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
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. Lets 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
nationa 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 medias 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
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 peoplewhich 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 doesnt exist, its just another number, its 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 thesethat 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 nations 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 medias 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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