The major debates over the issue of television are concerned about the TV shows’ impact on the audience. A group of researchers suggests that the individuals are majorly influenced and, consequently, demonstrate the learned behavior that was reinforced by programming. They claim that violent and immoral scenes of TV shows provoke in the same behavior of the viewers. Other researchers, who support the idea that the television operates with the encoded messages, are more interested in the underlying effects of the television viewing, such as personal beliefs, predisposition, experience, etc. These debates rages among scholars studying the media influence and causing such abrupt split that some supporters of each side consider the research produced by the other side as nonsense. While this paper does not claim to reconcile this split, it will present both sides of these ways of seeing the TV shows impact on the cultural development of the modern society.
It is beyond any doubt that television has a significant impact on viewers. It is obvious that television provides persuasive messages, information as well as emotional experiences that influence viewers and society as a whole (Mittel 157). However, there is a split within the field concerning the influence of the television on the actions and choices of the viewers. One group of scholars claims that: “people who view a large amount of television are likely to share opinions and values that are reinforced by programming” (Gray 114). The other group of scholars supports Burgers’ theory, such as “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe” (Berger 8). According to them, the messages that TV shows convey include a range of ideas; they consider the influence of TV shows as encoded messages, which may have different meaning for different people; sometimes even the same message may mean diametrically opposed ideas for two different individuals (Mittel 157).
In fact, the society is a product of the culture that surrounds it. Nowadays, television is an integral part of any individual; hence, its influence on the cultural development of the society is unquestionable. Nonetheless, this influence remains a hot topic for debates as long as the television exists. For this reason, the paper will examine different opinions as a basis for the different ways of seeing the TV shows impact on cultural development of the modern society.
Supporters of the harmful influence of the television state that TV producers and writers have the personal agendas; they desire to reshape the society according to their preferences. They consider that those who create and produce TV shows – “are generally liberal… inclined toward secularism… left of center… radical bent for shaking up the status quo” (Gauntlett 132, 137). Researches show that 90% of all major six-film studios (NBC Universal, 21st Century Fox, Warner Bros., Columbia Picture, Paramount Pictures and the Walt Disney Studios) executives do not mind abortions; more than 50% of them accept adultery and about 75% support homosexuality as a normal part of the life (Gray 78). Approximately 45% of the film studios’ executives do not belong to any religion, and 93% of them rarely or never attend traditional places of worship. Therefore, the programs created by such people often contradict the values of Judeo-Christian beliefs that for centuries have made a positive influence on the western culture.
Movie critic Michael Medved claims that these liberal-minded individuals, supporters of the social revolution of sexual liberation, have changed the television to a “production of poisonous content” (Gauntlett 58) that does not respect the religion, undermines the authority of the conventional family values, advocates sexual perversions, and propagates ugliness. He states that when people watch TV shows they plunge into a fictional world created by the individuals whose values are totally distorted (Gray 10). According to the opinion of the scholars, who supports the harmful influence of television, the last few decades have already revealed the negative outcomes of TV shows. Whereas representatives of TV shows industry disclaim that coercive, brutal and outrage scenes shown on the TV screens promote violent behavior in the society, there are researches that prove the opposite fact. Scholar James Hamilton states that “… the laboratory evidence establishes that violence on television causes children to be more aggressive… children learn patterns of behavior from TV shows that lead them to be violent in later life” (Gauntlett 112). A number of studies (about 1,000 or more) confirm apparent connection between violence shown on TV and aggressive conduct that manifests itself later (Gray 62). James Hamilton considers that denying the film studios to acknowledge that violent TV promotes violent demeanor is not different from denying tobacco companies that smoking cause such disease as cancer. Nowadays, the society has already witnessed some respective alterations such as growing quantity of shootings cases at schools with numerous victims being killed and injured. Some studies have noted a considerable growth in the number of suicide attempts among population aged between 13 to 19 years old after airing TV programs about teenage suicides (Gray 118). There are evidences that the movies depicting scenes of Russian roulette inspired many young people to repeat this fatal game (Gauntlett 201). At one of the schools, a teenager brutally murdered his classmate with a machete wearing a mask. The only explanation that he could give is that he was inspired by a movie character (Gauntlett 198). While imitating another movie character, one more teenager murdered a schoolmate with a knife wearing gloves, mask, and a black cape. He explained that he wanted to feel something, and a character from a movie showed him how to achieve this (Gountlett 197). The researchers counted that in average a child observes approximately 100,000 violent scenes before leaving elementary school. Consequently, a number of psychologists claim that it damages to some extent the development of fragile child’s state of mind. However, it is a proven fact that constant exposure to violent scenes makes children less compassionate (Gray 85). As one of the psychologists noted: “children that grew up in atmosphere bombarded by violence… develop the understanding that human life is something cheap and expendable” (Gountlett 129).
