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Sample Argumentative Essay on Media as a Means of Social Control

Different media have projected various issues about our lives in various ways. It is no doubt that the opinion and the views of the public can easily be swayed (or controlled) by manipulating the content on the various media artifacts. People's opinions can be shaped by what their views are on a certain issue. Since there are many different kinds of media in the world and since different people prefer different media as their source of information, the choice of media and the way the issue of information security is presented in each media is very important in making decisions as well as shaping people's ideas and attitudes. “There are 260,000 billboards; 11,520 newspaper; 11,556 periodicals; 27,000 video outlets for renting video tapes; more than 500 million radios; and more than 100 million computers. Ninety-eight percent of American homes have a television set, 40,000 new book titles are published every year (300,000 worldwide), and every day in America, 41 million photographs are taken. And if this is not enough, more than 60 billion pieces of junk mail (thanks to computer technology) find their way into our mailboxes every year” (Neil Postman). These statistics can thus provide an overview of the bulk of information that is available to the people. It can also be derived that each kind of media would therefore have a different kind of effect on the people. Each media would present the issue of information security in a different way and each would have a different point of view. Al these things combined would then determine the attitude that the public holds for or against various issues. It is also important to realize that using this media as a social control is not just an urban myth, but a reality that occurs almost everywhere in the world.

Perhaps the one word that summarizes this kind of a media control is propaganda. Many would appropriate some negative connotations with this word, ala George Orwell's 'big brother is watching. The United States government has been using media in order to change and control the views of the public ever since the Second World War. When the primary concerns of all the politicians and generals of the United States during World War II were directed towards winning the war, the immediate government at home was lobbying to portray certain elements on the local television and media in order to win a different battle, the war in the entertainment realm (Culbert1983, 173; Barkin1984, 119). Many movies and animated movies were made during that time whose subject matter was the war. There were many major cartoon studios in America that used to work on contractual basis for the military. The famous Warner Bros. had productions that were especially wrought for the Navy - which starred a character named Hook, and MGM had Bertie the Bomber. But the one cartoon that got the most critical of acclaim was military cartoon series that starred U.S. Army's Private Snafu. The name 'Snafu' is actually an acronym that when decoded reads: 'Situation Normal - All Fouled Up'. Many believe that the word 'Fouled' actually represents the variation on the four-lettered 'F' word. Snafu also has two brothers: Tarfu ('Things Are Really 'Fouled' Up') and Fubar ('Fouled Up Beyond All Recovery'). Theodor Geisel (who later became famous as Dr. Seuss) created Private Snafu and Phil Eastman and these people wanted to personify him as having certain very counterproductive behavior. This was done so that the people in the army would know exactly what it was that they should not ever do (Dow).

It is widely believed that the U.S. Army used such and more cartoons as tools for propaganda ever since. When there was a boom in the electronic industry in the early twentieth century and equipment such as radio and television were invented, the governments and others saw this as a great opportunity to spread their word along to the masses in a way that was easy and also had a very large scope in terms of its reach; tens of people can watch one television at the same time and information can be parleyed over large distances without having to physically get up and go there. The end of the First World War saw a great refinement to such tools as radio and television and many producers - such as Leni Riefenstahl and his pro-Nazi production Triumph of the Will - had started to use this media as a propagating tool by the beginning to the Second World War. The United States also made many films including Why We Fight and of course, Private Snafu. Snafu was well liked and immediately accepted by the people and “Warner Bros. cartoon studio produced twenty-six 'Private Snafu' cartoons for the U.S. Army Signal Corps between 1943 and 1945. The cartoons were made in such a way that they represented the global presence of the United States and their army as Snafu would be shown to be in many places such as various parts of Europe, in the South Pacific, Africa and in the United States itself. This was done to personify the power of the United States over the others as Snafu was used to depict the commonality within the U.S. Army (Dow). This was not the end of the US government's way of projecting their presence and their victory in wars by using the media for their purposes. Ever since, hundreds of movies and television programs have been aired in order to signify their victory in the places where they have gone at war.

In the similar manner, the popular Westerns that were made after the Cold War began were used to sway the minds of the US public away from war. One of the ways in which the United States decided to keep the minds of its citizens off the possibility of another world war was by engaging them in entertainment in order for them to forget about their current fears. It was found that the best way to distract them was to get their minds off the war and to have them delve into the past. This is where many movies of the 'western' genre were made. These western movies showed cowboys on horses, slinging their guns and behaving in heroic manners. There were gun fights, horses riding into the sunsets, bounty hunters, hunters of gold, and other stories of heroism. Many westerns were based in the period of the Civil War, such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and this was done so as to take the people into the past and to take their minds off the possibilities of a future war. Other westerns were about the clashes between the white people and the Red Indians. These movies projected the gun slinging cowboys as the 'good guys' while the Indians were projected as the 'bad' ones. The movies showed the whites killing the non-whites and this worked to create a feeling in the public that they were the stronger and more powerful one. This 'cowboy' image was instilled in every citizen and everyone thought that they were strong and powerful and no one could defeat them.

The western movies were able to attract many people and led them to perceive Americans as the all-powerful and superior people in the world. The 'white man' never lost in the western movies and television shows and this strengthened the notions that the Americans were invincible and unbeatable. This allowed the US government to instill these feelings of power into the hearts and minds of the people and they were able to convince them that the United States was a superpower and an unbeatable force. This is another form of how media can act as a social control.

