According to the Conflict theory of sociology, the defining quality of human societies has always been the existence of different classes of people in the society and conflicts of interest between these classes of people.
In the United States, wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a comparatively few wealthy families. The interests of this relatively small but wealthy and politically powerful class of people is always under threat from the masses at large, therefore institutionalized mechanisms exist in the government and society, that allow the rich to retain their wealth and power and the poor to remain poor and non-influential (Mantsios).
The media is one such tool for perpetuating the power of the rich. More than half of all the mass media outlets such as newspapers, magazines and movie studios are owned by just 23 large corporations which are in turn, under the control of the upper class. It is not surprising therefore that the media engages in advocacy for the rich and for the continuance of the status quo in the economic, political and social order (Mantsios).
The basic strategy followed in the media in order to prevent the masses from rising against the inequalities of the political and social system is ‘divide and conquer’. This does not necessarily have to be a conscious decision on the part of the media administrators; rather it may simply be a manifestation of the ideology that drives media owners.
The media engages in inciting the larger part of the lower classes, which are relatively better-off sections of against those sections of the society which face extreme poverty and destitution. They are painted as threats to a common person’s security, as parasites living off the taxpayer’s money and in general as people who are poor through their own bad lifestyle choices (Mantsios).
The rich on the other hand are portrayed as benevolent although their corporations engage in practices which are greatly harmful to the common person and are often responsible for the destruction of the livelihood of the poor especially small businesses. Their wealth is portrayed to be the result of hard work and effort even though the rich receive a far larger share of the taxpayer’s money in the form of agricultural subsidies etc. (Mantsios)
The media humanizes the rich by exploring minute aspects of their personal lives and dehumanizes the poor as a violent, lazy and criminal class (Mantsios).
The rich are depicted as people with interesting personality quirks and eccentricities but ultimately harmless, those few among the rich who are convicted of criminal behavior are written off as ‘a few bad apples’. In this way the harmful effects of the endemic social stratification in American society and the harmful actions engaged in by upper class oligarchs are glossed over or ignored (Mantsios).
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