I don’t read mummy blogs. If I want ‘reality’ I’ll go make my own children a sandwich. I am, however, fascinated by the theory of mummy bloggers and their cultural products. I have been reading about the mass society theory of media, as explained by McQuail (2005, pp. 77-109), and I will attempt to answer the question of whether mummy-blogging exhibits any of the features of this theory. McQuail says “new electronic media gives rise to a neo-utopian vision of what society can become, that runs counter to the central mass society thesis” (McQuail 2005, p. 95). I initially thought that the power of mummy-blogging as an example of niche-media brought into question the validity of the mass society theory, but on investigation, I was disappointed to find it a pretty good fit.
The ‘mass’ theory of media suggests a centrally constructed view of the world, a “substitute” or “pseudo-environment” (McQuail 2005, p. 94), its content reflective of producers’ political interests. The popular Woogsworld blog states a focus on “documenting the daily mundane” (Mrs Woog 2013), reflecting (yes, ok, mediated) reality concerned with normalizing the subjective ‘normal’ – hardly political. But recently Julia Gillard ‘cosied up’ to mummy bloggers, ostensibly to show an interest in ‘women’s issues’, hoping to gain “maximum advantage” from the association (Grattan 2012). With all this public attention on the power of this ‘mass niche’, I wonder if the quasi-feminist politics of mummy-blogging will become more overt in the future? I also wonder if the flattery of having Julia Gillard eat your homemade jam (Gillard 2012) outweighs the feeling of being “used for manipulation and control” (McQuail 2005, p. 20), forever a wielder of scone-soft power?
A couple of the factors that McQuail associates with the mass society theory of media are closely intertwined when it comes to mummy-blogs: economic interests and identity. He states a feature of the mass society theory of media is that “people depend on media for identity” (McQuail 2005, p. 20). In a culturally and geographically atomized society like Australia, compounded by the fact that mum-audiences have often left their professional identities behind, it’s easy to see how mummy-blogs could be essential providers of ‘identity life-support’. It seems mummy-bloggers are gaining economic power as a result of their relatability, with B&T saying “Consumers recognise and trust this authenticity, which makes them incredibly powerful for brands to work with” (Media Watch 2012). It seems the mass society of identifying mothers has ultimately been commodified.
Utopian theories of media promise dialogical communication, but the popularity of a small number mummy-blogs means that while dialogue with producers is possible, production is still largely centralized. Commenting and social media provide contact with media producers, but the ratio of ‘successful’ producers to audience suggests that true dialogue is largely imagined. At first I really thought that the example of mummy-blogging would invalidate the mass society theory of media, but when society is structured around gaining political and economic power through one’s identity as a producer and product (i.e. the values of the entire blogosphere), it’s probably not all that surprising. Ugh. I feel deflated now. I am going to go make my kids a sandwich.
Gillard, J 2012, ‘Julia Gillard (JuliaGillard) tweets..’, Tweetwood.com, viewed 10 January 2013, <http://tweetwood.com/JuliaGillard/tweet/218840542736424961>.
Grattan, M 2012, ‘PM cosies up to mummy bloggers’, SMH, viewed 10 January 2013, <http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/pm-cosies-up-to-mummy-bloggers-20121209-2b3gm.html>.
Media Watch 2012, ABC1, video and transcript, viewed 10 January 2013, <http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s3616210.htm>.
McQuail, D 2005, ‘Theory of media and theory of society’, in McQuail D (ed.), McQuail’s Reader in Mass Communication Theory, McQuail, Sage, London, pp. 77-109.
Mrs Woog 2013, Woogs World, viewed 10 January 2013, <http://www.woogsworld.com/>.
Picture: Making amigurumi sandwiches helps me multitask my maternalism.