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Explanation and Application of Cultivation Theory

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Explanation and Application of Cultivation Theory

According to Merriam-Webster, to cultivate is to grow and raise something under conditions that you can control. Advertisers control television programming. To develop is to create something over a period of time. The cultivation theory is about how heavy television viewing cultivates and develops one's sense of reality, their world view, over a long period of time. "Heavy viewers will believe in a reality that is consistent with that shown on television, even though it does not necessarily reflect the actual world" (Littlejohn, 1992, p. 359). Much of what we know, or think we know is from stories we have heard. Before television, those stories were told from one person to another. Television has replaced the person as the primary storyteller. Parents, teachers and churches are no longer the main source of information for children and society. Television is responsible for the socialization of our children. Most of what we know, or think we know, we heard through stories; stories told to us not by those closest to us, but by those who control the content of what we see on TV. George Gerbner and his colleagues began studying the effects of television on the perceived reality of the viewer over 40 years ago. This was when color was still new to television and programming was mild. Today, television is just one of the mediums used as storyteller. Now there is Facebook, YouTube, interactive video games and a slew of other mediums that extend the reach of the programmers. The ability to have our view of reality influenced by the programmers is growing. We now have the ability to record live television and watch it whenever we want and as much as we want. We also have access to video on demand services through our cable and satellite providers as well as the ability to stream anything we want to our smart phones. As a result, less time is spent communicating with others and more time is spent "viewing" media. As adults, this manufactured sense of reality is troubling. However, the effects of this false reality on children are scary. Children become heavy television viewers early. There are DVD's and television programming for children from infancy to adulthood. With more and more children either growing up in a house where both parents work or where the parents are divorced, there is more time spent in front of the great storyteller, television. Compared to the 13 or so channels of the late '60s and early '70s, most homes today have the ability to access over 200 channels, multiple recorded shows, endless video on demand services and multiple streaming options. Not to mention video games, texting, Facebook, YouTube, websites, etc...Children have endless access to media. And as a result, advertisers have endless access children.

Although the example is a bit farfetched, the fictional character of Mike Teavee in Roald Dahl's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and both film adaptations Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) shows how a child's sense of reality can be warped by television and video games. In the novel and both films, Mike Teavee is obsessed with television. He spends most of his days in front of it. His parents even feed him his meals in front of the television. In the book, Mike Teavee is obsessed with gangster films and dreams of one day owning his own gun. He shows up to the tour of the chocolate factory with multiple toy guns hanging from belts around his body. He is rude and shows little respect for others. In the 1971 film, Mike is obsessed with westerns and also dreams of one day owning his own gun, a Colt 45. He shows up to the tour of the chocolate factory in a cowboy outfit with a toy gun in a holster. He does not listen to his parents or others warnings or advice. In the 2005 film, Mike is obsessed with the not only violent television, but also the internet and violent video games. He is arrogant and once again rude to others. In the book and both films Mike Teavee spends way too much time in front of the television and fantasizes about being like the people he watches. His bad attitude and disrespect for his elders causes him to ignore their warnings and as a result causes him to live with those consequences. These are consequences that he could have avoided had he not been viewing the world through the clouded lens of the television or had he been more socially responsible. Mike's love of gangster movies or westerns or violent video games had slowly, over many years, cultivated his belief of the real world. In Mike's eyes, guns are common and people kill others quite often. He has grown to believe that the world is mean. Gerbner calls this the "mean-world syndrome." The fictional character of Mike Teavee probably seemed extreme to Dahl when he wrote the book in 1964. Television was still in its infancy and most homes did not have color TV. The reality of that character is played out daily in many homes across the world. When parents allow children to make decisions without guidance or they allow the television to raise their children, they end up with a Mike Teavee character of their own living in their house. "Adolescents who interact with their parents about television viewing are less likely to be affected by television images than are adolescents who do not talk with their parents about television" (Littlejohn, 1992, p. 360). Both this quote and this theory were developed prior to the internet and smart phones and all the apps and accessibility that come with them. The ability to be immersed in media has risen dramatically since Littlejohn wrote his book and Gerbner developed his theory. Thus the advertisers have dramatically increased the content in which the public can be immersed.

"The theory predicts a difference in the social reality of heavy television viewers as opposed to light viewers. Heavy viewers will believe in a reality that is consistent with that shown on television, even though it does not necessarily reflect the actual world" (Littlejohn, 1992, p. 359). Gerbner's theory and subsequent research on the beliefs of heavy viewers led him to coin the phrase "mean-world syndrome." "The findings indicate that heavy viewers tend to see the world as gloomier and meaner than do light viewers,

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