Media Plays A Key Role In Moral Panic Media Essay

Throughout the years, mass media has become a major influence in our lives. We live in a society that depends on information and communication in order to keep us moving in the right direction and helps us carry out our daily activities such as education, work, travelling, and anything else that we have to do. Due to advancements in technology, life has become much easier for people; today people have their own mobile phones to communicate, computers to search for information quickly, TVs to watch their favourite shows etc. These are some examples of the positive effects of the media, but there also negative effects. The media provides us with all the things that we need from acquiring information to maintaining communication with other people, but when can we say that the media has gone too far?

The term ‘mass’ suggests that the recipients of media products constitute a vast sea of passive, undifferentiated individuals. This is an image associated with some earlier critiques of ‘mass culture’ and Mass society which generally assumed that the development of mass communication has had a largely negative impact on modern social life, creating a kind of bland and homogeneous culture which entertains individuals without challenging them.

The aspect of ‘communication’ refers to the giving and taking of meaning, the transmission and reception of messages. The word ‘communication’ is really equated with ‘transmission’, as viewed by the sender, rather than in the fuller meaning, which includes the notions of response, sharing and interaction. Therefore, the term ‘communication’ in this context masks the social and industrial nature of the media, promoting a tendency to think of them as interpersonal communication. Furthermore, it is known that recipients today do have some capacity to intervene in and contribute to the course and content of the communicative process.

In psychology, communication theory and sociology, media influence or media effects refers to the theories about the ways the mass media affect how their audiences think and behave.

Urbanisation, industrialisation and modernisation created social conditions in which the mass media developed. The bulk of the content of the mass media is not designed to challenge or modify the social and political structure of a nation, either in a one party state or in a democratic society. The mass media play a crucial role in forming and reflecting public opinion; the media communicate the world to individuals and reproduce the self-image of society. Critiques in the early-to-mid twentieth century suggested that the media weaken, or delimit, the individual’s capacity to act autonomously – sometimes being ascribed an influence reminiscent of the telescreens of the dystopian novel 1984. Mid twentieth-century empirical studies, however, suggested more limited effects of the media. Current scholarship presents a more complex interaction between the media and society, with the media generating information from a network of relations and influences and with the individual interpreting and evaluating the information provided as well as generating information outside of media contexts. The consequences and ramifications of the mass media relate not merely to the way newsworthy events are perceived (and which are reported at all) but also to a multitude of cultural influences that operate through the media.

The media has a strong social and cultural impact upon society; this is predicated upon its ability to reach a wide audience which often sends a strong and influential message. Marshall McLuhan uses the term “the medium is the message” (McLuhan 2001 p.7) as a means of explaining how the distribution of the message can often be more important that the message itself. It is through the persuasiveness of mediums such as television, radio and print media that reach the target audience. These have been influential mediums as they have been largely responsible in structuring the daily lives and routines of people. Television broadcasting has a large amount of control in influencing the content that society watches and the times in which they are viewed, this is a distinguishing feature of traditional mediums and, although they are by no means redundant, the development of the internet has challenged the traditional participation habits involved in mediums such as television. The internet has lifted some of the restrictions placed on society by allowing for diversification of political opinions, social and cultural differences and heightened level of consumer participation. There have been suggestions that allowing consumers to produce information through the internet will lead to a bombardment of too much information, it can, however, allow society a medium for expressing opinions and moving away from the political restrictions placed on society.

 The social aspects of television are the influences media has had on society since its inception. The belief that this impact has been dramatic has been largely unchallenged in media theory since its inception. However, there is much dispute as to what those effects are, how serious the ramifications are and if these effects are more or less evolutionary with human communication. Those who cite this criticism feel that TV perpetuates stereotypes, especially when it comes to minority groups, according to some stereotypes the “bad guys” tend to be from one or two minority groups.

Other stereotypes include all Italians being associated with the Mafia; all youths are vandals, gang members, or punk rock types; all Americans are ignorant etc.

All of these stereotypes do a major disservice to the whole truth, of course.

In the old days of Westerns it seemed that the “bad guys” wore black hats and the “good guys” wore white hats thus it was easy to tell them apart.

