April 14, 2008

Web Surfing: What Do Other Bloggers Have to Say About Violence in the Media?

This week, I navigated the blogosphere in a search for blogs that comment on the media's role or lack of role in youth violence. As I wrote about last week, research shows that mental illness is the leading indicator and cause of violence. However, in our media saturated society, television and other technologies are the easiest scapegoats for the problem. Many blogs reinforce this misconception about violence in the media being extremely dangerous to today's youth. The first blog I looked at is called Game Politics, which posts a conversation between Larry King and Dr. Phil about video games' influence over children. I challenged Dr. Phil's argument that video games are a causal factor in young people committing violent acts. The second blog I looked at is called Matty N's Blog. The creator of the blog quotes Rush Limbaugh voicing his opinion that video games are not guilty of people's violent crimes. He says that the individual is responsible for the act. I responded to both Game Politics' and Matty N's posts below:

While I appreciate Dr. Phil's opinions on many topics, I greatly disagree with his point of view that video games cause youth violence. Research shows that by the age of 11, children have adult capabilities of deciphering between fantasy and reality on the television screen. Thus, shooting animated people by clicking a remote control is in no way teaching kids about violence. In fact, many sociologists have noted that violence in a media is a safe way for people to release their violent urges. Furthermore, evidence reveals that mental illness is the leading cause in homicide. I believe that the media is simply an easy target for criticism regarding serious issues, such as teenage violence. By blaming the media, individuals do not have to look into the deeper problems-problems that may begin in their very own households.

Rush's statement about the relationship between video games and school shootings is valuable to Americans. He is correct in noting that video games are absolutely not responsible for adolescent violence. There is no evidence tying the two matters together, and as Rush points out, the fact that the Virginia Tech school shooter played video games is irrelevant. Many people are gamers and do not commit heinous crimes. I do think it is important to be sensitive to the mental issues that DO have an effect on homicidal people. Mental illness is a serious disease that can be fatal to one or more people if it goes untreated. Mental illness contributes to violent acts, such as school shootings, not video games.

April 8, 2008

School Shootings: The Cause

Four months ago, at Northern Illinois University, there was a school shooting. This event is similar to what happened on April 16, 2007 when reporters were in a frenzy to report on the Virginia Tech Shooting. As the news reported, a male Virginia Tech student killed many university students and professors, and then he committed suicide. This was an extremely traumatic and shocking event because it exemplified how even in the middle class, primarily white, academic world danger can arise. Consequentially, the public questioned the cause of this man's violent act immediately following the event, and they searched for someone or something to blame. Unfortunately for the media, popular culture and the media as a whole were held responsible. School shootings, such as Virginia Tech are infrequent, but extremely frightening events. In nearly all cases, popular culture and the media are targeted as the causes of violent behavior. Ironically, media has no proven association with violence. In fact, professionals state that mental illness is the key cause. However, because grave issues, such as the cause of violent impules require people to look into themselves in order to resolve the problem, it is easier to point fingers and redirect the blame. Additionally, the ubiquity of media is a new phenomenon, therefore several adults fear the effects of media on children because their childhood did not include computer games and frequent television use.

This entire cycle of placing blame on the media begins with news reporting. After the Virginia Tech shooting transpired, many news mediums were fast to name video game Counter Strike as the culprit in the event. Fox News reported that gaming is directly related to the deaths of the victims at Virginia Tech. The article quoted Jack Thompson (depicted to the right), a video game critic, stating that there are "real people that are in the ground now because of this game." To frantic parents, this statement was a relief because it explained some rationale for the terrible episode. In reality, the parents simply believed what they read without checking the facts. Thompson's commentary is simliar to past remarks associated with school shootings. After the Columbine Shooting in 1999, there was a widely covered lawsuit against video game production companies. The BBC reported that the lawsuit asserts "that many of the computer games produced by the 25 companies it names created the conditions that made the massacre possible." While there was no evidence to support this claim and the lawsuit was rejected in court, the idea that there is a relationship between video games and school shootings permeated society. Because the news maintains sensationalized reporting regarding school shootings, the true causes of adolescent violence remained silenced.