Media artifacts such as radio, television, film, the Internet and other products of media culture provide materials out of which we form our very identities; our sense of what our selves mean to ourselves; how we feel about being a male or a female; which class, ethnicity and race, of nationality we belong to, and of our sexuality; and of “us” and “them.” Staiger (pp 89-104) lists seven “subjectivity positions” that are significant in making the distinctions between humans and it is exactly these characteristics that the media sometimes exploit in order to make groupings. These positions are:

- Self,

- Gender,

- Age-group,

- Family,

- Class,

- Nation, and

- Ethnicity.

These days, another position has been added to this, sexual orientation, and it is all factors, and perhaps many more, that have been used for the production of various media artifacts and also for shaping the people's opinions and views. According to Kellner, “these interact in shaping how audiences receive and use texts and must be taken into account in studying cultural reception, for audiences decode and use texts according to the specific constituents of their class, race or ethnicity, gender, sexual preferences and so on.” For the past fifty years or so, media images have helped us shape the view of our world and have fine tuned our values to the extent that we base the concepts of good and evil, of the positive and the negative, on images and reports that we incur from the media. In the recent past, we have seen that media provides us with, and that we except, stories, symbols, myths, and resources on which we base our concepts of culture and its components. The media makes us decide who is power and who is powerless, who is a terrorist and who a freedom fighter. Media works to shape our views and to shape our notions about the rest of the world.

If you are alive today, chances are that you have grown up with memories of watching television while eating your cereal in the morning, going to school or work reading a newspaper, and traveling long distances in the car listening to the radio. Since the media and its artifacts play such a large role in our lives, it is very important to understand and realize that not everything that appears in the media is true and not everything should be taken at its face value. We should be careful and should try to better understand, interpret, and criticize the meanings and messages that are conveyed through media. Perhaps the most important misconception that one can derive from the media is that of the other cultures, and thus makes us form some misinterpreted and false assumptions about people who are from a different culture. It is by observing the media that we learn how to behave, and how to think, what to feel, believe and fear of people from other cultures. We act like men, or women, because of what media teaches us are the right or the wrong way to act. We dress, look and consume out of media, learn how to be popular and successful and how to avoid failure; and most importantly, we learn how to react to members of different social groups by learning from the media and its artifacts. Thus it becomes very important how a certain group of people is portrayed by the media. Consequently it also becomes very important to understand and gain a 'media literacy' that can teach us to cope with the current cultural environment. We should also be aware of how different media production techniques help shape the representation of a minority group and their portrayal in our normal everyday way of thinking.

Another contention that media can act as a social control is that the various images, especially violence, can have adverse effects on those who watch such images regularly. It has been recognized that children who are continuously being exposed to violent images in the media tend to incorporate the ideas behind violence in their learning process (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1963; Cannon, 1989; Wilson & Hunter, 1983). The phenomenon of violence is also very complex and there are many factors that can or cannot induce violent behavior in a human being. Many people have suggested that the individuals' personalities, their family backgrounds, their cultural, educational, and religious implications, all contribute to acts of violence. It is believed that children learn from things that happen around them and also by observing people who are important to them, e.g. parents, teachers, priests etc. This is because children start to develop a sense of themselves and others and a sense of right and wrong very early (Piaget, 1932; Sullivan, 1953; Winnicott, 1965).

Thus, we know that various media and its artifacts can have a lot of effects on us, our lives, and our society. We must understand that a lot of what we see on television, hear on the radio, or see in the print (e.g. advertisements) are there in order for us to change our minds about certain views or opinions. What is this but social control? In the current era of globalization, we must all be aware of the different factor that go into the production of media artifacts and their implications on the different cultures and sections of the society. The media culture of today does tend to support many capitalists value and tends to undermine the minority interests and shows a strong effort that exists between different races, classes, gender, and social groups. So, to fully understand and comprehend the nature and effects of the production techniques of the media artifacts and its effects on the certain group of people, one must look deeper into the lines and understand the media culture as to its working, and how it works to change our attitudes, preferences, and views, leading to a social control at the hand of the media.


Work Cited

1. Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1963). “Vicarious learning and imitative learning”. Psychological Bulletin, 67, 601-607. 

2. Barkin, Steve M. “Fighting the Cartoon War: Information Strategies in World War II,” Journal of American Culture, Spring/Summer 1984: 114. 

3. Cannon, C. (1989, May 28). “Children's advocates pressuring lawmakers”. Miami Herald, p. D2. 

4. Culbert, David “'Why We Fight': Social Engineering for a Democratic Society at War,” Film and Radio Propaganda in World War II, ed. K.R.M. Short (Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1983) 173. 

5. Dow, Christopher. “Private Snafu's Hidden War: Historical Survey and Analytical Perspective.” Website. http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/42/snafu.htm

6. Kellner, Douglas. Television and the Crisis of Democracy. Boulder, Col: Westview.1990 

7. Kellner, Douglas. The Persian Gulf TV War. Boulder, Col: Westview. 1992 

8. Kellner, Douglas. Media Culture. Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern. London and New York: Routledge. 1995 

9. Kellner, Douglas. Grand Theft 2000. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield. 2001 

10. Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgement of the child. New York: Free Press 

11. Postman, Neil. The Improbable World. 1992 

12. Staiger, Janet. “Film, Reception, and Cultural Studies.” Centennial Review, Vol. XXVI, No. 1 (Winter): 89-104. 1992 

13. Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The interpersonal theory of psychiatry. New York: Norton. 

14. Wilson, W., & Hunter, R. (1983). “Movie-inspired violence”. Psychological Reports, 53, 435-441 

15. Winnicott, D. W. (1965). The maturational process and the facilitating environment. New York: International University Press.


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