Western society is a term that is widely known and its values, politics, technology and ideology has an immense

influence in the world today. It is perhaps most visible in the way western popular culture dominates global print-, visual-, and aural media. It is a well stated fact that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world – its influence is visible almost everywhere. This essay will explore how print media have been implicated in the modernization of western society and the rise of popular culture. It will be argued that western society owes a great deal to its position in the world today mainly to print media. The essay will illustrate this by showing how political, technological and socio-economic forces were empowered with the introduction and effective use of print media through the development of western society. The terms western society, modernization and popular culture are vast and complex terms, and their definitions are constantly challenged and changed. Therefore, This essay will be limited to looking at print media and its impact in Western and Central Europe, starting from the beginning of the era of print. Because the very central core of print media, its very nature, is that it has always consciously been a tool of opposition, a means of empowerment.

Print media as a means of political-economical empowerment has a very extensive history, and often it is a mixture of social and technological elements as well. Anderson illustrates how print media was used for this, by contrasting how capitalism is inexplicably connected to the emergence of print, to the development of the nation:

“The coalition between Protestantism and print-capitalism, exploiting cheap popular editions, quickly created large reading publics…and simultaneously mobilized them for politico-religious purposes.” (Anderson1983, p40):

This, he says, set the stage for the modern nation. The way ideologies and vernaculars were centralized and certain languages were concentrated, was pertinent to how print media was used extensively to maintain control over vast distances, by creating standards and building a national identity. Thus, print was an ideal means of empowerment, not only by their command of an effective bureaucracy, as D. Lacy points out, “but also their newly acquired ability to make their laws, decrees, and judicial decisions widely and uniformly known throughout their realms.” (Lacy 1996,p 91). Political theory could flourish, because print was permanent, it meant other states could easily emulate and adopt its own political system. Lacy also cites Anderson (1983) on how the centralization of languages led to the downfall of the fragmented, multinational power structures that had dominated Europe. (Lacy 1996, p 77). Perhaps the most important point is that the growth and spread of print was confined to Western- and Central Europe. The mastering of print was ultimately what made Europe become the political-economic dominant for many hundred years. But even though the image of the national community was strengthened, there were other unique communities that emerged alongside.

The rise of print media also created the possibility for important progress in technology and science. This is a point that Anderson goes little into, but Lacy sees. The way in which print was most important, was perhaps in the simple fact of accessibility. As a result of print, science entered a new era of progress, creating a large body of knowledge in which a researcher could share his work, and get feedback on it with the rest of Europe. The science of discovery would also not be the same and Lacy also contrasts the discovery of America with the impact of print:

“European voyagers had been reaching out for centuries…But because there was no effective means of publicizing their experience they passed into the mists if legend and were forgotten without contributed to the knowledge or the settlement of the New World. How different it was when Columbus stumbled on the Bahamas in his search for the Orient and the report of his discovery was in print and widely read within a year of his return.” (Lacy 1996, p90)

The net result of this was that Europe had transformed itself, becoming the center of power in the world (Though ridden with conflict in all its glory). Another extremely important part other that political and technological, was the great change in the social structure of Europe which effects still are apparent in today’s society.

Another factor that came with a society that progresses economically and technologically, is wealth. Ironically, the very tool that gave nations their awesome power, would be the one thing that would bend it to its knees. In the hands of the growing bourgeois, print media was used as a means to oppose authority and take political and social power away from the aristocrats. As the readership had grown, the author gained a new position. Ian Watt in his studies on the influence of the Novel mentions among others Defoe, Richardson and Fielding as some of the most influential writers. He goes on to clarify that although books were expensive in the 18 hundreds, Robinson Crusoe was a novel that was first serialized by Defoe in The Original London Post. (Watt 1957, p42). So people in the lower middle classes had the opportunity to read literature with political meaning that was defiant of higher authority. Newspapers started popping up,

questioning aristocratic policy and the monarchy. Both Watt and Sebeny-Mohammadi refer to Habermas’ idea of “public” and “private” spheres, where political and other topics in the print media were discussed by the bourgeois (Sebeny-Mohammadi 1995, p77). Terry Lovell in her feminist studies and indeed J. Hartley have nuanced Habermas’ ideas, claiming that these spheres aren’t that separate at all, and an important point, that Hartley makes, is the development of empowerment to the popular press. Furthermore, he elaborates the importance of especially the French revolution. The power of print media as a form of opposition, and a medium for democracy paved the way for modernity, which Hartley defines as “the transfer of power from monarch to the people.” (Hartley 1996, p85)

To summarize, this essay has shown through various examples in political-economical, technological and social growth, how print media has been a driving force, and a significant instrument in empowerment. It has showed how print media is vital in western society’s position in the world today and how it modernized itself by shifting of power from a monarchial society to democracy through the means of media such as newspapers and literature. It shows how Anderson, Sebeny-Mohammadi and Lacy concentrate on the more political and economical aspects, with Lacy touching the importance of social elements, nuanced by Hartley, who takes on the point of view of the readership, and also illuminates the popular press’ role in being implicated in this process. An interesting question that perhaps should be looked into; is if, and how print media have been implicated in the post modernisation of western society.

Bibliography: Anderson, B. (1983) “The Origins of National Consciousness”, in, Imagined Communities, London, verso Sebeny-Mohammadi, A. (1995) “Forms of Media As Ways of Knowing”,in, J. Downing et. al(eds), Questioning the Media: an Introduction (2nd ed), Thousand oaks, Sage Lacy, D. (1996) “Printing”, in, From Grunts to Gigabytes, USA University of Illinois Press’ Hartley, J. (1996) “Introduction”, in, Popular Reality: Journalism, Modernity, Popular Culture, London, Arnold Hodder, pp. 1-30
(note: above taken from KCB 140 readings for semester 1, QUT, and all pagenumbers in essay correspond to the readings)

Watt, I. (1957) “The Reading Public and The Rise of The Novel”, in, The Rise of The Novel, London, Chatto&Windus Habermas, J (1979)

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