In actuality, mental illness is the primary causal factor for adolescent violence. In Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epedemialogy by Steinkopff, it is denoted that "patients who suffer from serious mental conditions are more prone to violent behavior." If this illness goes untreated, it can be tremendously dangerous to both the patient and others. Moreover, in a study that was conducted by the National Research Council Institude of Medicine, statistics reveal that five of eight school shooters had mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and clinical depression. The study also bares information about the perpetrators prior to the shootings. Many of these people had tried to kill themselves at an earlier time. Thus, this violent behavior is somewhat explicable after understanding mental illness and its severe effects. Some of these life-impeding symptoms include suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, learning disabilities, anxiety, et cetera. Therefore, even if the school shooters played video games, mental illness is clearly the real problem. There may be a correlation between school shooters and video games in that violent teenagers play violent games. however it is inaccurate to use this correlation to explain that video games (like the one depicted) rather than mental illness causes violence.

So the question that remains is why do people blame the media? The first reason is that mental illness and youth violence are two topics that are sensitive and quite personal for most individuals. To evaluate if a child has a psychological disorder, one must look deeply into their own households. This is a difficult and emotional task for most people. it is simpler to redirect the blame to an outward source. Secondly, as University of Southern California Professor Karen Sternheimer states, "media culture has expanded exponentially over the last few decade." Because there is so much access to media products and media is completely incorporated into society, people fear a loss of control. Parents no longer know exactly what their child is watching on the television or what their child is doing when they are playing video games. Just as ignorance regarding people of other cultures, religions and races produces prejudice, so does a lack of understanding of media.

As Professor Sternheimer points out in It's Not the Media, adults fears about the media causing youth to commit homicidal acts completely disregards children's ability to rationalize. Furthermore, an examination conducted by Professor Sternheimer reinforces the point that violence is learned through social contexts and personal life experiences. Her research reveals that the "meaning of violence is made within particular social contexts. " This means that one source, the media, does not inform kids about sadism. It is the varying life experience of each individual child that affects their understanding of aggression. The news should focus on school shooters' lives leading up to the event and their mental illnesses when reporting about these tragedies. Additionally, schools and parents ought to pay special attention to signs of mental illness and seek treatment immediately if it is necessary. In order to prevent future heart wrenching events in schools, video games can no longer be the scapegoats and people must look at the real issue.

March 29, 2008

Extracting the Good, But Leaving the Bad: My Search for Valuable Internet Resources on Sociology

This week, I continued the search for valuable online resources that I began weeks ago. While there is a superfluous amount of information sources online, I used the Webby Awards and IMSA criteria to decipher between what is a reliable versus weak source. Described below and available in the link roll of this blog, I have found ten exceptional websites. My favorite of the websites is VALPO. It is aesthetically pleasing in it's simple, but organized layout. Each week the website posts a current important topic, and I am constantly fascinated by the subject matter. However, the website would benefit from being more interactive. A site that does a wonderful job inviting viewers to share insight and opinions is A Very Public Sociologist. This site is a blog that is well laid out with noteworthy discussions and informative posts. However, the authors do not establish their authority anywhere on the page-this is certainly a weak point for the blog. While A Very Public Sociologist only has one main flaw, SocioSite is an example of a page that is highly useful and academic, but faulty in multiple areas. It links to numerous famous sociologists, but it is unattractive, boring, and lacking much other information. Even with these errors, this web page has been extremely useful to me-in fact, just last week I utilized the database supplied on the page. A similar site is the American Sociological Association, which has a simple interface, but is of high value. It provides an interactive forum for sociologists online. Furthermore, I am quite impressed by Cyberspace and Web Sociology as it directly discusses sociology online. It is easy to navigate, but could be more descriptive in its material. All Academic is another great resource. The website is useful for finding articles on abstract subjects, although many times you have to pay to view the entire article. Spoil the Kids provides many articles and viewers can read them for free. The articles focus on sociology of childhood. Because the site is so wonderful, it would be great if the producers of Spoil the Kids had other sociological websites that focused on more topics. Furthermore, Sage Journals is a blog with many posts on sociology, but it is quite frustrating to navigate. A blog that is easier to navigate is The Global Sociology blog. It has outstanding posts, however the posts need to be more concise. Lastly, another fantastic blog is Y for Yendetta. This blog is well-written and credible, but not always relevant to my research. These online sources exemplify the outstanding information and discussion that the internet houses.

