You are what you watch?
How many of us assume that the news media has no effect on our behaviour – that what we see and hear does nothing to mould our views of the world? Or indeed, that stories we read or see acted out are things we consume, but have no effect on us? But the power of the media to shape opinions is all around us. After all, in every ad break, people pay big money to show us images they hope will change our minds. (C/W: mentions sexual violence).
The recent surge in UKIP polling figures shows just how influential media can be, with a party that has no MPs gaining immense media exposure and turning it into votes. Despite evidence that people like Green Party policies, the near-total black-out on news about their campaign is widely seen as the reason they failed to make a more significant breakthrough. Given how little media coverage they received, a gain of a single seat was a huge triumph.
On the one hand, many leftists are rightfully indignant about the overblown coverage of Farage’s mob, and the ensuing election results. On the other, I note very little willingness to consider our own media consumption habits. Sadly, any such critique often seems absent in all but the most extreme and alarmist religious circles, too.
There is, I will point out, an enormous benefit to knowing what the public are being told. I myself make occasional trips into the pages of right-wing newspapers just to get a sense of what’s being talked about. Living in a hermetically-sealed box is not going to better arm us to tackle the issues of the world.
But whilst we see the effect of right-wing narratives on the general discourse, we seem to assume that we, individually, can immerse ourselves in this same stuff and be left totally unaffected. Do we think we’re somehow above the average human being in this regard? I hope not.
The more we understand the workings of the human brain, the more talk of experiences carving out hard-wired logic pathways in our brains. Its those pathways, both positive and negative associations, that marketing spends billions each year trying to create. But its also safe to assume that those pathways form as we watch the news or see a movie. In fact, perhaps we put up our guard more when we see politicians on the news – in which case, maybe its the innocuous fictional stuff we should be most worried about.
All that subconsciously learnt racism and misogyny – where do we think it came from, if not from the messages projected at us through the media? The news makes racism acceptable. Fiction portrays rape as a normal part of life. Even amongst groups that seem to be wrestling with these issues on both a societal and personal level, there seems to be a lack of acknowledgement of where these messages might be coming from.
I don’t want to get into the sort of debate about exactly what does and doesn’t make you a bad feminist, leftist, or even Christian. But we need to examine why certain stories appeal to us, and why parts of our political discourse seem so very normal, when they are in fact extreme and barbaric. This shouldn’t be some massive shaming exercise, but maybe we need to ask ourselves what messages we’re exposing ourselves to and have a closer inspection of what views and actions they normalise in our minds.