Baran & Davis: The Rise of Media Industries and Mass Society Theory

Stanley Baran and Dennis Davis construct an argument and a critique of the mass society theory by tracing its development and inadequacies. The rise of industrialism in the late 19th century in Europe and United States, ushered investment and usage of new forms of technology, causing “functional displacement” of previous forms of technologies being used in media. The passage of information amongst large groups of people became cheaper, and the media industry capitalise on this to attract even semi-literate people to consume media in the form of comic strips, sports and exaggerated accounts of events. The idea of yellow journalism was initiated to lure more readers by reporting fictitious accounts and gathering sketchy details about events (akin to the contemporary “clickbait” culture of online reporting).

With technologies being rapidly replaced, several components of the media industries would take the support of lawsuits (copyright violations) to maintain a dominant control over the business of media. This is also evident in India when All India Bakchod, a YouTube channel media producer, claimed that they were disallowed to make a parody of a trailer by Yash Raj Films[1]. Moreover, according to Baran and Davis, a lot of research conducted during this time to critique television and it’s influence was driven by selfish interests rooted in profit-making intentions and instinctive fearful reactions. This becomes even more relevant because new media challenges the existing social order, and creates new institutions for self-regulation (like filtering of explicit content and offensive material on social media).

Baran and Davis list several assumptions that the mass society theory makes, which are mostly based in the dissolution of a stable social order – which protects individuals from manipulation and isolation. This can be remedied by a totalitarian social order that controls the media. However, the idea that masses can be easily manipulated was rarely supported by conclusive evidence, and that media was just one of many influences in larger lines of thought in society. Moreover, the changes in social order have challenged complex power structures, and emancipated previously marginalised communities. The idea that media is propagating the false narrative of nationalism in contemporary India is weak before also asking the question of why masses want to construct a national identity during a time of political division, religious and social turmoil, and rapid globalisation. The notion of a faltering high culture is deconstructed by questioning the cultural capital of the representatives of high culture, and the increase in representation with new media. However, the easy availability of hegemonic American media content across the world should still be a matter of importance.

The dichotomies defined by Ferdinand Tonnies and Emile Durkheim, whether between folk communities and modern societies, or mechanical and organic solidarity, deepen the chasm between theorists who yearn for a social order that existed in the past, and those who extol modern society for its power to perfect a democracy. The mass society theory has garnered little support during contemporary discussions, especially due to lack of concrete evidence. However, the monopoly and profit-driven intentions of the media industry is an issue still very relevant. For example, the film Dangal was directed by Nitesh Tiwari, who was a creative director at an advertising agency. The makers of this film were heavily invested in marketing for the film correctly, advertising aspects of the film that would appeal to various demographics, having a solid presence on various media (new and old), and capitalising on the “clickbait” nature of the video “Fat to Fit” uploaded on YouTube before the release of the film (which garnered over 17 million views)[2][3].

[1] All India Bakchod. 18 December 2013. 23:17.

[2] Srivastava, Prachi. “The Marketing Story Behind Aamir Khan’s Dangal” Advertising Age. N.p., 23 Dec. 2016. Web. 13 July 2017. <>.

[3] “Fat To Fit” YouTube, uploaded by UTV Motion Pictures, 28 November 2016,

[4] Baran, Stanley J., and Dennis K. Davis. The Era Of Mass Society And Mass Culture. Mass communication theory: Foundations, ferment, and future (pp. 44-70). Cengage Learning, 2011.