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Mass Media is a Capitalist System

Mass media is relatively new phenomenon, arising from technology that allowed media to be widely distributed instead of being limited to geographic reach of the artist.

Creating and distributing media to large audiences is extremely expensive. As a result, it is only possible for those who control large amounts of capital. Therefore, only those who control large amounts of capital are able to create and benefit from the creation of mass media.

Originally this was because of the technology involved.

To make an album you needed a recording studio, a specialized building full of specialized equipment and specialists to operate it. After recording and mixing and editing, the gold master was sent to a factory to create millions of duplicates on vinyl, tape, or CD. The millions of copies were bundled with other albums and shipped to retail outlets around the country and the world to be sold on consignment.

To make a movie, you needed a movie studio, an even larger specialized building full of more specialized equipment, and a wider array of specialist laborers. After shooting, editing, mixing, ADR, sync, and color correction to get to a gold master, the result is duplicated on thousands of reels and shipped to thousands of theaters around the country and the world. Making a major motion picture requires spending anywhere from fifty to five hundred million dollars before seeing a penny of revenue.

There were extremely capital-intense processes.

This is changing in music and starting to change for movies. Right now, a talented musician can create a studio-quality album at home with a cell phone. Talented film-makers are doing nearly as well. Combine that with Internet distribution and it is becomes possible to make music and movies for a global audience with the capital available to middle-class Americans.

Nonetheless, the larger public is still shut out from the creating and benefiting from the creation of mass media. Because it doesn’t matter how good something is, or how widely available it is, if no one sees it or knows about it.

Studios will spend hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising on album or movie release. They will leverage relationships with theaters, television networks, radio stations, news and talk shows, and journalists to ensure the success of their products. Again, the system benefits those who control larger amounts of capital.

This is also changing. Traditional advertising markets are being supplanted by social media. Attention can be bought not only with cash, but by serving the interests of the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and the billion-dollar companies that own them.

Technological advances allow the creation and distribution of media with less capital than ever before. But as long as attention is doled out in proportion to capital, mass media will always work to the interests and benefit of those who control more capital over those who control less.