Television, radio, movies, the Internet and print extend their influence upon our culture, our behavior and our brains! What is behind the powerful force of modern media?
We are witnessing a major cultural revolution that is having an incredible impact on our society. Yet, despite numerous warnings, few seem to understand what is really going on or where this surging wave of social change is taking us!
In the last 50 years the electronic media—radio, television, movies, video games and now the Internet—have enveloped the globe and transformed nearly every aspect of our lives. More than a decade ago, educator Neil Postman described the ascendancy of the Age of Television and the decline of the Age of Print as "the most significant American cultural fact of the second half of the twentieth century" (Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 8). Modern media executives acknowledge that "television is undeniably the most powerful influence in our society today… we can communicate anything we choose almost anywhere in the world… instantaneously, in a puff of electrons" (Down the Tube, Baker & Dessart, pp. x, xiv). Educator Vincent Ruggiero has described the modern electronic media as "the most powerful force that has ever influenced the human mind and heart" (Nonsense Is Destroying America, p. 95).
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However, this incredible power has a darker side. Because of its tremendous potential to influence culture, television is the most "effective propaganda vehicle" available today (Redeeming Television, Schultze, p. 49). Communication professionals lament that the average person is "remarkably naïve" about how mass media operates, the personal agendas of scriptwriters and producers, the ultimate consequences to society of what is portrayed on the screen and how watching hours of television affects the developing human brain. Yet that information is available.
Many assume today that when and what we watch is merely a matter of personal taste. Some claim that only "extreme right wing religious fanatics" become upset over the content of films and television and that "mature" individuals prefer the "adult content" of modern media entertainment. However, these assumptions are self-serving myths unsupported by the actual evidence! In fact, knowledgeable members of the media and communications fields are increasingly vocal about the extremely detrimental effects of this modern electronic revolution. You need to understand how the media molds the world and the potential consequences of indiscriminate viewing on yourself, your children, your community and your country—because there is more at stake than many critics realize!
Profits, Pleasure and Propaganda
Just how did the electronic media take over the world? What drives the spread and acceptance of this powerful medium? The bottom line is: money! Some of the first radio stations in America were founded by department stores that made money selling radios. The major television networks in America are owned by large corporations that are in business to make money. The goal of film studios is to generate profits through box office receipts. Television studios make money by attracting sizable audiences and "selling eyeballs" to advertisers. This is one of the reasons sex and violence play such prominent roles in films and television. Sex and violence sell—they attract audiences—and that translates into cash!
Another reason for the popularity of films and television is that viewers seek things that provide immediate gratification—pleasurable entertainment! Television and movies are easy to watch—and most people find initial viewing relaxing. The cares, worries and routines of life can be forgotten—momentarily. When the human mind is constantly bombarded with images it is unable to think and reflect. The immediate availability of novelty, excitement and titillating thrills provide a pleasurable escape for people who find their existence boring, empty, lonely or frustrating.
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A third factor influences the content of modern films and television—the personal agendas of writers and producers who desire to reshape society along the lines of their preferences. The movers and shakers in the media industry "are generally liberal… inclined toward secularism… left of center… [with a] radical bent for shaking up the status quo" (Schultze, pp. 151, 156). Surveys indicate that 90 percent of Hollywood executives favor abortion, more than half feel that adultery is not wrong and almost 75 percent see nothing wrong with homosexuality (ibid.). Nearly 45 percent of this group claim no religious affiliation, and 93 percent seldom or never attend church. Entertainment created by such individuals is often in direct conflict with Judeo-Christian values that have anchored western societies for centuries. Film critic Michael Medved explains that this small group of liberal-minded social revolutionaries has turned the Hollywood dream factory into a "poison factory" that attacks religion, assaults the legitimacy of the family, promotes sexual perversions and glorifies ugliness (Hollywood vs. America, p. 3). When we view entertainment, we enter a world created by people whose values are often totally at odds with our own—we should be alert!
