Entertainment Media - does it lead or follow society?

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This question has been hotly debated for the last several decades and continues to draw supporters from both viewpoints. Does Hollywood observe society and merely recreate it on film? Or does the media lead society and, over time, change it?

Over 6 hours a day are spent by the average American family either watching movies, television or videos. Dick Rolfe, movie and television specialist and head of the Dove Foundation (an organization which identifies movies and videos meeting family standards), remarks "…when you spend that much time watching something, you have just developed new role models and a new window on life. And I think that's the destructive value of some television and movies… [viewers] get the wrong impression and a distorted view of what life is really like.

Dr. Ted Baehr of the Christian-based “Movie Guide” comments, "It certainly is causing us to have a society that's being corrupted and cancerously destroyed in terms of its moral values."

…society does reflect the values of film and television…

According to Rolfe, arguments about the harmlessness of movies on our society don't ring true when compared with over 6,000 independent studies that prove exactly the contrary. Recently, the cable television industry sponsored a multiple-year study perfomed by Media Scope. The study conclusively proved through gathering those existing studies, plus the addition of its own independent that, in fact, art does lead life - that life does follow art and society does reflect the values of film and television.

However, is decadence in the media the main cause of our society's moral degeneration? Or are there other involved factors being overlooked?

…Just blaming film and television for all these problems is much too simplistic, if we look at other cultures….

Dr. Michael Suman, coordinator of The Center for Communications Policy at the University of California at Los Angeles, is doing a three year analysis of the effects of violence on television. Dr. Suman has lived and taught in Japan and other Asian countries and offers his perspective on the effects of media:

I would never want to say that the mass media does not have a powerful influence and effect on people. It does. But that having been said, it is much too simplistic just to blame all of this on TV. And we see that very much when we look at other cultures such as Japan.

The media in Japan is more violent that it is in the United States. But notice the factor such as the structure of the family. In the United States, 30% of children are born out of wedlock. Among African Americans the figure is up to 70%. Compare that with Japan where the figure is about 1%. Teenage pregnancy rates are directly related to that. In the United States, the teenage pregnancy rates are 16 times what they are in Japan. And if you look at Japanese society, the rates of violent crime are much lower than they are in the United States. Murder rates and rates of rape are 1/10th to 1/20th of what they are in the United States. Just blaming film and television for all these problems is much too simplistic if we look at other cultures.

The Importance of Intact Families and a Strong Value System

Why does Japan appear to have so much success is controlling the media to not affect its impressionable viewers? Dr. Suman believes it is because the family structure in Japan is very important. The government has gone out of the way in realizing that an intact family unit is a very important thing to maintain. Governmental policies foster it. Tax policies encourage it. University and school acceptance programs encourage it. Children born out of wedlock can have a very difficult time in Japanese society. Schools discriminate against illigitimate children and will refuse acceptance. There continues to be a sense of shame in Japan in looking upon children born out of wedlock. Japan has an intact family structure and that is incredibly important in terms of why the rate of violent crime in Japan is incredibly low.

Why is a more intact family less susceptible to violence portrayed in media? There are multiple factors, but perhaps the most relevant one is parental involvement in children's lives.

Child psychologist Dr. Debra Kowalski emphasizes:

If your child is watching television and you see something inappropriate that's coming around the bend and you interfere with that and stop it, you've given that child a very important message: you've taught them that that is not appropriate for them. If a parent goes with a child to a movie theater and there's something inappropriate that's coming on the screen and the parent says, “this isn’t for you to see, let's leave,” and takes the child out, that's a profound message to the child.

A good value system is extremely important in children's lives, and it must be consistently applied - not just for children, but for adults.

Media watchdog Ted Baehr echoes the need to reinforce proper use of media.

The most important step in helping your children to really be able to use the media properly and to become your allies in the battle in this tidal wave of media that's happening is to help them understand what your values are - to help them understand the difference between good and evil, and what you believe about what makes a man worthy and humble and kind and loving and generous. You need to teach them the things you want them to model. What is the worldview? We live in a real world, created by a real God. Those things are very important. The next step is to get them to understand the media that they're watching by asking the right questions. “Well, who is the hero? Who is the villain? What is the worldview?”

Dr. Kowalski believes that spiritual values are just not discussed in our society, but that must change. After all, what is the most important thing for us to be concerned about? Spiritual values.

Taking control of our TV set will not eliminate the moral issues from our lives. Everyone needs a proper value system in order to deal with the media and other aspects of life. And that means recognizing that it's not our personal desires that determine what's right or wrong.

Many in our society today have been taught that there are no moral absolutes. God clearly disagrees. He calls us to live righteously and guide our families in everything we do - even watching TV. There are absolutes and they are outlined for us in the Bible. Based on his many years of study, Pollster and committed Christian George Gallup Jr. firmly believes that Christians need to “live up to what Christ is calling us to do and be… There are absolutes—absolutely, without question.”

“Our liberty and values come from God.” Ted Baehr points out. “They're clearly outlined in the scriptures. One could do a lot worse than wipe all the laws that we currently have off the books and just post the 10 commandments, which is the clearest set of moral guidelines mankind has ever seen. That's the basis of all laws. If we fail to recognize that, then values and laws are open to re-decision every year, whenever 51% of the people decide that something is no longer wrong. That's a disaster and we've already seen the effects of it.”

In Deuteronomy 11:18-21, God commanded the ancient Israelites to teach the children those things that God had done for them. “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children…”

Content adapted from Whatever Happened to America?, a 3-part video series hosted by John Schneider.

Author: Adapted by Films for Christ / Christian Answers

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