Wednesday 20 June 2012
Last Update 21 June 2012 1:57 am
If you can't beat them, join them... Right? The short answer is: not necessarily. The long answer is our topic of reflection today. But who is "them?"
Them refers to the ubiquitous presence of media in our lives - TV, social media and the Internet, and to a lesser extent print media all bombard us around the clock with information, images, and sounds. It is certainly an age of information abundance (some experts prefer to call it information overload), and the effects range from useful to disastrous.
It is important to note that when we say "media" we are not only talking about the tool of communication, but also about those who use it to promote messages as well as the actual content conveyed.
Therefore, it becomes obvious that if the tool is used benignly it could be useful. The problem lies in its more sinister uses. Now, a lot has been said about the negative effects of media on people in general and on kids in particular. Religious figures, academics and commentators have demonstrated time and again that the media in most of its forms adversely impact our social reality. This is a recurrent theme that is not exclusive to one culture. Parents in the UK are unhappy with the media, complaining that it interferes with there parenting. Women in large parts of the world suffer from the media constructed image of how they should look like. Sheikhs, pastors and rabbis are decrying the subversion of values in the media. Even social scientists consistently affirm the problem.
One fact is glaringly evident through all this: The media shapes our values and beliefs in addition to setting the agenda for "what is important to society."
However, this is an issue that is here to stay, so what's to be done? Should we all just resign ourselves to being shaped and bent to the liking (and benefit) of the manufacturers of these messages? Are we to surrender our kids to screens and virtual realities, thus allowing others to raise them? It certainly seems like the easier option, because frankly speaking, the presence of the media is overwhelming, omnipresent, and alluring. That much is true, and the old adage of "If you can't beat them, join them" appears tempting at this point.
Indeed, this is exactly what some of us are doing: Marching behind the pied piper in an oblivious and artificial bliss. Others reject this reality altogether and shield themselves and their children from media (particularly TV and Internet). Given the state of the media, we can sympathize with such a choice. It remains difficult though to implement it on a large and effective scale, since few people would actually opt for it. Besides, it doesn't inoculate against the poison, but merely avoids it. So again, what are we to do?
The answer may lie in the same proverb mentioned earlier. This time, however, we could change it to: "If you can't beat them, study them. Expose their tricks, become aware of the message, messenger, and motive." I admit it is not as pithy, but most realistic solutions are not.
Of course, there is always the choice of community activism against "pollution" by the media, but that is a long-term option that requires awareness, mobilization, solidarity and commitment. Meanwhile, we can help bring that about by media education or literacy. We can reclaim our minds and our kids from media makers, ideologues and corporations by becoming conscious of what we receive, evaluating and judging messages rather than accepting them indiscriminately.
When a former president of a kids clothing company, for instance, says (in reference to the power of advertisement), "If you own this child at an early age, you can own him for years to come," we can respond: "You can't own anyone and turn them into mindless consumers if they are aware of what you are trying to do, why you are doing it, and what techniques you employ." This is applicable whether they (the media) are trying to sell us products, ideas, political agendas, or values. We can educate ourselves and our kids to be able to say: We are not buying, unless ...unless what? Let us explore that next week.