General features about portrayal of different classes
Upper Class/ Monarchy
Representations of social class KEY POINT - Mass media representations of social classes rarely focus on the social tensions or class conflict that some critical sociologists see as underpinning society. Representations of the monarchy Nairn (1988) notes that contemporary media coverage of the monarchy has focused positively on every trivial detail of their lives, turning the Queen and her family into an on-going soap opera, but with a glamour and mystique far greater than any other media personality. Furthermore, mass media representations of the Queen are also aimed at reinforcing a sense of national identity, in that she is portrayed as the ultimate symbol of the nation. Consequently, the media regards royal events, such as weddings and funerals, as national events. Representations of the upper class and wealth Neo-Marxists argue that mass media representations of social class tend to celebrate hierarchy and wealth. Those who benefit from these processes, i.e. the monarchy, the upper class and the very wealthy, generally receive a positive press as celebrities who are somehow deserving of their position. The British mass media hardly ever portray the upper classes in a critical light, nor do they often draw any serious attention to inequalities in wealth and pay or the overrepresentation of public-school products in positions of power. Newman (2006) argues that the media focus very positively on the concerns of the wealthy and the privileged. He notes that the media over-focuses on consumer items such as luxury cars, costly holiday spots and fashion accessories that only the wealthy can afford. He also notes the enormous amount of print and broadcast media dedicated to daily business news and stock market quotations, despite the fact that few people in Britain own stocks and shares.
Representations of Middle Class
Representations of the middle classes Four broad sociological observations can be made with regard to mass media representations of the middle classes.
The middle class are over-represented on TV dramas and situation comedies.
Part of the British newspaper market is specifically aimed at the middle classes and their consumption, tastes and interests, e.g. the Daily Mail.
The content of newspapers such as the Daily Mail suggests that journalists believe that the middle classes of middle England are generally anxious about the decline of moral standards in society and that they are proud of their British identity and heritage. It is assumed that their readership feels threatened by alien influences such as the Euro, asylum seekers and terrorism. Consequently, newspapers, such as the Daily Mail, often crusade on behalf of the middle classes and initiate moral panics on issues such as video nasties, paedophilia and asylum seekers.
Most of the creative personnel in the media are themselves middle class. In news and current affairs, the middle classes dominate positions of authority – the ‘expert’ is invariably middle class.
Representations of the working class Newman argues that when news organisations focus on the working class, it is generally to label them as a problem, e.g. as welfare cheats, drug addicts or criminals. Working class groups, e.g. youth sub-cultures such as mods or skinheads, are often the subject of moral panics, whilst reporting of issues such as poverty, unemployment or single-parent families often suggests that personal inadequacy is the main cause of these social problems, rather than government policies or poor business practices. Studies of industrial relations reporting by the Glasgow University Media Group suggest that the media portray ‘unreasonable’ workers as making trouble for ‘reasonable’ employers. Curran and Seaton (2003) note that newspapers aimed at working class audiences assume that they are uninterested in serious analysis of either the political or social organisation of British society. Political debate is often reduced simplistically to conflict between personalities. The content of newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Star assumes that such audiences want to read about celebrity gossip and lifestyles, trivial human interest stories and sport. Representations of poverty KEY POINT - Newman argues that when the news media turn their attention to the most destitute, the portrayals are often negative or stereotypical. Often, the poor are portrayed in statistical rather than in human terms by news bulletins that focus on the numbers unemployed or on benefits, rather than the individual suffering and personal indignities of poverty. McKendrick et al. (2008) studied a week’s output of mainstream media in 2007 and concluded that coverage of poverty is marginal in British media, in that the causes and consequences of poverty were very rarely explored across the news, documentaries or drama. Dramas such as Shameless presented a sanitised picture of poverty, despite featuring characters who were economically deprived, whilst family issue-based programmes such as The Jeremy Kyle Show treated poverty as an aspect of entertainment. Cohen notes that the media often fails to see the connection between deprivation and wealth.