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By P. G.Aldrich
What do you remember most about your childhood? Running through the long dewy grass of a meadow or the Saturday morning TV cartoons? Sitting in the kitchen watching your mother cook supper or sitting in the living-room watching Captain Kangaroo?1 Which came first on Sunday morning — breakfast or the comics?
Now bring your memories up to date. What did you and your friends talk about, at least part of the time, before class? An item from a newspaper? An ad that you noticed in a magazine or a television commercial? An episode from a popular TV series? A movie? Or a new record that you heard on the radio?
If your answers parallel those of most young people, you add to the proof that mass media play a large and influential
1Captain Kangaroo — a children's morning television programme.
part in your life. Your answers also prove just how casually you accept the media, just as you accept the house you live in, cars, electricity, telephones, your school, and your family as part of your environment. Parents and teachers agree that all young people growing up with the media learn from them sometimes more than adults wish you to. (And this is the cause for alarm.)
If the use of them referring to media in the last sentence seems strange, remember that the word media linguistically is plural. When people make a fuss about the media being a bad influence, they usually are talking about television, the most powerful medium of all. Maybe calling television the media can be justified technically because, as a medium, it embraces functions of several media such as newspapers, magazines, movies, and recordings.
The major media can be divided into two kinds, print and electronic. The print media — newspapers, magazines, books, pamphlets, catalogues, circulars, brochures, anything you read — are the oldest, dating back to the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century. The electronic media — radio, television, films of all kinds, records, tapes, anything that is transmitted by the use of electricity — are less than a hundred years old.
One of the problems facing us today is being reached by the media when we really don't choose to be. Do you sometimes find it difficult to locate a moment of complete silence in your environment or a time when your eyes are not presented with signs, billboard, or pictures demanding attention?
Another meaning the word mass suggests is "the people", a phrase too often associated with adjectives like dull-witted, credulous, ill-informed, uncritical, and passive. Or are the mass of people well-informed, sophisticated, thoughtful, and active? Which are you? How much of what you know about yourself has been taught you by the media? You may not realize how greatly the media influence you because in your lifetime they have always been there, hi fact, short of deliberate isolation on a mountain top or being lost in a forest and reared by wolves, no one will ever again grow up without the presence and influence of the mass media.
Is this good or bad?
An experiment recently conducted in Europe by the Society for Rational Psychology showed that watching television is psy-
chologically addictive. The idea of becoming addicted to television brings up questions involving subtle conditioning and brainwashing that could be friendly or vicious, altruistic or self-serving.
In a commercial society the media's ability to stimulate motivation to buy — almost as though people were puppets on strings — builds other people's power. It can be power for good or power for bad, but it is always power for control.
All these negative aspects of growing up with the media need consideration, at the same time you are enjoying the positive aspects of immediately knowing what's going on in the world, sharing great entertainment and historical events with everyone else in our "global village", and having the fun of trying out a new product that you wouldn't have known about without advertising.
According to a recent research report, more than a third of all children by the age of three are viewing TV with some regularity and more than half are listening to books read to them. Before they are old enough for school — a third of the children are looking through magazines, 40 percent are listening to radio, and 80 percent are viewing television. At age seven, newspapers enter a child's life, usually through the comic strips. You are one of these children. As you grew, you absorbed uncritically, as children do.
And what did you absorb? Hundreds of items of information, most of them accurate as far as they went. Increasing sophistication of taste and appreciation of technical skills. High standards of performance by talented musicians and actors that sometimes make your teachers despair of competing effectively for your attention.
With all this, you also absorbed ideas about behaviour, about right and wrong, good and bad, the permissible and the forbidden. These ideas were presented to you — and still are — directly and indirectly with the entertainment, advertising, and information. The most powerful ideas are the ones you absorb indirectly. They are digested emotionally at psychological depths that we still know little about, although we can tell that the effect of reaching those depths is particularly strong and long lasting from behaviour patterns that emerge.
... Another indicating of media influence is in the language we use. Whole new vocabularies come into existence with new
inventions. Look back at the first two paragraphs of this chapter. How many expressions can you identify that came into popular usage with the development of a medium? How about TV cartoons? Or the abbreviated version of the word television? In this country, we say TV and spell it several different ways: tv, T.V., TV, teevee. In Britain, it's the telly, as everyone who watches the British "stand-up" comedian will know. That term, stand-up comic, seems to be another media invention. Actually, a comedian does sit sometimes, whenever the action of a skit demands, but there is always that string of jokes, or would-be jokes, delivered standing up, first at a stationary microphone during early radio days, now just standing or wandering about a stage, mike in hand. In advertising, the stand-up commercial was the first kind used, hi this, the announcer or star of the program would grasp the product firmly in hand, making sure the name faced the camera, and as persuasively as possible, recite or read the copy written about it at an advertising agency.
Words introduced in the media frequently enlarge into meanings far beyond the scope originally intended for them. How many meanings do the words Mickey Mouse have today? Which show approval? Which disapproval?
The impact of the mass media is very strong. It changes our language, stimulates our emotions, informs our intellect influences our ideas, values, and attitudes. When you were young and absorbing uncritically, you could not possibly know that the majority of the material you saw and heard was designed to produce specific responses from you. Some adults, for that matter, either do not know or refuse to admit the following basic fact of media production: the MAJORITY of material is chosen or designed to produce a predetermined response. Even that part of media output called "entertainment" is chosen to keep you quiet, unquestioning, available, and receptive to commercial messages inserted throughout. This is evident whether the entertainment is a TV drama with commercials every few minutes or a newspaper or magazine article with columns of type wrapped around the advertisements.
The journalism, urgent issues, news, or information-giving portion of media output is selected, edited, produced, placed in time slots or positioned in the newspaper or magazine to reflect and support the owner's policies. These policies are sometimes intricate and interwoven strands, difficult to isolate individually,
because ownership is a giant conglomerate made up of intertwining sections of the current commercial-military-governmental complex. However, no reporter, photographer, film or copy editor, script or continuity writer in either print or electronic media has ever needed to be told specifically what the boss's policies are. You pick them up through your pores within a week or two of accepting a job, and you work accordingly.
The owner's policies, therefore, determine the response that the media wish from you even if it's only to keep quiet and accept. Then the material is written, staged, photographed with or without audio, printed and/or broadcast. We — counted in the millions, the mass audience of mass media —^are then programmed to buy, vote, contribute, believe, and support other people's interests, interests which may be commercial, political, charitable, philosophical, or educational. Sometimes these interests will coincide with your own; sometimes they won't. Most of the time, the response comes in as programmed; occasionally it doesn't, or there is an additional, unexpected response. Some of the media's output has long lasting value and worth; some is not only cheap, tawdry, and superficial stuff, but physically, emotionally, and intellectually harmful.
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