“You are not only watching media, it is watching you.”
This statement was stated in the first chapter of Mediated Society: a critical sociology of media by Jackson, Nielsen & Hsu (2011). The above statement scared the crap out of me, but then when I stopped being paranoid and realized it was linked to Jackson et al. statement:
“One of the most striking paradoxes of a mediated society is that almost everything that exists in society can be found represented in some kind of communications media. And yet, most people still think that their own voices, private thoughts and emotions remain separate from media.”
I agree that a lot of what exists in actual society is found represented in some kind of media, but I will argue that the only reason this is so is because they have happened in society that is why they can be represented in the media. For a reporter to have breaking news about the 9/11 tragedy, it had to have happened first not the other way around. The only way I would agree with the above statement completely is if it is to be interpreted to mean that media can influence our understanding or the way we view the 9/11 attacks. One can either view it as a terrorist attack on the U.S. that was unprovoked and one can also view it as an attack that would be a consequence of the way the U.S. has intervened in Middle Eastern politics especially since the gulf war. In linking this with media watching us, it makes sense that in order to provide news or entertainment, the media has to look to us living our lives and things happening in the real world to represent it back to us.
I mean if we take TV shows for example, most of them are successful because people can relate to the storylines. I just read a chapter from Lakoff’s The Political Mind (2008) and it was all about Anna Nicole Smith and how people responded to her death and life. There were some who saw it as inevitable and others who fully identified with her because they understood her struggles and her hustle to survive and make life a beautiful one worth living. Reality TV is another prime example of the above statement, because more than ever it requires the publics’ participation and is also said to be showing the real lives of the stars (although we know there is a lot of creative licensing and scripting going on).
But then when we think about this in a “Big Brother is watching your every move” paranoid sort of thought we can then go to seeing a mediated society in the extreme case of watching us to “come between” the audiences and reality. In this sense media is looking to be the first point of contact to live our realities and experience things so that we can only interpret and perceive it in the tailored way we have been told to by media. If we take the Big Bang Theory situation comedy for example, instead of seeing what Sheldon says and the way he treats people as; rude, petty and manipulative; we see it as hilarious and sympathize with him for not being “normal” like the rest of us being able to censor ourselves and think before speaking.
Still from this cynical and terrifying perspective, Edelman (1995) said that narratives and images govern seeing and believing. This means that the big brother entity behind all forms of media are in full control of not only what we see but even of our minds (what we believe about what we see) as they write the narrative and control the images that we see. This means we have to ask that the fact we think the grass is green is it because it is so or because a book we read as kids said it is so. Was Osama Bin Laden real or was he a creation by the U.S. government to put a face on the elusive terrorist?
In longing to be at an actual ball game, is it really that exciting or is it just because the announcer makes it sound like we are missing out on the best times of our lives? The answer to these questions depends on how you perceive what is being said and shown. The truth is it is all relative, in truth “Reality TV” has even less reality than does a TV show like Law and Order. The representations can only resonate and match our thoughts and feelings if they resonate with our pre-conceived notions. Lakoff (2008) spoke about different narratives that Anna Nicole represented such as the Reinvention of the Self, Rags-to-Riches narrative, the Woman’s lot narrative. These are narratives that resonate with so many people and the way they think about their lives or other’s lives.
This is the optimistic view I choose to take about being watched by the media, holding on to the belief that I still think for myself, even though I consume media and sometimes agree with what is shown, even though I laugh the loudest at Sheldon’s antics I still know what is acceptable and unacceptable. Even in this optimism I still am cautiously paranoid about media and its effects.
Edleman, Murray (1995). From Art to Politics: How Artistic Creations Shape Political
Conceptions. (pp. 1-14). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Jackson, J. D., Nielsen, G., & Hsu, Y. (2011). Chapter 1. In Mediated Society: a Critical
Sociology of Media. (pp.3-29). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lakoff, George (2008). The Political Mind. (pp. 21-42). Viking.
Tofe, I really like your perspective on being watched by the media. I think this can be applied to a variety of things that consume us. As long as we realize, as you said, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and what is reality and what is fabricated, we are in the clear. Media also has the ability to let us down if we’re always comparing it to unrealistic or ideal narratives that we see on TV or movies. I think this is an important point to remember, as we’re a society constantly absorbing media, whether or not we try to avoid it.