Anthropology Reading

Read “Making class invisible” by G. Mantsios (CANVAS>Files>Readings) and answer the following questions:What do the US media tell us about the poor and the wealthy according to G. Mantsios?Do you agree or disagree with the author’s views on the wealthy? There is no right or wrong response to this question; however you must justify your response to get full credit. Your answers should be in the form of a short essay between 200 and 300 words.
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Making  Class  Invisible  
Gregory  Mantsios  (1998)  
 
Of   the   various   social   and   cultural   forces   in   our   society,   the   mass   media   is   arguably   the   most   influential   in  
molding   public   consciousness.   Americans   spend   an   average   twenty-­-eight   hours   per   week   watching  
television.  They  also  spend  an  undetermined  number  of  hours  reading  periodicals,  listening  to  the  radio,  
and  going  to  the  movies.  Unlike  other  cultural  and  socializing  institutions,  ownership  and  control  of  the  
mass   media   is   highly   concentrated.   Twenty-­-three   corporations   own   more   than   one-­-half   of   all   the   daily  
newspapers,  magazines,  movie  studios,  and  radio  and  television  outlets  in  the  United  States.  The  number  
of   media   companies   is   shrinking   and   their   control   of   the   industry   is   expanding.   And   a   relatively   small  
number  of  media  outlets  is  producing  and  packaging  the  majority  of  news  and  entertainment  programs.  
For  the  most  part,  our  media  is  national  in  nature  and  single-­-  minded  (profit-­-oriented)  in  purpose.  This  
media  plays  a  key  role  in  defining  our  cultural  tastes,  helping  us  locate  ourselves  in  history,  establishing  
our   national   identity,   and   ascertaining   the   range   of   national   and   social   possibilities.   In   this   essay,   we   will  
examine   the   way   the   mass   media   shapes   how   people   think   about   each   other   and   about   the   nature   of   our  
society.  
The   United   States   is   the   most   highly   stratified   society   in   the   industrialized   world.   Class   distinctions  
operate   in   virtually   every   aspect   of   our   lives,   determining   the   nature   of   our   work,   the   quality   of   our  
schooling,  and  the  health  and  safety  of  our  loved  ones.  Yet  remarkably,  we,  as  a  nation,  retain  illusions  
about  living  in  an  egalitarian  society.  We  maintain  these  illusions,  in  large  part,  because  the  media  hides  
gross   inequities   from   public   view.   In   those   instances   when   inequities   are   revealed,   we   are   provided   with  
messages  that  obscure  the  nature  of  class  realities  and  blame  the  victims  of  class-­-dominated  society  for  
their  own  plight.  Let’s  briefly  examine  what  the  news  media,  in  particular,  tells  us  about  class.  
About  the  Poor  
The  news  media  provides  meager  coverage  of  poor  people  and  poverty.  The  coverage  it  does  provide  is  
often  distorted  and  misleading.  
The  Poor  Do  Not  Exist  
For   the   most   part,   the   news   media   ignores   the   poor.   Unnoticed   are   forty   million   poor   people   in   the  
nation—a   number   that   equals   the   entire   population   of   Maine,   Vermont,   New   Hampshire,   Connecticut,  
Rhode   Island,   New   Jersey,   and   New   York   combined.   Perhaps   even   more   alarming   is   that   the   rate   of  
poverty   is   increasing   twice   as   fast   as   the   population   growth   in   the   United   States.   Ordinarily,   even   a  
calamity  of  much  smaller  proportion  (e.g.,  flooding  in  the  Midwest)  would  garner  a  great  deal  of  coverage  
and  hype  from  a  media  usually  eager  to  declare  a  crisis,  yet  less  than  one  in  five  hundred  articles  in  the  
New  York  Times  and  one  in  one  thousand  articles  listed  in  the  Readers  Guide  to  Periodic  Literature  are  
on  poverty.  With  remarkably  little  attention  to  them,  the  poor  and  their  problems  are  hidden  from  most  
Americans.   When   the   media   does   turn   its   attention   to   the   poor,   it   offers   a   series   of   contradictory  
messages  and  portrayals.  
The  Poor  Are  Faceless  
Each   year   the   Census   Bureau   releases   a   new   report   on   poverty   in   our   society   and   its   results   are   duly  
reported   in   the   media.   At   best,   how-­-   ever,   this   coverage   emphasizes   annual   fluctuations   (showing   how  
the   numbers   differ   from   previous   years)   and   ongoing   debates   over   the   validity   of   the   numbers   (some  
argue   the   number   should   be   lower,   most   that   the   number   should   be   higher).   Coverage   like   this  
desensitizes  us  to  the  poor  by  reducing  poverty  to  a  number.  It  ignores  the  human  tragedy  of  poverty—
the   suffering,   indignities,   and   misery   endured   by   millions   of   children   and   adults.   Instead,   the   poor  
become  statistics  rather  than  people.  
