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Social Forces, the Mass Media, and Our Experience

There are powerful social forces that act through the mass media to influence the "meanings" we give to things. The news media, for one, exert significant influence on how we conceptualize the world. They affect the meanings we give to events across the globe—in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, etc. They affect the meanings we give to events close to us. They shape our world view. They tell us, in effect, who to trust and who to fear, what gives us security and what threatens us, who to admire and who to scorn, what is significant in our lives and what is insignificant. They create friend and enemy, tell us what our problems are and, typically, tell us how to solve our problems. They imply what is criminal behavior and what is not. They influence what we think about capital punishment, the police, prisons, prisoners, punishments, social workers, poverty, welfare, the medical system, schools, etc. They influence what we consider normal and healthy sexuality and what we consider perverted. They imply when violence is necessary and praise-worthy and when it is inappropriate and to be condemned. Much of this mass media influence upon us is one-sided, superficial, and misleading—when not out-and-out false.

Billions are spent to create, shape, and influence this process. The consequences for the well being of people are enormous. We cannot be critical thinkers and accept the influence that the mass media continually fosters. Whether our viewpoint is conservative or liberal; right, middle, or left; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Agnostic, or atheist—we need to resist mass media influence in our lives. We must decide for ourselves what we think, feel, and want. We cannot do this while under the thrall of the mass media. We must "experience" the world in terms that we ourselves create. We must seek out alternative views. We must find sources that go beyond our national media. We must read widely. We must think broadly.

Of course, it is not enough to know this in the abstract. One must know actively how to correct for it. We must learn how not to be drawn into media-engineered experiences, how to see through them, how to avoid the manner in which they insinuate images into our minds, how they seek to use us where we are most vulnerable, to foster internal confirmation of what is propaganda.

Success in life is best fostered through life-long learning, but an uncritical use of the media in the learning process engenders in us a great deal of activated ignorance, prejudice, misconception, half-truth, and over-simplification. It feeds upon our infantile egocentrism and or uncritical socio-centrism.

To counteract the influence of the mainstream media over our lives, we should seek information from news sources outside of the mainstream, sources such as The Nation, and Counterpoint.

Test the Idea
Thinking About the Influence of the Media on Our Thinking

Try to locate articles in the newspaper where it appears that the news media is attempting to influence your views as a reader and is using a distorted view to do so. You might do this by looking for an article depicting as ethically wrong a practice that is merely a social convention. Then try to locate articles or books from sources outside of the mainstream that would shed light on how it makes best sense to view the situation.

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