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A related form of communication is through mass media. This is paradoxically both public and private communication. It is available to the public, but consumed more often in the confines of the home. Thanks to the advancement of technology in the last century new methods of mass communication have grown dramatically. Before the late 19th century, there was only the printed word to convey information to the masses. Since then, the world has seen the invention of radio, television, and most recently the internet. One of the most powerful means of communicating ideas is through the use of mass media. In contemporary cultures, the advent of mass media has created an important means of discussing, shaping, and reflecting the values and behaviors of each culture. One popular subject for media is the treatment of romantic relationships. I will use the word "romance" in this report not so much to connote the images of candlelit dinners and flowers (though they form a part of this definition), but the general phenomena of exclusive two partner relationships.
With such a definition in mind, what are some common themes and messages about romance that the mass media forms give us? How do these compare with the experiences of everyday people? In a survey of college age students, 60% said that mass media does not accurately portray their romantic relationships. However, 90% said that the media does influence their perception of romance. This paper will discuss some answers to the above questions.
First we discuss some background into the developing relationship of romance and mass media. In the 1900Guide to Periodical Literature, there were 10 references to romantic articles. By 1930, the number had risen dramatically. Likewise, in a sample of movies made during the 1930’s, romance as a plot line occurred in 95%. Today, the average American can see that this trend in mass media has not declined. In her book titled Consuming the Romantic Utopia, Eva Illouz notes an interesting trend of incorporating romance in advertising as well:
Until the middle of the 1920s middle class magazines tended to espouse a conservative, Victorian consumer ethos congruent with family oriented ideals and values. As magazines came to adopt the flamboyant style of the working class… the romantic manner in which they portrayed couples dramatically increased.
Much has been made of the relationship between romance and consumerism in fact it seems that mass media advertising has been an important medium for creating this relationship.
So, to start with one area of media treatment of romance is that of the meaning of the relationship. One of the more direct forms for this is through magazines. An informal survey of men’s and women’s magazines available at a grocery store showed an interesting variety of article titles that dealt with romance. Naturally the meaning associated with romantic relationships varied widely among different magazines because of the different reader focuses. Following is a summary of the average incidence of article titles on the front cover from my analysis consisting of 13 magazines:
- beginning relationships: .28
- commitment & marriage: .14
- ending relationships & bad relationships: .43
- relationship skills improvement: .31
- supporting / sustaining significant other: .07
- sexuality (skills and issues): 1.8
It is evident that for periodical readers, the most important issue concerning romantic relationships is sexuality, and lowest on the list was giving support to one’s significant other.
One necessary aspect of romance is sexuality. A great deal of attention has been placed on the role of sexuality in media, and it has been the subject of many fictional and non-fictional works. A survey of television shows during 1991 presents interesting findings about sexuality in prime time television. One finding was that "erotic touching" and "(implied) heterosexual intercourse" occurred among unmarried couples 81% and 85% of the time respectively as opposed to occurring between married couples. In the same study, it stated that there was one instance of disapproval of unmarried sex for every 16.5 instances with neutral or favorable connotations. For the treatment of socially important matters of pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted diseases, the study found that these subjects were mentioned in only .24% of prime time episodes. For the respondents of our class survey, 75% stated that premarital sex is "okay," which seems to be consistent with what is portrayed on television.
A related subject is the theme of forbidden romance. This motif of breaking cultural sanction has been presented in many different forms. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, was recently interpreted on film by Baz Luhrmann. In this well received rendition, the focus seemed not as much on the difficulties of going against the rules, but more so, on the great merit of their effort. The movie seems to reduce the tragedy by concentrating on the positive parts of the relationship at the conclusion of the film.
No current discussion of mass media would be complete without dealing with the internet. The internet has been said to be a platform for all views to be presented to the world, no matter how uncommon or popular. It follows that there will be a wide range of views about romance on the web. A search of the term "romantic relationships" on Yahoo.com presents a cornucopia of different sites. Dividing the first search results (22 total) into categories revealed the following webpage content occurrences:
- Matching services: 1
- Strictly personal advertisements: 1
- Personals/ matching with foreigners: 3
- Advice and help: 9
- Romantic literature and artwork: 8
Though this is a small survey of the almost limitless content on the web, it seems to indicate that people are not stereotypically searching for partners as much as for relationship improvement and celebration of romance. Those sites that are dedicated to initiating relationships often take advantage of the pan-geographic nature of the internet- allowing people of different cultures to meet for romance. The sphere of Internet dating will be dealt with more fully in the following section.