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Dangers of American Socialization

An excellent paper 2 example by Dawn Duran.

Socialization is the process by which people learn the expectations of society (Andersen 83). In the past most socialization occurred within the family unit. We passed on our values, morals and beliefs to our children through daily interaction. As adults we received validation from our families and peers. In today's world we receive our socialization from many areas of society. In addition to the social institution of the family we receive socialization from school, the media, religion and peers. In American society the focus is put on individualism as opposed to collectivism as is done in so called "primitive societies." Our individualistic approach dictates that some must fail in order for others to succeed. In a collectivism society when everyone succeeds it serves the whole community (Wolf lecture 2/12/08).

We start being socialized from the day we are born. We learn from a very early age what is expected of us and where our place in society is. You can watch a young child start to imitate the adults in their life they start to develop there sense of self by receiving positive or negative reinforcement from the world around them.

Young girls watch their mothers and learn what it is to be a woman. You can watch a young girl imitate their mother, putting on makeup pretending to cook playing dress-up and so on. Through this imitation the girl internalizes what she sees as her role in society. But what happens to the child when the image that society presents to her doesn't fit what she sees in the mirror or at home? American children ages 8-19 spend 6 ¾ hours per day using or watching media in one form or another (Andersen 86). What does this young girl see in the media? Most shows on TV portray the American family as what we consider the typical family, Mom, Dad and 2.5 kids but increasingly this is not what children experience at home. The ads on TV portray women as slim, attractive, stress free super women. Usually this is not real life. Increasingly children come from single family homes often splitting their time between two homes. The images they see on TV of what it means to be a woman is not a realistic portrayal of their Mom.

So what happens when the images we see every day disagree with who we are? We internalize what we see. The ads and shows we watch let us know that we are not ok. They infer we will not be ok unless we look, act, or feel a certain way. And to look, act, and feel the way we should we need to buy this or that product. If we cannot afford to buy whatever it is we will not be ok.

It's not only the media that tells us we are not ok we receive this message from lots of different social institutions. Even the school system is guilty of letting kids know they are not ok. Boys receive more attention in classrooms than do girls. Working-class and poor children are perceived as not as smart as middle and upper class children (Andersen 90). Conflicting signals we receive result in role strain; we are confused about who we are and where our place in society is.

We can look at what has happened in Ladakh as a microcosm of what happens in our own society. Up until 1962 the Ladakhis experienced socialization through their immediate family members and the community in which they were a part of (Norberg). Every one had their place in the community and each person was valued on what they could contribute to the community as a whole. According to Helena Norberg-Hodge who lived and observed this community for a number of years these were a very happy, productive, serene people. I believe that this sense of contentment that they felt came from knowing what their place was within their society and knowing that what they could contribute was valued. The internalized the values of working together as a community, to being loyal to neighbors, friends and family. Their sense of self was not based on some unattainable ideal seen on a TV or in a magazine.

When Ladakh was exposed to the modern world and especially to the media their sense of self started to erode. All of a sudden what they did and who they were was not good enough. Add in schooling and numerous other social institutions and soon their whole society is turned upside down. They go from a happy content people to a society where depression, violence, low self-esteem and general discontent are rampant.

It would be easy to think this is only happening in Ladakh because they were a backward society but if we compare it to our own society we can see glaring similarities. Americans also experience all of these social issues. The United States has now and has had for some time the problems of depression, violence, low self-esteem. We tend to see these issues as personal problems. But if our way of socializing has produced the same social issues that we have shouldn't we take a look at our way of socializing?

We are shown from a young age what it is to be successful in our society. To be successful we must be beautiful or handsome have lots of money and things. We like to say we value things like family and loyalty and hard work but this is not what is portrayed as successful in our media. In fact these values we say are important are all expendable in the face of success. We say that anyone can live the American dream but if you are white, middle class and male this dream is much more attainable.

Our socialization techniques seemed designed to make people feel like failures rather than like they are succeeding in life. We can not all look like the people on TV, we can not all be from a white middle class family. We pay a lot of lip service to diversity in our society but it seems to me that what our culture deems as successful follows a very strict code. Is it no wonder that we have such social problems and that people suffer from depression and a lack of self worth? Maybe instead of trying to turn different societies such as the Ladkhis to our way of thinking we should be trying to turn our way thinking to how their society used to be. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could feel like success if we were happy and content with having good friends a loving family and a roof over our heads? It would be wonderful if our success were measured by the smiles on our faces and the love in our hearts as opposed to the size of our bank accounts and the number of cars parked in our garages. If being a good person was valued more that a nice body and a pretty face. It seems to me that maybe we are the "primitive society" not the other way around.

Works Cited

Andersen, Margaret L, and Howard F. Taylor. Sociology in Everyday Life. United States: Thomas Wadsworth, 2008

Norberg-Hodge, Helena. "The Pressure to Modernise." ISEC 2 Feb. 2002 http://www.ised.org.uk/articles/pressure.html

Wolf, Rowan. Portland Community College, Portland. 2 February. 2008