Family and media. Family relationship, their rappresentation on the mass media and virtual relationship

Family and media. Family relationship, their rappresentation on the mass media and virtual relationship

The first study of this third volume of the Family and Media collection presents a profile of associations and institutions involved in the promotion of the family in Argentina. Readers are given an opportunity to take a look at the image of the family that gives rise to their projects, and see the internal and external communication strategies of these associations.

Family-related issues present in public opinion are also investigated. To reach these goals, 29 representatives of family associations were given in-depth interviews in the months of September to November 2012.

The research is based on a previous study carried out in Italy, “The Institutional Communication of the Forum of Family Associations (Italy) [1] , commissioned to a Family and Media research team by the directors of the Forum.

The survey was tailored to the circumstances of Argentinian society, while maintaining the original philosophy and structure. The following four dimensions were analyzed: a) what is the association (profile, history, number of members, area of activity, mission, idea of the family promoted, target public, associated activity and obstacles); b) how the association communicates. In other words, what kind of internal and external communication is developed and what means are used; c) how it sees the public context in which it functions; and in particular, how the media in that particular context confronts family issues; and d) how does the association- by means of its spokespersons- view publically controversial topics, such as fiscal support for families, legal recognition of homosexual unions, euthanasia, etc., as well as what priorities ought to form part of the political agenda relative to the family.

Unlike the Italian study, whose sample responded to the demands of the client (The Forum), the selection of this sample came from the university-based family institutes with a greater presence in the Argentina: The Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina’s Institute of Marriage and Family , Austral University’s Institute of Family Sciences, The Catholic University of Salta’s Family and Life Institute, and The Catholic University of Santa Fe’s Institute for Marriage and Family . Each one chose those institutions that work in their respective regions. The sample value lies in the fact that it encompasses the institutions with the greatest experience, public recognition, retention, and achievement in their work in Argentina, and for some, even internationally.

The study was conducted by Zelmira Bottini de Rey, Director of theInstitute for Marriage and Family of the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), María Teresa Téramo, professor of the Institute of Communications at UCA, and Alejandra Planker de Aguerre, another professor of the same university.Without wishing to exhaust the results of this study here, it is worth highlighting some of its most unique findings: a) almost all of the Argentinian family associations were born in the same time period of the 90’s, which coincides with various initiatives promoted by Pope Saint John Paul II on behalf of the family; b) the clear awareness of their own identity and mission, as well as the commitment of their members; c) the mostly confessional character of the associations; d) the amateur organizational approach and developing professionalism in the communications management; e) the predominantly reactive character to traditional media, and confidence in the Internet as the primary means for communication.

By conducting fieldwork interviews of the associations’ spokespersons, experts of family institutions were able to discover two opportunities: 1) the role these representatives can have in improving the work of their associations through adequate training, and 2) how the institutions can in turn be enriched by understanding the work of the associations, with their strengths and weaknesses.

Despite their impact and the enormous volume of business they generate, video games have been given little academic reflection until now. Some simply avoid them. The case is quite different for families, however. Many parents fear the ability of video games to “hook” their children, the settings of the games, the time they take up, and the cost of the consoles and the games themselves. In the second chapter of this volume, Giuseppe Romano, an undisputed authority in the field in Italy, explains the power of attraction involved with this new form of playing that exploits the potential of the digital context.

There are three factors or dimensions, which combined, give video games their fascination: the ludic dimension, present in every culture and an essential part of the human condition, as Huizinga shows in Homo ludens; the narrative dimension which, in the case of video games, grows in the measure that the player becomes the also the protagonist of the story by selecting among the various alternatives offered; and the relatively subtle message that any videogame conveys. An example of this last rhetorical dimension can be clearly seen in video games such as the Sims. It seems to be a harmless simulator of social life- simply a game. However, it projects a reductive vision of the person and social relationships, which are resolved in a few predetermined impulses that condition the behaviors of the characters. Only adults are capable of grasping the deterministic message concealed in such video games.