The similar remark concerns scenes of the sex on the screens. While producers and writers claim that TV shows simply reflect the morals of the modern society, they prefer to ignore the profound influence of TV shows on them. Oxford professor Richard Dawkins once noticed that “the media are so compelling and so filled with sex, it’s hard for anyone to resist… I think of the media as our true sex educators” (Mitell 103). However, not everyone has such a tolerating view as Dawkins regarding this problem. Those who support the harmful influence of TV shows are confident that regular presentation of promiscuity as an exciting adventure as well as adultery and divorce as natural phenomena plays a crucial role in molding individuality and demeanor. Approximately 150 talk shows are aired every week and watched by millions of Americans. Therefore, some professional psychologists consider that “talk shows contribute to and even create more problems than they solve” (Gray 184).}}
There are many speculations that the audiences of the TV shows allegedly cannot discriminate between “fact” and “fiction”. Consequently, Jason Mitell writes that, without any doubt, the viewers sometimes identify themselves with the fictional characters, but in this way, they can solve their problems such as loss, grief and fear. Obviously, identifying with the characters is not the same as not realizing that fictional characters are fictional (Mitell 311). The research was conducted to investigate this issue. The audience of TV series “Casualty” was involved as an experimental group. The study confirmed that the viewers clearly differenciate between not only fictional characters and themselves, but also between realistic and not-realistic elements. They knew that real relationships between staff of a real A&E unit are ordinary and not exciting. Their understanding of the atmosphere in such units resulted from their own experiences. Simultaneously, the viewers noticed that some parts of the TV series could be applied to real life situations and experience, which they obtained while watching show, is useful for guiding their own actions (Gray 146).
Nonetheless, the debates continue. The main basis for the debates is that some part of the viewers is able to distinguish between fiction and reality; another part of the viewers may not be capable of seeing such clear difference between these two aspects (Mitell 315).
There is not any doubt that all kinds of media potentially affect the audience in some ways. The children, preferring to watch violent content, are more likely to demonstrate aggressive behavior. Nevertheless, it does not prove that violent scenes are a direct cause of the belligerent behavior. The studies show that the individuals with aggressive personalities are more likely to prefer violent programs. It is important to notice that the reputable scientific source does not state that the content of a program has a direct impact on the viewers. However, it may directly influence a small percentage of the viewers with mental predispositions or illnesses (Philo 115). While seeking the harm caused by TV shows, the supporters of hazardous influence usually prefer to ignore the other powerful causes of the social illnesses in order to link everything bad to the influence of the TV shows. For example, such factors as poverty, bad parenting, social vulnerability, substance abuse, and peer conformity correlate stronger with youth violence in America than TV series watching (Gauntlett 211). Likewise, some researches of TV programming impact found that as violent scenes can provoke aggressive behavior in some viewers, the same content might reduce or redirect negative impulses in other viewers. It is obvious that the television is one of numerous factors that mold behaviors and attitudes (Mitell 401).
The majority of scholars state that media effect is an encoded message sent to the viewers. The impact of the message depends on the spectators. The message can convey the multiple meanings and competing ideas. The process of decoding the message gives a range of interpretations, conceptions and conclusions, but not a simple “reception and assimilation” of a particular information. For psychologists, who support the idea of the encoded message, comprehension of the different ways, which mind process the decoded message, is crucial to evaluate the cultural impact of different shows on the audience (Berger 137). However, the difficulty is the decoding process that is complicated by the personality of a viewer, who decodes the message through the prism of his cultural, educational, social, and mental development. Two individuals of the same background and intellectual development can decode the same message in different ways. The similar effect appears even with the messages that convey intended data, such as news informing about current events; those events can mean different things for various individuals. The viewers contribute their own state of mind, experience and expectations in the decoding process, including demographic and social factors such as age, habits or economic status.
Well-respected scholars continue studying the TV shows impact on the viewers and observe divergent pictures. Many researchers start with an inner conviction that the television has a hazardous social impact and conduct multiple studies to prove this fact.
Simultaneously, cultural studies scholars (supporters of encoded message) are more focused on understanding the complexity and the diversity of impacts that influence the cultural development of the modern society. Thus, different researchers view the same data through a different prism of perspective. Hazardous effects scholar would state that the viewers impacted directly by the content of programming, while a message-encoded scholar would present many responses, which viewers receive from programming. Therefore, the influence of television on viewers and society is widely studied, but still open for debate (Mitell 446).
It will be incorrect to simplify an extraordinarily complex and multilayered social influence of TV shows into a simple generalization, namely bad or good. As noted above, there are still no studies, which definitively prove that television causes the realistic violent behaviors. There are no arguments that television viewers actually decode the messages according to the facts that they believe or know. Finally, the ways of seeing the connotation of TV shows cultural influence are the main issues of discussion.