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Violence, Sex, Drugs, And -Isms In The Media

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One of the hottest topics for those who think about media today is violence. Is

there too much violence in the media? Is the violence too graphic? Is it too easy

for youngsters to see programs containing violence? Do programs that show

violence stress the consequences of violence enough? Is violence made

glamorous as a way of marketing media products? Are people made violent by

watching violent media? Should there be controls on media violence?

Many of the same questions can be asked about sex and sexual content in the

media. Is there too much? Is it there only to attract viewers? Is it sensationalized?

Is sex too often connected with violence? Does sex in the media influence

viewers' sexual behavior? Does sexual content in the media have an effect on

sexual violence and sexual crime? Should there be controls on sexual content in

the media?

Likewise for illegal drugs. Should drugs and drug-use be portrayed in the

media? Do the media tend to glamorize drug-use? Is drug-use too often

connected with sex and violence in the media? Should there be controls?

On these issues - violence, sex, drug use - there is a general consensus that they

should be called "sensitive", and treated with special attention. Tobacco and

alcohol, legal industries that have succeeded in keeping their products front and

center in the media even when direct advertising is forbidden are still not

generally included in this group as "drugs".

But one other sensitive issue, or group of issues, does not enjoy the same sort of

consensus: the issues of the depiction of gender, race, faith, class and sexual

orientation. Our media are still full of images and messages that women find

demeaning; they are often still racist, (if not toward African Americans, then

towards Arab people, people from South Asia, or Native American); they still

sometimes show prejudice towards religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism,

Hinduism; they still tend not to respect ordinary people, poor people or working

people as much as they respect wealthy or middle class people; and they are still

frequently biased when it comes to accepting differences in sexual orientation.

Our media and culture tend not to respect people of all ages equally. Generally

speaking, the very young and the elderly get short shrift from the media,

perhaps because they are seen as unimportant in terms of consumer profiles. In

short, our media are often sexist, racist, classist, intolerant of religion, gaybashing

and ageist.

These, then, are the sensitive issues that media consumers should address as they

educate themselves to become media literate:

I. violence

II. sex

III. substance abuse and misuse (illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco)

IV. bias against:





sexual orientation


Some people just say: "Avoid it all. Turn off the TV. Throw the TV away. Don't

allow the kids to watch any of that stuff." It's an approach that relies totally on

avoidance, but it works, if avoidance is what you are after. What avoidance does

not do is provide any answers to the questions raised by the issues. It basically

answers all questions by saying, "Go away!"

Others take a different approach to the problem of sensitive issues. They want

someone else to look after it so that they do not have to worry or take action

themselves. "Get the V Chip. Regulate the media producers. Legislate it out of

existence," they say, relying on technology and governments to do the job for

them. This is basically another way of saying, "Go away!"

This will work, too, but it will work at the expense of our freedom of speech,

and freedom of choice. What's more, it will do nothing to educate the populace

away from the attitudes that condoned that kind of content in the first place. It

may substitute one kind of media content for another, but there is no guarantee

that it will substitute one set of audience attitudes for another.

Both avoidance and passing the buck will make the material that we are

concerned about go away, if making it go away is all we want. But I suggest

making it go away is the same as brushing the dirt under the carpet. It is not a

way of addressing the real problem, a way of understanding what is going on,

and it is not a solution to anything.

To make the technological and regulation solution work, we'd all have to agree

just what



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