An ideology is a set of beliefs and values shared by a group of people. In media studies, we mostly focus on cultural ideologies, such as the representation of gender, race and social class.
Some critics believe the narratives and messages coming from the mainstream media are simply a reflection of society. Other critics would argue broadcasters have the power to shape our attitudes towards these issues. For instance, dominant ideologies are reinforced by the preferred reading of these texts, but a new ideology will become normalised and accepted the more it appears on our social networks, newspapers and television screens.
Of course, the decision-makers in positions of power and responsibility control how people and places are represented so the ideology of the ruling elite is often maintained. The Marxist theorist, Antonio Gramsci, called this cultural hegemony.
It is important to note that we are often reassured by seeing our ideology reflected in the media, but dominant ideologies can also make us feel marginalised because we might not share those points of view.
Ideology and Semiotics
When Roland Barthes was trying to define and explain his signification process, he suggested myths and ideologies were two very similar concepts.
Consider the example of gender roles. In the past, women were regularly depicted as housewives. A great example is the following advertisement for Glade’s “Shake n Vac” cleaner.
In terms of signs, the dominant signifier is the woman cleaning the carpet. Her exuberance and singing to the upbeat music connote the quality of the product and how we should use the cleaner in our own homes. As for the third and final order of signification, the advertisement also promotes the well-established myth (or ideology) of cleanliness.
However, the representation reinforces the ideology of women and their domestic roles.
This advertisement was first broadcast in 1980, but the depiction of gender roles has come under increasing scrutiny since then. For example, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) banned harmful stereotypes in the UK because they “restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults and these stereotypes can be reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in unequal gender outcomes”.
Advertisements for Volkswagen cars and Philadelphia cream cheese were the first to be banned by the watchdog. The Guardian’s article “First ads banned for contravening UK gender stereotyping rules” is worth a look and you can read the original report on the ASA website.