For any parent, the power of outside influence upon a child’s mind is a serious situation. Often, we blame the media for the growing tide of violence and sexual promiscuity prevalent in today’s youth, but according to author Karen Sternheimer, we may be placing blame in all the wrong places.
In her provocative book It's Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture's Influence on Children, Sternheimer, a sociology professor at USC, tell us to set our sights on things other than the usual suspects of TV, movies, pop music and video games. Her examination digs deeply into the world of popular culture that our children seem to live in, and she comes up with plenty of arguments that perhaps the real problems facing our youth exist elsewhere. Namely, she feels that a widespread fear of social change, coupled with economic and political trends that affect society as a whole, just may have more to do with what’s going on with our kids than those nasty rap music videos or that bloody video game.
Using the most current research available on the effects of media and advertising on children, the author looks at both sides of the argument and presents compelling new information that shows that our problems may not at all be the fault of what we let our kids watch, listen to or play with. In fact, she is convinced that our “media phobia” may actually be doing us the dangerous disservice of hiding the real facts and the real causes of so many of our problems with today’s kids. Of course, the author does feel that parents must control their children’s activities, and she does support quality media in all its forms, but she cautions us to not be blind to the real root causes of our society’s problems.
Sternheimer talks about the most famous “media-bashing” cases; Marilyn Manson and the video game Quake having motivated the Columbine shooters; an Eminem wanna-be who beat the crap out of his wife; TV wrestling inspiring kids to break each other’s bones; a school shooting inspired by a Pearl Jam song. As we nod our heads and think about how violent and sexually open our media is, the author always manages to remind us of the many past cartoons, movies and musical artists that pushed the edge of the envelope. Remember the violence of “Looney Tunes” cartoons, and the scary Wizard of Oz, or the Beatles song "Run For Your Life,” which features a line that states “I’d rather see you dead little girl/than to see you with another man.” Talk about misogyny.
While I as a mother am convinced that the media is not all that child-friendly, especially when it comes to advertisers (and there is a whole chapter devoted to the selling machine that preys on our kids), Sternheimer points out how the media has always shown us sex, violence, guns, shootings, war, bloodshed, etc. Yet these fears have really only become such a big deal now, in this generation. Again, the author makes some challenging and thoughtful points on why, which involves evolving sociological forces. After reading this book, I see the media’s role in my own child’s life as being far less powerful than I first imagined.
The new dangers of the Internet are also explored, as well as the over-marketing of products to kids, and I again was challenged by the author’s idea that it is not the media that is over-marketing, but simply responding to a culture that is so much more materialistic than ever before. That I think we all can agree on. The chapter titles mostly all feature the word “fear" -- Fear of Cartoons, Fear of the Internet, Fear of Music, and what makes this book so timely is the fact that we are living with such pervasive fear in our lives as perhaps never before. But unless we come to grips with what we are afraid of, and why, we may be harming our kids more than helping them by our media-bashing.
In her closing chapter, the author makes some powerful comments about how the media only reflects and reminds us of the social problems we face, that it does not create them. She also states that the biggest harm media power can yield is not in “creating killers, but in creating complacency.” She likens the media to a “sheep in wolf’s clothing,” in that it seems scary, but underneath it is more of a follower than a leader. This is a very deep book, not to be read quickly or taken lightly, because in many ways, we owe it to our kids to try to understand what underlying forces truly shape their world and their worldview.
It's Not the Media is a real eye-opener and will totally change the way you look at the role the media plays in not only molding the beliefs, personalities and ideals of your own children, but maybe your own as well. In fact, the real culprit is something far more frightening for many people: social change. Maybe that’s why we’d rather blame the easy targets.