The two approaches to understanding mass media and culture are the functional and critical theory. I will be examining a piece of media that operates under the functional duty. The functionalist approach refers to how culture “functions” or how it is used in society, such that it unifies people on shared interests and forms a community. As functionalist scholar Emile Drukheim states, the functionalist theory notes that culture is composed of “shared symbols and images, imagined boundaries separating the sacred from the profane, and rituals that help participants generate [a shared sense of identity],” which holds society together (Grazian, 27).
A form of mass media that displays a functional duty is Netflix. Netflix is one of the most popular video streaming services and it has an extensive audience. Their services appeal to many interests, and it can be argued that they appeal to the “lowest common denominator” for meeting a wide array of interests amongst audiences. Netflix is known for distributing well-liked movies and TV shows, thus making them a distributor of popular culture. As we’ve learned, mass media are the channels of communication that distribute popular culture to members of society. Therefore, Netflix is a form of mass media because it has the ability to reach the masses of society.
Netflix displays a functional duty for its ability to unify a large audience with shared “symbols, rituals, and practices surrounding it’s production and consumption,” such that the audience feels a sense of social solidarity (Grazian, 27). As mentioned earlier, Netflix is an aggregate for pieces of popular culture. Popular culture is well-liked and is created by and for the mass people of society. Audiences of popular culture therefore have shared interests, in this case for example, they share an interest in a TV show or movie on Netflix. Their shared interests of the popular culture brings them together and unifies them on a commonality, showing how this mass media platform has a functional duty.
An example of how it displays the functional duty can be seen with the popular show The Outer Banks. The Outer Banks is a TV show on Netflix and is considered to be a piece of popular culture because it is well-liked by a large audience. Once the show gained popularity, fans expressed their liking towards it on social media and would talk about it with their friends. In doing so, they discuss the plot, characters, symbols in the show etc. Those who hadn’t seen the show wouldn’t understand the references, thus showing how a community and "collective effervescence," or shared sense of identity, was formed around the liking of this show. This is considered to represent the functional duty because the common symbol of the show and the ritual of watching it, unified the fan base over something they share in common. This example shows how pieces of popular culture, like The Outer Banks, function to bring people together.
Something unique about this show is that it is produced by Netflix, as opposed to some shows that air on separate networks and then are later streamed by Netflix. Having a popular Netflix original show like The Outer Banks, then brings a returning following base to the Netflix platform. This creates a community of Netflix watchers who perform a shared ritual of opting to watch shows on Netflix rather than on live TV. This show is just one example of how Netflix functions to bring people together on their shared interests. The various other shows and movies on Netflix function in the same way by bringing different audiences together who share a common liking towards a particular show or movie.
Netflix is a form of mass media that displays the functional duty because it is a platform that reaches a mass audience, and its production of popular culture functions to unify groups based on shared interests. An interesting aspect of Netflix is that it can also be argued to represent the critical duty because of how financially successful the company is, which demonstrates that many types of mass media often represent both the functional and critical duties. Regardless of the economic motive Netflix has, it is evident that the popular culture it produces clearly unifies people and forms communities of shared interests, thus proving its functional duty.