It hasn’t been until the last few years that I realized to just what extent the media has in shaping what issues are prevalent or important along with how much it teaches vicarious learning. The media having a role in shaping what issues people think about and think are important is called agenda setting and the media in particular sets the public agenda; this involves issues that the public think are important. In addition to setting the agenda, the media also has a knack for being conducive for people to learn in a vicarious manor, meaning that watching a particular behavior that gets rewarded is likely to result in the viewer performing the rewarded behavior. Both of these aspects of media can be good as well as bad.
It is almost inevitable to turn on the T.V. and not come across some form of bullying, or someone putting someone else down; and believe it or not most the time we laugh. Think about it, usually most jokes that are told are at the expense of another person and always put that person down. Hardly ever do you hear a joke about someone and it’s not about one of their weaknesses, downfalls, of flaws. Most the time we laugh because we can relate or because we can comprehend why the joke is supposed to be funny, but what we fail to realize is that by us laughing, we’re rewarding and condoning that behavior; we’re saying that it’s okay to belittle and degrade others; we’re teaching others vicariously. Then this happens, anyone who witnessed the event now thinks it’s okay to imitate that scenario and do the same thing resulting in this wildfire spreading of jokes told at the expense of others that make us look good. Because of these actions, we learn that not only is it okay, but we’ll also get rewarded and look good if we do.
On the other hand, bullying is an issue that’s been in the public eye for awhile now and the media is trying to make people aware that this is an undesirable action and trying to reduce as many occurrences of bullying as possible; making it a public agenda. There have been interventions put in place to try and educate teachers, students, parents, and the community on bullying and what to look out for or signs as well as strategies to reduce it and ways to handle it. While we’re focusing on the blatant displays of bullying such as a big kid picking on a little kid, or someone calling another person cruel names, we’re failing to realize that what we depict in the media is saying that it’s okay to do this in the (not so) subtle form of joking. Sometimes others constantly joking on you can have a greater effect than just a one time occurrence of someone blatantly calling you a name. For example: I can remember one time when someone I had never met before decided to comment on what I was doing, how I was dressed, and who I was hanging out with and called me a less than desirable name. Sure it stung for a second, but then realized that I didn’t know this person and the likelihood that I’d ever see them again was beyond slim, so their opinion of me really wasn’t that important and didn’t matter, especially in the grand scheme of life. But on the other hand, my friends and family constantly joke me about how short my legs are. Sure, my legs happen to be about equal in length to my torso whereas most people’s legs are longer in proportion to their torso, but they aren’t shorter than my torso or anything; yet I constantly hear, “oh my goodness, look at how cute her little Olaf legs are,” or, “look at her try to run, isn’t it cute the way her legs look?” And while no one has ever been deliberately mean or cruel about my leg length, I am now extremely self-conscious about how my legs look and how long they are. Until someone decided to point out and joke about how disproportionate I looked, and others laughed, I was completely comfortable with my legs and I wasn’t being constantly put down because of my “short legs.”
I think that we need to increase the amount of positive-ness that the media depicts as well as increase the amount of support that we give to others. The media has always focused on how negative bullying can be and it seems like every time you turn around there is another story about someone who is being a bully. Slowly there are more videos of people who are standing up to bullying being shown and there are more positive messages being created to show others that they aren’t alone and that there are others out there who like them and support them. I feel that we have a good start but it needs to keep increasing and I feel that the best place to start is the media. If the media has an effect on what is on the public’s agenda and well as teaches others vicariously, then by canceling out some of the more negative qualities of media, such as jokes at the expense of others, by making them viewed as punishable behaviors, we can trade them out for more rewarding behaviors, such as not being a bystander or helping others and being kind and supportive of those who are in need. Spreading positive messages, not putting others down, stop condoning unrealistic behaviors and expectations media portrays (i.e. girls having to be thin to be desirable (which creates more bullying for not looking that way), men being overly strong and aggressive (which creates the notion that violence is okay, especially because superheros do it and are rewarded), etc.), being open, aiding others, and supporting those in need are all good places to start. And maybe, just maybe, if enough people start this new positive trend that helps eliminate those boundaries that have been set, we can be the ones who set the new agenda.
As a side note, it’s also okay to go against what everyone else, especially the media, says and march to your own drum. Here are links to a few people who I admire for speaking up and out about issues that at the time weren’t in the public agenda and tried to make a positive change on more than one life; they decided to set their own agenda.
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology. SAGE Publications, Inc.
All videos are given credit to their respective owners, I do not take credit for any of them.