Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Protecting The Family From Corrosive Media

April 15, 2002

Essayist E. B. White previewed a demonstration of television in 1938 and then offered the following prediction. "I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision, we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television - of that I am quite sure."

Judging by the increasing civil disturbances and the news reports of anti-social behavior, especially by young people, I wonder if we aren't reaping the whirlwind of our degenerating multimedia environment.

Newton Minow was asked to speak on the 30th anniversary of the "Vast Wasteland" speech he made in 1961 as the incoming chairman of the FCC. In his remarks he said, "In 1961 I worried that my children would not benefit much from television, but in 1991 I worry that my grandchildren will actually be harmed by it."

Media producers want it both ways. They dress up their products in alluring sexuality or riveting violence to sell to the public. Then they react in feigned innocence when the connection is made between what people see and what people do.

They endorse visual arts, literature and music as having great power to move people to think and act. Then they retreat to a position that what they show is harmless fantasy incapable of affecting anyone or anybody.

It is politically correct and fashionable to be inclusive, open-minded, non-judgmental and tolerant. Attempts to talk about right or wrong, moral truths and virtue are seen as squelching free speech and imposing values on others.

How does the electronic media and movies harm children?

- The exposure of explicit sexuality, and vulgarities shown is unprecedented. Internet pornography is just a few clicks away. Teens and young adults experiment with premarital sexual relations as a matter of rite of passage without understanding how this interferes with their ability to bond and make lifelong commitments to one partner. Divorce in their marriages someday becomes more likely. Their children will suffer.

- The exposure to more and more violence translates into changes in attitudes, values, and behavior of heavy viewers and vulnerable individuals. Children are desensitized to pain and suffering, become more fearful of the world around them, and are more willing to behave in aggressive and harmful ways toward others.

- The cynicism of television and movie humor promotes a knowing arrogance and insensitivity to others.

- The amount of TV viewing steals time from healthy family activities and educational progress. Television viewing, by and large, is an escapist activity. The educational value of television is underutilized.

- Alcohol is advertised and promoted as a delightful social experience among young adults and indirectly to teen-agers. Alcohol abuse among this group is a major cause of misery and tragedy.

- Basic values are undermined. Youth are trained as sophisticated entertainment consumers and spectators. Music videos, movies, music lyrics and TV programs increasingly push the limits of good taste and conventional morality. Our mass media sells junk images and experiences, appealing to the lowest common denominator in society.

Through visual media, images are brought into common consciousness that would not generally be there. What we used to call unusual, abnormal or immoral, we now call lifestyle and options. Instead of morality, we have moral relativity. Permissible decadence around the edges affects the center.

Parental responsibility. A growing number of parents are concerned about the influence of media on family life in the United States. Parents are finding it harder and harder to raise children in face of a powerful peer and media culture which promote values that run counter to family life. The mounting toll of depressed, delinquent, discouraged and unmotivated teens and young adults has been linked to media influences.

Good families, good children don't happen by accident. It takes work and commitment. Even if families are strong from within, the media environment is still corrosive. As parents, we can't afford to be passive about morality in the media. The media and peer culture messages are too strong and too insistent. We need to fill our minds with what is good and talk about it with our kids. That is our best defense.

As parents and grandparents, we must collectively rebel against the excesses of a media that makes the morally unacceptable acceptable and even respectable. We need to take a stand early in our children’s lives on what kind of media is invited into our homes. Our own example of media consumption will be the greatest influence on children’s attitudes.

Fighting back. Parents who are concerned about the media environment with its gratuitous sex scenes, promiscuity, violence and vulgarity can boycott those movies, turn off those shows and communicate with advertisers.

Hollywood serves its pocketbook. It produces movies that sell. TV advertisers know their demographics. This isn't about censorship. There is no turning back the clock. This is about turning the tide of public opinion against the garbage that touches everyone's lives.

It's about, "a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace," and, "harm to the grandchildren."