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Mass Media Influence On American Society Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2048 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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"It is the power that shapes and molds the mind of virtually every citizen, young or old, rich or poor, simple or sophisticated" (Sweet Liberty, 2000, 1). The media is a part of everyday life in America. News and events outside of one's home or neighborhood are brought to their area via the newspaper, magazines, radio, television, and the internet. As the quote above mentions mass media, and its components, are very powerful and are capable of influencing one's mind, as well as their behavior. The images and stories introduced to children and young adults make it difficult for these viewers to distinguish between fact and fiction (Cable News Network, 1998, 3), thus stimulating confusion and blind emulation.

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In Torr's Violence in Film and Television, film and television editor, Harvey Roy Greenberg, says that different forms of aggression, either spoken, sung, danced, or written have appeared in practically every "clime and time". In other words, the media and violent entertainment have been around since ancient times. In the Stone Age, violent images were painted and carved into their stone canvases, the Romans enjoyed gladiatorial combat, and the Victorian English enjoyed plays and puppet shows often featuring murder and swordplay as ways of exciting the audience (Torr, 2002, 15). Violence on television, or portrayed in literary form, may have been more mild and censored in the past, but all the same, the public was still vulnerable and easily influenced by what they witnessed and experienced.

Hollywood, currently, is very candid and graphic in its productions, especially depending on the director and editor. However, in contrast with today's wild interpretations and brutal killings, in the 1930s, Hollywood abided by production codes. These codes "regulated all aspects of screen content, with an elaborate list of rules outlining what was permissible to show and what was not" (Torr, 2002, 22). As times changed and American society became more informed about reality and the violence which took place, the codes were modified, eventually leading to film ratings. Although Americans were more aware and the ratings provided some restrictions, this did not mean that emulation and confusion were eliminated completely.

"… virtually from the cradle, children in the United States are bombarded by violence on TV, in movies, and in song lyrics" (Cable News Network, 1998, 2). Children are easily swayed and influenced by the many images and pictures presented to them through the media. By high school graduation, children will have spent roughly 50 percent more time in front of a television than in front of a teacher (Dudley, 1999, 32). Parents, often times, are too drained or pre-occupied with their own lives, leading their children to find comfort in watching television or playing video games which, consequently, become the prime examples for their actions and behaviors. "For all too many Americans, the real world has been replaced by the false reality of the TV…" (Sweet Liberty, 2000, 2). These children hear the news and watch shows and films where innocent people are being stolen from or being killed, but they have nobody there to teach them the difference between what is real and what is not, what is right and what is wrong.

An article printed in Time magazine, titled Suburban Smackdown, is a great example of how the media persuades children to impersonate what they view on television. The article concentrates on the violence of wrestling and how some children and young adults are putting on shows, costumes, masks and all, for their neighbors based on these wrestling characters they see on TV. "It may not be the Rock vs. the Undertaker on prime-time TV, but the high school boys of the Extreme Wrestling Federation of Sayerville, N.J., try hard to make their contests look just as 'real'" (Fonda, 2000, 49). It may be fun and games for a lot of these kids, but images seen on a Best of Backyard Wrestling video included kids jumping onto barbed wire, setting their opponents on fire, and other kids somersaulting onto mattresses studded with sharp objects (Fonda, 2000, 49). "And the violence seems to be trickling down from teenagers to tots" (Fonda, 2000, 49). The Wrestling Federation and the high school boys' imitation is similar to a slippery slope. The professional wrestlers are not setting a good example for these boys by promoting fights and violence for no reason, other than winning a trophy, and these high school boys are not setting a good example for even younger children because they are expressing that violence is fun and "okay". One year before this article was published, in Dallas, a three-year-old boy was killed after his seven-year-old brother stiff-armed him in the throat, trying to imitate a move he had seen on television (Fonda, 2000, 49). After hundreds and thousands of years of media influence, it cost children's lives and innocence for the pro-wrestling federations to run don't-try-this-at-home ads during their matches.