March 10, 2008

"It's 3 AM" and Your Children and Being Used to Persuade You: How Children are Used in Politics

At the mere mention of the word 'child,' people instantly make associations with happiness, innocence, naivety, among other qualities. Furthermore, people of all backgrounds and ages relate to children because everyone once was a child and many people have their own children. Due to children's common relationship with people universally, this topic evokes sympathy from many different types of people. It is because of this unique quality that kids are brought into heated political conversations. Playing the "kid card," or utilizing children as a persuasion tactic, has been in use for decades. Posters during both the Vietnam War era and the World War II era featured children in order to bring attention to the suffering that the wars were causing. Currently, Hillary Clinton has a campaign commercial that utilizes children to display Clinton's qualifications for presidency and her ability to protect families while in The White House. Children's impact on both the government and every day citizens' voting decisions is phenomenal. Thus, many sociologists have examined why children have so much influence. To fully understand this sociological phenomenon, one must begin by examining children's symbolic use in history and end by looking at the current use of children in politics.

Historically, the faces and stories of anguished children have been used to spotlight the cruelties of war. While wars cause destruction for all human beings involved, it takes the imagery of helpless children for people to understand the real consequences. During the Vietnam War, photographs of impoverished and endangered Vietnamese children were publicized in the United States. The war was extremely controversial amongst Americans and the photographs, like the photograph depicted on the left, revealed America's detrimental affect on Vietnamese youth. One poster created during Vietnam features a child's handwriting and the message that "war is not healthy for children and other living things." Lots of Americans had children of their own and empathized with the losses that Vietnamese families were suffering. Thus, the photographs and messages had a great impact on them. Similarly, photographs of children were used worldwide during the Second World War. The photographs and posters served the purpose of instilling fear into people so that they would take the war seriously and take the precautions necessary to stop the war from affecting their own families. One alarming WWII poster displays Adolf Hitler and the Japanese Prime Minister Tojo looking over the globe with weapons in their hands. The rhetoric of the poster states that "our homes are in danger now!" The use of the word homes in combination with the weaponry the dictators are holding is greatly affective in causing fear. People think of their homes as a place of safety where their children and belongings are secure, and Hitler and Tojo were threatening their shelter. In addition, elementary schools in Britain displayed similar cautionary posters. Some of these posters read that "Hitler will send no warning-so always carry your gas mask," "Still more bones wanted for salvage," and "Don't do it mother-Leave your kids where they are." Not only did these posters depict children in wartime, but they were exhibited in elementary school halls to get messages across to parents about the dangers of the war. This tactic of using children to communicate issues on a personal level is still being used today.

Currently, a television commercial run by Hillary Clinton's campaign boldly states that when "it is 3 AM and your children are safe and asleep," Clinton (depicted on the right) will be the best candidate to protect your family. The commercial displays multiple pictures of young children asleep in their beds, which is an image that is precious to all parents. This commercial is ironic because of course, any American citizen wants to feel safe while they are asleep at night. However, Clinton's commercial only directly addresses the safety of children. Family security is a highly sensitive and important issue to American voters. Thus, Clinton utilizes the emotional appeal of parental concern for their children in her campaign. She attempts to create anxiety in parents by capitalizing on their natural fear about their child's safety in her advertisement. This advertisement has provoked many strong responses amongst Americans. On CNN's blog, one person articulates that Clinton was having difficulty getting her foreign policy proposals heard. Therefore, she "[kicked] it up and [tried] to hit people where they live," using the impact of the homestead to draw people's attention. She was quite successful in her tactic, as shown by the coverage of the commercial by many news mediums, Saturday Night Live, and The Daily Show. Sociologists examine why children have the ability to bring attention to Clinton's cause and many other causes, even when multiple other persuasion tactics have failed.