Social Pathologies Are Increasing
The last several decades reveal the tragic consequences of this attempt to use mass media to remake society. While Hollywood denies that violence on the screen makes society more violent—the facts indicate just the opposite! Researcher James Hamilton notes that "large literatures exist on the impact of television violence on society… the laboratory evidence firmly establishes that violence on television causes children to be more aggressive… children learn scripts of behavior from television that lead them to be violent in later life" (Channeling Violence, pp. 6, 30). More than 1,000 studies have established links between television violence and behavior that emerges later in life (U. S. News & World Report, Sept. 11, 1995, p. 66). When entertainment industry leaders deny that violent entertainment spawns violent behavior, it is like tobacco company executives denying that smoking causes cancer—they are simply ignoring the facts!
Today we are witnessing the horribly tragic results of such misguided thinking. Increasingly, younger children are killing their peers and others who get in their way—then laughing and bragging about their exploits. Press reports repeatedly document the direct link between violence on the screen and human behavior. When television films on teen-age suicide were aired, researchers noted a significant increase in the number of teen suicides or suicide attempts (Boston Globe, Sept. 11, 1986). Films depicting characters playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun have inspired children to imitate this deadly game (Arizona Republic, March 16, 1998). A teenager who watched extremely violent videos killed a classmate—with a machete, while wearing a mask—just like a character in one of the videos (Boston Globe, Dec. 19, 1988). Recently in France another teenager killed a school friend with a knife while wearing gloves, a black cape and a mask like a movie character. After watching a horror film he commented: "I just wanted to kill someone" (Irish Times, June 6, 2002). When children watch more than 100,000 acts of violence on television before leaving elementary school, it has an effect! Continuous exposure to violence hardens us. Growing children, "bombarded by violence… begin to view life as cheap and expendable" (Atlanta Journal, March 18, 1992). This has serious implications for society.
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The story of sex on the screen is similar. While Hollywood claims that only religious fanatics object to sex on television and that it merely gives society what it wants, studies show that more than 70 percent of Americans feel there is too much sex and vulgarity on television (Medved, p. 4). While writers and producers suggest that their films and programs only reflect society, they ignore that they are profoundly influencing the values of society. One college educator addressing the question "Is TV corrupting our kids?" states that "because much of the content of television and other mass media involves issues of sexual conduct, the potential for influence in this area is especially great" (Atlanta Journal, May 24, 1992). Another professor observes that "the media are so compelling and so filled with sex, it's hard for any kid, even a critic to resist… I think of the media as our true sex educators" (USN&WR, Sept. 11, 1995)—yet films and television rarely show the serious consequences of promiscuous sex. The continuous portrayal of promiscuity as exciting, adultery as natural and divorce as acceptable plays a powerful role in molding attitudes and behaviors. It has a devastating effect on traditional Judeo-Christian moral values.
More than 150 talk shows are viewed by millions of Americans every week. For many, this is just part of the way to spend a day. However professional psychologists are concerned that "talk shows contribute to and even create more problems than they solve" (Tuning in Trouble, Heaton & Wilson, p. 4). To attract viewers, these shows focus on the bizarre and promote a distorted view of what it means to be "normal." They offer unrealistically simple solutions to complex problems, dispense dangerous advice and ignore the off-camera consequences for guests who have been encouraged to "courageously" reveal deeply personal aspects of their lives. Regrettably, millions of children who watch these programs "are soaking up the same doses of pathology, perversity and interpersonal aggravation that their adult counterparts tune in to every day" (ibid., p. 169). Topics and behaviors presented on talk shows are eroding the foundations of a morally and mentally healthy society.
Today the average child watches between 25 and 30 hours of television a week. Yet Dr. Jane Healy warns that our "changing lifestyles may be altering children's brains in subtle but critical ways" (Endangered Minds, p. 9). Neuro-anatomists know that the internal structure of the brain is modified by how it is used. Visual experiences register primarily in the right side of the brain. Language and reading exercises are focused in the left side of the brain. When children watch television several hours a day (where little conversation or thinking is involved) and read only 5–10 minutes a day, experts fear a detrimental effect on brain development. Since reading and watching television make very different demands on the brain, extensive television viewing could "reduce stimulation to left-hemisphere systems critical for development of language, reading, and analytical skills… may affect mental ability and attention by diminishing mental traffic between hemispheres… [and] may discourage development of 'executive' systems that regulate attention, organization and motivation" (ibid., p. 209). Watching television can also be addictive (cf. Scientific American, February 2002).
