The word alternative media can help to explain an alternate perspective held to that of traditional media; nevertheless, the idea of alternative media is a complex and obscure concept in itself.
Waltz describes alternative media as “alternative media against or in contrast to something else …” while Forde proposes alternative media as “in which the media gives expression to the voiceless …” allowing a challenge to the establishment and resistance to the public sphere ‘s power.
A critical question emerging from the above meanings is whether the word “alternative” applies merely to acting as a replacement for conventional media or whether it is truly representative of a wider media category.
This essay will attempt to argue the importance of alternative media in relation to the mainstream by outlining the key stages of Noam Chomsky’s Media Propaganda Model, with a particular focus on director John Waters’ work, to explain how it helps societies define the alternative alongside its necessity in relation to mainstream media.
Mainstream media was a growing medium used to spread ideas and manipulate the masses with ease. The content generated mainly reflects a capitalist point of view from the elitist society and seeks to monetize from the public domain, this could be related to Chomsky’s first layer in mass media theory, media ownership.
Large media corporations and businesses have a unique incentive to profit from the programming generated, meaning independent journalism is typically secondary to business conglomerates’ needs and interests. It is a primary contrast from mainstream media, where material is more theoreticalor seeks to bring out proposals that contradict or question the prevailing perspective.
Alternative media were usually owned and created separately, attracting more niche or underground markets, including films such as Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Hairspray, which were viewed as transgressive in their approach because of material that was more revolutionary and artistic than their conventional equivalents.
Alternative media’s countercultural and radical nature seeks to devise a way ofquestioning Western dominant ideologies traditionally found in programming generated by major conglomerats.
Therefore, supporting the prior argument of profiting from the media when a large number of alternative creators attempts to compose substantive material regardless of its economic benefit; something that is usually avoided by corporate media because of Chomsky ‘s second filter, advertising revenue.
The newspapers cost more than people would ever pay, and the mass media get around that by purchasing from marketers by using them to sell branded products to the public.This leads to media-manufactured consumerist society, as advertisers pay for audiences and thus support the corporate capital’s hegemonic beliefs.
This allows the elite to establish media that profits from audience engagement, Herman and Chomsky proposed “the power of advertisers over television programming stems from the simple fact that they buy and pay for programs, they are the bosses who provide the media subsidy …” greatly affecting the welfare of the mainstream media as pressures are placed on audience engagement andBrand promotion allows the mass media to do so effortlessly, as the viewer is unaware of the marketing tactics placed in place by commercial companies, Kretchmer claimed that “advertising has had a powerful effect on the mind and cultural climate.
Although some argue that advertising has generated the consumer culture, others claim that ads must simply represent the environment of the time to be effective in appealing to a mass audience. Whatever the cause and effect relationship may be, it is incontrovertible that there is an interplay of influence between advertising and culture … “establishing how consumerism has become entrenched in mainstream media and thus has an impact on society and our cultural identities, allowing a further growth of consumerist society due to the impact of capitalist propaganda.
This is contrasted by the manner in which alternative media is created, inwhich creative media attempts to promote philosophies that differ from the advertising elite. In this context, alternative media may become critical of those perceived as the media establishment, Fuchs suggests that “alternative media are mass media questioning the existing hierarchical modes of media production, media systems, content, delivery, and reception … the key aspects are journalists and their methods, recipients, and activities …” establishing the alternative forms of media production John Waters achieves so effectively by using alternative language, working with Queer artists like Divine to subvert mainstream ideologies and promoting more radical ways of thought, exemplified in Waters’ sexualized and pornographic style of filmmaking.
It can be related to the principle of detournement as Waters seeks to shift the way culture sees the spectacle, Debord suggests that “the spectacle is not aseries of images; rather, it is a social interaction between people that is mediated by images …” illustrating how popular media propagates essentialist concepts to mass audiences via picture creation.It can be questioned by the subcultural essence of movies such as Pink Flamingos and Female Troubles, which seek to counter the elitist society’s atypical ideas imposed on the masses.
The above points establish Chomsky’s filter known as flack, phasing out those that try to claim views or fabricate content that does not fit with the rising philosophies of those in charge. This creates the problem of countercultural journalism as the very social structure created by the establishment promotes complicity to flourish, when threats to authority or infringements of the prevailing culture drive individuals to the outskirts of society.
