Meaning and the Mainstream: Entry 3

Entering into my project, I wanted to first get a sense of the differing ideas on the media’s effect on people and culture. On recommendation of my professor, I picked up three books on the subject which I planned to use as introductions into the general ideas and arguments about culture before I delved deep into the actual works themselves.

Perhaps the first thing I came across in my research was that I was not the first person to stumble upon the concepts I am dealing with in my project, and a long dialogue has existed for years. When I began my first book, Against The America Grain by famed essayist and social thinker Dwight McDonald, the subjects and arguments the author brought up made me believe that the book was a more modern and contemporary one. McDonald’s vitriolic prose seems to stand against what I initially imagined to be the well-established media dominance and obvious degradation of a much later era, such as the 1970s or 1980s. I was incredibly surprised to learn, then, that the book was actually written in the late 1950s, a time when the modern media was just beginning, and hadn’t yet earned the alleged wide spread reputation for “baseness.” His arguments could apply, however, to the media of today. The viciousness and severity of his arguments surprised me, especially when I considered the date when it was written, causing me to wonder what the thinker would be writing about when he viewed contemporary media and mass-art, which has (arguably) degraded farther since the time the book was written.

In contrast, the other two books I have read seem to have a much more positive outlook on the media, both making the same points about how the widespread nature and easy access of mass media allow information to spread easily. The two, Everything Bad Is Good For You by Steven Johnson and Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins, argue that media is evolving, becoming more intelligent and complex to appease an audience who has grown harder to please. Both touch on many of the same franchises that I do in my project (Lost especially), and even bring up video games. I plan to use the three books in my paper as way to present the opposing arguments about media, using McDonald to point out the flaws of mass culture and theories on its degradation, and the other two as a response to those, using examples from the works I have studied to back up both mine and their own claims: that popular art and media is more intelligent than previously thought. The two positive books, however, don’t mention exactly why or how the complex pieces they mention are popular, a subject that I want to delve into in my project.

All of my research, for the most part, is completely done, and all I have left to do is put everything together. I’m not quite sure how long the final paper will end up being, but I plan on putting most of what I learned this summer into word form. I have all the tools ready, I just need to put them to use.


  1. Wow it sounds like you’ve got a lot of background on your subject!
    I think this is such an interesting subject, just the whole concept of the role media plays in our lives. Especially today when, good or bad, we are practically function-less without it. I mean I lost internet connection for about two days and my research and writing was halted to a stand-still.
    I’m especially curious about what you (and the literature) has to say about franchises, fads, and brands like Lost, McDonald’s, Twilight, etc. and the effect they have on our everyday life.
    Good luck with your writing!

  2. Andy Noviello says:

    Hey, your project seems really cool. Personally I like to believe that media itself is good for society and it is only when it used by people who wish to control it to further their own agendas does it become harmful. Throughout history new forms of media have always been attacked as being harmful, especially to children, and I believe that like music and TV are now generally accepted, new forms like video games and the internet will be soon be too.

    In response to your comment, Nightmare is actually the one film that Burton produced that he had extreme creative influence over despite not directing it. I’ll be going into more detail in a later blog post.