Date of this Version
Political communications scholars, members of the press, and political elites have traditionally distinguished between entertainment and non-entertainment media. It is in public affairs media in general and news media in particular that politics is assumed to reside, and it is to this part of the media that the public is assumed to turn when engaging the political world. Politics, in this view, is a distinct and self-contained part of public life, and citizen is one role among many played by individuals. As a former network television executive put it, in the civic education of the American public, entertainment programming is recess.
But people, politics, and the media are far more complex than this. Individuals are simultaneously citizens, consumers, audiences, family members, workers, and so forth. Politics is built on deep-seated cultural values and beliefs that are imbedded in the seemingly nonpolitical aspects of public and private life. Entertainment media often provide factual information, stimulate social and political debate, and critique government, while public affairs media are all too often diversionary, contextless, and politically irrelevant.
In this chapter we build upon the premises contained in the opening quote from Edelman: that politics is largely a mediated experience; that political attitudes and actions result from the interpretation of new information through the lenses of previously held assumptions and beliefs; and that these lenses are socially constructed from a range of shared cultural sources. We also agree with Edelman that this has always been the case, and so to the extent that researchers have ignored or downplayed entertainment media, popular culture, art, and so forth, in the construction of both news and public opinion, we have missed a critical component of this process.
Date Posted: 11 January 2008