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A Discussion

by Timothy Black about a year ago in Humanity
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Society and Cultural

Introduction

In reading the textbook by Littlejohn, Foss, and Oetzel (2017), and Ruddock (2017), there are theories about communications that apply to problems in society and culture strikingly relevant. Racial tensions in the United States are high, and many African Americans see the Justice System as an injustice control mechanism to protect the white establishment. A video from a minor's iPhone helped obtain a guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. This case and many others demonstrate the differences in American society and culture and how the media covers the incident—the media influences how specific audiences of different culture groups choose to react to societal problems. Government agencies also must work to maintain public trust in their institutions and strategic communications. The research that guides the process plays a vital role in maintaining that trust.

Cultural studies

In chapter 11, Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel (2017) dive into the Co-cultural theory and critical race theory. These two theories are crucial to understanding why specific cultural groups feel a sense of disenfranchisement in American society. There are five assumptions in Co-cultural theory that must be observed when addressing cultural issues in the United States: "(1) a hierarchy exists in any society that privileges certain groups" (p. 415). It seems to many African Americans that the Police have special privileges that grant them immunity after unjust actions have been taken against their community, such as police beatings and shootings. "(2) dominant members, on the basis of varying levels of privilege, occupy positions of power that enable them to create and maintain systems that reinforce their perspectives and experiences and mute those of others" (p. 415). When the dominant culture strives to maintain its standing in both culture, society, politics, and economics, it is natural for them to silence dissent. If dominant cultures see specific values or rituals as offensive to theirs, it is challenging to get those rituals and values accepted in the social mainstream or political system. "(3) Dominant communication systems function to keep co-cultural group members outside the centers of power; (4) while there is considerable variation across co-cultures, they share a marginalized social position within the dominant system" (p. 415). This sense of marginalization can and has led to social unrest in the United States. Some groups that work to fight unjust laws and norms in society have taken many paths to enlighten the dominant culture of their oppressive nature through violence or peaceful protest. "(5) Co-culture group members strategically communicate to negotiate the dominant system in which they find themselves" (p. 415). It is a matter of survival that applies to Differential Adaptation Theory, in which cultural groups assimilate or adapt to the dominant culture (p. 407-408). The trial of Derek Chauvin would make for a solid case study to be conducted on various small samplings of Caucasians and African Americans to gauge how the guilty verdict has influenced assumptions about the current American justice system.

Societal studies

Conducting small case studies on sample sizes of different social groups can help researchers understand how they receive and decode the information being sent to them. When I took Law in American Society in high school, we had to research historical cases that we were assigned to defend or prosecute and convince a jury made of classmates that the defendant was guilty or free in many mock trials. The key thing I remember about our American justice system is that the courtroom is a theatre, and how one presents the case is sometimes more important than the facts of the case. This performance nature happens in society every day when people listen to their friends and family who decide to talk about politics or social issues and convince them to join their side. Dwight Conquergood analyzes how individuals perform to communicate in different cultures. Often, the performance is overlooked but should also be analyzed when conducting cultural communication research. When conducting mock trials in high school, I would remind the jury this is not a popularity contest because I noticed a trend that the jury would side with the lawyer that was also their high school friend. Loyalty to cliques can negate the power of any performance, and this can also be witnessed in actual courts of law. A strong lawyer in the American courts will know how to pull the different strings that speak to the minds and hearts of the jury. This performance applies to any public affairs officer or strategic communicator wishing to convey empathy or honesty to the public, requiring every aspect of the communication to convey the intended feelings and message.

Media Influence

Understanding the media's role in society and culture can be achieved through a 5 step process of "conceiving of how media connects individuals to societies, institutions, and traditions;" conducting a case study that "defines the relationship media, cultural practices, and social reality;" Models the paradigm of media rituals "that defines the media power in relation to the habits of ordinary media users;" Gaining critical insights through analysis of "habits of media users with concepts drawn from ritual theory locates the distinct social influence of media in the actions of media users"(Ruddock, 2017, p. 108). Lastly, determining the significance “Ritual media analysis is a complementary method for understanding how media create reality, as it focuses on the relationship between media, industries, media users, historical conflict and cultural tradition" (Ruddock, 2017, p. 108). Because ritual media analysis is a supporting research method, studying small-scale case studies such as the Chauvin trial provides insights and foundations in explaining the relationships in contemporary society. When trying to understand social issues that also affect the military organization, military communicators would benefit from understanding the relationship outside media has on their internal audiences. This supporting method will help guide command leadership and military policymakers to make an educated decision that could prove to be more effective than shooting from the hip amidst a social crisis within the organization.

Ruddock used mourning as his case study on understanding media rituals because death is a part of every culture, society, and media coverage. As a young mass communication specialist, in 2012, one of my early assignments was to cover the memorial services of two sailors who died while enjoying liberty. Their careers were so short, that our shop had to find photos that we may have taken of them while at work and print off large graphics of their warfare qualifications. This ritual was documented to send a video to their families to show our command’s grief for their loss. My ignorance of mourning rituals had me reflecting at the time that the only thing to those sailor’s name, military wise, was their warfare pins that we all wear once qualified in that warfare designation. To me, that was extremely sad, because they didn’t hold that much value to me as something I would want to be remembered for when I die. It was a media operation, without knowing it at the time, to show their families that they were apart of the military and were successful in their short careers in achieving military accomplishments. In reading these chapters, self-reflections on assumptions made in 2012, go away in understanding how rituals, both culturally and in the media play a role in sending a message of compassion.

Strategic Communication Trust

If military leaders and their communication advisors understand the driving force behind why their troops have framed their thoughts on social issues and concerns within their organizations, they would be capable of communicating to their troops at their level of understanding. If the leaders come from a position of understanding first, natural trust is built on the idea that leadership is listening to them. Then, strategic communication can do its part in reframing their understanding and addressing any misinformation that their troops have received from the media. If the information that has influenced the troops to act negatively is factual, coming from a position of understanding is still essential. However, leadership will have to address the issue and take proper action to correct their wrongdoing, which will also garner trust between leadership and the troops. Failure to understand the complaints of a group is just like failing to understand why your significant other or partner is upset with you; that unknown must be breached first to make progress and have an effective outcome.

An excellent example of this is when Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly went to the USS Theodore Roosevelt after Capt. Crozier was removed from command for handling the Covid crisis aboard his ship and the leaking of a letter to the media. Modly bashed the former commanding officer on the ship's announcement system, which was recorded by the sailors and sent to the media. He failed to understand the feelings of his audience and came off insincere while also choosing to bash Capt. Crozier, who at this time gained the hearts and minds of many sailors around the fleet. This example would make for a warning to future policymakers and leaders who rush into reframing the opinions of their subordinates with neglect for understanding why they feel that way in the first place.

Conclusion

By analyzing the real-life relationship between media, media users and understanding the different demographics that make up both media and user, researchers gain vital insights that help guide strategic communications and policymakers to help build trust. Applying the different theories about cultures and how societies integrate ensures that researchers can enter the academic discussion with an objective lens. It is important to understand what are standard assumptions in dominant American society may continue systemic social issues, hurting faith in academic research and trust in strategic communications.

References

Littlejohn, S. W., Foss, K. A., & Oetzel, J. G. (2017). Theories of human communication. Long Grove: Waveland Press.

Ruddock, A. (2017). Exploring media research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Humanity

About the author

Timothy Black

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