The Media Made Me Do It

Episode One

Autumn leaves fall from the trees, seeking the last vestige of warmth from the ground. The crisp morning air signals the change of season. You rummage for your jeans, deciding that they will be the most suitable option for the day. One leg in-

Hold on, I don’t remember them being this tight?

Coming to the conclusion that your trusted Calvins must have shrunk in the dryer, you decide to weigh yourself…just in case. The scales creep up higher and higher, at least five kilos heavier than the last.

That’s not possible, the scales must be broken. That or they are lying to me.

 You turn around and you are faced with your motionless reflection, jeans in hand.

Maybe I have put on a little…

 Let’s take a moment to conceive the possibility that the constant consumption of foods high in saturated fats, preservatives and an endless list of additives are the culprits of this sudden weight increase. No, that would be too difficult. Let’s not hold ourselves accountable but let’s take the convenient route and blame the media.

Episode 2

You are in the kitchen preparing what you hope to be a delicious meal. Above the clutter of pots and pans you hear endless screams and cries coming from the living room. Rushing towards the commotion, you are confronted with two wrestling children on the floor, fists at the ready. In a moment, the taped up remote, a testimony to previous battles, is launched across the room, a missile fired and seeking to destroy. A smash, a bang, and a crash and your favored antique mirror is shattered to the floor.

In the background, violent images are streamed across the television. Instantaneously, you understand. It is clear to you that your children misbehaving are undeniably a result of what they have just viewed on television. Why else would they be acting in such an indecent manner? You shake your head, turn and walk away. Let’s just take the convenient route and blame the media.

As a fickle and easily influenced society, it is evident that there is an emergence of highly extensive social issues that affect us every day. Obesity and weight management, violence in the community, even recent anxieties regarding technology and consumerism have all been of high concern.

Every media form we are presented with inspires an anxiety about the negative effects that may result from them. People are readily blaming the media for social issues because they are not self critical and choose the convenience of holding mass media solely accountable. The notion of the effects model was developed by the Lumiere brothers from the desire to prove that media does have adverse affects on people in response to this.

As a body of thought, the effects model examines the “direct and reasonably predictable effects upon the behaviour of society by mass media.” It is interesting to note however that even after at least sixty years of research, results remain to be inconclusive. So I pose the question, is it the media we should be questioning, or society in general?

We are exposed to a diverse range of messages, and it is ultimately our discretion that discerns the way in which we act. The concept of people living and existing in front of a screen, as a result to readily accessible technology has been suggested to be the cause of rising obesity statistics. Ultimately, television makes you fat.

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The average person spends about 150 hours, watching television per month, not including time spent on phones, tablets, computers etc. Seemingly enough, not only does this result in a lack of physical activity, but leaves an individual exposed to specifically designed messages targeted at an audience for a long period of time. Advertisements and public information campaigns are scripted to change our attitude or behaviour and manipulate our decisions. Prolonged involvement in viewing programs “increases energy intake due to distraction from satiety cues.”- The Better The Story, The Bigger The Serving 

Essentially, an individual will blur lines between the real world and what is being shown on television after long exposure. They become immersed in what is being shown, and are transformed into a vulnerable product that is to be taken advantage of. People are eating without awareness that the ads were designed and essentially created to cause them to eat.

From a psychological standpoint, the manner in which you interpret the message has a significant effect on the interpretation of what is being said. We are all guilty of the pleasure of divulging into that tub of peanut butter ice cream during a Rom-Com, or happily reaching for packet of Tim Tams over a much healthier option. At the end of the day, it is one’s choice. Mass media is not at fault here, society is.

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The theory of causality on an evidently impressionable society must not go un-noticed. One of the issues with the media effects model is that there is no attempt to understand the media that is being shown. One would rather jump to conclusions, than to examine what is truly being said. The effects model rests on a base of ‘reductive assumptions and unjustified stereotypes’ regarding media content. Children portrayed as victims in regards to violent mass media have become some-what a controversial issue.

Alfred Bandura conceived a social learning theory that children develop through what they are exposed to, based on a behaviourist concept of human psychology. Children are impressionable, they mimic what they see.

In engagement of content analysis, George Gerbner concluded that adverse effects of mass media were only generated from an exposure to violence over a long period of time. Children’s cartoons were proven to be most particularly violent in response to handling conflicts, with the majority of offenders escaping retribution. What is this instilling in the younger generation?