Two renowned sociologists David Buckingham and Henry Giroux separately examine the way society views children. After studying their research, it is simple to understand how children have such a great affect on politics. In Buckingham's work, "The Death of The Child," he denotes that anxiety over youth culture began in the 1930s when children stopped spending all of their time under their parents' supervision and started to spend more time around peers. Because adults had such different childhood experiences due to the vast expansion of technology and growing independence of children, adults worry that childhood is in trouble. They project their biggest fears onto children. Therefore, they feel they must preserve and protect 'childhood.' Issues, like war, that threaten this entity are highly emotional for parents-politicians play on this reaction. Moreover, Giroux discusses society's concept of childhood innocence. Children are molded to be blank slates that adults can project their desired qualities and values onto. Children are supposed to be unknowing and protected. Their malleability is appealing to society because it maintains adults' power. War and other political issues endanger this innocence, which is why when children are brought into political issues, adults respond strongly.

Concisely, although children have no voice in politics, they have an immense impact on political decisions. They are symbols of citizens' greatest fears and hopes and they touch the hearts of nearly all human beings. Children are vital tools in political persuasion. This influential characteristic has been successful in the past, put into use in the current time, and it will surely be utilized in the future.

February 28, 2008

Looking Outside: An Investigation Into Other Resources on Sociology and Media

This week, I paused my own writing in an effort to research and uncover the indispensable sociology-related and media-related resources on the internet. While there are many arbitrary websites, there is also a multitude of fascinating, scholarly websites. It is a difficult but worthwhile task to sort through the clutter of websites to find only the most valuable websites. I am hoping that in identifying these resources, I can become better informed in my field and I can give you, the reader, the opportunity to read more about media and sociology's symbiotic relationship. I evaluated the websites based on The Webby Awards and IMSA standards, and the following ten websites meet the criteria. The first website is Project Censored. This website delivers controversial and unheard stories in the news. Following The Webby Awards guidelines, the creators of the website are academics who cover the material with authority. Furthermore, the website is interactive, inviting readers to nominate a story if the story fits the necessary guidelines described on the web page. The biggest flaw with the website is in its aesthetics-it is not a very attractive website. Another resource is Reportage-this is a respected Independent Australian Magazine that emphasizes the role that the media plays in influencing politics. The site is easy to navigate through, aesthetically pleasing, and credible. However, it is not as interactive as it could be. A website that is incredibly interactive is the Canadian Content. It covers important news stories, and it is unique because the website provides forums for people to join and discuss current topics. The posts focus on how the media impacts the people, and it meets all of The Webby Awards standards. This website does not have any outstanding weaknesses. It is attractive, easy to navigate through, interactive, and the writers are credible. Another highly interactive resource is Media Rights -the website serves as a platform for independent filmmakers. Individuals can submit their documentaries to the website and have their social issues heard through the documentaries. This website could be improved by taking more authority on the issues that are discussed in the documentaries. Additionally, New Media Studies is a wonderful resource. It is incredibly easy to navigate, wonderfully designed, and the material is wonderful-sociologists examine a variety of current mediums. Sociology in Switzerland is another valuable resource because it links to many articles related to sociology and culture. However, the website is not very attractive and slightly difficult to navigate through due to the clutter. One of the most useful websites I found is the Electronic Journal of Sociology. The site links to many highly valuable articles on current sociological issues. The website is weak in that it is difficult to submit essays to the site- the interactivity portion of the website should be improved. While there are many helpful websites about sociology, I found fantastic blogs, as well. Occam's Razr is a valuable blog. The posts are not the most provocative and academically advanced posts, but they are highly interactive, thought-provoking, and interesting. Culture Matters (depicted on the left) is a blog that has many posts discussing issues with a sociological and anthropological analysis. The site meets the IMSA criteria in the sophisticated language, established authority, and admitted bias. My only critique is that the blog would benefit from the use of pictures as a way of drawing attention to particular posts. Finally, Thinking Culture is a fantastic blog-it is provocative, authoritative, and completely confesses to biases. Both Culture Matters and Thinking Culture are my favorite resources because the posts are completely opinionated, which makes them interesting.

