According to the Oxford Dictionaries; conglomerate is “[a] large corporation formed by the merging of separate and diverse firms: [for example] a media conglomerate.” The Walt Disney Company, Time Warner, Comcast, 20th Century Fox, Sony, Viacom and the CBS Corp. are some of the biggest, most wealthy and powerful media conglomerates we have today, not only in the U.S. but also in the world. These big corporations own a vast number of smaller companies, ranging from movie production studios, cable and broadcast television channels, news channels, news papers and publishing houses. One example of how this might effect us, can be seen in for example the case of Disney and it’s ownership of the broadcast television company ABC. Back in 1998, two years after the merger, ABC News had a story about the dangers and risks at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida, but the story was killed before it was run. Journalism and news is definitely endangered when it’s parent company decides what stories to run or not, because as we all know, profit is everything, and a story that puts Disney in a bad light, well that’s no good!
We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective. – Michael Eisner, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
Vertical integration, and more specifically synergy, is another important aspect of how these media conglomerates influence the media to get even more profit. To take Disney as an example again, not only can you watch the movies they make, but then you can buy merchandise, clothes, books etc from Disney stores. You can also see you favorite Disney-characters in real life at the Disney Resorts, or watch them on the ABC Family show Once Upon A Time, where now Disney’s newest franchise Frozen has arrived! (And of course, by watching the show, ABC will get higher ratings and shares, and thus, in turn, ABC and Disney will profit more from the advertisers who want to show commercials during the show). Especially when it comes to kids, advertising in the form of commercials shown during “family shows” or children’s programs have a different impact, because at a young age kids usually can’t distinguish between what’s programming and what’s a commercial. I thought it was so weird, and slightly disturbing, to see commercials here targeting children, because until I came here to the U.S. I had never seen that before; in Sweden where I grew up, that’s illegal! And I can totally see why, kids are so much more impressionable than adults, and trying to get kids to recognize brands, get brand-loyalty and get them to persuade their parents to buy certain things is just so cheap.
The cost of a non-diverse media, meaning showcasing stereotypes, archetypes, misrepresentation, biased information – all to make profit for the big parent companies – is not to be taken lightly, in fact, I think it is a huge problem. A media run by profit and not by genuine concern, passion or intent to serve the masses in a positive way; by deciding what our norm and ideal should be – not the reality of our world and lifestyles and creating our desires and wants to serve them. By not having diversity in the media, its messages and information we see and absorb will be biased compared to that of reality. A recent study went in depth to explore this issue in regards to how women are represented in popular, top-grossing movies in the ten biggest movie producing countries. The study has its limit, but nonetheless, it showed that women were severely underrepresented compared to reality: in those movies, 30.9% of the speaking roles were female and 69.1% male, while in reality men and women are almost at an equal 50/50. Furthermore, when it came to women working in the movies vs reality; globally, women constitute 39.8% of the workforce, but in the movies, they only compromised 22.5%. By showing this skewed picture of the world, its no wonder that our view of the actual world gets influenced.
A personal example from someone like me who wasn’t born nor raised in the U.S., (I moved here less than two years ago) is that my picture of the U.S. before coming here was deeply influenced by the media, and when I actually moved here, I realized that it was nothing like in the movies. Of course, it really depends on where you are in the U.S. since it is such a big and diverse country in general, but this also shows that the messages I saw of the U.S. only matched a part of the reality, it is not near being realistic. For example, I did not know there were so many African-Americans and hispanic/latinos in the U.S. (according to data from 2012, about 12% of the total population is African-American and 17% hispanic), but from watching all those Hollywood movies and TV-shows, these numbers were severely distorted, and caused me to have a wrong picture of reality. Another example of how the lack of diversity has personally affected me, is in the case of LGBTQ visibility. It’s really hard to know the exact numbers and data of course, but the percentage I usually hear is that about 1 out of 10 people identify as LGBTQ (reality), but from what the media depicts, that is not the case. This was very hard for me, and I can probably imagine many others too, when growing up and didn’t feel as there was any good role models or people to look up at, for inspiration or for support.
All in all, the cost of having a lack of information diversity in the media will cause that the misrepresented and/or neglected groups will feel even more invaluable and marginalized, they will not feel represented and valued to the point that it might cause actual problems for them in real life. Secondly, it will also influence the other groups, the majority or people who know little about the reality and take in this information as “truth” because that’s all there is to see, and that will cause a skewed picture of reality and hinder any progress to actually fix the real problems in society.
(Originally posted on 2014/10/06 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)