We live in a world driven by media and its many players. Of this great epic, three main characters emerge – the producers who use the media to communicate so called ‘reality’, the audience who view the media through prejudice eyes, and finally the advertisers who abuse the media for selfish innocent purposes. The producers are the monopoly man or the manipulator, the advertisers are your good-looking, scheming, villains and your audience is your donkey or the helpless damsel in distress, crying wolf and wanting to be saved. This situation of today has brought one to a contradictory state of sorts with questions that beg for solutions; we say the audience is dumb, yet producers claim they are tough to please, that news is no more news and cannot be trusted, yet the viewership of news has increased, that reality is manipulated, yet what we see is real, and finally, that lesser and lesser people feel the pinch of the hard truth, and yet the amount of support groups are a lot more than in the past years. This essay tries to pick on these topics, so as to bring clarity to the questions; finally, we will find out the role of a media literate in this great epic and how the fourth role, which is so pivotal, is rising.
Take this scene:
*click click* “Never mind I’ll find, someone like youuuuu~oo-“ *click click* “This just in breaking news, a plane heading for Everest region has crashed in Nepals capital, killing 19 people on board-“ *click* “AND ‘BEFORE WICKET’ IS COMING UP, JUST BEHIND ‘ISHIGURU’, ‘TIZNOW’ TAKING UP SPEED-“ *click* “The best way to cook it is by soaking it over night, so it’s nice and soft and easy to cook, see-“ *click* “Black is your best friend, trust me! You shed ten pounds almost immediately when you couple a gorgeous pair of black heels with an elegant black-“ *click* “GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL, WHAT A BEAUTY! A BRILLIANT CURLING EFFORT FROM VAN PERSIE, LLORIS WAS ROOTED TO THE SPOT!” *click* “Tengo la camisa negra, hoy mi amor esta de luto, hoy tengo en el almo una pena y es por culpa de tu embrujo ~”
“What are you watching? Do you even understand that?”
“No clue, but it sounds nice and he doesn’t look half bad”
What you just read is a classic example of how we expose ourselves to media, which in this instance was television. From that, you found out what to wear, how to cook something, that Van Persie scored a goal for Manchester United, Adele’s songs are still playing!, a bunch of ridiculous horses names racing against each other, 19 died in a plane crash at Nepal, and finally, decided to listen to a song in a language you don’t even understand. With 7 billion people on this earth, there is more than 100 times the amount of information available for us, everyday at our fingertips! But how do we make our choices? What influences us? Producers of the information we receive thought about the same thing; they decided that getting the world to like one thing was just impossible, since every being has a separate and unique taste, so the audience was segmented: by creed, race, culture and tradition, age, sex and geographic location. Audience fragmentation helps the producer make your experience more personalized, like it was made for you! So what was the problem in doing this?
Media observer, Ben Bagdikian reported that in 1997, the number of media companies with dominant power in society at the time was 10. In 2004 however, this number reduced to 5, under the observation of columnist William Safire; the companies were namely, Fox, Viacom, Comcast, GE (NBC-Universal), and Time Warner. According to Nielsens, television rating for 2010 show that there are estimated 115.9 million television households in the United States. “A single national rating point represents one percent of the total number or 1,159,000 households for the 2010-11 season.” This is why many concerns are being raised about the influence of such.
From the ‘ordinary’ news you see today, to the way news was told years before, we have come a long way. Let’s take ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘NDTV’ for example; these popular news channels not only inform about what they think you should know, but they also give it to you in a very appealing manner. With lively news anchors, a pleasing stage set appearance and tunes that get stuck in your head, the lines of news and entertainment are fast blurring – but here’s where everyone is mistaken. Perhaps the method of giving information is different from the usual stone-faced anchors, but that’s alright! The viewer’s tastes and preferences change, and the viewers are such that they get amazed really quick, but bored even quicker, if you cease to not amaze them. Methods are not, and should not be, our concern as much as the actual news should.
