One of the hottest topics for those who think about media today is violence. Is there too much violence in the media? Is the violence too graphic? Is it too easy for youngsters to see programs containing violence? Do programs that show violence stress the consequences of violence enough? Is violence made glamorous as a way of marketing media products? Are people made violent by watching violent media? Should there be controls on media violence? Many of the same questions can be asked about sex and sexual content in the media. Is there too much? Is it there only to attract viewers? Is it sensationalized? Is sex too often connected with violence? Does sex in the media influence viewers' sexual behavior? Does sexual content in the media have an effect on sexual violence and sexual crime? Should there be controls on sexual content in the media?
Likewise for illegal drugs. Should drugs and drug-use be portrayed in the media? Do the media tend to glamorize drug-use? Is drug-use too often connected with sex and violence in the media? Should there be controls? On these issues - violence, sex, drug use - there is a general consensus that they should be called "sensitive", and treated with special attention. Tobacco and alcohol, legal industries that have succeeded in keeping their products front and center in the media even when direct advertising is forbidden are still not generally included in this group as "drugs".
But one other sensitive issue, or group of issues, does not enjoy the same sort of consensus: the issues of the depiction of gender, race, faith, class and sexual orientation. Our media are still full of images and messages that women find demeaning; they are often still racist, (if not toward African Americans, then towards Arab people, people from South Asia, or Native American); they still sometimes show prejudice towards religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism; they still tend not to respect ordinary people, poor people or working people as much as they respect wealthy or middle class people; and they are still frequently biased when it comes to accepting differences in sexual orientation. Our media and culture tend not to respect people of all ages equally. Generally speaking, the very young and the elderly get short shrift from the media, perhaps because they are seen as unimportant in terms of consumer profiles. In short, our media are often sexist, racist, classist, intolerant of religion, gaybashing and ageist.
These, then, are the sensitive issues that media consumers should address as they educate themselves to become media literate:
III. substance abuse and misuse (illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco) IV. bias against:
Some people just say: "Avoid it all. Turn off the TV. Throw the TV away. Don't allow the kids to watch any of that stuff." It's an approach that relies totally on avoidance, but it works, if avoidance is what you are after. What avoidance does not do is provide any answers to the questions raised by the issues. It basically answers all questions by saying, "Go away!"
Others take a different approach to the problem of sensitive issues. They want someone else to look after it so that they do not have to worry or take action themselves. "Get the V Chip. Regulate the media producers. Legislate it out of existence," they say, relying on technology and governments to do the job for them. This is basically another way of saying, "Go away!"
This will work, too, but it will work at the expense of our freedom of speech, and freedom of choice. What's more, it will do nothing to educate the populace away from the attitudes that condoned that kind of content in the first place. It may substitute one kind of media content for another, but there is no guarantee that it will substitute one set of audience attitudes for another. Both avoidance and passing the buck will make...