We live in a world of powerful images be it our morning newspaper or the late night film on television. The Media bring the world to our homes. They bring us experiences ranging from war and peace, environmental issues and social values to discoveries and happenings. More important we rely on them for entertainment and pleasure.
Unconsciously the media impact our vision of ourselves. In some ways this goes unnoticed. It is fine when we learn about the world or the latest technological advances. But in other ways unconsciously we allow the mass media to shape our images of ourselves. We may tend to accept them as truth without really thinking about it.
The dangers of not thinking about the media are greatest for the young audience, children being the least sophisticated viewers. Hence it is necessary to help them develop skills that will allow them to critically analyse what they see and read. To become “media literate” is not to memorise facts and figures about the media but rather to raise the right questions about what one is watching, reading or listening to. Research has identified five main ideas that everyone should know about the media messages whether it comes in the form of a film, sitcom, magazine, a computer game or the Internet.
1.Media messages are “constructed”
It helps to remember that what we see on television or a hoarding is “put together” by a team of people. This is more than a physical process. What happens in a sitcom or a soap is whatever is “constructed” by just a few people. It then becomes “the way it is” for the rest of us. One can take the example of the long running soap Dallas or The Bold and the Beautiful. As an audience we only get to see what has been accepted not what has been rejected be it a beautiful model or a simple conversation.
2.Media messages have creative language of their own
Every form of communication has its own creative language. All the features in an advertisement are carefully placed, colours carefully chosen, a word carefully crafted to reach the exact audience it is meant for. TV shows have their own grammar in the form of music, camera movements, use of lighting and locales and even the actors. For instance the use of music heightens fear, camera positions like close-ups convey intimacy and the use of headlines signify importance. An understanding of this media language helps us become less susceptible to manipulation.
3.The experience of media messages
No two individuals see and understand the same kind of TV show or a print ad. This is because each one of us has a different upbringing and education. The experience of these messages is different for different people. A child who has lost a near one will identify with a character like Tom Sawyer. Unconsciously we are always trying to make sense of what we see, hear or read. The more we ask questions about them the more alert we become.
4.Media and the profit motive
There is profit in the media for it is business too. Commercials are a part and parcel of television and radio programming. Even newspapers layout their ads first before the news. The real purpose of programmes or news is not only to inform and entertain us but also to create an audience so that the TV station or publishing house can sell time or space to sponsors to advertise their products in commercials. The sponsors then pay for the time based on the number of viewers or readers.
5.Media have embedded values
Media tell stories in different ways. As all stories, they too require characters, setting, a beginning, middle and an end – even commercials say a story! The choice of a story’s character, gender, lifestyle, attitudes all convey a message or value. An advertisement for a Mercedes Benz will have a well to do person travelling in its back seat while a uniformed chauffeur is behind the wheel. It is important to learn how to read all kinds of media messages in order to discover the points of view embedded in them. Only then can we judge whether to accept or reject these messages.
Discussing these with young people at an impressionable age goes a long way in shaping the way media affect their lives.