I have been thinking about writing something about the media for a long time now, and reading these next two things almost one after the other has given me the impulse to do it.
a) This is an excerpt from ‘The Republic’ by Plato written more than 2000 years ago:
‘…the first step is always what matters most, particularly when we are dealing with the young. This is the time when they are more receptive and so any impression they receive leaves a permanent mark. Shall we therefore readily allow our children to listen to any stories made up by anyone, and to form opinions that are for the most part the opposite of those we think they should have when they grow up?’
– ‘We certainly shall not’.
– ‘Then it seems that our first business is to supervise the production of stories, and choose only those we think suitable, and reject the rest. We shall teach mothers and nurses to tell only the best stories to their children, and by means of them to mold their minds and characters which are more important than their bodies. Children cannot distinguish between what is truth and what isn’t, and opinions formed at that age are usually difficult to eradicate or change; we should therefore surely regard it as of the utmost importance that the first stories they hear shall aim at encouraging the highest excellence of character. And the mind must not be brought up from its youth to associate with wickedness, or to run through a whole range of crimes in order to get first-hand experience on which to be able to judge them quickly in other people, as the doctor does with diseases of the body: on the contrary, the mind must, while it is still young, remain quite without experience of or contact with bad characters, if its condition is to be truly good and its judgments just…'”
b) This is an extract of an article/interview I found in the ‘Los Angeles Times’ of March 9, 1999.
It is about a movie producer called Moritz in Hollywood. The title is: “Moritz makes his intentions clear.”
“The producer…knows what teens want to see on the big screen.”
“…Although his films have earned little critical respect, Moritz’ industry peers say his nonstop drive and ambition will someday vault him into a top studio position.”…Moritz said: “[when you make a movie] you have to walk a fine line in terms of how much blood and gore you put in, because if you put in too much, the girls are turned off. And if you don’t put enough, the guys are let down because it’s too tame.
“Q: … everyone complains that Hollywood is no longer a good business. Why are teens films different?
A: It is economics. We made ‘Cruel Intentions’ for $10 million. ‘I know what you did last summer’ cost $13 million. ‘Urban Legend’ cost $14 million. If we only do $30 million with ‘Cruel intentions’ it would still be a big success.”…
“Q: Are kids today really different from kids of past generations?
A: I don’t think so. When you are a kid there’s only a few things foremost on your mind. If you are a boy, you think about girls. And if you are a girl, you are thinking about boys. You are not thinking about the meaning of life. It comes down to the simplest, most immediate things, like what am I going to do on Friday night?”
There are definitely many advantages in the media. There are art, science, history programs where the interactive part can make it very fun to learn. They can be nice and well made, and for a young kid to watch it once in a while can be stimulating and helpful. But even a relatively well-done program is generally designed (especially the most modern ones) to hold a child’s interest by sending a bombardment of sound and movement at a very fast rate. In many ways they are no different from a movie or a video game, and it is about them that I want to bring our attention.
Everybody knows that it is more and more difficult to satisfy a child now days, and how could it be otherwise? Most modern kids are accustomed to see in the media the fast paced, action-packed, high drama which is planned to keep them tuned. But life, everyday life, is so different to this! The simple wonders of life can only be appreciated through patient observation and experience. Through the media, the child’s sense of wonder is dulled.
How is a child going to choose the simplicity of nature or have the patience to study something new if he has the choice of seeing on the media all these movements and colors and actions and drama?
Or to use an image I enjoy: Look at a tree; how is its energy? It is quiet, peaceful, patient, silent, restrained. Now turn on the TV, watch a movie, put on the computer. How is the energy there? It is fast, loaded with images, alluring, explosive, instant. The speed of the media is so fascinating that it becomes hypnotic. After TV, it is imposible for a kid, or for us, to simply see a tree. What is there to see? A tree is boring! The media is so much easier compared to the challenge of discovering the world around us.
The media requires absolutely no concentration. And concentration is indispensable for any kind of creativity. It is also possible to say that for a kid, boredom is the empty space necessary for creativity. If we fill these moments with the media, well, we get a very “mature” kid, with almost no trace of sensitivity.
What about babies and toddlers? They need permanent attention and very often in this time and age we just don’t have enough time for them. The media is the best and cheapest kind of babysitting yet invented. Yes, it works, but we really don’t know, or more precisely, we don’t want to see, the damage that the media does to our kids. What can be easier than turning on the TV, putting on some cartoon or a movie? We protect our kids from the sun, from the cold, from hunger…but are we really caring for their emotional and intellectual lives?
There are many things we wouldn’t do, even if it made our lives a bit more comfortable. We would not take a nanny whom we know is mean or perverse. Or if a stranger who came to our door said, “just go and enjoy your evening, I will take care of your children”, would we let him in? No, of course not. But through the media we let in all the poison that exists in the minds of the persons that create those programs (which are mostly based on how much money they can make instead of a sense of love towards children); we open wide the door of our homes to people and characters that otherwise we would never have allowed inside.
I know from my own experience and observation that the media is definitely a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior. Much of what we see in the media is violent, and/or completely unrealistic.
There have been studies done about violence in television:
Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
Children may become immune to the horrors of violence.
Children may gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems.
Children may be more fearful to the world around them.
Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways towards others.
But not only violence. Who are the heroes? Aren’t they completely different from the reality of life, of real life? How is a kid’s psychology going to respond? For them there is no difference between the media and life. They think, as many of us do, that what happens in a movie may (and should) be happening here, and their sense of reality becomes completely mixed up. How can a child separate the real from the imaginary? What is real but what we experience? And if a kid from early childhood watches a lot of TV (or just a bit, since a kid is so open to impressions that an hour for them is like a month for us), that will become his reality. It is very simple, but we often can’t see it.
Often we cannot have much control over what our children see or experience. But sometimes we do, and it is in those moments were our responsibility lies; as Plato said, we should offer to our kids ‘the highest excellence of character’.
It is our duty.
It is our labor of Love.