<b>Mass Media's Influence on Man</b> 76-101 Interpretation & Argument
Professor Sauer
December 9, 1997


Mass Media's Influence on Man


Effects of mass media is one of the most debated topics in our society today. Despite the abundance of information or the pleasures of entertainment that mass media provides us with, consensus today is that commercial production of media, as a whole has negative features. (Lazere 233) Those who have expressed concern for the negative influence of media have argued against media's disruptive effects on the social environment, community life, and individual's moral and cognitive development. And many of these effects are bound to the notion that commercial media are driven by the profit motive of corporate capitalism. (Lazere 407)

The following articles: "The Teachings of the Media Curriculum," by Neil Postman, "Ambush at Kamikaze Pass," by Tom Engelhardt, "Introduction to How to Read Donald Duck," by David Kunzle, "Sports and the American Empire," by Mark Naison, and "Taming the Computer," by Gary Chapman, collectively argue from different viewpoints that the effects of mass media are detrimental. Each author uses different mediums of technology such as TV, radio, film, sports media , and publishing, in order to draw effects of media on child development, race, culture, community, and gender image. However, the five different perspectives share the same disapproving view of the mass media system as being driven by corporate capitalism.

Neil Postman in his article, "The Teachings of the Media Curriculum," describes the detrimental effects of televisions and radios on individuals' moral and cognitive development. He states that televisions are fundamentally hostile to the nature of language. The imagery of television is fast-moving, concrete, discontinuous, and alogical, requiring emotional response, not conceptual processing; whereas the nature of language is conceptual, and segmented, requiring linear modes of expression. This difference between the television curriculum and the nature of language creates a "generation gap," between the age-old tradition of a language-centered view and the world standing opposite a recently emerged image-centered view. (Postman 423) Postman sees this "generation gap" as a cause to the diminishing linguistic power, the lack of analytical and sequential thinking, and the short attention span of today's youth. Consequently, the new generation creates a whole new society, an "all-instant society." (Postman 423) Instant therapy, religion, food, friends, even reading  all of which contradicts the main teaching of civilization that stresses "constancy."

"Every one of the one million commercials  every one  that a youngster will see or hear on TV or the radio presents a problem and a solution. The problem is rarely trivial, but the solution always is. Your anxiety about your sexual appeal gets solved with Scope  in thirty seconds. Your failure to achieve social status gets fixed with a bottle of Coke and a song  in sixty secondsnot to mention Pan Am will relieve the boredom of your life. These are powerful and incessant teachingsthey present us all with a paradigm of how to think and how to live and what to expect." (Postman 424)

Similar to televisions are radios who's language is largely a commercial message, mostly a parody of human speech  disjointed and semi-hysterical. (Postman 422) Thus radios also undermine the traditional patterns of thought and response.

So what are the effects of high exposure to television and radios on the individual's moral and cognitive development? Postman answers that when one is immersed in a world of disconnected media presentations, the individual has a hard time making connections; he or she is being affected because they are unable to organize coherent themes. The new "instant society," influences individuals directing them to search for time compressed experiences. Thus the media curriculum will inevitably lead us to alter our lifestyles, our way of thinking, and our values.

Tom Engelhardt, reflects the issue of race in the medium of American film in his article, "Ambush at Kamikaze." He talks about race in the American film industry which disruptively affects the social environment as well as the viewer's cognitive development. Engelhardt states that from watching American film, the audience is expected to carry two racial lessons away: the first is that the presence of the incomprehensible and non-human brings out what is "human" in every man. "Individual dignity, equality, fraternity  all that on which the West theoretically places premium value is brought sharply into focus at the expense of alien being.'" (Engelhardt 486) The second lesson is the implicit statement that any white man is a step up from the rest of the world. Engelhardt gives many examples of film where the white man is portrayed as "human" due to the presence of a non-white character who represents the "non-human." The western cowboy films, which for generations provided entertainment as well as history lessons, are good examples that portray the white men as "humans," and Indians as "non-human." Envision white canvas-covered wagons in a circle, fires built; and guards set. From within this secured circle, a white man stares out, and suddenly, out of nowhere, "like maggots, swarming, naked, painted, burning, and killing, for no reason, like animals, they would come." (Engelhardt 480)

