Yesterday, an article titled Why Much of What Our Media Says is a Lie in the Deseret News caught my attention. Richard and Linda Eyre have written a bunch about the traditional family and the conservative values that many in and out of the LDS church can appreciate and enjoy. However, this column propagates a problem nearly more then the one it purportedly seeks to solve.
In the article the Eyres condemn "media" as if media is a person with a single purpose and agenda.
Most entertainment media are represented as being a reflection of typical or majority lifestyles, values and conduct.
This person called "media" has stripped the world of agency. Apparently all media falls under the control of these "few hundred" and we are powerless to influence this. So, it seems the Eyres are saying, the way we can protect our children from this pernicious thing we all let into our homes is by persuading them that this false reality projected by Mr. Media is actually not the mainstream way of thinking or behaving - thus it is not right. Since when did we want to become mainstream?
This makes no sense.
Whether sex in high school is mainstream or not, or divorce is accepted widely in the mainstream doesn't mean a thing about the morality of it all. We should not be in the business of using statistics to try and teach our children about what is "normal" and what is just poisonous bile from Mr. Media. I can see the intent of this article and I believe it is pure and good. However it is this very kind of writing that continues to turn Hollywood into the boogeymonster and excuse so many people continually scream at.
Ultimately there are two flaws in this article that moved me enough to write about it. I take the time and energy to address these because this is not the first time I have heard these arguments and it is really troubling to have them constantly around and even published in the newspaper.
Flaw of Thinking #1: Reality is not accurately depicted in media.
The Eyres write, "The facts run contrary to what is seen and heard in so many movies, TV shows, Internet games and rock songs." When you break down the logic, of course this is true! Any fictional media will not accurately depict the "correct" or real version of things because it is fiction. Every human being is subject to the construct of their own reality when it comes to structuring the world and sharing it with others. While things like science and faith allow us to better understand Truths and things as they really are, the fictional stories we pay Mr. Media to give us are merely constructs that have been proved to make money and "entertain" enough people to be financially worth it. The book of Job doesn't depict reality very well in terms of the setting and dialogue, or what about all the miracles of the old and new testaments? Joseph Smith's story certainly doesn't make much sense when it comes to national surveys or the mainstream perspective on angels and visions, but we want our kids to accept it! Yes, reality is not accurately depicted in media whether it is produced by a Hollywood Tycoon or commissioned by the church. But that doesn't mean we can't pull truths and aspects of reality from these things, and THAT is what I think the Eyers are trying to get at. Job may or may not have been an actual guy who went through all the things he does in the Bible, but great truths are learned about human nature and the mystery of suffering. Just like watching a film with terrible values, we can glean the values while not accepting the "reality" in which they are encased. Which leads me to point number two.
Flaw of Thinking #2: Much of what young people view is created by people with low values.
In the article the authors write, "A small cultural elite creates much of the media they (our children) see." Is it the small heathen cultural elite group, your children, or you who should be held to blame that your kids are even watching trash? Just because 5 thousand channels of garbage is on 24/7 doesn't mean young people have to view it. Additionally, the idea that all media stems from this one small group is silly seeing that we live in an information age where many teens get their media from millions of different websites often which are user-generated and in the form of forums or social media groups. Thus to point at "Mr. Media" and call him a heathen is a bit like trying to identify the one and only enemy to the United States of America that we can kill in order to "win". Not to mention that this way of thinking strips us and our children of our own moral agency. We can CHOOSE not to watch this stuff, and better yet we can also choose to make our own stuff that contains our own values and view of the world.
Is there an alternative?
Yes. We don't need to rip on some group of Hollywood executives as an excuse to shutting off TVs or adding Internet blockers (though I don't have anything against doing these two things). We do need to teach the next generation how to think about their own thinking and evaluate the media messages that are embedded in the things they are exposed to. We live in a time that you can't block every piece of porn or mute every disgusting rant. But we always have our ability to reason and to choose.
I guess what irks me about this article and the understanding of reality it appears to be supporting is that it pushes responsibility more onto others than ourselves. This way of thinking is dangerous and threatens the to push our society to even greater levels of polarization than it already suffers. We are all responsible, and we have the power to choose.
I am a graduate student in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. I enjoy writing, hiking, and spending time with my family.