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Media Events and Rituals: Durkheim, Turner and Lee


Media rituals are a part of media culture influenced by national and corporate traditions. It is not difficult to see that a medium of communication in the modern world can require very considerable resources, skills, organization, and sophisticated technology. Thus, we talk in overall terms of the communications industry or, more specifically, of publishing, the press, broadcasting, film, and telecommunications industries. Although they change, sometimes with great rapidity, they can be seen as organized constellations of activity and they are regarded as significant enough to be studied as objects in their own right. Thus, viewers may read about the history of broadcasting, the economics of publishing, technical change in telecommunications, and so on. Traditional interpretations of the development of the mass media in Britain portray a struggle by the press to gain its freedom from the state and political interests in society. The struggle is regarded as having been won in the middle of the nineteenth century with the repeal of the ‘taxes on knowledge’: taxes on newspapers and periodicals which raised their prices beyond the reach of the vast majority of the people. Emile Durkheim, Victor Turner and Chin-Chuan Lee propose different approaches and interpretations and media rituals and their impact on messages and perception of information.

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Theoretical approaches to media rituals

Emile Durkheim suggests that an alternative approach pursued by some researchers is to engage actively with existing pleasures and news genres (Thompson, 2002). Emily Durkheim describes and discusses the social structure of society, its functions, and relations between the classes, between individuals, and between individuals and the state. Durkheim is a functionalist who underlines that every issue in society serves its function, and these functions determine the structure and relations in society. Following Durkheim, media rituals can be seen as an integrated system based on parts. They argued that ‘refashioning the economies of pleasure’ ignored ‘ordinary people’ and were hopelessly idealistic and ‘puritanical’. Retreating from simple opposition to mainstream culture or the attempt to create avant-garde alternatives, these feminists argued that it was important to explore and even celebrate women’s enjoyment of mainstream culture (Thompson, 2002). This should be done, they asserted, even when this culture might, at first glance, seem to operate against women’s own interests, or to conflict with their political consciousness. Following Couldry (2002):

Those stakes have been complicated by recent reworkings of Durkheim that emphasize not so much “society’s” capacity to unite around a single experience of the social,” but rather more local “socialities” where people discover what they have in common” (p. 286).

Media rituals often prioritize the issue of pleasure, trying to understand, instead of ignoring, people’s enjoyment of mass culture. This work seeks to locate the sources and nature of such delight instead of merely dismissing it as evidence of gullibility or proof of effective media manipulation. Couldry defines media rituals as “formalised actions organised around key-media-related categories and boundaries whose performance frames or suggests a connection with wider media-related values” (p. 59). The Olympic game is one of the best examples of media rituals. In this case, the relationship between people and victories of the national team members has been found to be much more complicated than previously assumed (Thompson, 2002). Pleasure is not simply determined by identifying with the appropriate characters or messages. Audience enjoyment may depend on ‘perverse’ or ‘inverted’ identification. It may be due to pleasure in ‘gossip’ or fantasy. It may even be located in the format of a program that allows viewers to know more than the characters in the drama, to anticipate events, and exercise their ‘cultural competencies’ or ‘melodramatic imagination’.

Durkheim is the social theorist. Applied to media rituals, it is possible to say that the main focus of Durkheim’s theory is the analysis of societal development. The main argument of this researcher concerns the issue of rapid social change. That fact enabled the researcher to shift the focus from societies to neighborhoods. The main focus of media rituals is on the rapid social change of society. The researcher argued that certain relatively stable conditions were concerned with the whole issue. These were associated with the high crime rate that is present in society. Durkheim is known for analyzing social rituals. One of these anomalies is the failure of society to regulate the growing needs of its individuals. During those times the problem of crime was one of the most aggravating problems faced by American society. The other important issues to be covered are the theories of causations and crime. The careful consideration of these theories is very important for the successful development of society. The research of media rituals is based on careful observation is of crucial theoretical issues. This issue has a big importance in examining the doctrine concerned with antisocial behavior. The idea most frequently derives from biological drives. When combined, these drives are breaking through the restraints imposed by society. The difference is imposed by a strictly utilitarian interpretation. This kind of definition gives the reader a more detailed explanation of the crime issue. The media rituals are being analyzed as the thing that is usually committed by those people who do not share the common frame of orientation. The other idea expressed in the article is that the group of the population can be included within the societal population. The idea is perceived in merely a fictional sense. The other statement is that the population has been relinquished in certain spheres of society. When to come closer to the point one should understand that society has quite a big range of culturally defined goals. The Olympics’ audiences are more inclusive (he says ‘less socially structured’) but Lee et al say that national (domestic) audiences in international events. These involve complete aim-inhibition in the polar case and their adjustments to the whole issue. In many cases, these principles do not go in accord with institutional norms. Following Durkheim, media rituals can be explained by the analysis of the human existence within a social area that does not constitute a problem for the socialized population. Behavioral adjustment is one more issue to be considered in the paper. In many cases, social structures are able to affect many areas of society. This ritual occurs, as far as structural sources are concerned. The model shows that both the culture and institutionalized procedures are able to get assimilated by means of individual involvement. The situation is imbued with effect and high positive value. The institutionalized procedures are able to promise a measure of successful attainment of the goals. The combinations of these goals are not available to the individual. The mental conflict comes as a result of moral obligations that are posed before the people.

