How the Media Influences how People Behave

Today’s media is mass and ubiquitous. This means that is is portable, constantly available and vastly growing in capability.

One of the main complaints about the media’s influence on society and on behavior is that it gives a “big fat OK” to behavior that is clearly problematic and that needs to be discouraged. In fact, one of the “Big fat OK’s” involves becoming less and less concerned about community or societal approval of behaviors that would never have been tolerated in the past.

The media inundates lives in a host of ways. From the tiny an constantly available computers and communication devices that are Droids and Ipods, to the ubiquitous cell phones and the constant barrage of “news” and “reports”, it is the rare individual who is not aware of current events, the latest scandal or the latest video evidence of a society gone, apparently, mad, if not hilarious, titillating, overindulgent and excessive in it’s demands for the new and the shocking.

Speaking to larger and larger audiences without portfolio and behind a mask of anonymity is now possible for any entity, from the most powerful to the weakest, the youngest as well as the oldest. There are few limitations on behavior that ranges from benign, but overly confessional to aggressive and threatening.

Corporations and secretive groups of powerful, economic elites can actually start fake “grassroots” movements such as political parties and groups of thugs who disrupt town hall meetings, while remaining completely hidden from the public eye, thanks to mass and ubiquitous media. As a result, problems are arising from these secretly sponsored and financed “commercial social movements” that are really not born in the will of the people.

When the range of video, written, spoken, musical and photographic content comes a range of exposure to that which can be illegal, as with kiddie and snuff porn, or that can be destructive of group morals, ideals and values, such as extremist and very convincing material.

Disrespect for authority grows, for example, when the malfeasance of authority is made public. The teacher who attacks and beats a student, the cop who stomps the head of a prone and innocent man, then tells him to leave, unaware that the action was filmed, the doctor who arranges for a hit man to kill his wife, and the kidnapping that is caught on film are examples of authority caught, with no ability to lie or reason their way out of responsibility for their violation of public trust.

Disrespect for the rights and authority of parents and couples grows when parents and couples who are emotionally disturbed, substance abusers, immature sociopaths demonstrate their behavior in widely viewed public forums. In the past, that behavior was hidden behind closed doors. No longer are abusive parents or spouses guaranteed to be allowed to get away with their behavior by claiming a right to privacy and authority to do as they please in their own homes and with their own children.

Still, not enough is being done to prevent the many deaths of women and children, and sometimes men that occur every week, but social media has a few programs that bring more of these cases to light, sometimes helping the public to following the cases in real time until the criminals are convicted.

Fads are another area where social media and general media can start a firestorm of imitation. There are forms of dance that approach simulated sexual intercourse. These forms have now reached the “mainstream” of middle class, white society.  There is distressingly seductive adult costuming on very young girls to extreme risk taking or violence in very young boys, the media glamorizes behavior that, in real life is often protected by the presence of mood altering and pain killing substance abuse that precedes the stunts and events. For young girls, it makes no sense, whatsoever to put them on display as even more obvious and attractive targets for dangerous child predators.

Ironically, the recent incident where 7 and 8 year old girls were dressed in adult lingerie to perform Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” were far more provocatively dressed and behaving than Beyonce was in her video, where she was modestly dressed and dancing! This indicates that the media is creating hybrid situations where the public is pulling excessive behavior from one source (the adult lingerie and suggestive moves)  and applying it to a situation that imitates behavior or a fad from another source (a highly popular general audience pop song and dance).

In summary, inundation, imitation, communication, exposure, disrespect, anonymity, fad aggravation, and hybrid misbehavior are all consequences of media overload, portability and lack of control. This adds up to a nullification of social values, norms and beliefs as encouragement or approval of problematic behavior moves too rapidly and overrides traditional social mechanisms for reigning in the more excessive or harmful forms of behavior.