"It is the Indians, in these films, who must invade, intrude, break in upon the circle  a circle that contains all those whom the film has already certified as humans.' No wonder the viewer identifies with those in the circle, not with the Indians left to patrol enigmatically the bluffs overlooking humanity." (Engelhardt 481)

Apart from western films are war movies between America and the Third World and hundreds of World War II flicks that depict the same encirclement imagery, where the non-whites break in upon the white men's circle. Too often are Americans portrayed as the heroes who fight the "non-human" as the unquestionable victors. As a result, the overwhelmingly present theme of the "non-human-ness" of the non-whites lets us accept with pleasure, relief , and satisfaction, the killing of our "enemies." Whether the character is an Indian; a non-white woman acting as a geisha, belly dancer, or a prostitute; or a half black orphan girl -- their role (in contrast to the white men) is a vehicle to reflect to the audience an aspect of white humanity.

What are the effects of this portrayal of race? Inevitably, it will disrupt the natural environment and the cognitive development of individuals. How can one who grows up watching American film not be influenced by the imagery of the white man who is always being depended on, who is always attending to other's needs, fighting off natives and lions, and always retaining some sense of human dignity no matter how low he sinks? He or she cannot escape this powerful influence.

"Introduction to How to Read Donald Duck, " written by David Kunzle not only introduces the book, but also discusses the disruptive effects of mass media on culture and community life. Until 1970, due to Chile's dependency on the U.S. (Chile was ranked the second highest nation in foreign debt at the time) American media prevailed Chile. (Kunzle 517) Most of the television shows and film shown in Chile were imported from the U.S., and Disney was considered a part of bourgeois popular culture. But in 1971, from the heat of the struggle to free Chile from U.S. dependency, the Popular Unity publishing house Quimantu published How to Read Donald Duck. The book is

"enraged, satirical, and politically impassioned. The authors' passion derives in part from a sense of personal victimization, for they themselves, brought up on Disney comics and films, were injected with the Disney ideology which they now reject." (Kunzle 517)

The book states that capitalist and imperialist values are shown to be supported by the culture itself. (Kunzle 516) In response to the publication of the book, chaos broke out in Chile.

"September, 1973, Chilean armed forces, with U.S. aid, executed a bloody counterrevolution. Tens of thousands of workers and government supporters were killed. Murals were destroyed. All art and literature favorable to the Popular Unity movement was immediately suppressed. There were public bonfires of books, posters, and comics. Intellectuals of the left were jailed, tortured, and killed. Among those persecuted were the authors of the book." (Kunzle 518)

Kunzle's suggests the detrimental effects of mass media on both culture and community life as the cause behind the actual revolution that affected the Chilean culture. How to Read Donald Duck was written -- for a reason -- because an individual saw American media's power contributing to the cultural imperialism of Chile. Just one book, one source of media, How to Read Donald Duck, was enough to cause a bloody counterrevolution in the history of one nation.

"Sports and the American Empire," by Mark Naison is an article that discusses media of major commercial sports and it's negative impact on individuals' image and culture. Naison suggests that the major commercial sports industry having an emphasis on all-male games reinforces the dominant image of male while harming the image of women.

