Portraits of America

I follow a page on Facebook called “Portraits of America,” which has the same purpose as the much more well known “Humans of New York” – to provide a small glimpse into the lives of complete strangers in the hope that people may become a little more thoughtful and compassionate in their everyday lives.

One particular post, shared on 7 March, caught my attention. A man spoke about his experience growing up, expressing his opinion that “You have to reach a certain level of intelligence to avoid the control of the media. At a young age, you’re very susceptible to influence.” He then relayed his personal experience, explaining that a commercial on television led him to believe that because he was from a violent neighbourhood, he wouldn’t live past age 25. This had a deep psychological effect on the man. Reading a glimpse of one man’s story, I was shocked by the effect the media had on his life. I also started thinking about how many other people had been similarly influenced and to what extent this affected the way they lived their lives.

In a few of my tutorials for different classes, we have discussed how the media can have an impact rather than just “reflecting” society at a given moment in time. The example I saw on “Portraits of America” is a perfect representation of the power of media. If you hear something enough times, from enough sources, or presented in different ways, ideas start to sink in.

This man’s story also illustrates the importance of education in making well-informed decisions. The media can provide a skewed perspective for a multitude of reasons – advertising purposes, catering to a particular audience (left- or right-wing, for example), biases of the media producers, etc., which means that we need to periodically take a step back and exercise common sense to asses how media content should be interpreted.

I don’t necessarily agree with this man’s word choice that the media “controls” people, because the media cannot take away a person’s free will, but I do think it is much harder to escape today than ever before.

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