Storytelling has shifted through today’s media

Published 5:34 pm Saturday, June 8, 2013

QUESTION: I’ve heard that whoever tells the stories defines the culture. It’s obvious that television, music and video games are today’s storytellers in America. Why, though, have these media forms 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 David Walsh, former president of the National Institute on Media and the Family. 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 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 to blast people with guns or bombs.

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 are not picking up guns.

But, they are 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.

We, as adults, have to make intentional decisions to reduce the viewing and listening to violent, sexual media stories. It is our responsibility to monitor our children’s viewing and listening choices, and our own.

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