The  Poor  Are  Undeserving  
When   the   media   does   put   a   face   on   the   poor,   it   is   not   likely   to   be   a   pretty   one.   The   media   will   provide   us  
with   sensational   stories   about   welfare   cheats,   drug   addicts,   and   greedy   panhandlers   (almost   always  
urban  and  Black).  Compare  these  images  and  the  emotions  evoked  by  them  with  the  media’s  treatment  of  
middle-­-class   (usually   white)   “tax   evaders,”   celebrities   who   have   a   “chemical   dependency,”   or   wealthy  
businesspeople   who   use   unscrupulous   means   to   “make   a   profit.”   While   the   behavior   of   the   more   affluent  
offenders   is   considered   an   “impropriety”   and   a   deviation   from   the   norm,   the   behavior   of   the   poor   is  
considered  repugnant,  indicative  of  the  poor  in  general,  and  worthy  of  our  indignation  and  resentment.  
The  Poor  Are  an  Eyesore  
When  the  media  does  cover  the  poor,  they  are  often  presented  through  the  eyes  of  the  middle  class.  For  
example,  sometimes  the  media  includes  a  story  with  panhandlers.  Rather  than  focusing  on  the  plight  of  
the  poor,  these  stories  are  about  middle-­-class  opposition  to  the  poor.  Such  stories  tell  us  that  the  poor  are  
an  inconvenience  and  an  irritation.  
The  Poor  Have  Only  Themselves  to  Blame  
In  another  example  of  media  coverage,  we  are  told  that  the  poor  live  in  a  personal  and  cultural  cycle  of  
poverty  that  hopelessly  imprisons  them.  They  routinely  center  on  the  Black  urban  population  and  focus  
on  perceived  personality  or  cultural  traits  that  doom  the  poor.  While  the  women  in  these  stories  typically  
exhibit   an   “attitude”   that   leads   to   trouble   or   a   promiscuity   that   leads   to   single   motherhood,   the   men  
possess  a  need  for  immediate  gratification  that  leads  to  drug  abuse  or  an  unquenchable  greed  that  leads  
to   the   pursuit   of   fast   money.   The   images   that   are   seared   into   our   mind   are   sexist,   racist,   and   classist.  
Census   figures   reveal   that   most   of   the   poor   are   white   not   Black   or   Hispanic,   that   they   live   in   rural   or  
suburban  areas  not  urban  centers,  and  hold  jobs  at  least  part  of  the  year.  Yet,  in  a  fashion  that  is  often  
framed   in   an   understanding   and   sympathetic   tone,   we   are   told   that   the   poor   have   inflicted   poverty   on  
themselves.  
The  Poor  Are  Down  on  Their  Luck  
During  the  Christmas  season,  the  news  media  sometimes  provides  us  with  accounts  of  poor  individuals  
or   families   (usually   white)   who   are   down   on   their   luck.   These   stories   are   often   linked   to   stories   about  
soup  kitchens  or  other  charitable  activities  and  sometimes  call  for  charitable  contributions.  These  “Yule  
time”  stories  are  as  much  about  the  affluent  as  they  are  about  the  poor:  they  tell  us  that  the  affluent  in  our  
society   are   a   kind,   understanding,   giving   people—which   we   are   not.1   The   series   of   unfortunate  
circumstances   that   have   led   to   impoverishment   are   presumed   to   be   a   temporary   condition   that   will  
improve  with  time  and  a  change  in  luck.  Despite  appearances,  the  messages  pro-­-  vided  by  the  media  are  
not  entirely  disparate.  With  each  variation,  the  media  informs  us  what  poverty  is  not  (i.e.,  systemic  and  
indicative   of   American   society)   by   informing   us   what   it   is.   The   media   tells   us   that   poverty   is   either   an  
aberration   of   the   American   way   of   life   (it   doesn’t   exist,   it’s   just   another   number,   it’s   unfortunate   but  
temporary)   or   an   end   product   of   the   poor   themselves   (they   are   a   nuisance,   do   not   deserve   better,   and  
have  brought  their  predicament  upon  themselves).  
By   suggesting   that   the   poor   have   brought   poverty   upon   themselves,   the   media   is   engaging   in   what  
William  Ryan  has  called  “blaming  the  victim.”  The  media  identifies  in  what  ways  the  poor  are  different  as  
a   consequence   of   deprivation,   then   defines   those   differences   as   the   cause   of   poverty   itself.   Whether  
blatantly  hostile  or  cloaked  in  sympathy,  the  message  is  that  there  is  some-­-  thing  fundamentally  wrong  
with  the  victims—  their  hormones,  psychological  makeup,  family  environment,  community,  race,  or  some  
combination  of  these—that  accounts  for  their  plight  and  their  failure  to  lift  themselves  out  of  poverty.  
