Getting back to the good story

Published 5:29 pm Saturday, December 31, 2011

QUESTION: I’ve heard that whoever tells the stories defines the culture. It’s obvious that television and music are today’s storytellers to America. Why, though, have television and music become so violent?

ANSWER: While the important role of storytelling has remained constant for thousands of years, a monumental change has happened in the past 60 years. Since World War II, America has delegated the major share of storytelling to the mass media.

I am very impressed with Dr. David Walsh, the former President of the National Institute on Media and the Family. Dr. Walsh points out that while the goals of former storytellers were entertainment, education or inspiration, the primary goal of most mass media storytelling is to “deliver eyeballs to advertisers.” Much of mass media storytelling is now done to sell things.

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That shift in purpose is a crucial one. It means that the purpose of the story is to get and hold our attention long enough for the advertisers to get their message in front of us. One of the things that reliably gets people’s attention is violence; so do sex and humor. Therefore, we now have media messages that are designed to make us laugh at violence and sex. Many kids today spend hours and hours listening or looking at media messages that are full of vulgarity, degrade women and encourage the listener or viewer, or in the case of video games — the player, to blast people with guns.

The reshaping of our cultural norms is the real effect of the steady diet of violence and sex in movies, video games, song lyrics and television programs.

The real harm done by the constant river of violent media is that it has created and nourished a culture of disrespect.

For every kid who picks up a gun to shoot another kid, there are thousands who aren’t doing that. But they’re calling each other names, swearing, pushing, shoving and hitting with increasing frequency.

The storytellers have redefined how we’re supposed to be treating one another. We’ve gone from “have a nice day” to “make my day.”

This generation of children is exposed to more stories, more powerfully presented, than any in history. Some are good. Too many are not. In the best interests of our children, we, as adults, need to make intentional decisions to reduce the viewing and listening to violent sexual media stories. Even though it’s a major challenge, we have to start in our own homes.

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