Even entertainment can convey subtle messages. Dr. David Walsh, author of Selling Out America’s Children: How America Puts Profits before Values and What Parents Can Do, has identified six key values that dominate the mass media:
1. Happiness is found in having things.
2. Get all you can for yourself.
3. Get it all as quickly as you can.
4. Win at all costs.
5. Violence is entertaining.
6. Always seek pleasure and avoid boredom.
The media’s emphasis on materialism and entertainment shouldn’t be surprising, of course. As much as 90 percent of our media content is ultimately owned by a handful of giant transnational corporations, including Time Warner, News Corp., Disney, Viacom, Vivendi, Bertlesmann, and Sony. Veteran media critic George Gerbner notes that, for the first time in human history, most of the stories about people, life, and values are told not by parents, schools, churches, and others in the community who have something to tell, but by a group of distant conglomerates that have little to tell and everything to sell.
As a result, our 21st-century media is mainly supplied by a small number of large corporations whose primary concern is not our society’s health or our children’s well-being, but to maximize profits.
In an interview with Zenit, a Catholic news service, screenwriter Clare Sera was asked how we are influenced by Hollywood without even realizing it. She replied:
In every way. Every movie, each TV show leaves its influence — but we have great power over how we allow that to influence our hearts.
Ms. Sera goes on to explain how important it is to discuss the underlying messages of a movie after you’ve watched it, especially with your children.
Movies are good opportunities to bring up topics you might not think about around the dinner table. It’s a great way to open conversations with your kids about why you think such and such a movie has a bleak message, or a great message, and ask them what they think.
And not just in movies. Parents have an opportunity at every turn to explain, “This is what Christ calls us to,” and “This is how the culture differs from Christ’s call.” And to show the difference between what looks pretty and what is truly beautiful—between immediate gratification and depth of soul. Between Britney Spears and Mother Teresa.
In the end, the best protection against media bias and its effects is to be on guard about what we expose ourselves to, and limit its intake. Turning on the TV, or uncritically absorbing mass publications every day—these activities allow access to our minds by anyone who has an agenda, anyone with the resources to influence you via popular media.
Your mind is worth guarding, and it’s worth your while to limit access to it. As the old saying goes, if you keep your mind too open, people will throw a lot of rubbish into it.