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Mass Media and Its Negative Influence on American Society

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Mass Media and Its Influence Negative Influence on American Society

"It is the power that shapes and molds the mind of virtually every citizen, young or old, rich or poor, simple or sophisticated" (Sweet Liberty, 2000, 1). The media is a part of everyday life in America. News and events outside of one's home or neighborhood are brought to their area via the newspaper, magazines, radio, television, and the internet. As the quote above mentions mass media, and its components, are very powerful and are capable of influencing one's mind, as well as their behavior. The images and stories introduced to children and young adults make it difficult for these viewers to distinguish between fact and fiction (Cable News Network, 1998, 3), thus stimulating confusion and blind emulation.

In Torr's Violence in Film and Television, film and television editor, Harvey Roy Greenberg, says that different forms of aggression, either spoken, sung, danced, or written have appeared in practically every "clime and time". In other words, the media and violent entertainment have been around since ancient times. In the Stone Age, violent images were painted and carved into their stone canvases, the Romans enjoyed gladiatorial combat, and the Victorian English enjoyed plays and puppet shows often featuring murder and swordplay as ways of exciting the audience (Torr, 2002, 15). Violence on television, or portrayed in literary form, may have been more mild and censored in the past, but all the same, the public was still vulnerable and easily influenced by what they witnessed and experienced.

Hollywood, currently, is very candid and graphic in its productions, especially depending on the director and editor. However, in contrast with today's wild interpretations and brutal killings, in the 1930s, Hollywood abided by production codes. These codes "regulated all aspects of screen content, with an elaborate list of rules outlining what was permissible to show and what was not" (Torr, 2002, 22). As times changed and American society became more informed about reality and the violence which took place, the codes were modified, eventually leading to film ratings. Although Americans were more aware and the ratings provided some restrictions, this did not mean that emulation and confusion were eliminated completely.

"... virtually from the cradle, children in the United States are bombarded by violence on TV, in movies, and in song lyrics" (Cable News Network, 1998, 2). Children are easily swayed and influenced by the many images and pictures presented to them through the media. By high school graduation, children will have spent roughly 50 percent more time in front of a television than in front of a teacher (Dudley, 1999, 32). Parents, often times, are too drained or pre-occupied with their own lives, leading their children to find comfort in watching television or playing video games which, consequently, become the prime examples for their actions and behaviors. "For all too many Americans, the real world has been replaced by the false reality of the TV..." (Sweet Liberty, 2000, 2). These children hear the news and watch shows and films where innocent people are being stolen from or being killed, but they have nobody there to teach them the difference between what is real and what is not, what is right and what is wrong.

An article printed in Time magazine, titled Suburban Smackdown, is a great example of how the media persuades children to impersonate what they view on television. The article concentrates on the violence of wrestling and how some children and young adults are putting on shows, costumes, masks and all, for their neighbors based on these wrestling characters they see on TV. "It may not be the Rock vs. the Undertaker on prime-time TV, but the high school boys of the Extreme Wrestling Federation of Sayerville, N.J., try hard to make their contests look just as 'real'" (Fonda, 2000, 49). It may be fun and games for a lot of these kids, but images seen on a Best of Backyard Wrestling video included kids jumping onto barbed wire, setting their opponents on fire, and other kids somersaulting onto mattresses studded with sharp objects (Fonda, 2000, 49). "And the violence seems to be trickling down from teenagers to tots" (Fonda, 2000, 49). The Wrestling Federation and the high school boys' imitation is similar to a slippery slope. The professional wrestlers are not setting a good example for these boys by promoting fights and violence for no reason, other than winning a trophy, and these high school boys are not setting a good example for even younger children because they are expressing that violence is fun and "okay". One year before this article was published, in Dallas, a three-year-old boy was killed after his seven-year-old brother stiff-armed him in the throat, trying to imitate a move he had seen on television (Fonda, 2000, 49). After hundreds and thousands of years of media influence, it cost children's lives and innocence for the pro-wrestling federations to run don't-try-this-at-home ads during their matches.

Children are a large majority of the population influenced by the media, but it is not them alone who imitate and follow what they see and hear on a daily basis. "Media experts say the last four decades of research have shown a clear correlation between violence on television and the development and display of aggressive values and behavior by both children and adults" (Torr, 2002, 99). Adults watching the news are influenced by the events occurring locally as well as internationally; however, it not so much what they hear, but more how it is being presented. For example: "...which items are emphasized and which are played down, the reporter's choice of words, tone of voice, and facial expressions; the wording of headlines; the choice of illustrations--all of these subliminally and yet profoundly affect the way in which we interpret what we see or hear" (Sweet Liberty, 2000, 2). Not only does the news affect the way adults think and view the society, but film and violent entertainment also play a large role in influencing their behaviors and actions. A good, very recent example involves Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of Christ. ". . . A Fort Bend County man has fanned the flames of the fervor when he confessed to killing his girlfriend after viewing the movie in hopes of seeking redemption" (Klentzman, 2004, 1). The Passion of Christ's message influenced this man in a positive way, in confessing for his mortal sin, but the other side to this positive media influence is not so bright Leach, the man convicted of the murder, suffocated his girlfriend and got the idea of making it look like



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