February 18, 2008

Does the Blogosphere Reinforce or Refute the Media's Message about Weight

After exploring the media's portrayal of a "healthy weight" in my last blog, I decided to look into the blogosphere to see if bloggers supported the media's message that being skinny is ideal or if bloggers rejected this idea. Because blogs typically hold more radical opinions due to the lack of regulation of the medium, one would expect blogs to expose the dangers of the media promoting thinness rather than nutrition. However, I am disappointed to report that many blogs reinforce the media's beauty ideal. One blog named "The Skinny Website" consists of posts about celebrities weight loss and gain. Recently, a post was written about Kirstie Alley's resignation as the Jenny Craig spokeswoman. This entry discusses how Queen Latifah will replace Kirstie Alley as the spokewoman for Jenny Craig, and how it will be difficult for Queen Latifah to represent a company centralized on health when she is overweight. Secondly, a blog named "Weight Loss Made Easy" posted about "The Most Honest Restaurant Menu Ever." The post features a photograph of a dessert menu of a restaurant; one dessert says "I'm on a diet" and it costs no money because according to the creator of the menu, dieters cannot eat dessert. I have responded to the posts as displayed below:

"Kirstie Alley Resigns From Jenny Craig"

While I think that Queen Latifah's placement as the new spokeswoman for Jenny Craig will create a drastic change in Jenny Craig's image, it will be an excellent way to promote health rather than aesthetics. At the moment, many companies like Jenny Craig are solely associated with weight loss for bettering a person's appearance. Nutrition, however, takes a backseat. The commercials do not emphasize how many people have lowered their cholesterol through dieting or the benefits of weight loss for diabetes. Most weight loss commercials focus on the new attention and body confidence that comes with weight loss. I applaud Jenny Craig for going against the societal norm, and promoting health rather than skinniness.

When I first came upon your blog, I was disappointed to see that there was yet another blog that exists simply to show pictures of thin celebrities. However, after reading this post and the post about Catherine Zeta Jones not having an eating disorder from October 31st, I have gained respect for your blog. As a blogger, you have the ability to influence how people think about body image, beauty, and celebrities. I look forward to reading your blog in the future, and hope that there are more posts that are open to the idea of health and beauty in less conventional forms.

"The Most Honest Restaurant Menu Ever"

While I believe that this post was created to be funny, I think that as a blogger it is important to remember the influence your website has on people. The South Carolina Department of Mental Health estimates that about 8 million Americans have eating disorders. This number is outrageous and most likely impacted by the media's focus on thinness. Weight is a widely covered issue in American media, yet inaccurate information about weight loss is quite prevalent. The message that abstaining from eating in order to look beautiful needs to stop immediately.

Being named "Weight Loss Made Easy," this blog has the potential to attract many people who want to lose weight and can gain information about how to do this in a healthy way. I ask you to please promote nutrition, moderation, and exercise rather than a quick fix for a few extra pounds. You can impact society by encouraging people to be healthy, not malnourished.

February 11, 2008

Obesity: A Heavy Issue for Americans

Combating obesity is a priority amongst many Americans; this value of health and beauty that is represented as the opposite of obesity is dictated by the media. The media constantly delivers the message that one must be skinny in order to be healthy and beautiful. While these adjectives are relative in nature-does not beauty lie in the eye of the beholder?-they have absolute definitions within society. Television shows, commercials, and books reinforce that obesity is the enemy, and attractiveness in American culture does have guidelines.

