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Have You Fallen for these 7 Negative Attitudes Pushed by the Media?

media.jpgLike it or not, we live in a media driven world. We spend 11 hours a day bombarded by television, radio, Internet, and other forms of media, a non-stop onslaught on the psyche, an ever-churning series of images, sound bites, opinions, and advertisements, but precious little substance.

The media provides shared experience, collective memory. Unfortunately, many of the ideas we’re exposed to are negative and self-defeating. The pervasiveness of these negative ideas makes them hard to ignore; easy to internalize.

If you’re curious about the cumulative effect of all this media upon the mind, here’s a list of 7 negative attitudes common in the media and tips for dealing with them.

1. Mindless Consumerism: The average American is exposed to 247 commercials everyday. Buying things has become reflex, due partly to the ideal lifestyle flickering on the television: big house, giant SUV, three-car garage, flat-panel television. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life, but are you buying things to improve your life? Or to compensate for feelings of emptiness? Find something to believe in; fill the void with something real.

2. Poor Body Image: Never before in history have we been surrounded by so many examples of physical perfection, shaped by cosmetic surgeons, airbrushed by artists, and distributed by print and video. Remind yourself that fitness is more important than perfection.  And while it’s true that Americans outside the media are fatter than ever, even physically fit individuals struggle with a poor body image. Yes, attractiveness is an advantage, but your value runs deeper than your appearance, and those actors don’t look half as good without make-up and lighting.

3. Roaming Eye:Television gives everyone (men in particular) the idea that the world is overflowing with beautiful, willing sex partners; even if it’s true (which depends largely upon your own skills with the opposite sex), that roaming eye, that tendency to want what you don’t have, can be destructive if not monitored and controlled.  Like all the elements in this list, human nature is the root here.  Remind yourself that relationships are built upon more than physical attraction.

4. Destructive Communication: Electronic media brims with insults and anger. On message boards, gentle persuasion has collapsed beneath the weight of incivility. In real life, victory is seldom obtained with witty one-liners or rude put-downs. Hone those communication skills. Learn to Persuade without offending. Connect.

5. Clique Mentality:As if cliques weren’t prevalent enough, television programs often have casts that are socially, ethnically, and racially homogenous. That’s fine; it’s free enterprise at work, for the most part, and not every story involves a melting pot. I make no bones about it; I’m simply reminding everyone not to be afraid of diversity in the real world.

6. Stereotypes:As evolved as we believe we are, television is overflowing with stereotypes: the dumb jock, the bubble-headed blonde, the geek with a pocket protector, all products of lazy writing. Most of us are smart enough to recognize a stereotype for what it is, but I question the subconscious impact of such repeated exposure. The best defense is to remind yourself that every human being deserves to be evaluated as an individual, no matter how prevalent or justified a stereotype might seem.

7. Danger Fixation:
We’re wired to pay attention to danger, which is why the Discovery Channel broadcasts so many programs that show the world being destroyed by tsunamis, earthquakes, and giant asteroids; why the news leads with gunfire and bloodshed. Remind yourself that there are just as many positive forces in the world as negative; your focus on the negative is a matter of personal choice and perspective.

Listen, I’m not trying to say all media is bad; it’s not. Movies in particular can be wonderful works of art or much-needed distractions, and there’s nothing inherently evil about television, radio, print, or the internet; quite the contrary, all forms of media provide wonderful channels of communication.

Furthermore, I’m not blaming the media for anything.  I want to be clear: I do not believe there is any media conspiracy. I can attest from my days in radio that the media is simply a collection of independently owned businesses, working for profit.  An argument can be made that we have ourselves to blame for all this negative media (a solid argument indeed), and that television, radio, and print are simply providing what sells.

Of course, I agree with all of that.  But in their quest for profit, the media does pander to the lowest common denominator, like a giant lens magnifying and reflecting the darkest parts of human nature.  I’m not saying it’s wrong; I’m simply saying it is

And we’re receptive to it.

Earlier this year, I watched a short film entitled Evidence. More art film than documentary, the film focused on the faces of a group of small children as they watched television: their blank expressions, comatose eyes. Every now and then, their facial expressions hitched in response to some image on the television, but for the most part, they appeared undead.

I’ve never forgotten that film. And now, whenever I’m watching a sitcom or gameshow, I think of the way my own face must look, staring blankly up at the glowing screen. Sometimes, this compels me to turn the tube off and go outside, exchanging the gloom of the TV room for the calming brightness of sunlight, the sound of commercials for the chirping of birds; detaching from the hive mind long enough to find some peace and quiet and develop some memories (and a few ideas) of my own.

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