sex roles, sports, attitudes toward violence, etc., can easily utilize popular programming. One could take the Saturday morning children programming and explore values in our culture. Commercials can be reviewed and heroes and heroines can he discussed as a way that children will see the images which are considered important within our culture. When the media are problem posed in this manner, children can achieve a certain distance from the emphasis on consumption, competition, and violence which is so pervasive on commercial television's children's programming (Sullivan, 1980).

This is the place where children can explore alternative cultural options to their media images (e.g., peaceful resolution of problems, cooperation vs. competition). It is a place where children can explore the limitations of TV cultural images while watching popular programs. This can be done by editing commercials and programs. Since a video playback machine can freeze frames, one is allowed a modicum of control over images for more conscious deliberation of dominant cultural images (i.e., agency). Surprisingly, children have what Gramsci (1971) calls the "good sense" to assess commercial images critically which saturate the programming directed toward them in the media.

Women's Issues and the Mass Media. The women's movement is one of the emergent oppositional forms dealing with exploitation along gender lines. Careful attention to the media presentation of sex roles indicates the dominant values of commodity culture vis-a-vis women. A judicious editing of advertising can be very revealing when considering the exploitation of women as commodities. The film Killing Us Softly is a collection of advertisements which has the dramatic effect of coding the attitudes of modern advertising toward women. Women are constantly depicted as fickle, temperamental, and sexual objects. In conventional advertising there is no sense of a project for women. Women exist for the project of men. They are constantly pictured as adornments to commodities or to men. A sustained look at modern advertising also reveals the high tolerance that our culture has toward violence to women. The documentary film of the National Film Board of Canada, Not a Love Story, illustrates the extension of this violence into pornography where women are perceived as desiring the violence that men visit on them for their sexual pleasure. Advertisements appear to be a very good revelation of the exploitation of women by the male cultural project.

But the exploration of gender relations does not have to be restricted to advertisements. Soap operas, situation comedies, and detective stories can be equally revealing. For example, even where women are acting as detectives (e.g., "Policewoman," "Charlie's Angels," "Lobo," etc.). they, more than men, use sexuality to lure criminals. Men are also seen as the dominant intelligence in the police hierarchy (e.g., Charlie's Angels always calling in to the anonymous Charlie). Soaps also show women as either very naive or as vicious schemers.

The exploration of sex roles through the media can be a critical pedagogical exercise for both men and women who are trying to transform the present gender hegemony. What the media reveal about sex roles is the powerful exploitation images that our culture has toward the sexes. This type of coding helps to name and clarify the oppressive structures of gender that saturate popular awareness and resist transformation.

The Coverage of Labor Issues. In a very interesting study entitled, Television: Corporate America's Game, rank-and-file workers from three unions studied television programming. They concluded that all major networks illustrated a favorable bias in reporting management issues. There was also a very marked positive aura for corporate activity. In addition, in regular programming there was a predominance of models from a professional class (e.g., doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists). Crime was invariably blue-collar crime and law enforcement was usually carried out against working-class people or unemployed marginals.

What is important about this type of study is the consciousness raising that this activity had for rank-and-file union members. It dramatized labor's uphill battle in having its agenda presented fairly and accurately by media coverage. It also shows how labor resistance and initiatives are trivialized and made to appear deviant by media coverage. Thus, when a union withholds its labor it receives the appellation "strike," which has a violent connotation. There is no comparable violent symbolism for a "runaway corporation," which can affect more people than a strike.

The above examples are only illustrations of how a study of the media can be part of a consciousness-raising critical pedagogy. The resourceful reader can think of many more examples. My one major conclusion is that media communications must be an essential part of a critical pedagogy. We can ignore it only at our moral and political peril.

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

Toronto, Ontario


*Given that there is now a new mode with cable television, one can ask whether there will be significant shifts as a result of noncommercial ventures. At this point, I would speculate that cable television will not change the offerings significantly. The same group the produce commercial programs provide programs for cable. Culturally, I do not think cable television is shifting the media industry significantly.

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