These fears correlate with what teachers observe in the classroom. Students today have shortened attention spans; they struggle with reading and writing assignments, exhibit less creativity, are easily bored and distracted, lack perseverance, give up easily and have difficulty remembering instructions and thinking through problems (ibid., pp. 13, 42). A Canadian study reported that these problems increased noticeably in communities after the introduction of television (see The Impact of Television, Williams). This study also found that "television may have a negative impact even for adults on creative problem-solving performances and persistence" (ibid., p. 124); many would rather escape from problems than find solutions! However, research also indicates that better students watch less television, and that "personal interaction with adults is critical" for the development of problem-solving, language, and listening skills (ibid., pp. 198, 266). Dr. Healy relates that "children who have been talked to [and asked questions] and had stories read to them are at a real advantage" because "they've learned how to listen and pay attention"—and learned how to think (Healy, p. 80). We can understand the serious consequences of watching too much television when we realize that the brains of children who watch less television may actually develop differently than the brains of their couch-potato peers!
What does the future hold for countries whose citizens watch 20 to 30 hours per week of entertainment saturated with sex, vulgarity and violence? What will come of a nation whose people get most of their news from television, where the average story gets 30 seconds of coverage? What happens to a nation when its scriptwriters and producers deliberately undermine the moral values upon which it was founded? Perceptive observers see danger ahead! Ken Burns, award-winning producer of the PBS series The Civil War, believes that "television is rapidly eroding the strength of our republic from within" (Atlanta Journal, March 13, 1991). In a column titled "Television and the Slide of Civilization," writer William Murchison laments the modern "inability not just to distinguish between [good and bad, beauty and ugliness, truth and falsehood] but even to admit the possibility of a distinction" (Dallas Morning News, October 13, 1993).
Nearly 20 years ago, Neil Postman stated that "television has culture by the throat… when a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is re-defined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public discussion becomes baby-talk, when… a people become an audience and their public business becomes a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; cultural death is a clear possibility" (USN&WR, Dec. 23, 1985, p. 59; Postman, pp. 155–156). Postman also warned that, because of our constant exposure to the present-centered medium of television, "we are being rendered unfit to remember" (ibid., pp. 136–137). This is sobering when historians point out that "in the great empires of history we see a picture of our own world… virtually every one of the symptoms of decline that can be detected from history is present in this nation today… to ignore such lessons is to court disaster" (When Nations Die, Black, p. 4). Columnist John Leo observed similarly that "we are living through a cultural collapse" (USN&WR, March 27, 1995, p. 16) and that the media are often guilty of "cheerleading for the unraveling of the social structure" (USN&WR, June 1, 1992, p. 19). Judge Robert Bork has warned that "television is showing the end of western civilization in living color" (Slouching Towards Gomorrah, p. 335). Do we grasp what is being said?
But why would individuals in the media seek to undermine the foundations of a society where they enjoy more freedoms than ever before? Why would nations tolerate films and programs that sow seeds of self-destruction? Why do we ignore obvious lessons of history as we gorge ourselves on trivial amusements? Film critic Richard Grenier believes we have allowed a small class of self-proclaimed intellectuals who dominate the electronic media to "capture" our culture. The ideas of this reactionary group that disdains the fundamental ethical values of western Judeo-Christian culture "come spewing forth out of every TV" and permeate the scripts of nearly every film—that we watch by the hour (Capturing the Culture, pp. xx–xxi). Television critic Medved makes the perceptive observation that Hollywood is "following its own warped conceptions of artistic integrity, driven by some dark compulsion beyond simple greed" (Medved, p. 286).
