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In this essay, I will utilize The Mean World Syndrome: Media Violence and the Cultivation of Fear in order to analyze the effects of media violence in American society as a whole. I will begin by explaining how socialization limits the choices we make because of how we grow up and internalize our culture. I will then move on to analyze how watching violence on TV affects Americans by making us a more fearful society, as well as making us more judgmental of certain groups of people. I will end this essay by explaining how the video impacted me as a person and what I personally took from the video.
According to our text, socialization refers to “the lifelong social experience by which people develop their human potential and learn culture” (Macionis, p. 84). Socialization limits the choices we make because of the internalization of the culture we grow up in and learn throughout our lives. Because of the agents of socialization, which are family, school, peers, and mass media (Lecture notes, Chapter 3), we are limited as a society. Every person grows up in some sort of culture, and within every culture the agents of socialization are utilized differently. We internalize the culture that we grow up in, and this in turn gives us an idea of how we are supposed to act in our specific culture. The first agent of socialization, family, means that every person comes from a different background. Every family has a different monetary and racial situation, and every person is nurtured differently as a child. This affects how a child sees and treats others. As Macionis suggests, “nothing is more likely to produce a happy, well-adjusted child than a loving family” (Macionis, p. 94). The family a person grows up in limits how that person sees and treats others. The second agent, school, affects how children treat people with different backgrounds. As children start school and meet people with different situations, they learn to understand how different factors of someone’s life makes them the way they are (Macionis, p. 94). The school limits how children learn to get along with different people. Thirdly, the peer group also affects a child during the early stages of socialization. Among a child’s peers, they learn about who they are as individuals as well as their own personal interests and desires. Peers limit how a child gets along and socializes with others. Lastly, the mass media affects the socialization of a culture immensely. Especially in American culture, the influences mass media plays on society affects the culture as a whole. We learn to think and act differently depending on what is shown to us. Mass media is the agent that is most important to this essay; the way mass media affects us in terms of violence is shown greatly in American society. The way mass media limits America as a culture is incredible. Without the influences of mass media, Americans would not see violence the way we do today.
Violence in mass media has created fear in the American culture. Because of the increasing coverage of violent acts on local news stations as well as violent scenes in movies and TV shows, Americans have become increasingly afraid of violent acts in real life. Most Americans believe that violent crimes have increased over the last several years, however violent crime has dropped 43% over the last few years, while gun sales have been steadily increasing (Video). The steady drop of violent crime is not shown in the media; news channels report on the violent crimes, which makes Americans believe that violence is a bigger problem than it actually is. This is the cultivation of the way Americans see violence in our culture. George Gerbner describes cultivation as “a stable system of messages and images that shaped our conception of the world and of ourselves, life, society, and power” (Video). The violence shown in news media as well as movies and TV in the “stable system of messages and images” and the fact that Americans are afraid of violence because of this is how the messages “shaped our conception of the world.” Research shows that heavy media viewers experience a greater sense of insecurity with the world than the light media viewers (Video), which leads to the conclusion that media truly shapes the way we view the world. Violence in the media does affect how some people behave, but the greatest problem is the fact that media shapes the way people view the world and gives Americans a distorted view of how the world actually is. Because of this cultivation, Gerbner came up with the term “Mean World Syndrome,” meaning that the media has formed a culture of meanness because there is too much fear and anger in the world.
The cultivation of fear in our society is not the only cost of the violence in today’s media; violence in the media has also caused people to become more judgmental of each other and of other groups of people. For example, Latinos are one of the fastest growing populations within the U.S., but they are one of the lesser-portrayed characters in television. When they are in TV and movies, most of the time they are depicted as criminals (Video). This has created a culture where Americans are judgmental towards Latinos. Muslims and Arabs are also portrayed in movies as criminals—especially terrorists and extremists. This has made Americans incredibly afraid of these groups of people. So afraid, in fact, that a quarter of Americans say they would not like to have a Muslim as a neighbor (Video). Finally, African Americans are depicted to be either wealthy and successful or poor criminals in the media. This has created confusion in the American society, where people believe that the Civil Rights Movement is not a problem anymore because of the positive depiction of African Americans but also think they are ungrateful when they commit crimes. The media has distorted the Americans’ views of certain groups of people, which in turn creates a wedge between ethnic groups in America.
This video has changed the way I view media’s impacts on society. Before watching this movie, I believed the impact was that violence in the media created more violence in the U.S. However, I now see violent media’s impact on society as creating fear within a society as well as creating a wedge between people within a society. Without watching this video, I would not understand how media truly impacts the way people think. This video truly opened my eyes to the way media distorts our reality and makes us believe in something that isn’t really happening.
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