Community Media and Recurring Archetypal Roles

According to Carl Jung the roles that we play, as we live our lives in each of the unique social situations in which we are embedded, are an expression of archetypal psychic structures that have been collectively established over millennia. One of Jung’s many great insights was to recognise that, as people, we operate on many levels of consciousness. Some of these forms of consciousness are relevant to individual perceptions and feelings, while others are shared collectively, at much deeper and lower levels of group engagement. However, and in the modern age, the idea that we share an archetypal inheritance contradicts the dominant belief that we are sovereign and autonomous individual beings. Modern positivist-psychology, for example, proposes that we are capable of mastering an inbuilt capacity for reflexive mental processing, and that we only need to learn to conquer our ability to self-correct built-in biases and ‘bugs’ in our cognitive processing systems (Kahneman, 2012; Mcraney, 2012). With the right nudges, such as those advocated by behavioural sciences, for example, we are supposed to be able to act based on rational calculations of social and individual efficiency and competence (Thaler & Sunstein, 2009). However, and as Jung points out, “when many people gather together to share one common emotion, the total psyche emerging from the group is below the level of the individual psyche” (Jung, 1991, p. 125).  In other words, our individual psyche, according to Jung, is part of a much greater collective consciousness, and as such, has roots in our ancient and forgotten past. This collective consciousness continues to shape us in ways that we are not wilfully aware, nor which we are easily able to grasp, yet alone control.

It is uncontroversial to assert that we are called to play different roles in different social situations. These roles can be mapped according to the required persona that each situation demands, and in the various ways that we enter these situations. Who we are at home, who we are at work, or who we are at school, varies according to the requirements of each location. We are required to play out different roles as we interact with others who also play-out their different roles. This was Erving Goffman’s insight when he argued that, as individuals, we are compelled to act in accordance with a symmetrical communication process which “sets the stage for a kind of information game – a potentially infinite cycle of concealment, discovery, false revelation, and rediscovery.” According to Goffman, this game, as it is performed in modern society, is one in which each can “gain much by controlling it”(Goffman, 1990, p. 20). The fact that many people have problems living up to, or controlling a coherent sense of identity, is regrettable. Many are frequently marked as failures because we are seemingly unequipped to manage the psycho-technical systems required for a successful life in a globalised and information-driven world. It is rarely considered, however, that there might be something inherently wrong in the dominant psycho-systems as they are eulogised as effective regulators of our individual and social identity (Verhaeghe, 2014).

Jung’s remarkable insight was to recognise the role of the archetypal dimension in social role-playing. Jung insisted on the importance of the link between our social and our psychological functions and pre-dispositions. Jung connected the inner functions of our psyche with our cognitive processing, and asked, how it is that they interact with the external world? Jung asked this in terms of both how we engage with the world, through actions and behaviours that are empirically observable, and how we share and understand these ideas, feelings and concepts through shared symbolic communications and interactions. As established in earlier threads of this discussion, I’ve termed this process socialmeaning. It is a developmental process of actions and reflexes, instincts and imagination, which we might best understand in terms of mental cooperation between our perceptions of the outer, concrete world, and internally in relation to the inner, symbolic world. As Marie-Louise Von Franz, made clear, however,

“Jung to some extent took the opposite approach to that of the behaviourists, that is, he did not observe people from the outside, did not ask how we behave, how we greet one another, how we mate, how we take care of our young. Instead, he studied what we feel and what we fantasise while we are doing those things. For Jung, archetypes are not only elementary ideas, but just as much elementary feelings, elementary fantasies, elementary visions” (Franz, 2001, p. 6).

Jung’s genius was in being able to describe the multiple dimensions of our psyche. Dimensions that are relative to one another, and which through the process of interaction are able to inform the many ways in which we may act or respond in different circumstances. We do not simply respond to stimuli, in the reductive psycho-social sense, but are meaning creators in the collaborative and collective sense.

Jung’s criteria for psychological types has enabled us to understand subtle differences in individual motivation and disposition to the world. Jung’s types have entered the popular vernacular, and have enabled us to understand in what way that we each comprehended or experienced the world, either internally or externally (Jung, 2017). In Jung’s view, while the individual can be defined and understood in relation to individual psychic predisposition, such as introversion and extraversion, concrete and abstract, feeling and sensing, and so on, there are a host of other factors that also need to be accounted for when determining what leads to a meaningful existence. The model of personality predisposition has been taken-up in contemporary psychology, in the form of the Myers-Briggs personality typologies and many popular variants (Briggs-Myers et al., 2003; Keirsey, 1998). In Jungian terms, however, we should be weary of reducing people and their complexities to simple scorecards of differences. Our psychic process are not reducible to calculations in interacting elements as defined in an algorithm.