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In our modern, politically correct culture, certain topics are carefully avoided—especially theological topics that hearken back to an earlier "pre-enlightened" era. Yet these intellectually taboo topics hold real answers to the questions that we have just raised. The Bible, a book held up to ridicule by many in the media, explains why the most powerful and influential means of communication yet devised has been used to such warped and perverted ends. The Scriptures reveal this world is actually under the sway of an extremely cunning spirit being—Satan the devil. The Bible refers to Satan as "the god of this world" who has blinded the minds of those who do not believe (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is also called the "prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). The name Satan means "adversary"—and Satan has been in rebellion against the way of God from time immemorial (Isaiah 14:12–15; Ezekiel 28:14–18). This is the dark force who works through people to generate and promote the warped content of the media that degrades the values and behavior of our modern world—yet many do not even believe that Satan exists!
When we compare what is projected on the silver screen with what the Bible reveals about Satan's influence, the connection is obvious. The Bible explains that when people reject God and His ways, God gives them over to a "debased [Satan-influenced] mind" which revels in sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, murder, strife and all kinds of evil—including homosexuality and other perversions (Romans 1:18–32); an accurate description of modern media entertainment! God also allows us to reap what we sow (Jeremiah 2:17–19). We are told that, because our society has forgotten God and rejected the ethical values of the Bible, "in the last days perilous times will come"—people will be selfish, materialistic, callous, brutal, "despisers of good… lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:1–5)—again, a dead-on description of our age! Isaiah describes the society of modern Israelite nations as "sick" from head to toe (Isaiah 1:3–6), where people are determined to "call evil good, and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20). God proclaims through the prophet Hosea: "My people are destroyed for lack of [right] knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you from being a priest for me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children" (Hosea 4:6). These are sobering warnings to a society that has been willingly misled by the corrupting influence of modern, misguided media.
A Better Way
How can you survive a cultural collapse? How can you live and raise children in a society where religion has been watered down and corrupted, and moral values are under constant attack by the most powerful medium ever invented? What hope is there for the future? Again, the Bible provides informative answers.
The Apostle John reveals where our human civilization is heading. He writes that "the world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17). The Apostle Paul admonished Christians in the vulgar, secular city of Corinth to "come out from among them and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6:14–18). Peter urged his listeners to "repent" so they might "be saved from this perverse [corrupt, misguided] generation" (Acts 2:38–40). Repentance is turning with sorrow from a way of life that you realize is wrong, and following God's instructions. Those instructions provide guidelines for living in our media-saturated age—if we will use them.
David knew that he had to "turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things" (Psalm 119:37). Isaiah wrote that "he who walks righteously [according to the commandments of God—Psalm 119:172]… stops his ears from hearing bloodshed and shuts his eyes from seeing evil" (Isaiah 33:15). Paul admonished the Corinthians to "flee [avoid] sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:12–18). These are biblical guidelines for dealing with the sex and violence that permeate the media today—such degrading amusements should be avoided! This requires thinking and decision-making on our part—the very activities that watching television tends to discourage!
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The challenge for parents in this age of media is still to "train up a child in the way that he should go" (Proverbs 22:6). This does not happen when television is used as a babysitter. If children watch television or videos, adults should be present to provide guidance and perspective. It is even better if adults can show—through instruction and by example—there is an exciting real world beyond television, movies and video games. Libraries are full of books about animals, science, geography and literature, and of biographies of people who have learned powerful lessons about life. Encourage children to be physically active and to think about what they want to do with their lives (Proverbs 4:26). Help them to see the needs of others, to discover their own talents and to develop skills and abilities to serve other human beings. Teach them the benefits of living according to the laws of God (Deuteronomy 4:1–9), and that consequences come from rejecting and violating those laws. Encourage children to use their time wisely (Ephesians 5:15–16), and to focus on things that are true, noble, just and pure (Philippians 4:8) so they can avoid the pitfalls of this age.
The real hope for anyone with the courage to come out of this world and believe the Gospel of the coming kingdom of God (Mark 1:14–15) will be the opportunity to work with Jesus Christ and the saints in re-orienting our misguided society and restoring true values. The Bible indicates that when Jesus Christ returns there will be a "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:19–21), the saints will become the teachers of God's way of life (Isaiah 30:20–21), and the laws of God will be proclaimed from Jerusalem to the whole world (Isaiah 2:2–4). This is what Tomorrow's World is all about. This message of God's way is what modern religion has forgotten, and the secular media has replaced with sex, violence and trivia
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