How much of our media experience is shaped by the profit motive of media conglomerates? How much do we have freedom and power as members of an increasingly fragmented media audience? How do music, television and social media influence what we understand about friendship, fun, political events, democracy, globalization and even our own selves? This book teaches students how to ask critical questions of the media, and gives them the analytical tools to answer those questions. Students will gain a rich understanding of how the media play a role in society, both in giving pleasures and creating power relationships. Equipping students to become critical thinkers, Understanding the Media: * teaches the theoretical foundations and key concepts students need to get started on their own media studies * shows the 'how to' with guided exercises and reflections * improves essay writing with a guide to the research literature * helps students take learning further with guided free online readings * brings concepts to life with examples and case studies on everything from Harry Potter and Big Brother to the Occupy movement.This is an essential guide to the how and why of understanding the media, perfect for students in media studies, sociology, cultural studies and communication studies.