We must do much better in our discussion of this vital topic. Along with family, community, schools, peers, and perhaps religion, media is one of the social systems socializing young people. Television, for instance, influences children from a very young age as their nanny or tutor. “Sesame Street” was developed by psychologists and educators who noticed toddlers fascinated by commercials-as their parents were by the programs. As children grow they gradually take in more of television’s content. Television becomes a family member and of great influence in the development of a young person.
Media is plural. A child is first introduced to television, then to videos and movies, hopefully to books and magazines, to radio and music, to billboards, and finally to newspapers. Take a moment to consider the vast array of newspapers and magazines in a large paper store, the popularity of books stores, the prevalence of road signs and bill boards (especially in inner city neighborhoods where alcohol and nicotine are commercially pushed), the strong interest in a latest movie and movie complexes with 20 different shows, the constant glow of television sets, and how ubiquitous is music. Do you know any home that doesn’t have a TV or radio, a book or magazine? How many do most homes have? According to Vanora Leigh (Let’s Discuss the Media, 1987: 4):
It has been estimated that the average British adult spends 75 hours every week with television, radio, newspapers and magazines.
The media are great socializers because they tell stories and present images and icons. Those who tell the stories control the future of a society. It is valuable to ponder and contrast the telling of stories in traditional societies and in today’s world. How many stories does a person hear in a single day? How do they affect us?
Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message.” Part of that statement indicates how increasingly style is replacing substance and how the manner in which a message comes to us may be more important than the message itself.
Each medium communicates to particular need or desire of a society. Newspapers do so differently than television; magazines than movies; billboards differently than books, and music differently than printed matter. Each medium must be considered as a:
business, a risky commercial enterprise,
audience and sales or ratings,
program, print, or song,
promotion, hype, or advertising (which really needs to be considered as a medium itself),
and increasingly, spin-offs, toys, clothes, etc. of the original book, movie, or music group.
Before the media are castigated, they need to be appreciated, or at least understood. We call these media “mass media” because they are being produced across subcultures or folk cultures to large national or global audiences. They have important social functions to fulfill and are reaching the masses because of increasing media literacy and lowered costs.
Mass media are part of popular culture. Popular culture is not only contrasted to high (or elitist) culture; it transcends traditional or folk culture. Folks songs and folk stories become part of popular culture when they go beyond a folk group, or urban street culture, or a particular subculture (say punk or grunge), into the mainstream.
What do we expect of popular culture? What are its proper functions? The popular arts are meant to unify us, to give cohesion to a society. To do this they must keep an eye on the culture, a finger on its pulse. They are supposed to inform us when we do not know, relieve us when we are bored or stressed out, stimulate us when we are apathetic, and inspire us when we are discouraged. These are good and proper functions of the popular arts. When the media foster truth, beauty, personal growth, and communal justice, it ought to be lauded. When it exploits, objectifies and dehumanizes, creates detrimental stereotypes and breeds social contentions, it ought to be criticized.
One important function of the media, as has been mentioned, is the socialization of the young. It is one of the most powerful tutors of youth. Here, we ought to be especially critical. When a medium (or anyone) hinders a girl from reaching full womanhood, or a boy from reaching full manhood, it is to be condemned. Whenever any popular art is bent on discord rather than community, or seeks to promote privilege over justice and equity, it should be subjected to critical scrutiny and discussion.
From the separation of telephone, fax, television, stereo, computer, we will be moving to a consolidation of communication and entertainment centers. There is a trend from multi-media to uni-media. The implications of this future direction need to be studied from many perspectives-educationally, economically, politically, socially, and spiritually.
Media should be interesting and enjoyable, even fun, informative and ennobling. Artists ought to be able to express creative talents, and people able to make money. All this is possible and not too much to expect. It will take serious consideration and vigilant action. Much of this Encyclopedia is dedicated to this task.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How much media do you, and your friends or children, absorb in a day or week?
How do you process all the stories and their affect on you?
Do you think the media shapes or reflects society?
What specific influences do you see the media having on your society’s (children’s) knowledge, values, morals, and styles?
Do the media have a special affect on politics?
Do you think the media are biased? If so, in what ways?
Should government regulate the media?
Is advertising harmful to young people, adults, to a society?
How could you use this article, questions, and further study for small group discussion?
The media have a tremendous presence and power they never had in societies before. Newspapers did not come to the industrialized countries until the 18th century. Popular music and juke boxes, popular radio, and television did not appear until the 1920s and beyond. The music Walkman, cable and satellite, and music video TV weren’t widely available until the 1980s. This new torrent of media, especially available to the young, is quite recent. We must respond appropriately.
Some opposition to negative aspects of the media, politically with young people, is counter-productive. This especially happens when critics do not really appreciate or understand the medium.
There ought to be a great deal more attention to how media can be of benefit to society.