America the Meanest: Media’s Legacy to Us

The following is a paper I wrote for my Journalism class back in 2011. I don’t know if any of the citations are still valid!

A few weeks ago, while listening to the radio, a man told the DJ he celebrated the one year benchmark of his divorce by having sex with his ex-wife’s sister. The shocked DJ asked, “What kind of sister would do that?” The man replied, “A hot one!” On Valentine’s Day, a woman told the DJ from a different radio station about her recent heartbreak. After the conversation ended the DJ told his listeners that it was fun to laugh at other people’s heartaches.

Cases such as these show the basic disrespect and lack of compassion the world has come to welcome as normal and acceptable behavior.

What does it mean to be mean? The second entry for the word “mean” found on defines mean as, “offensive, selfish, or unaccommodating; nasty; malicious: a mean remark; He gets mean when he doesn’t get his way. (Mean)” Unfortunately this has become increasingly evident in our society today. A wide range of excuses can be dreamt up, and such excuses usually blame a person’s upbringing, parents, friends, books, or perhaps even the government. While all these do play a part in their own right, I believe there is one more “excuse” that is a major factor in how a society raises itself. That reason is the media.

Messages from the media bombard us constantly from birth to adulthood without fail and in most cases without us noticing them. These messages are found in television ads, newspaper reports, music, movies, billboard ads, and magazines. What happens when the majority of these messages are negative? Can you remember the last time the news reported something positive?

Anyone who has ever seen an episode of Tom and Jerry knows the cartoon depicts two rival characters, one of which constantly inflicts bodily harm on the other using countless devices designed to cause the maximum amount of harm possible; yet the injured character always recovers with hardly a scratch on him moments later. In the popular television show The Simpsons, Bart and Lisa often watch the “Itchy and Scratchy Show” which is very similar in nature to the Tom and Jerry show. What type of children are Bart and Lisa represented as? Usually they are shown being ungrateful, selfish brats, who are disrespectful to their parents, friends, fellow classmates, and teachers. Granted, these children are fictional, but perhaps the creators of the show have caught on to the negative side effects that television and the media can have on children. From an early age, when one is the most impressionable, shows such as these teach us to resolve our problems with violence or through other destructive behavior.

Television is not the only form of media which tells us how to behave towards others. Movies have a wide impact on how people treat themselves and those around them. The movie Jackass is a prime example of this. Many children and adults were injured or killed because they imitated stunts they saw in the movie. If a movie can have this kind of effect on its watchers, we would be ignorant in believing that other movies do not have any effect on viewers as well. Men are taught to emulate the lifestyle of James Bond, a fictional character who only has depth if he is written that way. Because of the cool explosions and fast car chases, James Bond is seen as a personal hero to many men. But what example does the James Bond character teach? He teaches men that it’s perfectly okay to sleep around and that doing so will have no negative physical or emotional effect on them. Do you ever see James Bond pull a condom out of his wallet to imply he will be having safe sex? Does he ever talk to any of his sexual partners about having safe sex? Does he know anything at all about his sexual partners aside from their cup size? Perhaps he teaches men that those around them are nothing more than replaceable objects to discard as trash once they have served their purpose. What is the sole purpose of women throughout each James Bond film? They serve no valuable purpose aside from sex and are usually depicted as helpless and simple-minded. Through these films as well as countless other movies and magazines, women are taught that their only value lies within their looks and sexual performance. This is specifically documented in the film Killing Us Softly: 4.

Movies such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Leatherface, and The Silence of the Lambs were all inspired by a murderer named Ed Gein (Bell). While I can’t say that Gein was inspired to murder by movies or television since he committed his murders during the 50’s, I believe it is safe to say that he was inspired due to the fact that he was an avid reader of death-cult magazines. Ed Gein was inspired by death-cult magazines, and movies were inspired by Ed Gein. It is entirely possible that the feedback loop will continue by these movies inspiring other mentally imbalanced people who will then become the inspiration for a new set of disturbing movies.

Let’s not forget about music. This is perhaps the most influential form of media, aside from news reports. Music is extremely influential simply because we listen to it almost every day of our lives and it’s usually the same songs over and over! The hidden and sometimes not so hidden messages within songs is constantly being stored in our subconscious minds. Regardless of whether a message is good or bad, if we listen to these messages often enough they will eventually become a part of who we are. Jaron Lowenstein of Jaron Lowenstein and the Long Road to Love sings:

“I pray your brakes go out running down a hill/I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill and knocks you in the head like I’d like to/I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls/I pray you’re flying high when your engine stalls/I pray all your dreams never come true”

The song even mentions how he’d like the victim to blow a tire while driving 110 miles per hour. While singing a song such as this might seem harmless, imagine yourself in each of the situations he is wishing would happen to this individual. The song takes on a completely different meaning when viewed from this perspective. Imagine yourself blowing a tire while driving 110 miles per hour, or your plane crashing after the engine stalls.

The Surgeon General’s Youth Violence Report stated the following on its website: “Several content analyses over the last 30 years have systematically examined violence on television (Gerbner et al., 1980; Potter et al., 1995,; Signorielli, 1990). The largest and most recent of these was the National Television Violence Survey (NTVS), which examined the amount of content of violence on American television for three consecutive years, as well as contextual variables that may make it more likely for aggression and violence to be accepted, learned, and imitated. Smith and Donnerstein (1998) report the following NTVS findings:

  • 61 percent of television programs contain some violence, and only 4 percent of television programs with violent content feature an “antiviolence” theme.
  • 44 percent of the violent interactions on television involve perpetrators who have some attractive qualities worthy of emulation.
  • 43 percent of violent series involve humor either directed at the violence or used by characters involved with violence.
  • Nearly 75 percent of violent scenes on television feature no immediate punishment for or condemnation of violence.
  • 40 percent of programs feature “bad” characters who are never or rarely punished for their aggressive actions.

The NTVS report noted that many television programs fail to depict the harmful consequences of violence. Specifically, it finds that of all violent behavioral interactions on television, 58 percent depict no pain, 47 percent depict no harm, and 40 percent depict harm unrealistically. Of all violent scenes on television, 86 percent feature no blood or gore. Only 16 percent of violent programs feature the long-term, realistic consequences of violence” (Youth).

The 1999 Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows a homicide victimization chart from 1950 to 1997 with the rate per 100,000 population. In 1950 the rate was almost at 5 per 100,000, it reached five in 1960, then spiked to ten per 100,000 in 1975 and over ten in 1980 (U.S. Department). Clearly this shows that the murder rates were much lower when televisions were not present in every household, and shows the murder rate increased as more households brought televisions into the homes. This is most likely directly related to the types of programs that became available on television during this time. Keep in mind that this is the increase in murder rates alone and does not include the rise in other crime rates.

Richard Valdez, a Yoga instructor at Cosumnes River College, informed his students that each day we have 15,000 to 60,000 thoughts, of which 85-90 percent are repeating daily. Should those repeating thoughts be coming from negative media sources?

As an anonymous wise person once wrote:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

With the increase of nastier, meaner and consistently more violent situations being depicted in movies, television, and other forms of media forced into our subconscious minds, and with rates like those referenced in this paper, is it really a surprise that our nation has become nastier, meaner, and more violent as well?





Bell, Rachel, Marilyn Bardsley. “Eddie Gein.” Chapters 1, 3.

Lowenstein, Jaron. Jaron and the Long Road to Love. “Pray For You.” Jaronwood Records Nov. 2009

Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General. Chapter 4. Appendix 4-B. “Media Violence: Exposure and Content.”

U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Crime Data Brief”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s