The problem with change is, if you don’t ride on it when the wave comes, you get lost in the tide. This is why everyone goes on about how the newspaper is ‘dying’. It was the only medium that didn’t have too much change after a certain point. It followed the ABC’s of news worthy information, in the same layout, and at some point, the audience got bored. A smart choice was when newspapers like Khaleej Times and Gulf News made the size of the usual broadsheet smaller, and Gulf News made the layout more for the urban being of today. This received a lot of praise and helped the newspaper. But did content change? No.
What should be our concern is that maybe the news agencies are giving in too much into the pressures of the audience’s wants and needs. What is called news today is anything that you haven’t heard before. Take the example of Jimmy Falon, Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno; they all have a segment where they pick out the most un-news worthy piece of article that was published and mock it in front of a crowd, but people still see it as news none the less. The whole manner of sitting behind a desk, the formal attire and tone of speech convinces the audience that though they know it is entertainment, it is still news. Let’s take another example, a famous YouTube icon, Ray William Johnson. He comments on the odd things he comes across on the internet, like advertisements and other interesting YouTube videos and even on movies and games occasionally. He has more than a million followers and viewers online, who are sometimes informed about the happenings of the wonderful world online only through him. They look forward to his video blogs and hope he makes more, to keep them informed. Therefore, the problem lies in what is news today, because everything is!
Does this make the audience dumb, or the producers smart? Neither. Producers blame the audience for becoming so simple minded, and the audience blames the producers for brain washing them to make them so! Let’s rewind the clock and go back to when books were first introduced to the masses. It was during the industrial revolution that buying power increased and people wanted leisure; books were one among the many more to come. The sole purpose of the medium was first education and entertainment. It later was found that it would be a good way to influence people and get more news about the world out to the masses, rather than light reading and knowledge that have been passed down from the ages.
I will not say the lines of news and entertainment have blurred, because while the mode of giving it has definitely, the content itself hasn’t, from the conventional news sources. This age has just seen an addition to the whole system of news agencies, with a new source or agent for information. The content itself has expanded rather than changing or limiting. Contradictions today have forced us to become more media literate. We take things seriously and as news, today, depending mainly on our taste and preferences, as well as the source itself.
This does not make the audience a dumb one, but rather a varied one. This classification is a result of the fact that the audience’s wants and needs are simple, but they way it is to be given and packaged to us carries paramount importance. We want information on a silver platter, thank you.
However, more than just information and the packaging of it, are the depictions of dreams. A large driving force of media usage is because it enables the audience to see their dreams in the form of reality. Pressures of extreme work conditions have made people want to take a step back. Movies like the Harry Potter series, Twilight series, and other such crazed films, are so popular only because it feeds on the dreams of its viewers. Good tidings, however, are not only for the Sci-fi, Fantasy or Thriller/Suspense genres, but also for the new upcoming popular genres, like Reality Shows, Dramas and Comedies benefit dearly. Taking the example of Modern Family, we find families with characters who are relatable – I repeat, relatable, not real – yet it is depicted so that it looks like it could be. Therefore this sense of realism and relatability helps in the popularity of the series. However, this causes problems again; will children try to be this way? Is showing gay parents promoting or desensitizing us? Is it making us achieve more than what we can?
To this I will not debate. Media has desensitized us, by its constant euphemism of war, crime and other horrid things existing today. By and large, however, this information has also made us empathize and aware. More people know about Type 2 Diabetes, AIDS, Breast Cancer, Autism, that regular check-ups are important and perhaps you don’t always have to donate money to help someone in need! Indeed, the media has done its good part.
So what conclusion can one come to after all? That one needs to be more media literate than they already think they are. Media today forces us to see that while they are giving us what we want, what we want is distorted and we should change our ways. Literature is slowly shifting from Shakespeare to Twilight, Dear John and Harry Potter. This is tradition we can’t lose. We must take this call and move forward. Being a media literate does not mean understanding, interpreting and gaining knowledge from what we receive by the media, but that it should be shared. To be a media literate is to be responsible and objective in your views, making others see the truth behind what is given to them. No one player is at fault here, but all three. It is necessary that producers give news responsibly, without giving in to a much into the needs of the people, that the audience views media with a critical mind and advertisers promote without making viewers try to achieve the impossible. Change will always be evident in the way we do things, but letting it take over everything is another story.