But   poverty   in   the   United   States   is   systemic.   It   is   a   direct   result   of   economic   and   political   policies   that  
deprive  people  of  jobs,  adequate  wages,  or  legitimate  support.  It  is  neither  natural  nor  inevitable:  there  is  
enough  wealth  in  our  nation  to  eliminate  poverty  if  we  chose  to  redistribute  existing  wealth  or  income.  
The   plight   of   the   poor   is   reason   enough   to   make   the   elimination   of   poverty   the   nation’s   first   priority.   But  
poverty   also   impacts   dramatically   on   the   non-­-   poor.   It   has   a   dampening   effect   on   wages   in   general   (by  
maintaining   a   reserve   army   of   unemployed   and   underemployed   anxious   for   any   job   at   any   wage)   and  
breeds   crime   and   violence   (by   maintaining   conditions   that   invite   private   gain   by   illegal   means   and  
rebellion-­-like  behavior,  not  entirely  unlike  the  urban  riots  of  the  1960s).  Given  the  extent  of  poverty  in  
the  nation  and  the  impact  it  has  on  us  all,  the  media  must  spin  considerable  magic  to  keep  the  poor  and  
the  issue  of  poverty  and  its  root  causes  out  of  the  public  consciousness.  
About  Everyone  Else  
Both   the   broadcast   and   the   print   news   media   strive   to   develop   a   strong   sense   of   “we-­-ness”   in   their  
audience.  They  seek  to  speak  to  and  for  an  audience  that  is  both  affluent  and  like-­-minded.  
The   media’s   solidarity   with   affluence,   that   is,   with   the   middle   and   upper   class,   varies   little   from   one  
medium   to   another.   Benjamin   De   Mott   points   out,   for   example,   that   the   New   York   Times   understands  
affluence  to  be  intelligence,  taste,  public  spirit,  responsibility,  and  a  readiness  to  rule  and  “conceives  itself  
as  spokesperson  for  a  readership  awash  in  these  qualities.”  Of  course,  the  flip  side  to  creating  a  sense  of  
“we,”   or   “us,”   is   establishing   a   perception   of   the   “other.”   The   other   relates   back   to   the   faceless,   amoral,  
undeserving,  and  inferior  “underclass.”  Thus,  the  world  according  to  the  news  media  is  divided  between  
the  “underclass”  and  everyone  else.  Again  the  messages  are  often  contradictory.  
The  Wealthy  Are  Us  
Much  of  the  information  provided  to  us  by  the  news  media  focuses  attention  on  the  concerns  of  a  very  
wealthy  and  privileged  class  of  people.  Although  the  concerns  of  a  small  fraction  of  the  populace,  they  are  
presented   as   though   they   were   the   concerns   of   everyone.   For   example,   while   relatively   few   people  
actually  own  stock,  the  news  media  devotes  an  inordinate  amount  of  broad-­-  cast  time  and  print  space  to  
business   news   and   stock   market   quotations.   Not   only   do   business   reports   cater   to   a   particular   narrow  
clientele,   so   do   the   fashion   pages   (with   $2,000   dresses),   wed-­-   ding   announcements,   and   the   obituaries.  
Even   weather   and   sports   news   often   have   a   class   bias.   An   all   news   radio   station   in   New   York   City,   for  
example,   provides   regular   national   ski   reports.   International   news,   trade   agreements,   and   domestic  
policies   issues   are   also   reported   in   terms   of   their   impact   on   business   climate   and   the   business  
community.  Besides  being  of  practical  value  to  the  wealthy,  such  coverage  has  consider-­-  able  ideological  
value.  Its  message:  the  concerns  of  the  wealthy  are  the  concerns  of  us  all.  
The  Wealthy  (as  a  Class)  Do  Not  Exist  
While  preoccupied  with  the  concerns  of  the  wealthy,  the  media  fails  to  notice  the  way  in  which  the  rich  as  
a  class  of  people  create  and  shape  domestic  and  foreign  policy.  Presented  as  an  aggregate  of  individuals,  
the   wealthy   appear   without   special   interests,   interconnections,   or   unity   in   purpose.   Out   of   public   view  
are  the  class  interests  of  the  wealthy,  the  inter-­-  locking  business  links,  the  concerted  actions  to  preserve  
their   class   privileges   and   business   interests   (by   running   for   public   office,   sup-­-   porting   political  
candidates,   lobbying,   etc.).   Corporate   lobbying   is   ignored,   taken   for   gr …
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