"The man watching a football game on television sees not only huge men smashing each other (just as he would like to do to his boss, his wife, or his kids) but also the reduplication of military and corporate thinking. Elaborate offensive and defensive "maneuvers," discussions of "field generalship," and analyses of "what it takes to win" reinforces images of strong men running things and legitimize the strategies by which America seeks to maintain its empire. From their former role of simply enshrining willpower, competition, and physical strength, spectator sports in America have come to glorify strategic thinking and technological rationality as contemporary masculine values." (Naison 509)

Naison points out the danger of excessive exposure to such depiction of superior and inferior images on males and females. Through television coverage and heavy journalistic promotion, mass spectator sports have been made one of the major psychological points for American men. (Naison 499) If watching sports on the television have such a psychological impact on people, shall we not be concerned with the messages that the television show is transmitting? Secondly, the sports industry media, has a negative effect on culture. As professional sports have become bigger and bigger, with television rights, advertising contracts, and huge arenas, athletes have been increasingly subjected to industrial norms and disciplines. (Naison 509) This disruptively impacts the cognitive development of the individual athletes, but moreover the whole sports culture itself. Today, when thinking about the sports industry, athletes are viewed as "celebrities." We no longer view professional athletes as ordinary people who play the sport strictly out of love for playing. The culture of sports has changed and become contaminated with the heavy emphasis of media as well as stardom.

Gary Chapman, in "Taming the Computer," argues the detrimental effects of computers on individuals' moral and cognitive development. More specific in argument than the other articles, Chapman clearly states that he is against the naove, uncritical, one-dimensioned view of computers, which can potentially lead to disrupting one's own moral and cognitive development. An example he gives is the role change of people in industrial production. Today, people sit in front of computers and type in abstract codes that enable machines to operate: "The skills of the manufacturing work force are largely transferred to the software that provides the automated machines their instructions, and this software is both unavailable and incomprehensible to the average worker." (Chapman 19) Although computers help us produce commodities in greater quantity and higher speed, those people's role in production become distant from the actual commodity that is being produced. Chapman is implies that with the introduction of computers, we human beings do not do much anymore. There is no longer a need for us to do so . We operate machines to complete tasks for us. But do we even care? Do we ever question the benefits computers have brought us?

Televisions, radios, films, books, Disney, sports industry, and the internet -- the above articles cover media from all different angles. Additionally, all five authors argue about different detrimental effects of mass media  social environment, individuals' moral and cognitive development, culture, race, and gender image. So what do these articles share in common?

All five authors would agree to the statement: The destructive effects are bound to the fact that commercial media are driven by the profit motive of corporate capitalism. Postman states,

"Simply, information must be moved and consumed continuously  that is the price to be paid for speed of light transmission. What the information may be is of no consequence, as long as it is attention-getting, and does not inhibit the flow of new information coming fast behind it." (Postman 427)

Here the profit motive of corporations is the cause behind why commercials are twelve seconds, or why one's fear of nature gets solved with a Scott toilet tissue, or why the images on television are fast-moving. It is all about catching the audience's attention. Engelhardt would agree with Postman with the same reasoning and state that film content must be something that grabs the audience's eyes. The film makers who are hungry for audience would not deliberately make a film that would be offensive or un-amusing to the viewers. This explains the ongoing theme within American films, as Engelhardt sees, almost always following the imagery of superior "human" whites and the inferior "alien" non-whites. Kunzle agrees with the first two, stating that profit motive of corporate capitalism can be dangerous, leading to cultural imperialism, like what occurred to Chile before 1970. "Disney comic, more than any of his other media, systematically relies on foreign labor in all stages of the production process. Thus the native contributes directly on his own colonization." (Kinzle 520) Meanwhile, Disney does not take the comics seriously. He hardly even admits publicly of their existence and is far too concerned with the promotion of films and the amusement parks, his two most profitable enterprises. (Kunzle 519) Naison would also agree to the statement and relate the growing sports industry media to the disruptive effects on the athletes being increasingly subjected to industrial norms and disciplines. Today, sports programs in most American schools are tracking systems to select potential stars for training. One each level, players are disciplined, skills refined. Those who succeed in sports are discouraged from serious academic concerns and arrangements are made to provide tutors, term papers, and "gentlemen's Cs" so that academics won't interfere with their sports. (Naison 510) And of course, Chapman would agree with the statement. Consider the example from above about the manufacturing workers who are now so remote from the actual commodity as compared to their past. Computers are used because it increases "efficiency" and "production." Corporations want to increase efficiency and production so they can sell more and sell high quality materials. Chapman also makes another point that most of us have become "slaves" to gadgets. (Chapman 25) We are slaves who are not even struggling; we may be slaves for all eternity. Chapman stresses the importance of being knowledgeable about computers and defining how computers should be used in the context with our aspirations as well as values.