We should aim, instead, for a balanced and democratic view of all the components of the psyche as they emerge and interact in a journey or movement towards individuation and wholeness. This balanced view of psychological development accommodates all the relevant elements of the psyche, not just those that are most easily understood or addressed. In Jungian terms this includes the persona, the self, the anima/animus, the shadow and so on. As individuals we are an expression of many interacting complexes that are in play at any one time. Some are the result or external forces, others are the result of internal forces. The challenge is to understand how they operate, what principles are driving them, and what archetypal patterns they are informed by.

That said, then, Jung was keenly aware that the individual construction of our psyche should not be through as playing out in a neutral social space. We are not a tabula rasa when we are born, rather, carry with us and are we are expected to conform to patterns of behaviour that are associated with stages or periods of life. At one stage we are children, and thereby play the role of the child. At another stage many are mothers or fathers, and many play the role of mothers or fathers. Similarly, some will become teachers, and others will become enforcers of rules. According to Jung, these roles are seldom determined in isolated practice by isolated individuals, but are an expression of collective understandings of roles within our social milieu, whereby we are often “precipitately thrust into an ancestral role” (Jung, 1991, p. 124).

As described earlier in this thread, socialmeaning is a process of descriptive framing that helps us shift between different models and theories of social interaction. This includes social roles. The function and definition of established or emergent roles within the field of socialmeaning can help us to clarify what it means to engage in many different social situations, not just in theory but also in practice. Richard Crisp points out that, “social acceptance and the need to belong,” for example, are “adaptive mechanisms, fundamental for survival and reproduction throughout human history” (Crisp, 2015, p. 73). The reason that we give credence to archetypal roles in society, is that they bring acceptance and a sense of belonging. People know what we do and what we are about if we are shaped by and characterised by social roles. We seek to fit not only with prescribed actions and behaviours, but also with established mythic patterns, categories and stories of experience. Roles, from a mythological point of view, help us to understand how the concrete and the symbolic nature of those roles are interlinked and related. As Jung describes, in his experience

“The conscience mind can claim only a relatively central position and must accept the fact that the unconscious psyche transcends and as it were surrounds it on all sides. Unconscious contents connect it backwards with physiological states on the one hand and archetypal data on the other. But it is extended forwards by intuitions which are determined partly by archetypes and partly by subliminal perceptions depending on the relativity of time and space in the unconscious” (Jung, 1968, p. 110).

And this is no less true of the roles that we enact as it is for other forms of social engagement that we undertake.

According to Vivien Burr, “the notion of ‘personality’ is one which is so firmly embedded in our thinking in contemporary western society that we hardly, if ever, question it” (Burr, 1995, p. 17). In the same way the role and form of personality within the media milieu is seldom questioned. In our media landscape personality is generally accepted and viewed as an essential requirement of mainstream broadcast programming which is anchored around certain types of individuals, with certain types of personalities. For other functions within the media production process, such as management, writing and the essential craft skills of programme making, personality is a less important, and might even be viewed as a hindrance because it leads to clashes between conflicting personalities. For successful models of presentation, however, personality is the mysterious elixir that producers and programme managers seek in certain, well-chosen individuals. These producers know that a strong and well define personality gives audiences something they can identify with. A successful presenter is said to be gifted with a personality that is right for the particular market segment that has been identified as commercially relevant.

The success of a whole series of programmes, and their associated products, can be dependent on the ‘chemistry’ between presenters and their subject matter. Presenters are used to anchor listeners and viewers so that they can expect to return and revisit the programme because they identify something in the tone and the style of the presenter. Something mysterious that nevertheless says something about who these listeners or viewers are, and what their lives are about. In the alchemical process of ‘talent management’ there must be a coherent fit between presenter and audience. This fit has to bring together the topic of concern, the level of seriousness or frivolousness in the way the topic is dealt with, which is carried by the personal style of the presenter, who must be able to bring authority over the topic, or alternatively to entertain and amuse as required if topic mastery is not an issue.

