As a 13-year-old, I sat at my mother’s table in Gary, Ind. creating magazines of my own, cover to cover, writing every word and drawing every picture. I guess I knew then the power that mass communication had on shaping what people think, how they behave and even what they find attractive.
Media seems to shape what we love and how we live and that power also scares me.
Some estimate that by the time an American child starts school, he has seen more than 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television. The number grows to 32,000 murders witnessed by the time they leave for college. That’s 40,000 lives ended, all packaged, sanitized and fed to our kids with none of the realities of death attached — no funerals, crying mothers or fatherless babies. That part never makes it to television because it doesn’t sell commercials.
Newspapers and magazines are also culprits in the way they use sensationalized front covers that glorify violence and half-naked women to sell copies. I recently canceled my subscription to a popular men’s magazine because I grew tired of being forced to hide it from my children every time it landed in the mailbox with the provocatively dressed woman prominently displayed on the cover. Throw into the media mix music videos — which tend to depict women as loose and easy sex objects owned by fun-loving, responsibility-free young men — and the message that we seem to be endorsing is that there are no consequences for living a hedonistic and sometimes violent American lifestyle.
I don’t believe in censorship. The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution is displayed on my office wall. However, we have to remember that our freedoms, unmonitored, have the potential to ruin us. With our “anything goes” approach to mass communication, we have to accept that it ultimately may lead to an “anything goes” approach to living by those most influenced by it.
I am not making excuses for the obviously disturbed 18-year-old man recently accused of raping and murdering a 20-year-old waitress in Philadelphia, but I have to wonder if he would be a different young man today if his years of exposure to American media were different. I have to wonder how much of the victim’s blood is on our hands because of our inability to create a society free of continual negative messaging.
That said, most studies on this topic suggest that we are all so different that any link that might exist between violent behavior and our consumption of media are, at best, tenuous. Maybe media has no impact at all. Maybe we are naturally a horrid people and we are simply destined to destroy everything within our reach — including media. I certainly hope not.
— Eric Mayberry is president of SmartBoy Enterprises, a media and entertainment firm based in Philadelphia. Named “The Success Master” by colleagues, he has received numerous awards and honors. For the rest of the Big Brain Awards, or to recommend your own, go to www.hugebrain.net.-
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