It is true that the media desensitizes and cultivates certain attitudes. However, if children are exposed to a constant flow of violence and lack of discipline in their own homes it is inevitable that they will be unable to discern right from wrong. They will ultimately emulate the actions of their parents and act accordingly in any given situation.

It says here that televison is supposed to make you violent.'

I ask: are children born innocent and is it society that corrupts them? Or is violence cultivated when parents neglect their duties?

Research concludes that depictions of violence will promote anti-social behaviour, with the support of content analysis studies that incriminate the media. Biased in this degree, findings suggest that there are substantial risks from viewing violence. These studies are based on misapplied methodology and are selective in its criticisms. Not only are the studies conducted in artificial circumstances, but are limited to fictional production leaving new and factual programs exempt.

In essence, the media effects model is not grounded in theory. There is an endless list of underlying facets that are not examined. Perhaps, it has failed because there is no real evidence that mass media is the direct cause of these social anxieties. It is not primarily about the effects and behaviour of society but more or less the influence and perceptions we derive from them. Take responsibility for your actions; mass media is not to blame, but ourselves.

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6 thoughts on “The Media Made Me Do It

  1. Massive write-up! I agree 100% with your position on media effects, individuals and society in general need to take a minute and think about what’s going on and what they’re doing to themselves before placing blame on an easy culprit. Great post though, you seem to know your stuff when it comes to the effects of the media.

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  2. I loved the ‘episodes’. They had me thinking from the second that I started reading. However, my previous knowledge has lead my to believe something slightly different to yourself.

    I do believe that there is a tendency for our society to take the ‘easier option’ and blame the media as opposed to taking responsibility for their own actions. Like you, I believe that ultimately the choice to reach for the tim-tams was my own, and not the advertisement on my television screen. However, I feel that you have underestimated the effect that the media can have on a psychological level, and have not accounted for the idea of ‘conditioning’ in your analysis on media effects.

    Operant conditioning (google B.F Skinner to know more about this, he is referred to as the founder of this concept) refers to the relationship between stimulus, response and positive or negative reinforcement. This theory can be applied to media effects ten-fold. When we behave the way an advertisement wants us to, and receive positive reinforcement, we increase our chances of not only acting the same way again, but of also listening to what advertisements say again. This process also plays a large part in forming our base opinions of right and wrong, satisfactory or unsatisfactory, creating another cycle that makes our relationship with the media even more complicated.

    Obviously, at the end of the day we don’t need to eat the tim-tams, but the media can make it awfully difficult to derive the same amount of satisfaction and comfort from eating carrot sticks.

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  3. Pingback: Comments | A study of communication

  4. The episodic layout of this post is fantastic, it really brings it together and gets the reader thinking. Your arguments are well thought out and it makes a lot of sense. I agree with you, that the media is blamed for a lot of societies issues especially with children being the victim. Maybe more references at the end for clearer examples.

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  5. Firstly, I really enjoyed your narrative approach to this post. It made for a very interesting piece!

    I agree with your stance on media effects and your opinion that it is the easy way out to blame the media. I like your use of the words “desensitises and cultivates” in discussing the way media displays social anxieties. Although, ultimately, like you expressed, the decision to whether or not we will act the way we saw on TV (particularly in terms of violence) comes down to much more complex psychological foundations. Evidently, this is a little trickier when concerning children, as they are impressionable at young ages. However, I feel, the responsibility then should be placed on the parents to teach them how to absorb such content and not be directly affected by it.

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  6. I love the way you engage with your audience by setting out scenarios, it makes your writing much more inclusive and personally relatable. Initially I thought the persona that you assign to your audience had an unrealistic emphasis in regards to “blaming” media sources as the instigator of weight gain, which prompted me to do my own research. I found a paper in the “International Journal of Obesity”, which utilized a cross sectional survey to gain an insight into which factors people perceived to contribute most to childhood obesity.

    I found the results quite striking to say the least, in which the public consensus was that media influences were considered more substantial than parental. A particular statistic that stood out to me, was that 52% of those surveyed responded that “Media promotion of unhealthy foods” was considered extremely important in the cause of obesity, in contrast to only 19% for “Parents don’t know how to promote healthy eating”. The study was particularly geared towards obesity in primary school children, which makes this notion even more ridiculous. The vast majority of food choices for kids in this age bracket are made by the adult, either through direct meal prep, or indirectly, by carelessly handing over money for food at school canteens etc.

    Here’s the link to the study for anybody interested-
    http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v27/n12/full/0802463a.html

    The self-justifying exaggeration of media influence needs to be addressed before the root of the issues can actually be solved.

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