Morality Subcultures and Media Production: How Hollywood Minds the Morals of Its Audience

Dana Mastro, Marisa Enriquez, Nicholas David Bowman, Sujay Prabhu, Ron Tamborini

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter


Concerns about the media’s antisocial influence on morality have been a focus since the earliest days of media research (Forman, 1935; Wertham, 1954). Politicians, social critics, media producers, and scholars alike have debated the potential decay in moral values attributable to media exposure. More recent research has taken a different perspective; looking instead at the role of morality in the psychological processes associated with media enjoyment (Zillmann, 2000). Although the nature of morality has been disputed (including questions about the conscious versus automatic nature of morality), emerging research supports an understanding founded in both deliberative thought and intuitive reflex (Cushman, Young, & Hauser, 2006; see also Hartmann, this volume). The conceptualization of morality as an intuitive response is in line with recent media entertainment theorizing, which suggests that intuitions often determine the enjoyment of media content (Knobloch & Zillmann, 2002; Tamborini, Bowman, Eden, Grizzard, & Organ, 2010). According to this logic, moral intuitions are responsible for the development of stable, habitual audience preferences for certain content over others; in response, media producers create content tailored to satisfy these preferences. Although the relationship between moral intuitions and enjoyment has been supported empirically (Tamborini, Eden, Bowman, Grizzard, & Lachlan, in press; Tamborini, Eden, Bowman, Grizzard, & Weber, 2009), the broader implications for media production have not been explored. To address this gap, the model of intuitive morality and exemplars (MIME; Tamborini, 2011; this volume) integrates the micro-level influence of moral intuitions on enjoyment with a macro-level discussion of their influence on media production. In so doing, the model offers a foundation for understanding how various audience subcultures (defined and distinguished by their shared sense of morality) both influence the production of media fare and are influenced by exposure to it. The present chapter tests and advances the components of this framework by examining the influence of audience subcultures on production. The chapter is organized into four parts: In the first section, the MIME is introduced with special attention paid to its macro-level media production implications. The second section discusses how media preferences-a central component to understanding media production-can be determined by shared audience needs and desires. In this section, we additionally address the role of morality in shaping and defining these audience subcultures. Here, we also describe how the MIME integrates these morality-based subcultures into its macro-level explanations of media production. The third section of the chapter presents empirical evidence in support of the MIME’s macro-level explanations, tested via two content analytic studies of media produced for distinct audience subcultures. The fourth and final section of the chapter suggests other areas of media research that could benefit from using the model to understand patterns of media content and preferences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMedia and the Moral Mind
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781136460272
ISBN (Print)9780415506359
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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