By Muzhinga Kankinda
Media is a tool through which technological mediated and idealized messages are sent to an anonymous mass audience; these forms of media include Print, Television, Radio and internet media. In recent times, media has become a common phenomenon in symposium concerned with morality. The most frequently asked question concerning media and morality is how media plays a role in moral and cultural decay in our society.
To a larger extent, the answer to this question is yes. The influence of media upon masses is undeniably evident. It occurs on both positive and negative sides but, the negative effects seem to outweigh the little positivity that the media offers. The definitions of morality and culture assert that the constructed nature of morals and culture is created and perpetuated by people themselves and since morality is characterized by the system of belief that an individual has, our sense of right and wrong is arrived at through the information that is conveyed to us with authority. In our world today, media is the prevalent authority that provides information on world events and programs to the world. With this view, we can say that the World has been influenced by the media both morally and culturally in the sense that our interactions have been shifted from local and physical contexts to virtual spaces such as social media, telephones and smartphones, television, radio, print and so on. Additionally, globalization of societies has brought an increased cultural significance of media products of musicians, film makers, writers and celebrities.
Media’s contribution to moral and cultural decay in our society can be seen through both positive and negative media content presented in media text.
For example, Yoda in the movie “Star Wars” instructs everyone that “fear is the path to a dark side, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering” -this is a moral lesson or when Frank Valera (Antonio Banderas) controls his desire to kill his wife and daughter’s murderer after recalling Marcus Aurelius’ quote “the best revenge is to be unlike your enemy” in his book, Meditations which Valera had picked up for emotional consolation.
However, when the content of media is negative, it inspires negative behaviour and attitudes in the mass audience and this is what has happened to people in our society. For example, some time back, children were only accustomed to watching Edu-entertainment television shows such as Blue’s Clues, Elmo’s World, Sesame Street, Bunny and Friends etc. which helped children learn valuable life and academic lessons and some tips about how to treat people around them, how to handle emotions and appreciate life at a young age. However, Edu-entertainment has been replaced with Entertainment media which is mostly broadcasting both movies and music shows that are packaged with pop and rap. The content in pop music is all about love and relationships; love is not a bad thing but, these musical shows have encouraged young people to embrace immoral practices like sex before marriage which leads to child pregnancies and abortions. Pop music also carries messages that advocate that beauty and popularity is the key to happiness however, this kind of notion has proved detrimental to the mental health of youths and has led them to administer self-harm on themselves in view of meeting the expectations laid down in the music and shows.
This has also led to people defining beauty according to media content rather than the cultural definition of beauty. People now prefer weaves to their natural hair, they prefer to lighten their skin complexion so as to look beautiful and they also indulge into activities that would seemingly make them popular among their peers i.e. the use of vague language, drinking alcohol, spirits and abusing drugs like cocaine, morphine, marijuana etc. such behaviour would perhaps be related to the scenes in the Nickelodeon pop musical show, “Victorious” staring main character Victoria Justice and famous pop musician Arianna Grande had become so popular among teens all over the world with its messages of boys, beauty and fame. Its negative effect on the behaviour of teenagers was felt by everyone thus, prompting American parents to petition for its cancellation and surprisingly, it is not the only show that has a negative influence on youths. Zambia has recorded an incident where children between the age of eleven and fifteen had thrown a sex party in a house at a popular residential area in Lusaka. Rap is also not an exception because it carries messages about sex, drugs, alcohol and violence. Youths who are major listeners of rap music from Eminem, Nikki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Cardi B, etc. have proven to be major users of drugs, alcohol, and have a high rate of indulgence in smoking and sexual activities. Additionally, the use of abusive language that is found in these songs has become normal for youths regardless of how offensive and disrespectful these words are. Offensive words like “fuck you”, “son of a bitch”, and “screw you” have become a part of language among the youth in our society without consideration of one’s feelings. Violence, indecent exposure and abuse in films have also created problems for people in our society. Issues of child cultism, juvenile delinquency and crime in our society have been rampart Thus; negative media content has led to the decline of good moral and culture.
