Assignment 4: Hegemony
1. Watch the assigned video. 2. Read one of the following essays. 3. Read my notes. 4. Write a paper following the directions provided on this page.
Sept. 19 (12 noon)
Assignment 4 (hegemony)
This week’s TV show
1. You can write a paper on a single episode of House of Cards.
2. You can write a paper on a single episode of Downton Abbey.
3. You can write a paper on a single episode of The Daily Show.
4. You can write a paper on the Bad Blood video by Taylor Swift.
Chose 1 of the 4 options.
Your choice of program. House of Cards is available on Netflix. Downton Abbey is available on Amazon. The Daily Show airs at 10 p.m. (central time) on Comedy Central channel. Here is a link to Bad Blood.
By Barry Burke
Gramsci’s Theory of Hegemony
Hegemony is the process of cultural change through cultural debate. The dominant ideology presents the preferred values, the preferred ways of defining the binary oppositions, and tells us who are heroes. In modern American society, most of the cultural debates occur in the mass media.
The audience reacts to the media messages and makes choices. Television shows fail in the Nielsen ratings and are dropped by the network if people do not watch the show, perhaps because the viewers do not agree with the ideology. The advertisers and the producers of the television shows and the mass media respond to the desires of the audience.
This is still a dominant ideology because a handful of corporations own most of the media outlets in the U.S. They select the programs we have the option of watching. The audience decides which programs are ultimately successful.
This process of cultural change–hegemony–is a complex social interaction. People and our society are reluctant to make changes in our core values. We will accept gradual changes.
Generalizing a bit here. Before 1970, the media ignored homosexuality. Homosexuality was not an accepted option within the dominant ideology.
About 1970, a few gay males began appearing in the media. The movie Dirty Harry (1971) had a gay male hanging out in a San Francisco park. The gay man pulled a knife on Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry), who quickly disarmed him. The gay man cried and ran off. Homosexuality entered the mainstream as a totally repugnant idea.
The AIDS epidemic redefined gay males as having the same degree of humanity as anyone else. Philadelphia (1993) featured Tom Hanks, a popular actor. This movie created a hegemonic place within the culture for gay males. Two values accepted within the dominant ideology could be reconciled. Homosexual behavior was still rejected, but more people in the culture accepted the humanity of gay males because they were dying horrible deaths.
The hegemony debate continues over homosexuality. Many gay activists demand full equality and acceptance within the mainstream culture. Some conservatives believe that homosexuality is destroying the moral fabric of the society. The media plays a part in this debate by presenting homosexuality as a binary opposition. Usually, some punishments are still assigned to homosexual behavior. However, rewards have been assigned to some homosexual people.
Role of women
Again generalizing. Women on television in the 1950s had only a few major roles and they played the mother and/or wife.
By the 1990s, we had women as heroes. However, these women heroes still had to fit within the dominant ideology. I will use Laura Croft again. Croft is played by Angelina Jolie, a woman who was then a sex symbol in American culture. Early in the movie, the audience watches her walk nude out of the shower and into her bedroom while the butler watches. In one scene in the movie, the audience sees her alone in bed, tears forming in her eyes because she is alone; she is without a man. As I remember the movie, the scene is interrupted when armed men invade her home and she has to fight them off. She is more “masculine” than the invaders because she defeats them. However, the bad guys are not nude, they do not cry, and they are not lonely.
The movie plays out our culture’s uncertainty about the proper role of women in society. Women can have power, good paying jobs, be intelligent, and assume the symbols of masculinity. Women wear business outfits modeled after male clothing. Men never have to wear a dress to work. Women speak as men speak; men never sound feminine.
When women come home, they are expected to return to traditional female roles. They need to care for the children, be domestic around the house, and be sexually alluring to the man in her life.
Since American society cannot agree on the proper role of women, this hegemonic debate is often presented in the media with different solutions, rewards/punishments being offered.
These 4 shows
All four of these programs present hegmonic conflict to the dominant ideology of the show. The proper role of women is frequently presented on House of Cards and Downton Abbey. Race and class also are common hegemonic debates. The Daily Show usually presents a counter argument to conservatism and/or President Trump. Bad Blood presents Taylor Swift (5-10, 130 lbs) as a superhero.
What was the hegemonic argument in the episode you watch?
How were the binary oppositions presented?
How were rewards and punishments handed out?
Applying hegemony to these shows
Section 1: Summarize the episodein one paragraph, i.e., no more than half of a page. 10 points
Section 2: Explain the theory. Tell me which parts of hegemony (from the reading and my notes) you are going to use and how you are going to apply hegemony to this show. 10 points
Section 3: Critique the episode from the perspective of hegemony. Focus on how rewards and punishments are assigned. 20 points
Section 4: Your conclusion should be a logical result of what you have said in the first three sections of the paper. Specifically, what conclusions can you draw from your analysis. Pull your logic together and tell me why the creators presented the hegemonic argument and/or why these shows are popular with their target audiences.
Your conclusion should not be a personal opinion, but a logically developed conclusion based on hegemony theory.
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