Mass Media and its effects on todays society
I wanna be a Nickelodeon kid!” the five year old chanted and swayed along with the hyper-colourful cavorting youngsters on the commercial. Even after the TV was off, she hopped around the room proclaiming her desire to belong to the Nickelodeon network.
We know the girl didn’t realize what she was saying, but it’s an excellent example of how malleable human beings are. Television is an unprecedented powerful medium, combining rapid sight and sound in a way that has a tremendous and impacted psychological effect. Companies wouldn’t pay millions of dollars for a 30-second commercial during major sporting events like the Olympics if this weren’t the case. Adults may not run around their living rooms chanting “I wanna drive a Land cruiser!” but millions of them flock to car showrooms every year to purchase all-terrain vehicles half the price of a unit that will never touch any terrain but pavement.
Various media ranging from adverts such as these, to so-called
movie classics’ like “The Godfather” are negative influences on today’s society. Millions every day are forced to sit through programs that portray actors doing things which most would find unethical and wrong. So what’s the difference between watching someone acting out a murder or sex scene on television, and witnessing the real thing firsthand?
Why is it that, if we were to accidentally open the wrong hotel room door and find a man and woman doing certain things together, we would feel everything from embarrassment to nausea, but when we see the same things on a TV in our own hotel room, we are transfixed with curiosity? Why is it that millions of cinema-goers will flock to see “Saving Private Ryan” or “Black Hawk Down” for a simulation of the same experience that caused millions of war veterans post-traumatic shock and severe depression?
When I recently decided to watch the latest reality TV show, I was surprised at how drained and listless I felt afterwards. Apart from the dreary, unintelligible show’s content; the lethargic state was simply the effect of the screen experience on a human body. You don’t notice it until you’ve fasted from visual media for a good long while, but it is powerful. It’s a completely different feeling from finishing a book, or coming inside from gardening, or sitting around a table after a good meal. It fosters a laziness and dullness of being that I can’t imagine is healthy in large doses.
The screen is a strange thing. It takes our minds and turns them from active filters into passive absorbers. When the music swells, tears exit our ducts; when the characters say a funny line, we obligingly chuckle; when they begin to kiss or undress, our eyes widen and our pulses quicken. These are the logical human responses to such stimuli, and the producers not only know it – they make astronomically large amounts of money exploiting them.
We’ve all excused our participation in modern entertainment. We can concede it a special space as a cultural medium perhaps by calling it an art form (“Hey, it must be quality if the Academy nominated it for an award”), or by saying that it’s only pretend (“They’re just acting”). But to call it simply acting is to slip into a form of dualism – a denial that what bodies do (no matter what the context) has no effect on the soul of the actors or of those who watch them. We deny that viewing “pretend” sex or “pretend” violence affects us in the same way the “real” thing does. The human soul is a sensitive instrument, and the basic impact of certain visual images on it remains constant, whether the images are real or fake, whether we acknowledge it or not.
It can only be expected that television would naturally progress alongside our society. However, some of the things people apparently want to see on television is quite a telling sign of the downturn of society. Television cannot be blamed for society’s problems; instead society’s problems can be blamed for television programming.
It’s a hopeful thought that things could begin to change for the better in television, once a social change s instituted. However, there is no guarantee things will ever get any better, and quite possibly we will end up replacing one evil with another. As Art Buchwald put it, “Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was.”
In today’s society, where television is still the most widespread media for news, information and entertainment, it should be no surprise what control society has over its content. Money makes the world go ’round, and television is no exception.
It is a sad state of affairs when the content of our television programming shows the true face of our society, makes it available for all to see how sorry things have become, and makes one wonder how much worse society will get and what the future of television holds.