Many television shows in today's media address the issue of weight. "The Biggest Loser" is a show that centralizes on weight loss. The premise is that individuals who are overweight compete for a monetary prize on the show; the contestant who loses the most amount of weight wins money (one of the winners is depicted on the left). While the show assists the contestants in losing weight through trainers, nutritionists, and a monetary incentive, the lasting impact of the show on obesity is negotiable. The true significance of "The Biggest Loser" is not within the results of the show, but it is within the existence of a show that is completely focused on reducing obesity. After the first episode of "The Biggest Loser" aired, there were about 8.9 million viewers. In one night, 8.9 million people received the message that obesity is negative.

Another show that focuses on weight loss is "Reba." Reba is a situational comedy about a middle class family. Multiple episodes focus on one of the characters named Barbara Jean's weight loss. Once Barbara Jean becomes skinny, she gains the attention of men, her husband becomes more attracted to her and jealous of Barbara Jean's male friends, and her friend, Reba, suddenly feels insecure about her own weight. While the episodes are comedic, they also deliver an extremely powerful message: thinness equates to happiness. Barbara Jean's character develops into a much more positive and confident woman as she loses weight on the show. It is interesting and deliberate that this message appears on a show that targets teenagers as the primary audience. Young adults are extremely impressionable and unfortunately this show reinforces the societal idea that being skinny correlates with being popular and attractive.

While the two previously discussed television shows directly address weight and the effect weight has on a person's image, the show "October Road" does this in a more discrete manner. The two main female characters are Hannah and Janet; Hannah is blond, thin, and tall, while Janet is brunette and overweight. While Hannah is constantly portrayed as the love interest of the men in the show, Janet is identified as the funny "friend." Finally, on one episode, Janet gets asked out on a date. However, the man who asks Janet on the date is so ashamed of her appearance that he cancels on her in fear that his friends will discover he is dating Janet. Without outright stating that the cause of Janet's rejection is her appearance, the episode hints to the commonly held conception that obesity is unattractive, and thus something that is shameful.

Television commercials further drive home the idea that obesity is frowned upon in American culture. It is quite difficult to watch television for even a couple of hours without being bombarded by either a Jenny Craig, Slim Fast, or Weight Watchers commercial. These weight loss companies have huge budgets for television advertising; Weight Watchers has over a million dollar budget; this large amount of money delegated for media usage reflects how important the media is in recruiting clients for these weight loss companies.

The advertisements all focus on the idea that anyone, even "you," can lose weight. "Determined Dana" and other "ordinary" people who have successfully lost weight tell their stories and how their lives have greatly improved since attaining a new physique. The women on the commercials are a variety of ages, reaching a wider market of people. In one Jenny Craig commercial, two teenagers appear in a face off with their "overweight selves." The overweight versions of the teenagers lose the face off, rolling down a hill in embarrassment. In a commercial for Weight Watchers, Jenny McCarthy, who is a mother rather than a teenager, discusses how the program helped her lose weight. The media depicts how the fight against obesity is a cross-generational issue and how wonderful individuals look and feel after losing weight, and how weight loss is attainable with the help of programs.

Furthermore, diet books are published regularly, informing the public on the latest trends in dieting. The book Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman has recently hit the book shelves. It is a New York Times bestseller and extremely popular amongst young women. The book's cover, as shown in the picture to the right, displays how dieting is associated with looking better. The book also clearly targets younger women based on the sassy title and picture of a woman in her twenties. The text on the cover notes that it is necesary to change eating habits in order to improve one's appearance.

Other diet books are entitled "The Take Control Diet," "Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat," "Retrain Your Brain, Reshape Your Body," et cetera. These titles all appeal to the insecurities that exist within individuals. These books deliver the message that the way the reader's body is at the current time is not where it should ideally be. Each consumer is over weight, out of shape, or out of control of his eating habits and each book holds the solution to his problems.

In conclusion, the media dictates normative behavior for society, and in American society seeking the "perfect weight" is a strong value. While the media aggressively attacks obesity, it easy for people to forget that attractiveness is subjective and beauty does come in many forms.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.