“Art no longer imitates life but life now imitates art.” Many times I make this statement to illuminate the media’s role in our society’s culture. Heath and Gilbert suggest the same thing by saying, “…television no longer reflects culture, but rather the central cultural arm of American society.” (Sgarzi and McDevitt, 2003). Newspapers, television, ipods with podcasting, iTV, cable television and radio, the film industry, and video games all bombard our auditory and visual receptors. With easy access to our senses how does this affect our views on race, class, the societal glues and our abilities to THINK? The truth is that it can have a positive or negative affect depending on how the tools are used. For example, although television has always been a place for the commercial market originally many thought it could be a tool that would bring the family together and unite the country through the unified display of entertainment. This idea may sound a bit out of place now but in the earlier part of the twentieth century the average home only had one television where it was more centralized to the family. That is a big difference compared to today’s average of three per home (Schwartz, 1999). Unfortunately the media bringing the family together as a unit disappeared long ago. Statistics show that by age 18 American children will have seen 200,000 acts of violence and that children watch television three to four hours a day. This does not include the hours spent between children and adults with video game playing (Sgarzi and McDevitt, 2003). Many video games in which the player is rewarded for shooting people including neighbors, police officers, and military personnel can take anywhere from 10 to 50 hours to complete. In videogames players are rewarded over and over again during this time. Understanding Skinners theories of conditioning we can see where certain behaviors could possibly be learned by this process over time. Many say that too much censorship would be in violation of our constitutional rights. The truth is that long ago the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) instituted many policies to protect the well being of those viewing. In the early 80’s the major networks ABC, NBC, CBS sold much of their controlling interest to major conglomerates. The FCC became weakened and these networks that once focused on news and appropriate children viewing became more commercial orientated (Schwartz, 1999).
Violence is not only in our recreation but abundantly available in our news. 10% of network television news, 19% of local television news, and 18% of the front pages of newspapers have some topic dealing with crime and criminal justice (Rubark and Thompson, 2001). The next question could be why is this news worthy? A common motto amongst journalist is, “If it bleeds it leads”. Violence is a money maker because it attracts viewers it wins political campaigns. In 1992 Mayor Giuliani of New York focused a major portion of his campaign on his success of fighting crime. Mayor Newsom of San Francisco has a huge plan to turn around the Tenderloin district an area of the city that has been historically plagued with problems. He says he wants to achieve what Giuliani has with New York. Information presented by the UCR (Uniform Crime Reports) correlate with these findings. Homicide rate of the 90’s went down by 13% but crime was the leading television coverage. Since then violent crime rates have continued to lower.
All of these issues present several possible consequences to the socialization of our society. They present the seemingly ominous presence of crime which resulting in the population being infected with fear. However many psychologist believe that the over exposure to crime and violence will also desensitize people to these behaviors. As citizens become more desensitized and uncaring to major criminal issues other societal concerns also become less interesting. Individuals isolate themselves more in front of the medium of their choosing. Those mediums provide all the information the person needs, so they think, to get them through the day. The family unit disintegrates and people are no longer in control of the media as a tool and the roles reverse. Researchers over the past 25 to 30 years have come to these conclusions as the possible harmful effects our media can bring to our society.
From my own observations I have seen what I consider to be the consequences of people being victims of the media. In one case while I was enjoying dinner out at a restaurant a family of three, a mother, father, and baby were eating their dinner. While the mother and father were talking to each other they had a DVD player in front of the child with a movie playing. They did not talk to the child or incorporate the child into there social event the entire time. In another scenario, while I was once again eating out, I observed a mother and her son. He was a young teenager. They were sitting across from each other at a table next to mine. The son had the earphones to his cell phone in his ears while he played his Playstation Portable (PSP). From time to time he would press pause on his game to answer what appeared to be a text message on his phone. Meanwhile the mother was talking on her cell phone. This continued even after their meal came to the table and up until the time they left. They did not converse with one another the entire time. It is as though we have been transformed into a society that needs constant bombardment by various forms of media. Less than ten years ago before a movie started in the theater the lights would be low and there would be silence. Slowly theaters incorporated advertisements through the use of slides. Now we have full commercials before and during the trailers. Many times during these moments before the movie I notice people playing their Nintendo Gameboys and PSPs. When I used to tutor children in high school I found it very annoying when they would text message one another in class. But, I found it even more disturbing that once class was over, and they could talk, they would not converse with the person they just text messaged. Instead they would leave sometimes never acknowledging the person they were just messaging.
The examples of how the media affects our societal glues abound. It seems that one possible solution to repair the dissolution of this glue would be for us to become more media literate and better critical thinkers. The family is the first institute in which most people can learn these behaviors. As Erik Erikson (1950) points, home is where infants begin to learn whether those in the environment can be trusted, whether they themselves are capable of independent action, how much they can question and explore, and how similar to or different from their peers they are in a variety of ways. However in many cases children may be without family but they are still apart of a society. Who will help then?
“If we do not change our ways, our behavior will destroy us. When the time comes that host and guest no longer act hospitably, when friend argues with friend and brothers are enemies, when children and their parents cannot agree with each other, when grown children forget what their parents have done for them and instead treat them with disrespect and dishonor, criticizing them and complaining bitterly because they have grown old and weak, when people who keep their word or are just or virtuous receive less respect than those who use their strength for violent and evil purposes, when those who are evil hurt those who are honorable, then Zeus will destroy our Iron Race.” (Hesiod, translated by Athanassakis, John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1983) I quote the Greek poet Hesiod because the picture he paints of his late 8th century B.C. society could in many ways be compared to today. Obviously our form of media was not apart of the problem they were having none the less problems they did have seemed to be very similar to the ones we have today. The societal glues for many great societies have been challenged. As history has shown us they find a balance that works and they continue to prosper for considerable time but when the societal glues dissolve a chain reaction of events occur and the society dissolves along with it. So in our case although the common citizen being a victim to the media has been my focal point there are many relative factors. The challenge will be what we can do to balance those factors properly so that we can continue to prosper as a society.