Today, many people find it easier to pigeonhole people in terms of “black and white” (typically, in terms of nationality, skin color, sex, sexual preference, etc.) rather than cope with the “shades of grey” that more realistically represent the human condition.

Those who cite the “sets up false images of reality” criticism, say that in order to get messages across quickly to an LCD audience, issues are simplified, and even to a degree, “symbolised.”

There is also another fact to be considered: many people have a vested interest in holding onto their beliefs (prejudices) – they want to believe them – and they resist or reject attempts to set the record straight. “Reject” is a word that program producers don’t like to hear.

Individuals with greater exposure to media violence see the world as a dark and sinister place. Television programs present a narrow view of the world, and the world they present is violent

Almost since the medium’s inception there have been charges that some programming is, in one way or another, inappropriate, offensive or indecent. Critics have claimed that television, as well as other mass media image, harm the self image of young girls. Other commentators make the case that television advertisers deliberately try to equate happiness with the purchasing of products, despite studies which show that happiness for most people comes from non-material realms such as warm friendships and feelings of connection to one’s community. George Gerbner (1994) has presented evidence that the frequent portrayals of crime, especially minority crime, has led to the “Mean World Syndrome.”(context.org 2000) The view among frequent viewers of television that crime rates are much higher than the actual data would also indicate this fact to be correct. In addition, a lot of television has been charged with presenting propaganda, political or otherwise, and being pitched at a low intellectual level.

Those who criticise television for showing gratuitous violence cite the fact that by the time they are 18, U.S. children typically see nearly 20,000 murders on TV. (Gerbner 1994)

Most of these murders appear to be without consequence and most are represented as the “solution” to a problem. Studies show that each year the level of violence on TV in films increases — with 2007 setting a new record high.

Children were once controlled by adults through means of literacy. The literacy level of books would often correspond with the “appropriate” topics for children. Topics unsuitable for children would be written for a higher level of literacy and when most children would try to read these books they would be beyond their literary capabilities.

With television, the literacy level required to understand is substantially lower as well as it being difficult to monitor a child’s use of the device and anticipate the content that will be delivered through it. However, much research and development is being dedicated to regain control, monitor and restrict children’s consumption of television.

“Real life,” violence and murder normally have profound and lingering effects on both the people involved and on their friends and families, this painful reality is normally glossed over or ignored in film and TV drama.

Studies show that heavy viewers of TV violence tend to be more paranoid about the level of violence around them. They also tend to be more suspicious of people, in general, and more inclined to view their surroundings as unsafe. Violence in films and TV, although related to ratings and profits, causes harm to individuals and society. (McLuhan 2001)

“The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitious. The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”- Joseph Goebbels Nazi Propaganda Minister

“How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.” – Adolf Hitler

Take it from Goebbels and Hitler, true experts on mass-brainwashing. And the U.S. government, particularly the CIA, has learned a great deal from the Nazis. The Nazis in turn learned a great deal from American corporate advertising techniques and the American mass-media. The American corporate mass-media is the world’s greatest practitioner of what its student Goebbels preached: repeating simple-minded lies over and over for months and years, until the lies take on a life of their own and the populous repeat them unthinkingly as commonly accepted facts.

Thus fear, much like all types of emotion, makes people highly vulnerable to subliminal management and control technology. Through repeated, subliminal appeals and reinforcements of these fears, people can be induced into buying, and thinking, almost anything. The brainwashing of people is too effective a political ploy to suddenly let the truth get in the way. The pattern is clear: Say what you want people to believe for the front page and on TV then whisper a halfhearted correction or apology that slips under the radar so people only have themselves to blame for being a victim of it. An example of this was the Iraq war and weapons of mass destruction. The press continuously reported that Saddam Hussein had WMD and people began to believe it even though there wasn’t any evidence to back up the claim. This led to people worrying that he would use them against the country and people began to believe in the justification of invading Iraq.

