OK, let’s get something out in the open before we even begin to delve into theory: I do not think Angela did anything super exciting this episode. In fact, I don’t even think she had a good week in terms of strategy; she definitely had a good week in terms of eating disgusting stuff, though.
But the strategy she employed last episode is something we often see in Survivor: A contestant runs around camp spreading gossip with the hope it influences what people think about. If you noticed, Angela never told anyone who to vote out; essentially, she never told anybody how to think about something, but rather what to think about.
And that brings us to, literally, the most famous—and more than likely widely used over the years—theory in mass communication research: agenda-setting theory.
I’ve mentioned it many times in this space before, but my field—mass communication—is a relatively new one in academia. Most schools of mass communication or journalism, which incorporates types of strategic communication such as advertising and public relations, began popping up in the early 20th century. And even today, most people in my field actually study media using the theories and methodologies of another discipline. For example, as you all know, I’m essentially a sociologist who happens to study journalism practice. Other folks study media effects through psychological theory and method. And there are many other examples.
What I’m getting at is that this field features very few original theories, ones completely germane to mass communication. But agenda-setting theory is different. It’s relatively recent, hugely influential and from the world of mass comm. Through the seminal work by a couple of University of North Carolina scholars, the theory came to be popular in the early 1970s. But, you know, many people trace the idea back to the great Walter Lippmann.
When people first started studying the effects of media—really newspapers and radio—at the beginning of the 20th century, the first researchers believed that media had direct effects on people. Basically, they sort of believed that if you read something in a newspaper, for example, you’d believe it. Of course, this isn’t true. Hence why agenda setting became so impactful.
The basic, most underlying idea of agenda-setting theory is that the media doesn’t tell us how to think, but what to think about. The early studies basically examined what the media wrote about through an analysis of local newspaper stories, in North Carolina, around the time of an election, but then they also surveyed the people of that local community to find out what issues were most important to them. Essentially, the researchers found that people with all different types of ideologies and opinions had, basically, the same important issues on their mind and, here’s the main thing, those were the same issues the local media discussed most.
Therefore, the media sets the agenda for the pubic, but doesn’t tell them what to feel about the agenda. Obviously, this theory has been updated and complicated numerous times over throughout time and with new technologies.
But the general idea fits with Survivor and, specifically, Angela this week. She knew enough to not run around and tell people how to vote, but by dropping all those comments about Michael, she was attempting to put Michael on everyone’s mind. None of it mattered, but Angela really wanted to enact agenda setting without knowing it.
OK, no more theory. So here’s where I think everyone stands right now:
And that’s it for another week. Let’s talk again after this coming episode. And let’s hope this season continues its run strong post-merge episodes.
Pat Ferrucci started watching Survivor when episode two of Borneo first aired. He's seen every episode since. Besides recapping here, he'll be live-tweeting this season from the Mountain Time Zone. Why? Because nobody cares about the Mountain Time Zone except when they want to ski. Follow him @PatFerrucci for Survivor stuff and tweets about anything and everything that enters his feeble mind.