In the article, “National Prisms of Global Media” Lee et al (2000) states that much of the work with audiences disrupts assumptions about the homogeneity of the viewing/listening public. The media use our national ideologies and values in order to create a media ritual that seems relevant to the audience; which ultimately encourages participation in the media event. Therefore, the media event is no longer controlled outside the media, instead within. The event is therefore ritualized in order to reinforce hegemonic ideologies and hierarchies. This is achieved through the unrealistic representation of the media event through the use of hype and rhetoric. Many researchers exploring audience reception now attend to differences between people’s ‘readings’ on the basis not only of class, but also of ethnic identity, nationality, gender, and sexual identity. Insofar as audience reception research acknowledges overlapping social and political locations this work has fed into, and drawn upon, perspectives developed within, for example, feminist and black theory and experience. In this sense, the Olympic games are ‘catching up’ with the cultural criticism developed from explicitly political perspectives–although it does not always take on the political sharpness of such analysis and might even be said to dull its radical edge (Mihelj, 2008). The enthusiasm for discovering ‘active audiences’, celebrating ‘cultural populism’, and documenting textual instability can lead to a failure to engage constructively in many of the central contemporary debates about media power in Britain (and across the world) such as those addressed so far (Mihelj, 2008).

The new paradigm is disengaged from debates about the content of media representation and the ‘political economy’ of the media system. It tells us a great deal about audiences as ‘consumers’ but very little about ‘citizenship’. Theorists ensnared by the new media portrayal of Olympic games have been incapacitated from expressing concern about North American cultural imperialism and have been silent in the altercations about ‘quality television’ and campaigns to create cultural products which ‘break the mold’. The focus on celebrating pleasure in popular culture as it currently exists creates a ‘full-stop’ to the development of cultural innovation. But just because the mass media attract mass audiences with their current menu does not mean that other diets might not be even more popular while simultaneously including original or challenging content (Cottle, 2006). “How the media dominates symbolic practices; ie the construction and circulation of discourses; the representation of events and constructions of reality, drawing or mapping boundaries/distinctions across the often-contested terrain of individuals/groups/nations/countries” (Couldry and Bourdieu). The media rituals are constructed based on dominant national ideologies which Lee defined as the process of domestication, and this was done through the use of imagery and rhetoric. In the western media, the reports were based on the glorification of democracy and the defeat of communism. The political and media discourse pushed the moral supremacy of the west through the use of languages such as freedom, liberty, and the images of jubilation and celebration of the crowds. Similar ideas were expressed by Lee in relation to the Hong Kong transfer which he described America as advocating their role as the protector of democracy.

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Most disturbing of all, the news, intentionally or not, plays into the hands of those seeking to build up monopolies and capitalize on a ‘free market’ in media institutions. The original impetus to understand and dignify the activity of ‘the masses’ and to explain the attractions of consumerism, the joys of popular culture, and the success of new media rituals has thus become distorted. It has disintegrated into complicity and the abnegation of critical responsibility (Couldry. (2002) suggests that:

“A crucial part of this practice, at least from the evidence ofBBUK1, is the constant play on the ambiguity of its claim to present reality. At different times, the program and the discourse associated with it portrayed it as a mere distraction (as fiction) and as social learning (as reality). It is just such an ambiguity, and the unresolved switching between two incompatible positions that it involves” (p. 291).

Turner (1982) “Extracts from Ritual to Theater” states that ‘new paradigm has become increasingly detached from broader political and sociological concerns. Critiques of the racist or sexist content of a program are dismissed because they are assumed to characterize audiences as compliant zombies–victims of the text. At the same time, programs that are popular with minority groups are celebrated as inherently revolutionary (Turner, 1982). For example, media stories about abductions may be recalled and reinforced every time your own child is late home from school. Media reporting about child sexual abuse informs personal experience and this, in turn, reinforces the power of such media reports.


In sum, media rituals interact with and are incorporated into, people’s day-to-day reality and social setting. The obsession with audience creativity sidelines questions about audiences’ beliefs, comprehension, and understanding. In the rush to document audience resistance, questions of ‘meaning’ and ‘effect’ have become unfashionable. The complexity of the reception process and the operation of media power can be best illustrated by looking at two studies in more depth. A dominant message in one story may be counteracted by pre-existing messages from other cultural forms and, in any case, reporting on a story is never homogeneous and individual journalists may struggle to assert distinct perspectives. Most important of all, people’s own experiences may lead them to challenge dominant accounts or identify with a story from a different point of view. However, such evidence of resistance and variation in interpretation does not mean that the media are without influence. Research participants who spoke about such experiences were more likely fully to accept that abuse could occur in the family home and be perpetrated by a close relative.


Cottle, S. 2006. Mediatized rituals: beyond manufacturing consent. Media Culture Society 28, pp. 411-412.

Couldry. P. 2002. Playing for Celebrity: Big Brother as Ritual Event. Television New Media. 3, p. 283.

Lee, C. et al 2000. National Prisms of Global Media. in J. Curran, and M. Gurevitch (eds) Mass Media and Society. Londom, pp. 295-309.

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Mihelj, S. 2008. National media events: From displays of unity to enactments of division European Journal of Cultural Studies. 11, p. 471

Thompson, K. 2002. Religion and Knowledge. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Emily Durkheim. Rev. ed. Pp. 121-145.

Turner, V. 1982. Extracts form Ritual to Theater. The Human seriousness of Play Performing Arts. Journal Publications. New York, pp. 10-12, 79-82.

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