Children are a large majority of the population influenced by the media, but it is not them alone who imitate and follow what they see and hear on a daily basis. "Media experts say the last four decades of research have shown a clear correlation between violence on television and the development and display of aggressive values and behavior by both children and adults" (Torr, 2002, 99). Adults watching the news are influenced by the events occurring locally as well as internationally; however, it not so much what they hear, but more how it is being presented. For example: "…which items are emphasized and which are played down, the reporter's choice of words, tone of voice, and facial expressions; the wording of headlines; the choice of illustrations--all of these subliminally and yet profoundly affect the way in which we interpret what we see or hear" (Sweet Liberty, 2000, 2). Not only does the news affect the way adults think and view the society, but film and violent entertainment also play a large role in influencing their behaviors and actions. A good, very recent example involves Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of Christ. ". . . A Fort Bend County man has fanned the flames of the fervor when he confessed to killing his girlfriend after viewing the movie in hopes of seeking redemption" (Klentzman, 2004, 1). The Passion of Christ's message influenced this man in a positive way, in confessing for his mortal sin, but the other side to this positive media influence is not so bright Leach, the man convicted of the murder, suffocated his girlfriend and got the idea of making it look like a suicide from the weekly series CSI (Klentzman, 2000, 2).

Music and its lyrics have also played an enormous role in shaping and molding American society's minds. Today's music is absolutely nothing like the Oldies. The modern-day society is accustomed to hearing music where 50 percent of the lyrics are what are considered "bad words". "Heavy metal and rap lyrics have elicited the greatest concern, as they compound the environment in which some adolescents increasingly are confronted with pregnancy, drug use, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, injuries, homicides, and suicide" (Dudley, 1999, 55). Artists like Marilyn Manson and Eminem have parents worried because they do not want their children being exposed to such vulgar language, afraid they will try to emulate these particular artists and the stories conveyed through their lyrics, often times including the subjects of beating their wives or slitting their wrists. Another good example of how the music world influences people's minds and behaviors is the suicide of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. "'When Kurt Cobain died, I died with him' was the note left by an eighteen-year-old who, along with two other friends, executed a suicide pact following Cobain's death" (Dudley, 1999, 34). MTV and other music stations play a crucial role in young adults' lives. With continuous coverage of celebrities and music artists, many people find the need to conform. "Parental awareness, supervision, and discussion are critical variables in heading off additional tragedies" (Dudley, 1999, 34).

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Video games have become a more recent trend, but just as the other sources of media, these games have the potential of influencing and molding the minds of children and adults. In the past, video games like Pong, consisted of a ball which would bounce off of two sticks. Nowadays, video games like Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto, consist of cursing, shooting, beating, and killing humans and monsters. The National Coalition on Television Violence found that more than 75 percent of video games contained violent images (Sherrow, 1996, 71). Many researchers believe that video games have a stronger effect on children than merely watching television because the players take a direct and active role in the violence; the researchers also believe that the players of these games will become desensitized towards violence and disregard human life because, in these games, they are able inflict pain, but no pain is inflicted back on them (Sherrow, 1996, 71). Many of these images mimic reality, using lifelike scenes and situations. "What we see happening, is that there is so much…realistic-type violence portrayed in movies and other situations…They think that if you shoot somebody, they get up…" (Cable News Network, 1998, 4). As well as promoting violence, video games also encourage anti-social behavior. Instead of going outside and playing sports or interacting with other people, many people choose to stay indoors, in a dark room, playing on their video game systems.

With the advancement of technology, how can one forget the Internet? Since its development in 1993, the Internet has been an excellent resource for research, entertainment, and communication. However, the Internet also has many flaws. Like video games, the Internet also encourages anti-social behavior; one may be able to communicate through AIM services and such, but it is possible to be addicted to the Internet. Those addicted to the Internet do not feel the need to socialize in another setting, perhaps outside. Also, the Internet has many websites for games, interesting facts, and useful yellow page information; however, it also has many websites very inappropriate for children and young persons, like pornography or violence. As mentioned above, lines of communications are often opened up through the Instant Messaging services, although this may be a positive thing, it can also lead to dangerous and harmful situations. For example, children using the Internet and talking to their friends through instant messages may enter chat rooms. These chat rooms are full of strangers and people of all ages trying to take advantage of young minds. For instance, there have been many cases where older men have posed as 10-year-old boys in order to meet up with a child of the same age group and rape or kidnap them. Parents may try to block and limit what their children see or do on the Internet, but with the education and information children and young adults receive today they can easily break the "locks" placed upon their access on the computer.

Although media images may be enlightening, a lot of the time they are disturbing and provocative, especially depending on the audience. "Common sense just tells you that there's obviously an influence. Television is the most powerful medium in the world. Movies, the entertainment industry, the music industry, they're very powerful" (Cable News Network, 1998, 14). As one is able to tell, the mass media is present in our everyday lives. By watching the news, reading the newspaper, watching the television set, or going to the movie theatres, the media is always there. Whether one may realize it or not, in one way or another, the media has influenced their behaviors and/ or actions. From birth to death, people in America will live in a society in which their education and their futures revolve around the mass media and its messages, whether they are positive or negative; it is the American way of life.


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