Connie! perspectives are based on the assumption that social life is II continuous struggle in which members of powerful groups seek to control scarce resources. According to this approach, values and norms help create and sustain the privileged position of the powerful in society while excluding others. As the early conflict theorist Karl Marx stressed, ideas are cultural creations of a society’s most powerful members. Thus, it is possible Cor political. economic, and social leaders to use ideology-an integrated system of ideas that is external to. and coercive of, people-to maintain their positions of dominance in a society. As Marx stated, The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the
ruling ideas. i.e., the class which is the ruling material force in society, is at the same time. its ruling intellectual force. The class. which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the slime time over the means of mental production …. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas. (Marx and Engels, 1970/1845-1846: 64) Many contemporary conflict theorists agree with Marx’s assertion that ideas, a non material component of culture. are used by agents of the ruling class to affect the thoughts and actions of members of other classes. The role of the mass media in influencing people’s thinking about the foods that they should-c-or should not-eat is an example of ideological control (see Box 3.4).
How might conflict theorists view popular culture? Some conflict theorists believe that popular culture. which originated with everyday people. has been largely removed from their domain and has become nothing more than a part of the capitalist economy in the United States (Gans, 1974: Cantor, 1980. 1987). From this approach, media conglomerates such as lime Warner, Disney, and Viacom create popular culture. such as films, television shows, and amusement parks, in the same way that they would produce any other product or service. Creating new popular culture also promotes consumption of commodities–objects outside ourselves that we purchase to satisfy our human needs or wants (Bellman , 1992). Recent studies have shown that moviegoers spend more money for popcorn. drinks, candy, and other concession-stand food plan they do for tickets to get into the theater. Sociologist Pierre Bourbaki (1984: 291) refers to this public trust as symbolic capital: “the acquisition of a reputation for competence and an image of respectability and nonavailability” Symbolic capital consists of culturally approved intangibles-such as honor. integrity, esteem, trust, and goodwill-that may be accumulated and used for tangible (economic) gain. Thus. people buy products at Walt Disney World (and Disney stores throughout the country) because they believe in the trustworthiness of the item (“These children’s pajamas arc hound to he flame retardant; they came from the Disney Store”) and the integrity of the company (“] can trust Disney; it has been around for a long time”).
Other conflict theorists examine the intertwining relationship among race. gender, and popular culture. According to the sociologist K. Sue Jewell (1993), popular cultural images are often linked to negative stereotypes of people of color. particularly African American women. Jewell believes that cultural images depicting African American women as mammies ‘or domestics-such as those previously used in Aunt
Jeremiah Pancake ads and recent resurrections of ‘<;Ims like Gone with the Wind-affect contemporary black women’s economic prospects in profound ways (Jewell, 1993). A strength of the conflict perspective is that it stresses how cultural values and norms may perpetuate social inequalities. It also highlights the inevitability of change and the constant tension between those who want to maintain the status quo and those who desire change. A limitation is its focus on societal discord and the divisiveness of culture.