In most respects, and in terms of our contemporary media systems, personality is generally accounted for solely as a function of presentation and audience development. Personality is considered as a mysterious aura that is held by a few lucky individuals who are able to use their God-given gifts to hold an audience, while others, who never quite ‘fit’ with the expectations of the listeners and viewers, or who are framed poorly in the marketing communications, are readily dismissed, never hitting the big time and the fame and glory that follows. Inflated salaries, commercial success, infamy and prestige are all tied with the ability of the individual who is charged with being the presenter, who must hold a ‘conversation’ and build a ‘dialogue’ with their viewers and listeners. The ratings of popular radio presenters, for example, are followed intensely. These rating chart the success of a programme, it’s failures, it’s position in the zeitgeist, along with programmes popular value in the public discourse. Millions of listeners, millions of pounds, and large amounts of professional credibility are bound with the quarterly reported RAJAR audience figures.

A large part of the success of a programme is ascribed to the personality of the programmes host. Agents and producers seek to align the personality of one presenter with the requirements of the product being sold. We know from experience, that the right face aligned with the right product can boost sales. Visit a department store and seek out the kitchen products that are adorned with photographs and endorsements from celebrity chefs. Adding the right public face to the right product can change the market viability of a product line, despite it serving no obvious practical function. Likewise, slight movements in the market for listeners and viewers are poured over with the same attention to detail as prognosticators and soothsayers would as they seek to determine the trends and future flows of audience attention. It’s as if the gods themselves persist in directing the movements of the starts and planets, and all we must do is learn to read the signs of their fateful intent.

Personality development, then, is a common expectation for anyone wishing to engage with media, and who wishes at some point to step into the public domain and articulate something to an audience. For example, a presenter of programmes on popular format-driven radio stations will be expected to demonstrate a familiarity with seemingly universal basic skills and capabilities:

  • “Good clear voice with excellent tone and modulation
  • Great communication skills and creativity to interact with listeners
  • Knowledgeable on current affairs, news issues and social trends
  • Creative thinking, to be able to think of new ideas or topics for show
  • Able to improvise and think ‘on the spot’
  • Ability to develop their own personal style
  • A good sense of humour”

Moreover, and even at the most basic level of mimesis, as a copy of the prevailing cultural trends and expectations, the focus of presentational development is imbued with performance characteristics that are deeply ingrained, and therefore difficult to shake-off or eschew. Take for example the advice that is given to new programme makers and presenters in community radio. The advice for presenters given in the Community Radio Toolkit suggests that:

“It is your task to ensure that this programming is as entertaining, fascinating and useful as possible to try to keep your listeners switched on and tuned in from morning to night. Try to avoid creating ‘switch-off’ points when your scheduling lurches suddenly from mainstream pop radio to death metal hour or a serious political debate (a station broadcasting in one main language would find the same effect by switching languages). Your scheduling should flow naturally and smoothly through the day and the week” (Fogg et al., 2005).

The function and task of the presenter, then, is to regulate the flow of information, in a way that will elicit recognition and identification from the audient. This process aims to confirm that what listener or viewer is engaging with is relevant to them. The presenter’s role is to secure a fit between their personal, worldly social experience, expectations and aspirations, and those of their listeners and viewers. The presenter mediates experience by offering insight into life’s mysteries, however mundane, however parochial. The repetition of scripted callouts and links, with the incantation of regular phrases, features and homilies, are all part of the regulating pattern and flow that the presenter, acting in a priest-like manner, uses to shepherd their flock.

Moreover, presenters are assumed to have a mythical status in the absence of tangible and available gods and deities. Where once gods and deities formed part of our regular daily social experience, defining the flow of daily life in Rome and Athens for example, we are now, in our postmodern and globalised society, left in a state of limbo. A limbo where the absence of the symbolic, or the numinous, leaves us living an unrooted life (Otto, 1958). According to Arnold Toynbee, the resort to “esotericism is a symptom of failure” (Toynbee, 1946, p. 303), because it leads to a lopsidedness as a result of loss of creative leadership. Empty incantations by either priests or presenters, as they are measured by their performative congruity, are not the way to assess the vitality of our culture.

For Jung, then, the challenge is to look inward, and to try to identify the constituents of our inner consciousness, both individual and collective. As Jung states, the “forms or images of a collective nature which occur practically all over the earth as constituents of myths and at the same time as individual products of unconscious origin” (Jung, 2014). And it is towards this mythical and archetypal structuring that we might usefully now turn our attention in thinking about community media and its role. If we adapting the words of Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson, we can note that “archetypes mediate between [presenters] and [listeners] motivation by providing an intangible experience of meaning” (Mark et al., 2001, p. 17). Rather that spending time categorising and differentiating the criteria of community media, such as presentation, we might usefully add an additional dimension that considers the symbolic framework that it is informed by and related to, and on which we are dependent for precedent archetypal groundings.







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