Media’s constant reminder and increase of Salience in Ads
Media aims certain advertisements and shows about beauty products, designer clothing, fitness and weight, etc. for a specific age group whose frequent exposure to the targeted audience can create a long term memory of these adverts in the people’s minds and make them conscious about everything, starting from their faces, hairstyles, clothes to their weight. The advertising media‘s aim is to get its products and services sold and hence, they disseminate certain message like “thin is Beautiful” while showing a beautiful slender lady like Taylor Banks who is probably cut-walking on her “America’s next top model” show with certain specification of how a model is supposed to look or a celebrity like Rihanna or Selena Gomez looking pretty in a beautiful short dress or pair of shorts as a trending designer apparel. These kinds of messages are responsible for the numerous in-built insecurities that people, particularly, youths who are not slender or slim in our society. They have embraced self-denial and loneliness; and seek to rectify what they think isn’t a perfect lifestyle or body shape for them through self-harm like cutting, starvation, taking liquids like vinegar which the media has described as a remedy for melting fat, shaving of eyebrows and hair, plastic surgery, breast and buttocks implants and getting tattoos. In as much as this kind of behaviour is seen as trendy, it goes against the values and Christian beliefs of loving and respecting yourself and being grateful to God for creating us in his image. Youths now prefer revealing apparel and have engaged in the habit of reckless spending of money on clothes that would make look good, the rhetoric word ford this would be “Swag or swagger” it was sad to note that the song loyal had influence teenagers and young adults to purchase checked shirts which they instead tied around their waists to mimic Chris Brown’s sense of fashion in his song “girls ain’t loyal” just after the music video was released and this kind of dressing has been trending for a while now. Women are now so fond of going to the gym keep fit, have a flat stomach and lose weight because, they want to look like Taylor Banks and wear the clothes she wears. In an African context, most African Women are no longer interested in wearing African inspired apparel that cover their bodies completely because of the western cultural clothes such as denim jeans, shorts and sort dresses and skirts, etc. which the media has depicted as being fashionable and attractive despite being revealing and indecent. In other words, people no longer care about what is important anymore, family, saving money, respect for others and self is no longer in existence. They have been replaced by materialism, individualism, indecency, reckless use of money, vague language and other factors. (Tester, 1994) For instance, students at University of Zambia argued that they have their own principles and priorities in such a way that whoever does not measure up to their standards will be considered backward; this was a reaction when questioned as to why they wore a lot of makeup and bleached their skins. They further stated that makeup and bleaching creates uniformity as it is a great sign of moving with time and in the same direction. More so, the male students alluded to be attracted to girls who make an effort to beautify themselves as compared to barefaced girls. (Lovemore Mashiri, 2018)
How did the students arrive to such an immoral conclusion if not through the media’s influence on them?
However, it is important to note that the media is very influential in that while celebrities are altering the morals and cultures of their fans, they are also victims of the media to some extent. Such example would be Michael Jackson who received media criticism that a black man could not become the king of pop, Nikki Minaj has had to undergo several plastic surgery operations to keep up the glamorous and beautiful appearance she has created on media, Willow Smith was a victim of self-harm through cutting herself due to her inability to cope with the media and her sudden fame. These incidents all point out the media’s involvement in this unusual behaviour of both fans and celebrities.
Societies’ acquaintance to social media culture and Hollywood values is also one of the ways of media influence on society.