From within this group of articles, there are also sub-groups. Neil Postman's "The Teaching of the Media Curriculum," and Gary Chapman's, "Taming the Computer" show a connection because they present similar problems. Both of them, through even similar writing styles, presents the negative effect of the mass media on our weakening connection to the natural world and the old tradition of a language-centered view of the world. The two are in some way longing for something that we had in the past. Postman sees mass media affecting the new generation's reading and writing level. The importance of language is on the decline. And as a result, he hypothesizes that for anyone with any decline in linguistic power, there will be an increase of personal maladjustment. (Postman 425) Similar to the problem that Postman presents, Chapman talks about how the weakening of our connection to the natural world constrains our ability to determine, autonomously, the purpose of human history and human character. (Chapman 24) Chapman feels that computers have turned people life into a "artificial, animated stupefaction."

Another connection can be seen between the pieces "Ambush at Kamikaze Pass," and "Introduction to How to Read Donald Duck." Both pieces talk about the muting in American culture of our colonialist motives. Tom Egelhardt talks about the image of foreigners in our domestic media and David Kunzle talks about the U.S.'s capitalistic expansion through out the world. Both pieces are about media imperialism and it's effect on race as well as culture.

These various mediums provides us with different windows through which we see the growing negative aspects of our media. When each of us go home after school or work and turn on the TV to watch our favorite shows, news, and movies, rarely do we think about what exactly we are seeing or hearing. The media has become such an important part of our lives that the negatives effects are often left alone, because there will always be an audience for them as well we a profitable market for providers of such products of media. Although we have become more sensitive and attentive to recognizing and identifying the negative effects mentioned in the articles I have chosen, we all know that we have access to everything we want.

It is an ironic fact that the actual topics of controversies surrounding the media has often become a tool of corporate capitalism on its own. While our society reprimands child pornography in our media, Calvin Klein has gained wide media attention when it portrayed excessively young looking teens dressed provocatively in the advertisements. Although the firm decided to take down the debated series of these ads, in the end Calvin Klein did gain the media attention and coverage any profit any seeking firm would seek.

As our ever-growing world of media continues to expand, the detrimental aspects will become increasingly evident. We have already seen so much of it, yet we continue to be hungry for more information, convenience, and entertainment. By reading these articles written by different authors in varying contexts, we can draw upon the fact that as long as consumers of media ask for more, the corporate capitalism will continue to thrive. Only when our society learns to digest the enormous amount of media that occupies us, we will ever learn not to be slaves of media and the proliferation of corporate "media" capitalism.

Work Cited

Chapman, Gary. Taming the Computer. Mark Dery, editor, in Flame Wars. New Haven, Yale University Press. pp297-319. 1996.

Engelhardt, Tom. Ambush at Kamikaze Pass. American Media and Mass Culture.

Donald Lazere, editor, California, University of California Press. pp480-498.

Kunzle, David. Introduction to How to Read Donald Duck. American Media and Mass Culture.

Donald Lazere, editor. California, University of California Press. pp516-529.

Naison, Mark. Sports and the American Empire. American Media and Mass Culture.

Donald Lazere, editor. California, University of California Press. pp499-515.

Postman, Neil. The Teaching of the Media Curriculum. American Media and Mass Culture. Donald Lazere, editor. California, University of California Press. pp421-430.