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Family and Media. Family Associations and Communication

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Edited by Norberto González Gaitano and José María La Porte. Original Title: Famiglia e media. Associazioni familiari e comunicazione. Edusc, Rome 2011, 13.50 Euro.

The second volume of the series Family and Means of Communications has been just published. The series is the fruit of the research project Family and Media, an international initiative carried out by various departments of Italian, Swiss, Spanish, Argentinean, and Chilean universities.

 The most important feature of this second volume is, without a doubt, the first chapter, which contains an in-depth, detailed analysis on the communication of family associations in Italy. The research was carried out by professors José María La Porte (Pontifical University of the Holy Cross) and Silvia de Ascaniis (Università della Svizzera Italiana of Lugano). The Forum for Family Associations commissioned the study to the Family and Media research team. It was conducted from June 2008 to June 2010, on a sample representative of 31 associations that belong to the Forum. The study offers the results as well as recommendations to improve the effectiveness of these associations’ public action.

The research focused on the image that the family wants to offer of itself as an alternative to the image put forth by mainstream culture, especially by certain chief media in the public sphere. The main goal of the study was subdivided into intermediate objectives. At the descriptive level, the study outlined a map of Italian family associations at the national level, in order to obtain a precise panorama of their presence, their activity, and their goals in association to Italy. The strategic goal, on the other hand, aimed at identifying and analyzing the communication strategies of the associations, in order to formulate a proposal and suggest ways to improve the efficacy of their role in society. The strategic goal is linked to another more implicit goal that aims to sensitize the associations themselves on the importance of having a structured communication plan. In fact, the study confirmed the initial suspicions that few associations base their activity on a promotional plan, following a precise strategy, and that the organization and direct communication to their own associates are dedicated to purely informative channels, without a planned structure. The questions of the survey, integrated into an exhaustive interview with the directors of the associations, were intended to sensitize the interviewees on the need to develop internal and external communication strategies for their own organizations.

The second chapter , now updated and translated into Italian, includes the by Norberto González Gaitano at the 6th International Family Day held in Mexico, on January, 2009. The conference Family and Means of Social Communication, which had an important echo in the international press, especially Spanish media, is now updated and translated into Italian. The document maintains the oral tone from the lecture and presents updated data.

The following study by Teresa Téramo, professor at the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), had two clearly defined objectives. 1. how the image of the family- and at the same time that of the woman- is conveyed by Argentinean television programs during prime time. 2. Present a method of analysis designed not only to describe, but also to quantify the positive and negative evaluations relative to the representation of the family and of family ties through the television.

Fortunately, the studies on the representation of the family in television are always increasing in number. The originality of this study consists in its methodological novelty, manifested in two dimensions: the unit of analysis and the content analyzed.

Téramo considers the scene to be the primary element of analysis because, as she well argues, “this is the basic unit of the audiovisual language, just as speech is the basic unit for verbal language. Each scene is inserted into a unit of time, place and action. The scene varies when one of the five constitutive elements vary- character, timing, place, action or narrator. In this way, each part of the program can be subdivided into scenes. We also must remember that the script is divided by units of scenes.”

Regarding the content analyzed or the fields of analysis covered in the study, the three dimensions of family relationships are the primary aspects taken into consideration: the action (what), the expression (how), and the main characters (who, which ones, their actions and the causes). Namely, these are the passions that move the actors, their personal characteristics and reasons for their actions that determine the level of their importance and involvement in the story.

It is not hard to guess that the Téramo’s study is based on Aristotle’s Poetics premises. The fiction, as the author reminds us, is a representation of human action, mimesis. It consequently has two functions: to reveal truth (to make known), and to allow the viewer an internal liberation that acts as a vent for the moral needs (catarsis). In other words, it is a form of knowledge. Therefore, “fiction is a type of reality- even before being fiction- that embodies a certain morality.”

As García-Noblejas has repeatedly affirmed: “That which is perceived in films and in television programs can be understood as a representation of actions and human habits, with its kit of sentiments. Or said in other words, it is the measure of the appreciation of the meaning of life that is given by viewers in general terms of more or less conscious values, virtues and vices.”

The corollary of this chapter is evident: viewers are either educated or mislead through popular fiction.

The next chapter is written by Luciano Elizalde, member of the National Council of Scientific Research and Technology in Argentina (CONICET), and professor of Social Analysis at the Austral University.

His contribution to this book is a synthesis of some previous studies aimed at “knowing more about how the figure of the family has evolved in the television process of exposition, use, consumption, and reception among children, in the context of Argentinean society. Following the theoretical hypothesis of this study, it would not be possible to understand how and in what measure television influences childhood if you do not study television consumption within the historical process of the development and evolution of the family as well as of television itself, since both are defined as social institutions”.

The author reminds us that the television and its effects on the family have not always been the same throughout the history of the relationship between family and television. “This happens, above all, because it has not been possible to find only one family or only one television during the last sixty years. On the contrary, the “portrayal” or the social organization of the television and of the family has been changing due to, among other reasons, the effect of the change generated by the relationships between both institutions. That does not mean however, that the relationship between television and family has always been the only source of transformation of these institutions. There are exogenous factors that modify their behavior patterns, their decisions and their processes of cognition and communication used”.

Elizalde begins his analysis by telling real life stories that illustrate how young people between 18 and 25 and professionals (journalists, historians, sociologists, politicians, economist, etc.) use television. Together, these stories offer an insight into the evolution of the general historical context of the country and of television in particular, as a cultural industry. Elizalde offers a rigorous and detailed outline of the phases of television in relation to the Argentinean family that, besides the historical differences, find many similarities with other studies carried out in different countries in the West, such as those done by Casetti and Aroldi in Italy.

Elizalde presents the results of this research on the family-television relationship within the frame of “a theory of reception as the process of distancing”, as he himself defines it.

The fifth and last chapter, written by Alfredo García Luarte, journalist and professor of Journalism at the Catholic University of the Holy Conception (Chile), studies the representation of the Chilean family in two leading national papers, El Mercurio and La Tercera.

As the author affirms, “explicitly or implicitly, the journalistic texts are contextualized within a definite argument and framework, from which the information is structured in a way that transmits ideas and concepts differently to a public that more often than not, is unaware of it”.

Using an inductive-deductive approach, Alfredo García pinpoints the anthropological values present in the journalistic texts relative to the family and the relationships that consequently derived. He draws upon the frames that are explicit in the narrative organization of the news article and that respond to conventional journalistic practices. Then he identifies the arguments or common places (topoi) that deal with the journalistic texts and relate to the fundamental elements of sociability, or social virtues.

Alfredo García’s valuable contribution has been the validation of journalistic texts, for the first time, in an analytical approach proposed by the research project Family and Media.

We call to mind a quote from Montagu that relates to this appealing book: “men and societies are made according to the image they have of themselves, and these change according to the image of their own development.” Certainly this book will inspire he who, having received the legacy of a better image of a family, works to introduce and incarnate this model into the culture for the good of society. 

 

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