Evasion is not only at stake with video games. The social and economic impact of video games has not been explained. It is enough to realize, by way of example, that in Italy, two out of every three families owns a console, the medium age of players is 28, a community of players such as the Playstation Network contains over 80 million members, etc. Without a doubt, Romano’s study offers educated readers a lens to understanding the language of video games and their expressive structure.

Corinne Mannella, author of a study on the hit sitcom The Office, does well to quote Chesterton on humor and seriousness: “ Humour, like wit, is related however indirectly, to truth and the eternal virtues; as it is the greatest incongruity of all to be serious about humour, so it is the worst sort of pomposity to be monotonously proud of humour; for it is itself the chief antidote to pride; and has been, ever since the time of the Book of Proverbs, the hammer of fools” (Humour, 1938).

To take a comedy seriously is a paradox, but to study it seriously in order to understand how it works is not, the author reminds us. The Office was a popular American (but first British) television series that brought a new format to television: the mockumentary (faux-documentary). Mannella dissected the first season of this comedy from the perspective of the social virtues (pietas, observantia, oboedientia, honor, gratitudine, vindicatio, veritas, affabilitas, liberalitate, keeping their original Latin names which don’t exactly coincide with the vernacular translations). She does so seriously, that is, in depth and with originality. Mannella demonstrated that the quantitative-qualitative method for analyzing fictional and informational texts, created by the Family and Media team, works and can be used for this unique television genre, as long as the necessary adaptations are made. Furthermore, she carried out the study using the scene as the unit of analysis, confirming what was demonstrated when the method was applied to a soap opera study based on archetypes using the sub-plot as the unit of analysis ( Famiglia e media. Il detto e il non detto , Roma, Edusc, 2008).

Now, setting aside the technicalities for the interested reader, this work responds to the question: why is a television series with ridiculous- almost clownish- main characters so appealing? When humor, not sarcasm, makes us love what they lack, it means that a positive vision of virtues and ideals exists. Narrative sarcasm criticizes the vices of the characters and depresses viewers; humor lightly sympathizes with the defects of the characters, thereby encouraging the viewer not to take their own too seriously (without, of course, excusing himself from them). There is humor in comedy because, at its deepest yet unseen root, there is a hopeful vision of man. Tolkien and Lewis said that comedy could only grow from the humus of a Christian culture. Virtues are indeed quite present in The Office as the negative of a photograph.

In the fourth chapter of this present book, Norberto González Gaitano reflects upon the nature of family relationships according to the anthropological patterns defined by Malo ( I and the Others: From Identity to Relationship). He studies the representation of those relationships in the media by examining the case of the popular soap opera genre and the influence that this “virtual” image has upon the real family.

Family relationships (paternity, maternity, etc.) are a given. As such, they create fundamental bonds that demand acceptance and perfection in order to be constructive, and not destructive, to personal identity. In other words, the family is not simply a biological, symbolic, or cultural reality, rather a reality in fieri- permanently under construction. Precisely for this reason, the symbolic image that each culture proposes of the family contributes to its realization or weakening. Since the media is one of the determining factors of today’s culture, it’s extremely important to understand what picture of the family they put forth. As Montagu said, a culture is formed from the image it has of itself and changes as that image changes.

It’s evident that this third volume of the Family and Media collection doesn’t have a thematic unity. He who seeks one would be mistaken. It is nevertheless strung together by a single thread: the same thread that stimulates the entire research project, which is now extending to various countries with original contributions. In order to offer effective groundwork to family associations that promote a culture of the family, it is necessary to adequately study the media’s representation of the family. The authors of these essays are convinced that empirical studies shouldn’t be self-referential, or a mere excuse to improve the academic curriculum or obtain funding. These studies need to be at the service of families and those who represent them.


[1] La Porte, José María, y De Ascaniis, Silvia, “La comunicazione istituzionale nel Forum delle associazioni familiari (Italia)”, en Famiglia e Media, Roma, EDUSC, 2012, pp. 17-60.