View footage filmed after the Tet offensive.

The Resiliency
of the Establishment (Cont.)

ubsequent to the Tet offensive, therefore, television journalism was still operating very much within the confines of acceptable public dialogue. Hallin writes: "Television was as much an establishment institution in the post-Tet period as it was in the early years of the war."23 Marginally more critical coverage was not a result of a radical reevaluation of the war, or an acceptance of the anti-war movement; it merely reflected the lack of support for the war in the general population, in the military, and among influential public leaders. As morale atrophied, the tone of coverage necessarily changed. As criticism issued from the lips of the powerful, criticism became an appropriate subject for public dialogue. As noted above, legitimate controversy is designated as such by established elites. Thus the issues and boundaries of acceptable discourse are determined by the dominant ideology.

The role of the media in shaping discourse is part of a larger process involving the maintenance and perpetuation of hegemony. Antonio Gramsci posited that hegemony is rooted in cultural and economic leadership, and it is maintained by consent, not force. He wrote:

"What we can do, for the moment, is to fix two major superstructural 'levels': the one that can be called 'civil society,' that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called 'private,' and that of 'political society' or 'the state.' These two levels correspond on the one hand to the function of 'hegemony' which the dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other hand to that of 'direct domination' or command exercised through the state and 'juridical' government. The functions in question are precisely organizational and connective."24

Hegemony functions in civil society by virtue of the "'spontaneous' consent give by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group." Consent derives from the "prestige" of the culturally and economically dominant group and is sustained in part by the dominant group's ability to link its values and interests with those of the subordinate group. T. J. Jackson Lears writes, "Ruling groups do not maintain their hegemony merely by giving their domination an aura of moral authority through the creation and perpetuation of legitimating symbols; they must also seek to win the consent of subordinate groups to the existing social order."25 Contrast this with political society, in which dominance is exerted though force--that "state coercive power which 'legally' enforces discipline on those groups who do not 'consent' either actively or passively."26 The "state," then, is a balance of consent and coercion. The concept of "spontaneous consent" suggests that the subordinate group is not passively subordinate, nor is it merely coerced by the state, but that it "actively" consents (ignoring for now the issue of consciousness) to the de facto power relationships--what Lears calls "a kind of half-conscious complicity in their own victimization."27

The media, therefore, do not shape public opinion so much as they reinforce and reproduce hegemony (even in a period of ideological shift). This is accomplished by controlling discourse, by perpetuating dominant meanings. Stuart Hall writes that dominant does not imply determined, although "we say dominant because there exists a pattern of 'preferred readings'; and these both have the institutional/political/ideological order imprinted in them and have themselves become institutionalized."28 The media validate the preferred readings of dominant groups. This is not a deliberate act, so to speak; it is part of the pervasive nature of hegemony. Raymond Williams describes the fundamental nature of hegemony thus:

"For hegemony supposes the existence of something which is truly total, which is not merely secondary or superstructural, like the weak sense of ideology, but which is lived at such depth, which saturates the society to such an extent, and which, as Gramsci put it, even constitutes the substance and limit of common sense for most people under its sway, that it corresponds to the reality of social experience very much more clearly than any notions derived from the formula of base and superstructure."29

Lears writes of hegemony that "the essence of the concept is not manipulation but legitimation. The ideas, values, and experiences of dominant groups are validated in public discourse; those of subordinate groups are not, though they may continue to thrive beyond the boundaries of received opinion."30

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Subjectivity, Mediation, & Violence

The Resiliency of the Establishment

The Sway of Consensus

Ideology as Narrative

Technology & Morality



Works Consulted