Weapons of mass entertainment

27 December 2017

Weapons of mass entertainment

Image credit: Rocky IV © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

San Francisco, 7  September 1927 — society sees a breakthrough like no other. An invention that would propel us forward into the ever so bright future of endless broadcasting. News, sports, drama, and action all at our finger tips. The television would be the apotheosis of human invention that would expand the minds of society forever – or so we thought.

‘Too much TV will turn your brain to mush’ was a statement often disregarded, and since its inception, society has looked to the screen for their daily dose of news and entertainment. Harmless in theory, but is the television affecting us in more negative ways than we may think? How are the messages that we are being shown through the television on a regular basis affecting our thoughts, opinions and shaping society?

It can be said that modern society is no stranger to conspiracy theories; having actively studied some myself, I know that among those is the belief that televisions are used as weapons for setting agendas and manipulating the masses, a ludicrous statement to some.

However, if we examine popular television over the years, such beliefs begin to not seem so far-fetched. The hypodermic needle theory suggests that mass media may influence a significant number of people at once by injecting them with messages designed to trigger a desired response or outcome. What this means is that if we are to apply this theory to our many films, shows and news programs, those who are making said programs may be able to subtly manipulate your opinions or views by selectively choosing what is being displayed to you through the television.

In today’s media, we are constantly shown the same stereotypes often fitting with current political agendas and issues. An example of such an occurrence can be found within the film Rocky IV. Released during The Cold War, the film sees protagonist Rocky Balboa, representing America, pit against evil, steroid ridden antagonist Ivan Drago from the USSR. By painting America, or Rocky in this case, as the good guy who fights the hardest, and the USSR as a cheating bad guy, Rocky IV sends a clear political message into the heads of the masses.

However, it isn’t only movies that are rife with stereotypes and agendas. Network news is also not immune to the practice.

A study conducted by Color of Change in the U.S. found that although 51% of violent criminals arrested in New York City are African American, 75% of the news reports concerning violence highlighted African American alleged perpetrators. What these statistics show is that news networks perpetuate racial stereotypes by highlighting crimes committed by ethnic minorities, which could be perceived as an attempt to alter how society may feel about a certain group. This is a disturbing thought, considering the repercussions the demonisation of an entire ethnic group may have on individuals belonging to that group.

With the number of different people involved in the creation of the content we watch, it is only natural that some stereotypes and biases will shine through. There is no disputing the fact that the television and film industry has a massive influence on our society. We can either choose to be aware of the possibility that agendas may be present in what we watch and consciously, as well as critically, analyse what we view and make informed decisions; or passively accept everything we see as fact, and follow absolutely everything that the magic box with pretty pictures tells us to do.

Regardless, I hope in the future more of us will be able to put the former into practice and continue to grow into a more vigilant society who remain open-minded, but also cautious of what we are viewing every day. I hope we can continue to grow and expand our minds by not being mindless recipients of the hypodermic needle, but rather critical thinkers and analysers of the media we are fed, to form strong, educated views and opinions of the world around us.