When growing up, my parents were very strict about what shows and movies I was allowed to watch. I could not watch majority of the shows on Cartoon Network and several of the cartoons that came on Nickelodeon. Honestly, the only cartoons that I remember watching are Rocket Power, Hey Arnold, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Jimmy Neutron. There were other shows, such as Sponge Bob, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Ed, Edd, and Eddy, which my parents believed would instill faultily values and stupidity. To this day, I have still never seen a single episode of Sponge Bob.
Today, media plays a large role in our society. Interacting with media is unavoidable; it is everywhere. Radio, television, newspaper, and magazines are examples of the media we face everyday. Media is described as “the means of communication that reach or influence people widely” (Dictionary.com). Because it has such an obvious presence in our society, we are all affected by it in some form or fashion.
One way that media affects us is on an individual level. An example of the individual effect that media has on us can be seen when looking at psychological matters. These psychological matters include the “behaviors and cognition” of an individual (Media and Culture). Media can also affect us on a cultural level. As media has continued to become more prominent, it has had an impact on our culture. Media plays a role in shaping the views and opinions of our culture. An example of this can be seen in politics. Politicians spread their views through the use of media. They use this media as a way to persuade the views and opinions of a society. America has changed a lot over the past century; could this be because of our culture’s vast use of media?
Although media affects us all, it may have a much larger effect on certain social groups. Media looks to target people who are viewed as being vulnerable. These “vulnerable” people are those who can be persuaded very easily. In the early 1900s, the upper class was afraid of the effect that the media would have on the lower, working class. Because the upper class saw the working class as being uneducated, they worried that the working class would be too easily persuaded by what they saw in the media. However, today, the media targets children. Children are young and innocent; because of this, they can be persuaded very easily. Our society fears that children may model their behavior after the events that they see through video games and movies.
As a way of understanding the effects that media has on us, people began to observe and research. Over the last century, people have come up with many theories about how media affects us. The early paradigms for understanding media’s effects were the direct effect model, limited or minimal effect model, and the uses and gratification model.
The direct effects model is also known as the hypodermic model. This idea gives media a lot of credit by stating that the audience is weak compared to the powerful media. The direct effects model says that people do not have free will against the media; the viewer will believe whatever the media may say. Although this theory has been disproven, many people still believe this theory today. An example of direct effect is when parents think that their children’s video games are causing them to act violently. I believe that because of this idea my parents did not allow me to watch several television shows. They feared that the stupidity shown in those shows would make me think that it was okay to act in an inappropriate way.
The minimal effects model says that media alone cannot cause a person’s attitude to change. Not everyone is affected the same way. Two people can watch the exact same movie, but it could easily affect the two people differently. Why is this? What make these people react differently? According to the minimal effect model, people have selective retention. This means that viewers notice different things and will take different things away from the same mass media text. This model does not blame media for controlling the viewer’s thoughts. Instead, it states that media reinforces an already existing attitude or belief of the viewer. I personally thought that this idea was intelligent. Every day we experience selective retention. You may have a conversation with someone and both get something different out of the conversation. We choose to listen to what we want to hear and what makes us feel the best. This model made a lot of sense to me.
The uses and gratification model examines how people use media to satisfy their needs and what people do with media. It looks at why different things give people different gratification. It is this model that changed the whole thought pattern of scholars. People used media as a way to satisfy intellectual and emotional needs. Although this theory focuses on how we use media, it does not explain how media affects us.
Today, the dominant approach is cultural studies. Cultural studies look at media as a part of our daily lives. Rather than using the scientific method, it uses a qualitative and interpretation approach by looking at why and how people use media. This approach examines the meanings that people make of their media experiences. Our textbook, Mass Media and Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age, talks about three cultural studies approaches: textual analysis, audience studies, and political economy studies. Textual analysis “highlights the close readings and interpretation of cultural messages, including those found in books, movies, and TV programs”. Audience studies looks at how people use and interpret cultural content. Political economy studies focuses “on the production of popular culture and the forces behind it”.
Although there are many different ideas and theories about our interaction with media, one thing is sure: people are greatly affected by media. People may not want to admit it, but we are all affected by media in some way. Parents worry about how their kids are being affected by television or video games and sometimes forget that they themselves are also vulnerable to media.