An examination of the media's power to influence youth and their perceptions of themselves, their communities, and their world.
Its objective is to control, and its food is negativity! Is this an apt description of the mainstream media? Like a ravenous monster, some say it obeys the commands of governments to prey on people’s worst dispositions, and keep the masses bewildered. Well, its influence on the young is certainly immense. So how does it answer to the charge that it confuses the self-perception of our youth?
"Britain has a real problem with its teenagers. Today’s announcement is an admission that successive governments have left British youth to its own devices." These are the words of Julia Margo, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, which found that British teenagers are more likely to ‘abuse drink and drugs, have underage sex, join gangs and get into fights’ than their European counterparts. Reported in The Daily Telegraph last summer, this verdict seems to typify the general opinion held about our youth. Oh dear! An intelligent question to ask, then, is what has been their experience; what factors have engendered this ‘wayward lot’?
Well, they were born around 20 years ago. At some point since their birth, sleaze reports about the ‘great and the good’ (namely politicians of the day and entertainment idols) lacking integrity and self-discipline, were becoming fashionable in the media. At a later point, the values of political correctness began to be upheld. Then, do you remember when the principles of the nanny state began to creep in? Umm, maybe you don’t – the media becomes a master craftsman when it needs to apply discretion and subtlety! But, probably, the most significant of these cultural changes was the misguided advancement of children’s rights. As we raised our hands to wave goodbye to the age of industrialism and welcome the age of information, gladly, not yet knowing what this would mean for the children we were having, we witnessed the entrance of the yuppies and the buppies, whose successes seemed to epitomize good economic times. Perhaps it was the nation’s complacence that made it so very short-sighted to what lay ahead. As a result of these developments, today’s youth were reared during a time characterized by a liberalism that can only be realistically defined as MAD!
They’ve grown up now. And, yes, they are the generation whose spiritual diet has been Game Boys, Play Stations, fast-food adverts, TV sets stationed in bedrooms, children’s hair, nails and make-up sets, the internet and, of course, mobile phones. Children became the most lucrative market of consumers, and bowing to their every whim became the new mode of showing them how much we love them! Also courtesy of the mainstream media, we subject our children to the frequent airings of glossy, highly sexualized music videos: half-naked women brandishing buxom breasts and bracing out burgeoning bottoms, with men gyrating about them lustfully, long became the order of the day. Yet, if you asked most parents if they would be proud to see their sons or daughters participating in such a brazen display, some would put high financial rewards and the prospect of cheap fame before pride or their personal sense of morality, but most would disapprove. But in all fairness to parents, protecting their children from the savagery of the media’s hype has not been easy. Let’s remember how sheep-like human beings generally are: their decisions about whether something’s acceptable depending on how many other people around them are doing it – can you see me rolling my eyes?! And children’s possession of mobile phones is always my favourite testament to this truth. Do you know how many parents tell me they give their 11-year-olds mobile phones with the following justification: ‘at least I can check where he is when he’s on his way home from school and that.’ No thought about how carrying such a valuable might make them more vulnerable to being ‘jacked’ or becoming a victim of some other crime. Check where he is? Whatever happened to the principle of ‘you go where I send you and come back when I tell you to’?
I recently witnessed a fine example of this topsy-turvy madness in which children are made to feel they have THE RIGHT to possess adult accessories that they cannot fund, such as mobile phones: I was in my local corner shop and two girls, one about nine and the other about thirteen, were before me in the queue and being served. The younger one had bought a selection of sweets, the total cost of which was £1.68. She rummaged around in her purse, knowingly, but soon admitted defeat and turned to her friend asking, ‘how much is £1.68?’ The older girl frowned and said, ‘I don’t know, just give him all the money.’
My sense of dismay was further compounded and transpired into disgust when the older girl revealed a mobile phone and said, ‘I’m gonna phone my mum and ask her if she’s back yet.’ I stood there, secretly aghast, thinking, no, what you need to ask your mum is to take the time to teach you how to use money and surrender that mobile phone, at least until you’ve learnt! Parents, it is high time you turn to the media, stare it in the eye and say, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! I will no longer allow your negative intrusion on my efforts to bring up my children, slavishly submitting to every demand my children make; when he tells me he hates vegetables I’m going to say, unless it makes you vomit, get it down ya! When she’s stropping because I won’t let her paint her face at fourteen and wear her skirt at arse level, and he’s raging because he’s fifteen and I’ve told him he needs to be home from school by 5:30, I’ll remind them that I’m the adult, and I know best, and assure them they’ll thank me for it when they’re older!
On a brighter note, I read an article that indicates it’s not all doom and gloom where our youth are concerned; there is a touch of optimism in the air. It was a piece in The Observer, by the established author Fran Abrams. She speaks of young people she has met who can see through the media hype and who, despite disturbing childhoods and serious illness, have a real connection with their sense of purpose and their zeal to make genuine contributions in their life-times. She doesn’t deny that many young people feel ‘troubled,’ but urges a halt to the constant hostility that young people are often subjected to by adults: ‘…the notion that Britain’s parents have collectively turned their backs and, in doing so, have created a generation of miserable, irresponsible teenagers is just wrong. Worse, it runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.’ Her piece presents a good balance to all the negative press about young people; and it would surely help if the media spent more airing such positive perceptions to offset the realism that too many youth experience.
Again, it was good experiencing the sense of relief I felt on receiving the news that Soulja Boy, who at seventeen is one of the latest rap icons, is currently being slated in the black press. An article in last week’s Voice newspaper refers to the lyrics in his hit song, ‘Crank That,’ as “perverted filth.” After telling readers that many young children are the buyers of this record, which contains lines like ‘superman dat bitch,’ translating as ‘male ejaculation on a woman’s back without her consent,’ the piece goes on to quote the words of one Karen Allen, a mentor for teenagers: “…artists like Soulja Boy are given a platform to positively influence especially the younger generation, but he has chosen to use that influence to corrupt and destroy young minds and ultimately young lives.”
Now, listen to Soulja Boy’s comeback to this criticism - the typical response of a young mind that media hype has successfully worked to misguide and confuse: “I don’t care. I got money. I don’t give a damn what they say. I’m straight.” Poor confused baby!
So do the mainstream media stand guilty as charged? Well, it is just a bit strange that someone like Soulja Boy should get all the air-play and promotions, and be considered harmless. Yet artists like the late Tupac Shakur were constantly berated and demonized by the mainstream press. If the scope were there, through the lyrics of just one of his songs, ‘Keep Your Head Up,’ I could demonstrate fully that they show he was someone with vision, who sought to inspire.
The mainstream media? Guilty on every count! My aim is not to encourage censorship – far from it! More, it is to advance the need for honest appraisals of what is real: in place of the nanny state, should be the promotion of responsible choices; in the place of political correctness, should be a morality based on mutual respect for diversity and equality; and instead of over-indulging children, parents must reclaim their power to make choices for their children until they reach adulthood, when they should have the experiential acumen to choose sensibly for themselves. If children are to hold positive perceptions of themselves, they must be taught to understand and unravel the media’s dubious manoeuvres; otherwise we are all doomed, because, as Tupac Shakur so astutely said:
“Say there ain’t no hope for the youth, then the truth is, there ain’t no hope for the future!”
1st April 2008