Political economy focuses on power and the power of distribution as well as media consumption. From the essential reading of Adventures in Media and Cultural Studies by Durham and Kellner (2006), political economy has altered the way we define our political economy today since Friedrich Engels (1877) defined political economy as a “Historical science study that deals with material which is historical, that is, constantly changing.”
Karl Max (1818-1883) capital theory of the superstructure and base has helped us understand our contemporary culture. We are able to view how our cultural capital (superstructure maintains the means of media production and how the base (which is dominant) shapes our ideologies. One approach that must be critically analysed is the class and cultural consumption focusing on the ownership and power of contribution as well as audience consumption on media production.
A Canadian communication researcher, Dallas Smythe introduced the theory of political economy on media consumption but with a critical twist; analysing the audience commodity and advertising. He stated, that the role of the audiences consuming the media allows to “exchange value” (p. 199) This introduces the idea of digital labor in which audiences are employed to input their own knowledge and personalities. Therefore the audience commodity of working class power are exploited for profit towards the ownership of the media consumption.
We can say that new forms of labor on the self are brought into being. Digital labor i.e. digital advertising enables the media to sell audiences to the advertisers by volunteering to help benefit the organisation. However, Smythe criticises this as “unpaid work in the service of the advertising industry” because the unequal power of audiences commodity are looked down upon on. A contemporary example of this is social media i.e. Facebook has asked the users to translate its site into other languages. This is because the social media platform will benefit everyone the world economically by exchanging goods as the audiences are also exposed to target advertising online.
Critics may point out that Facebook just wanted free labor so that the profit will benefit and be able to control the media production as a whole. State capitalism are a capitalist in which the government controls the economic system and takes ownership in some part of business. For example, social media surveillance of our personal data being sold to advertisers online by having access to the things we search for either online and offline. This applies to how we are sold to advertisers through social media advertisements without our content or knowledge.
In Marx approach, ideology are going through a class-struggle for power. Indeed, we can agree to what Smythe illustrated based on how through ideology has helped us shape the media. We cannot participate in political economy without considering values, beliefs produced and consumed by media. Yet labor time is still a challenging and analytical concept that constraints producers to economise on labor towards cultural reproduction through class consumption in media production as a critical twist.