Media like social media is meant to bridge the gap of diversity and deplete the complexity of communication and culture while, creating opportunities for business and inter-relationships in various societies globally. However, Social networks like Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc. have become an abode for young people who show themselves in self-incriminating situations in the name of civilization, fame, new fashion trends, and so forth. They appear on these networks in sexually explicit detail (pornography, sexting and nudity) while abusing drugs and alcohol, they condone violence and are usually using the new language of abbreviations and emojis which are offensive and disrespectful. For instance, abbreviations like WTF, LMAO, MF and others. Such content is usually a trend among curious spectators who then join in the habit creating such incriminating content without regarding both moral and criminal laws. For example, Indian men on Facebook are known to be users of abusive language and senders of pornographic content. Additionally, Zambia has also recorded a number of cases in which students have created pornographic videos, these would include Iris Kaingu, the anonymous students from Zambia institute of Accountancy, ZICA and many others. There are also porn videos like the “Kantudu video” in which a man was arresting for drugging a woman and having sexual intercourse with her on camera, famous Zambian rapper bobby East also had to pay a fine for the release of a sex video though it is still in circulation and also Iris Kaingu’s nude portrait that was done by Visual artist, Caleb Chisha. (Zambia Reports, 2017) All these videos are still being circulated and have a lot of views, likes and comments on social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and WhatsApp etc. However, it is evident that creating and watching pornography and nudity is immoral and against cultural as well as Christian beliefs and values of how a woman is supposed to conduct themselves with respect and honour. The laws in Zambian also prohibits such conduct yet, people take pleasure in posting and watching such incriminating content without guilty or moral regard. Apart from this, the issue of self-journalism is also affecting people’s moral in a negative manner, there are many cases in which on-lookers at an accident scene have decided to take a video of the victims with ethical consideration or moral obligation to help the victims of the accident.
Moreover, people everywhere are glued to their televisions where they tend to be acquainted with Hollywood values. (Tester, 1994) for instance; Paris Hilton’s fame was related to her talent on private sex tapes, the reality shows like” keeping up with the Kardashians” propped in their indecent clothing and misconduct and “Married to medicine” where nurses and doctors smoke, fight and insult in public; and Jennifer Lopez’s sense of fashion in music videos which inspires harlotry. With such incidents taking place on the media one could possibly ask what positive impact these values have on the audience?
Media’s contribution to idolism and propaganda is also another factor that links it to moral and cultural decay.
It is evident that media has brought the system of idolizing celebrities and seeing them as deities as well spreading blasphemy. This is very common among youths as they are usually prone to do anything for their favorite celebrities even if it is not associated to their moral views. For example, Eminem and Nikki Minaj fans in our society pay tribute to the renowned rappers by cursing and adopting their way of life. Such behaviour has been seen through social media when fans take photos of themselves in their favorite singer or actor’s signature pose which are sometimes offensive ad sexually enticing), hairstyle, makeup etc. Others have gone as far as even undergoing plastic surgeries or extreme cutting of their skins in view of being their favorite celebrity’s lookalike. This is evidenced by some youths’ obsession over Justin Bieber has led to them involving themselves in incidents such as “cut for Bieber” or “Shave for Bieber”. Such media incidents have led to the neglect of the worship of God through idolization of humans and material things. Another perfect example would be the “Helter Skelter” incident of 1969 (though it happened in America) where Charlie Mason listened to the Beatles song album “White” and quickly interpreted the message in the songs to mean that blacks were going to overpower whites and wipe them out. Through the Beatle’s album, Mason created a group called the Mason Family which idolized him and did his bidding as they perceived him to be Christ-like. He spread the propaganda of Helter Skelter which led to the killing of seven people and left words like pigs, death of the pigs, rise, war and Helter Skelter written in the blood of the victims and on the walls. Charlie Mason was convicted to seven years in prison but, the Helter Skelter movement has not been erased from the history of media. Shows like “comedy Central” which attempts to mock God in 735 ways.
With the above reason, I feel that the Media is largely responsible for the planting the seed of globalization which has led to decline of moral and deeply rooted cultures due to the sudden switch to the Western way of life that has enshrined into people’s minds through film, music, fashion and style; as well as Reality show industries. Our society is filled with people who are usually indecently dressed and expose their nudity on social media, people who lack respect for others and themselves and are more individualistic than selfless. People have become materialistic and careless with savings in view of purchasing the latest or trending clothing from a celebrity label. Others engage into the release of pornographic content which other people watch without realizing the effects that these sex tape would have on their minds and behaviour. No wonder teenage sexual indulgence, child pregnancies and abortions most urban areas are rampart and difficult to regulate or curb due to negative media exposure, misleading media messages, technological learnt culture and celebrity take on value and issues of idolatry which does not only involve pagan worship but the honoring of humans, material things and causes in place of God.
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