Efficacious Entertainment: We Are What We See

Inconsequential sex. Gratuitous violence. Disrespect. All these adjectives come to life in a typical television program, not to mention movies, music, magazines, and video games.

Taking sex as an example, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found:

* The number of programs with sexual content rose from about half (56%) of all shows in the 1997/98 television season to two-thirds (68%) in the 1999/2000 season.
* Sexual content is even more common on primetime network programs than on television in general. Two years ago, two out of three (67%) primetime network programs included sexual content. Today, three out of four (75%) do.

And it's not all about sex. Graphic violence is prevalent in video games, music and movies. According to the Federal Trade Commission:

* Of 44 teen-oriented movies that were rated "R" for violence, some 80% were marketed to kids under age 17.
* Of 55 CDs sold with parental warnings, marketing plans for about 25% of them were specifically aimed at teens.
* Of 118 video games rated "mature," 83 (70%) were promoted to children.
* Nearly 85% of the time, children are able to easily buy music and games rated "mature."
* Just over 50% of movie theaters admit children under 17 to R-rated movies when they are not accompanied by an adult.

Many pundits say, however, that immoral images in the media really don't have an effect on kids because children know fiction from reality.

So we don't have to worry about how much immorality kids are watching because they are highly unlikely to act on it. In contrast, many studies are now showing that children do emulate what they see and hear. A Dartmouth Medical College study shows a direct correlation between kids allowed to view R-rated movies and their subsequent deviant behavior. For every 5 R-rated movies children saw, they were 1.6 times more likely to have tried smoking and 1.8 times more likely to have tried alcohol. And what is even more staggering is that 85% of middle school kids are watching at least some R-rated movies.

Now there are other factors to consider in kids' behavior than just their movie watching. For instance, would a parent who lets their children see a multitude of R-rated movies be more likely to smoke or drink themselves? And, if so, would the parental influence really be the culprit for kids' vices rather than media exposure?

On a similar note, is a "mendacious media" culpable for the explosion of youth related crimes and immoral behavior in recent years? Or do we share in part of the blame? And the age old conundrum is again addressed- does media influence or reflect society?

Well, to address those questions fully, we must dig a bit deeper into the underpinnings of today's mass media.

According to the Merchants of Cool report put together by PBS: "Five multimedia conglomerates -- Viacom, Disney, News Corporation, Vivendi Universal and AOL Time Warner - exert unprecedented power in marketing messages and products to young people. We now have all of our culture industries--from movies and TV and radio to music and book publishing and the web-- dominated by corporations that are all-powerful in all of those fields. A handful of owners and the same commercial imperative at work, no matter where you turn."

So we have most of our major media owned and controlled by just a handful of individuals. So are these people the ones to blame for inserting immorality into media? And, if so, why are they doing it?

Now before we viewing audiences become too smug, let us again consider the ultimate goal of media conglomerates- money. And the media seems to think they will make more money from us, mainly in advertising dollars, by marketing substandard plots, characters and morals. Which means someone is watching and listening....and buying. Perhaps a child as close as your living room.

The real solution to curbing media vices is for us to simply quit watching and listening to unacceptable material and relishing in the good media productions that are out there.

Make no mistake, there are some fantastic movies, television shows, music and publications. But it can be an arduous task to find them and it takes depth of character to do so.

St. Augustine amusingly prayed: "Lord, give me chastity and continence, but not yet." If we will be honest, most of us have the same attitude toward listening and viewing substandard material. And until we change, nothing will change.

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