As defined by C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite (1956), the mass media have two important sociological characteristics: first, very few people can communicate to a great number; and, second, the audience has no effective way of answering back. Mass communication is by definition a one-way process. Media organisations are bureaucratic and (except in societies where all media are state-controlled) corporate in nature. Media output is regulated by governments everywhere, but the restrictions vary from very light advisory regulation (for example no cigarette advertising or nudity on TV), to the most comprehensive forms of censorship in totalitarian societies.

Mass media dominate the mental life of modern societies, and therefore are of intense interest to sociologists. From the earliest studies in the 1930s, the main concern was with the power implicit in new media technologies, especially radio and television. Adolf Hitler’s successful use of radio for propaganda was an object lesson in the possible dangers. The concept of mass society added force to the idea that the electronic media might create an Orwellian situation of mind control, with passive masses dominated by a tiny elite of communicators.

Early studies by Harold Lasswell, Paul Lazarsfeld, and others seemed to show that media effects were indeed direct and powerful-the so-called ‘hypodermic’ model of influence but more intensive research revealed that mass communications are mediated in complex ways, and that their effects on the audience depend on factors such as class, social context, values, beliefs, emotional state and even the time of day.

Media research has expanded enormously since the 1960s, with most attention going to television as the most pervasive medium. Four distinct areas of research can be distinguished;

First, media content studies, concerned with the cultural quality of media output, or with specific biases and effects such as stereotyping or the promotion of anti-social behaviour and violence, especially on children’s television.

Second, patterns of ownership and control, the integration of more and more media into a few large corporations, cross-media ownership, and the increasing commercialisation of programming.

Third, ideological influences of the media in promoting a total pattern of life and thought. Fourth, the impact of electronic media on democratic politics via agenda-setting, the distortion and reduction of news, deflecting public attention from social problems, and the use of television advertising in political campaigns.

The mass media can persuade people of a lot of things. Singer Marilyn Manson is portrayed by the media as signifying sexuality, violence and death even before his music is played. After the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado USA, people needed a scapegoat, and the answer was in the form of music. A campaign was already well under way against Manson’s music because of its anti-religious ideas, and Columbine became the perfect way to collaborate these various objections to him. Manson was cited as a factor in the Columbine murders, as well as computer/video games such as Doom and Quake that the high school killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were apparently avid fans of. Despite creating a moral panic of Manson and his influence over young people, it did not turn young people away from the, supposed, corrupting force of his music, instead it made him seem even more appealing to the susceptible groups of society that the anti-Marilyn Manson groups claimed to be protecting.

In 1999 after the Columbine High School shootings, the media decided that the explanation for this horrific situation was, in fact, the computer/video games. In linking the killers to video and computer games, the stereotype was created that these games have the power to influence murder. The fact that both killers listened to Manson’s music, watched violent films and played video/computer games was focused on because it pleased the media – the fact that the killers had access to guns, unstable home lives and were social outcasts at school, was virtually ignored by most of the American press. It was found that the actions in the Columbine incident and the style of video games enjoyed by both killers were too close for comfort.

“Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were literally obsessed with playing the video game Doom…and they were very good at it. These boys…practiced for hundreds and hundreds of hours, perfecting their craft. Therefore, it should not be altogether surprising that their killing spree resembled something out of…a typical Doom scenario.” [Grossman, 1999]

These teens were portrayed as turning a fantasy game into reality. Subsequently President Clinton launched an inquiry on the effects of media violence on children, and even before the report was published the media predicted “repeated exposure to violent entertainment during early childhood causes more aggressive behaviour throughout the child’s life.” [Los Angeles Times, 2001] The actual report released a few days later contradicted these advance news reports, stating that media violence plays only a minor role in the violence of pre-adolescents, and almost no role in older children. [Gagne, 2001]

Society is bombarded constantly with never ending messages from different types of sources such as TV, billboards, magazines and many more. The influence of media has spread all over the world that it has altered not only our social identities but our cultural values as well.

Grossman, D. (1999) Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill Random House, New York

McLuhan, M. (2001) Understanding Media Routledge, London

Gerbner, G. (1994) [online] Reclaiming Our Cultural Mythology available:

http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC38/Gerbner.htm 15/04/2011

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