Understanding Youth Media – It may be easy to believe much of the music younger generations listen to is garbage, but it is only fair to understand that trends shape our preferences and should not be judged without understanding it.
Regarding media that could be “harmful” to society, like Marilyn Manson influencing the Columbine shootings, it’s important to look at all perspectives involved.
Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, has written books and scholarly articles on media’s influence.
Jenkins writes about “conventional wisdom,” which is the driving force behind the blame on music like Marilyn Manson having a negative effect on society. This conventional wisdom specifically seeks to find a culprit and reprimand or stop their actions from causing further harm. On the surface, the shooters at Columbine High School, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, seemed to have been heavily influenced by the violence in video games and the destructive lyrics of Marilyn Manson.
However, Jenkins has some opposing views to this conventional wisdom, and seeks to find media’s real influence.
Some points that Jenkins make are:
– People think media consumption is passive but it’s active. You may imagine a couch potato as someone soaking up TV images like a sponge, but really, the human mind is interpreting these images and often being emotionally influenced by them. We make decisions while we’re watching: Do I like this? Do I agree with this? Do I think that person is hot? The mind is analyzing what’s going on throughout the consumption process.
– The studies that analyze initial emotional responses to media don’t include our response on a whole-life scale. There are many studies showing our reaction to media and how our brain changes as we watch it, but really, these studies need to show more in-depth and thorough representations of how we go about our day-to-day activities and if and how the media we consume affects us then. (Similar to the “Pepsi Challenge” – people took a sip of Pepsi and a sip of Coke and enjoyed the initial sip of Pepsi, but it was later found out that when enjoying an entire can, the average consumer liked Coke more.)
– Everyone is different so universal claims are bogus. Everyone consumes and analyzes media differently, so making a study saying “A influences B through X” is fairly inaccurate.
– Consumer response is often creative and not imitative. Usually people end up doing something else relating to media they enjoy or just being inspired to do something different than copying it. Also, everyone consumes media differently.
So you may ask, “What about those few instances where someone actually does imitate negative, violent media images?” This is where I bring up another idea by Jenkins:
– Real life images trump media images every time. Media images are understood by our countless number of real life experiences. No matter what media we consume, a real person with a powerful message will have a greater chance of having more influence than music or a video game or a television program.
This blog isn’t saying that media isn’t to blame. There is a chance that media negatively influenced Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, however, understanding how easy it is to blame the media is very important.
Jenkins writes, “Moral panic shuts down self-examination at the very moment when real problems demand careful consideration.” If we “find” that Marilyn Manson was to blame, and he gets banned from a few states and parents prohibit their kids from listening to him, this only takes power away from parents and their influence on children. Plus, there’s a good chance that kids will want to listen to him more.
This also isn’t to say that the parents are to blame either. I think it’s important to play an active role in what goes on in our society, learning before passing judgments and trying to influence society in a positive way.
Information and quotes taken from “Lessons From Littleton: What Congress Doesn’t Want to Hear About Youth and Media” by Henry Jenkins.