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The effects of the media on our society

An excellent example of paper two by K. K. Winter 2009.

Perception is everything. What we perceive as reality and what is actually truth can be two VERY different things. Propaganda has proven to be an effective medium for imposing certain views on a group. Not all media poses negative results, but for the majority of our society is has become one of negative effects. During World War II, flyers depicted a Japanese soldier attacking an American soldier. Underneath the image was a clip from the newspaper, headline reading "5200 Yank Prisoners killed by Jap torture in Philippines (1)". The government used the media to illustrate the Japanese as harsh, inhumane people who should be killed. This helped increase the amount of soldiers recruited and also helped settle the conscience of the American people. The media was used to change the way that we viewed the Japanese. If the American society viewed the Japanese as human beings, soldiers that were only following orders, it would have been almost inhumane to be Pro-War. The Government wanted the American people to view the Japanese as "mean", so that going to war with them would be the right thing to do. The media negatively effects how we as a society behave and think.

To think about the power wielded by the media can be a staggering thing when you consider that in general, mass media truly dictates what we see, hear, and ultimately what we will use to make an "educated decision". Nothing could demonstrate this more clearly than tobacco and its perceptions prior to private studies conducted beyond the reach of lobbyists and big business. When the surgeon general first took a stand on the subject of tobacco and the possible effects that it could have on short and long term health, the big industries associated with this product fought back by getting doctors to endorse the product as non-hazardous. Ultimately, it took years to get to the bottom of the issue and several millions of dollars spent on lawsuits, studies, and finally the government to condemn tobacco as a hazardous product. What has transpired since has been nothing less than an about-face by any and all companies associated with this product. Does anybody remember the "Winston Cup"? It has been re-named the "Nextel Cup". What about "Joe the camel"? Do you see that character in ANY advertisements today? The answer is no. The reason for this is because "Joe the camel" who was the brand recognition tool for "Camel" cigarettes was considered to be too likable and had too much ability to resonate with children. Do not think for a second that the tobacco companies didn't have this in mind when they created many of their branding tools. They created many things in order to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible. The point I am making is that until we change our perceptions of many things, the status quo will suffice for a very long time in order to help us accept if not embrace that which we do not have full disclosure on. And what affects our perceptions? Any and all information disseminated to us from multiple sources such as the evening news, the internet, the newsstand magazines, and even periodicals such as "the Enquirer" or "Star" magazine.

The media is an agent of socialization. It helps send messages of gender and specific gender roles. In class we discussed the difference between a man/woman and father/mother. I was not surprised when the characteristics we describe of a father/mother are also characteristics of a man/woman. A woman is supposed to be nurturing, loving, and motherly. A man is supposed to be strong, protecting and head of the household. How did we all come up with similar characteristics? It is shown in TV shows, movies, and commercials how men and women are suppose to act. And what happens when a male teenager does not act the way a male is suppose to act? He is made fun of. His peers then make fun of him since he is not following the social norm of the gender roles the media has inflicted on us. The media only shows the positive effects, not the negative repercussions that come with those choices. In the story of the Ladakh people, the younger generation was influenced my western culture. The new road brought western civilization. In turn, the young Ladakh people wanted to become more like Americans and less like their own people (3). They only see the glamorous side of the western culture.

One might have the warm and fuzzy feeling that all is well with so many sources of media to help to educate us on our decision making process, but I would encourage you to look closer. Even when you are in line at the grocery store, go ahead and look at each magazine that you see on the racks while you are waiting to check out. Ever notice how each magazine carries the exact same story? So what is it that gets one to purchase a particular magazine over another? Something about that particular magazine you put in your basket resonated with you in some way to get you to pick it over the rest. Much the same thing occurs when we see stories on the evening news. If a story makes national headlines, you will see that story on every channel, and no matter if you like Wolf Blitzer or Katie Couric, each respective anchor will have just about the same exact story with the same exact details and will tell you the same ending to the story as far as they have been informed on it. So, who is dictating the stories and how they get told? A prime example of how the news can extremely affect the outcome of events can be seen as recently as the election of the President of the United States in the year 2000. At that time, the news began to use "exit polls" to predict the winner of the election. What transpired next was unprecedented: a lawsuit to determine who actually won the election? When the reporters began to declare that one candidate was going to be a clear winner based on exit polls being conducted on the East coast after their polls had closed, people on the West coast (with a full THREE hours of time remaining before THEIR polls closed) began to make a decision to not vote. In their mind, even if they were going to vote for the "losing" candidate, it would make no difference and thus was simply a waste of time. The one right that the founders of this country fought so bravely for to earn the right of equal representation in a small event that we refer to as the Revolutionary War. The same right that millions of our countrymen have gone to war to help defend for lesser fortunate countries to abolish tyranny and oppression in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. And yet here we sit in our own country, letting lobbyists, lawyers and government tell us what is right and what we should think. We allow ourselves to be dictated to and told how we should look, feel, and act in any and all situations. We are allowing ourselves to be conditioned to accept certain things as fact even without all of the information to make a proper decision. This is nothing new...

If we wish to see what is in store if we do nothing to shield ourselves from the affects of mass media, we need do nothing more than allow our brief history to become our teacher. Many books have been written on this subject. George Orwell's book "1984" was written well before that year came to pass. In his book he talks about "Big Brother" and how everything that everybody knows is dispensed by a central agency that determines what people need to know. He also suggests that "Big Brother" will go so far as to rewrite history to suit the needs of the regime at the time. If something comes up that is indisputable yet contradicts current beliefs, then "Big Brother" will go ahead and embrace this "new found knowledge" as if it were always there and then rewrite the history books to reflect how this new knowledge was always the case. Could this happen? Is it already happening? Well, we haven't started burning and banning books just yet and so far it is not considered treasonous to embrace another time or culture, yet. But I believe that things truly are changing. It's not so much about what we accept as moral or acceptable behavior; these are both fluid things and change with the socialization of our species. What was considered unorthodox only 100 years ago such as a woman voting or a black person having civil rights are now as normal as breathing, which brings to light the positive effects of mass media. Without the ability to get an opinion out to the masses, change might not occur as fast or at all. So, the question remains: what is the balance we must strike in order to keep media free and open yet unaffected by the whims and storms that can steer this particular vessel into dark and ominous waters? Do we want our government to determine what we see, hear, and read? If you have read 1984 and allow yourself to be swept up in all of its drama, then you might answer no to this particular suggestion. Which leads us to the other end of this pendulum as it swings: to allow media to run un-tethered and free of any sort of influence. I personally do not believe that either is the right answer. Unfortunately, when we look at any of the above mentioned occurrences, we can see what can transpire. It is a story destined to repeat itself over and over throughout our history and our future. If I could say only one thing on this subject, it would be that we need to use prudence when we make our decisions regarding the future of mass media, much the same as we must use the same prudence to recognize that the latest, greatest diet pill on the market endorsed by doctors and trainers alike must be thoroughly researched to the best of our ability before we decide to take this "magic pill".

To summarize, I will borrow a quote: those who choose to ignore history are destined to repeat it. We will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. We will allow our leadership to choose what we are exposed to up to the point that we recognize that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" as said by Lord Acton. Once this occurs, we will allow our media outlets to run wild and un-checked until we realize that exposure to all the horrors, beauty, terror and salvation will create a world numb to all of these horrors, beauty, terrors and salvation. Things will slowly begin to mean nothing and what once could create a lasting impression will no longer have such strong effects. And the pendulum will swing...

Works Cited
2. Norberg-Hodge, Helena. "The Pressure to Modernise." ISEC. 27 October 2009.