In "Prime Time Ideology" Todd Gitlin Is attempting to demonstrate how the ruling class ideology is transmitted through various features of American television. Giltin follows Gramsci and his concept of hegemony as "soft power" that coerces the working class into obedience without any use of physical power.
At the beginning of "Prime Time Ideology" Gitlin is relating to Theodor Adorno and the thinkers of the Frankfurt school of neo-Marxist though who held popular culture to be shallow and synthetic and as working to subjugate the working class. For this reason, the working class does not revolt. Hegemonic media content dictates public life and it is a medium for transferring ideology. Mass culture does not produce ideology, it merely focuses it and reproduces it in the service of the ruling elite.
According to Gitling, hegemony analysis in media should be conducted from both top to bottom and bottom-up. The integration of the interests of the ruling political and economical systems should be examined. The opposite analysis should examine the function of the Gramscian hegemony in social life, the correspondence between the offered ideology and common sentiments and should relate to the role of media as setting forth the public order of the day.
According to Gitlin, the ruling hegemony is validated by television in various ways:
Format and formula– the broadcasting program is built to meat conventional leisure time. The program repeats itself not only out of economical considerations but also out of a reluctance the deepen popular characters on television. Prime time ideology aims at presenting, and preserving, social stability: programming patterns are contant, alternatives are always available for the disinterested audience, every show has its determined allocated screen time. All these, Gitlin says, are subjected to a rigid rule and regularity. These features of prime time television and the formulas create the illusion of not only stability and the impossibility of change, but also change in the sense that things are constantly improving, a false sense of progress with the replacement of various shows, as if we are always getting better at making television, and there is reason the stay tuned in. Gitlin also employs the concept of "the organization of leisure" – the way television organized our lives around in schedule.
Commercials – commercials according to Gitlin accustom us to behaving like a market rather than a public, and as consumers rather than citizens. Public problems (such as air pollution) are presented as if they can be solved through private consumer products. Commercials gradually invade our lives. We give up fighting them and allow them access to both the public sphere and our own domestic sphere. The problem is that by giving commercials access to our lives we are also granting their distorting and manipulative function a right of way.
Genres – prime time television selects content that appeals to the highest spending audience. Genres indicate social moods and shifts in genres indicate changing mentality. In sports broadcasters transmit ideology since they do not only show the game, but also interpret it. Statistics in sports have a special function of complementing the viewer on him "knowing something" about something.
Background and character types – have you ever wondered why television tends to favor depictions of glamour and success? According to Giltin the answer is that this way commercials, promising glamour and success, work better. Media intentionally avoids depictions of les-missrables with which the public does not wish to identify. Show that do grant thw working class some screen time are aimed at establishing the sense of superiority of the middle and ruling class. Television will fool most of the people most of the time by giving them what they want in exchange for their passiveness and for allowing commercials into their living room and family.
Perspective – according to Gitlin political and social conflicts shape television content by using stereotypical and divergent characters. Television can either legitimize diversions (ethnical or sexual but rarely political) or it can de-legitimize either the mainstream or the alternative. Changes in perspectives are changes in social values.
Media hegemony is not all encompassing and unavoidable. There are a number of ways viewers can employ resistance tactics while watching television (see Stuart Hall's "Encoding, Decoding").
According to Gitlin, cultural hegemony pertains to offer answers to difficult questions by offering a false "happy end" world. Rebellious and subversive films (for example "fight club") allow an outlet for social discontent but they offer unreasonable instant bombastic solutions that have nothing to do with gradual change in actual reality.
Towards the end of "Prime Time Ideology" Gitlin describes the hegemonic process in liberal capitalism. By appealing to popular taste media industries are able to reproduce existing social realtions. Hegemony, as described by Gramsci, has the capacity for assimilating any form of resistance and therefore the prime time ideology has an interest in amplifying alternatives to it in order to dull their edge. It employs closed texts that are not open for interpretation and so on. But the hegemonic system is never final nor stable. It is a constant field of negotiation and struggle between mainstream hegemonic forms and their alternatives. Social conflicts are translated into the cultural system and disarmed there. According to Gitlin consumer capitalism hegemonic ideology holds that happiness, freedom or brotherhood can be sustained through material private possessions. This is the one uneatable starting point of prime time ideology.