It can aid in our perception of the alternative as the original idea of breaching the barriers is contradictory to the need for flack, as alternative media producers do not automatically receive approval from society.While suggesting the notion that alternative media targets a special or niche audience, Couldry suggests that “the emancipatory and egalitarian potential of alternative media lies in opening up a large market exposure to media output.This would allow the power of naming of the mass media to be questioned by contrasting the paradigm created by capitalist mass media with other representations of social reality … “thus reinforcing the idea of alternative media as a juxtaposition between the mainstream and, in particular, the patriarchal society generated by media conglomerates.
Chomsky regarded flack as a means of discrediting sources and diverting conversation to various topics to draw the attention of communities to those issues. By making films that observed different natures from the conventional norm, John Waters ‘s revolutionary nature opposed that of commerciallyappealing films and created methods that opposed the socially acceptable and traditional methods that predated the countercultural age of cinema.
The argument that alternative media is more community oriented which negate the need for flack, messages proposed from alternative texts do not seek to be commercially popular and are thus not concerned with impressing a mass audience, Howley proposed “community media is not simply a matter of opening up channels of communication to non-professional media makers.Rather the d’etre of community media is to promote two-way contact within the local community … “and in doing so deals with the possibility of alternativemedia producers joining public discourse and thereby encouraging common engagement on various levels and fostering a greater sense of self-expression and personal growth over commercial success.John Waters achieved this through his own ideas and artistic channels, employing actors perceived as on the fringes of society and embracing queer and alternativecommunities different from those of the late nineties-eighties, with performers like Divine who publicly questioned the heteronormative paradigm maintained by the popular culture of the nineteen-eighties.
Chomsky theorized that the news media should create a popular enemyor target for mass media manipulation in order to obtain consent.Typically the popular enemy is a moral outrage or social concern that aids inthe corral of collective attitudes, allowing capitalist society to gain more influence over mass opinion.
Issues such as communism, terrorism, and immigration are easily targeted by the mainstream as they are historically opposed by western society, and the folk devils are obvious for each individual issue, allowing otherwise to be produced in society.
The demonization of common issues like race, religion and sexuality can be seen throughout history, the early 1980s HIV pandemic easily allowed mass media to establish a common social enemy among gay people, as mainstream media easily propagated agendas that changed the views of the public regarding homosexuality.
The exaggeration and distortion of fact by the corporate news media around the aforementioned social issue allowed them to generate consent by using melodramatic language and sensationalized headlines. Such philosophies then tend to adhere to common views usually held by the power of government, thereby establishing a homogenized point of view.
This is opposed by many alternative media outlets promoting a more open viewpoint and seeking to contend against traditional programming ‘s conventional or hegemonic views, Atton notes “the variety, number and plurality of alternative media in all their types and viewpoints indicates the principle of liberal pluralism pushed to its limits.
A media model where people who use small-scale media do not need to be the product of idealism or involve the overthrow of large-scale media; we can find a space where small-scale media already prevail … “establishing that alternative media is primarily about creativity over national appeal, creators of such media strive for artistic expression or personal development over appeal.
John Waters challenged society’s hegemonic values through using queer language and breaching the limits of the era ‘s film, this can be extended to the ideas seen in Hairspray as the story introduces theories of racial discrimination and aims to demonstrate the current problems faced by society through portraying these social struggles in the 1960’s Ame.
The primary concepts within the series provide an obvious connection to flack as the mass media tends to disregard racial discrimination in modern times; however, the deeper social problems, including interracial dating and religious supremacy, seek to create topics of discussion that the mainstream culture of the time had not previously seen.
The media manipulation model helps media professionals to grasp alternative media better by their predominant opposition to the ideals and principles maintained within the model itself.However, the concept of alternative media is still individual in its meaning and there is no single understanding or foundation of what makes an alternative piece of work.
Because of this, alternative media is hard to really underpin, and is created in various terms and forms, Bailey, Cammaert and Carpentier say “these connections and complex dialectics between what is considered to be conventional and what is perceived to be alternative create a multiplicity and diversity of alternative media that needs to be appreciated …”Overall, the relationship between alternative media and mainstream media is vital to the development of modern media and culture, the foundation of the alternative creates a way for countercultural and niche formats to be created and thus challenges the concept of singular ideologies proposed by mainstream society, while still allowing for the creation of an alternative sphere for independent and artistic purposes.