A friend and I had a pretty good discussion about the media the other day, and several good points were brought up. There are many benefits of mainstream media; though, there are also several important limitations to consider. The media is pervasive in everyone's lives, and has the power to influence societal views and propagate stereotypes. I'll start by discussing my thoughts on some of the benefits, and then focus on some of the drawbacks.
Benefits of the Media
There are several good things that the media has enabled. The first of these benefits is that it allows an individual to keep in tune with politics, culture, and entertainment occurring nationally as well as internationally. If I live in Ontario, I can turn on the news and see what is happening in BC for example, and can use this to track the events within a country. When mother nature decides to take over, such as with a tsunami or hurricane, mass media can keep us connected and help mobilize help and resources. It is also a platform for businesses to market and advertise in order to attract a client base.
Media also helps spread art and culture, helping all of us learn and appreciate new things about exotic places in the world, and in the process become enlightened. If you've never visited a place before, you are now able more than ever to get a sense of what that country is like (though I do acknowledge that a country will only show what it wants to show in the media).
Another benefit of the media is that it is a platform for philanthropic endeavours, such as to promote a cause important to an individual. Social media is increasingly being used by fitness instructors to promote their brand, to attract clients to their fitness programs. In a similar fashion, the media may be used by social rights activists and gender equality factions to promote their views, which can be a blessing but can also a negative when taken too far (as I will discuss further). In this way, the media can give a voice to those who for a long time have traditionally been voiceless, for their opinions to be heard.
Weakness of the Media
Ultimately, any weaknesses the media has comes down to the root of social constructionism, and propagation of agendas. Created by people, for the people, and in this way it is subject to biases and social influence. Many people (such as my parent's) lick up every piece of information put forth by the media, and thus they may believe that everyone from Syria is bad because a few individuals there decided to blow up half the country (as an example). I will discuss my thoughts on several of these issues below.
- Violence in the Media -
There are undoubtedly benefits, but also some important drawbacks. More often than not, you turn on the news and there will be depressing story after depressing story of school shootings, bombings, murders, environmental hazards, etc. What this does is create a psychological principle known as Mean World Syndrome, coined by psychologist George Gerbner, whereby the world is made to seem more dangerous than it actually is. Gerbner argued through cultivation theory that people who watch television tended to think of the world as an unforgiving and intimidating place. In addition, pervasiveness of violence in mainstream media can also be desensitizing, leading to less of a reaction over time. It has been argued that effects such as these are greatest on young children allowed to watch violent movies, news, or video games and there is certainly some truth to this. Ultimately, these effects are lessened by being able to rationally judge any given situation and form your own conclusions. I ask you to consider: is it really necessary to expose murders and death happening in Europe in news across the ocean that ultimately have no direct effect on anyone there?
- Stereotypes and Race in the Media -
Another issue we were discussing is the racism exposed in the media between Caucasian and African Americans, and to be fair I feel pretty strongly about this issue. I'm likely going to get some flack for this, but discussion is good, and I'm trying to keep it as neutral as possible. Disclaimer: I am not a racist individual, but my parents are. Ultimately, the media helps propagate stereotypes, and enhance those that already exist. A white individual shoots a black individual, or a black individual shoots a white individual, and then all you see in the news is black vs white people. The viewpoints shared by a few white individuals or a few black individuals suddenly becomes a viewpoint shared by the whole race, propagated by the media. Social rights activists buy into this to move their own agendas forward, and then you get riots and parades in the streets. The exact same thoughts are echoed for gay rights or transgender rights activists. This is something that needs to change, but so long as their is media being spewed by people sitting at desks in an office building, it will be a very difficult task indeed.
In essence, mass media is owned by corporations with their own agendas, and as is often the case, statistics and facts will be spun and skewed to meet these agendas. These corporations are powerful, and because media can be bought, they truly have the power to influence what we see and hear. This gives the rich—and those connected to the rich—a far louder voice than the rest of us, which is an unfair scenario. The bottom line is that every individual living on this earth needs to decide for themselves, and can't let the mass media influence and skew rational thought. It may just be that some things are not as true as they seem.