The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper

Arts and Entertainment

TV and Media Influence on Viewers

By Staff Writers Hannah Chou & Bethany Woo

In our rapidly developing society, technology has invaded every aspect of life. Entertainment and the media have transformed due to advanced special effects and computer graphics that make it much more accessible. With the growing film industry, directors and producers can convey specific messages to their audience, influencing viewers’ thoughts and behaviors. Although this manipulative ability may seem unavoidable as media is a part of daily life, it is up to the audience to determine if they will let themselves be swayed.

In mainstream movies, themes of violence and sex have become increasingly common in all genres. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, an average American youth will witness 200,000 violent acts on television before they reach the age of 18. Of cartoon programs that use violence, 67 percent juxtapose it with humor, and only five percent show long-term consequences of violence. Strong and subliminal messages imply that violence is an acceptable response to a variety of different situations. A study by psychologist Albert Bandura concluded that watching violence in movies made children less sensitive towards others, more likely to be aggressive, and more fearful of the world. Because children’s values and beliefs about society are still being formed, there is a risk of them mimicking the behavior and ideas they observe in movies and creating narrow-minded perspectives on societal issues. One example of these cases is body image. The media presents models with perfect bodies and flawless facial structures. It is uncommon to see an unattractive woman or man as the main character(s) in films, music videos, and even advertisements. The media cultivate the idea that beauty is defined by specific and ideal characteristics. People use the material from movies to draw conclusions about society’s structure, functions, and their own identity, causing them to adopt certain behaviors or values from the seemingly harmless entertainment.

Films and the media may be major contributors to the negative influences in our society, but they are also capable of changing our perspectives on certain controversial issues and opening our eyes to the world’s situations and problems. For example, movies such as award-winning Moonlight and Argo not only use special effects, filmography, and storyline to entertain the audience, but also convey messages that reject stereotypes and destigmatize subjects that are prone to misunderstanding and prejudice. University of Dayton Political Science Associate Professor Michelle C. Pautz said to the New York Times that movies “can be a great mechanism for conversation and reflection, [and can] help us understand societal opinions, help us understand institutions, and even demystify aspects of society.” Although films that bring these controversial topics to light cannot completely solve society’s current problems, presenting it as a “packaged deal” can make people feel more comfortable discussing these sensitive topics in reference to the movie.

The evidence provided of the audience’s vulnerability to be influenced by films should encourage directors and scriptwriters to avoid sending messages that support violence, stereotypes, and objectification. However, viewers can also limit what they watch and the effect of movies and media on their behaviors and thought patterns by using scrutiny and discretion. For example, the majority of movie are rated (i.e. PG, PG-13, R) along with a brief description of the reasons for the given rating. Reviewing these reviews can help people decide the amount of precaution needed to view certain films. Additionally, while watching more gruesome movies with bloody and violent scenes, we can remind ourselves that the actions and situations in the movie’s plot are fictional and that the use of such extreme physical force should not be normalized. Using selectiveness to determine the ideas and concepts we accept from the media, we can distinguish truth from fallacies and prevent ourselves from believing manipulative tactics.

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