What are functionalist and Marxist perspectives on mass culture?

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Functionalists would focus on the way mass culture created and perpetuated cultural norms and expectations for living in society. Through mass culture, cultural expectations for almost every imaginable aspect of society are made known. Mass media is one of the main ways that certain aspects of culture become widespread norms....

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Functionalists would focus on the way mass culture created and perpetuated cultural norms and expectations for living in society. Through mass culture, cultural expectations for almost every imaginable aspect of society are made known. Mass media is one of the main ways that certain aspects of culture become widespread norms. For example, portrayals of the family on television can have an influence on people's views of this institution. Likewise, gender roles, dress, and even speech and personal interactions are conditioned by mass culture. In short, a functionalist study of mass culture would look at the role (or function) that mass culture plays in society. Marxist studies would emphasize the way that mass culture reflects the social structure. Advertising, an important element of creating mass culture, would be seen as both a means for big corporations to amass wealth and a way for the bourgeoisie to impose their values and mores on a working class that they want to keep docile and obedient. Other elements of mass culture, like education, would be judged by the extent to which they solidified or perpetuated the dominance of the bourgeoisie.

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Put simply, mass culture is defined as the common core values, concerns, and social priorities that emerge when a society is exposed to the same media and art. It creates a seemingly intrinsic undertone that defines everything we do and aspire to be. From a functionalist mindset, this is not only necessary, but inevitable. Functionalist thinking maintains that every part of society serves a function that contributes to a social stability.

A Marxist thinker, on the other hand, may be more likely to see mass culture as facilitating inequality. Karl Marx himself maintained that culture was a tool of the Bourgeoisie to rationalize oppression. A Marxist view of mass culture would state that since the upper class can most effectively manufacture culture, culture will always show values that represent the best interests of the rich.

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Both of these perspectives would argue that mass culture helps to maintain the status quo in a society.  Functionalists would tend to argue that this is a good thing while marxists would see it as a method of oppression.

Functionalists argue that each aspect of society works to maintain the stability of the society as a whole.  In this view, mass culture might be said to give a population common experiences and common frames of reference (we all care about Super Bowl ads or the Oscars or what have you).  This allows us to relate to and feel solidarity with one another.

Marxists tend to see things in terms of class conflict.  They would argue that mass culture would be a way of maintaining the power of the ruling classes over the workers.  Mass culture would, for example, be a way of socializing people to believe in the rightness of the current system.

In this way, both see mass culture as a force in maintaining social stability, but only functionalists see this as a good thing.

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