I have started going though old versions of my recently published book Media Is Us. Let me tell you, most of them are pretty bad. But here and there (usually closer to the end of the writing process) I can see some interesting parts. It would be a pity to just delete them. So I am going to use these snippets for my blog! See the first fragment below.
When the gruesome Black Dahlia murder was committed in 1947, a media frenzy immediately followed. The story about a severed body of a beautiful waitress and aspiring actress Elizabeth Short discovered in a vacant lot in Los Angeles was on front pages for days. Wild rumors about the victim, the crime, and possible suspects captured the public imagination, leading to the emergence of increasingly sensationalized and often inaccurate stories. The journalists’ role in this affair was not pretty. They harassed Short’s family, confused the general public, and interfered with the investigation. Some even say that the Black Dahlia mystery has remained unsolved due to the meddling by the media professionals.
On the other hand, there is the famous journalistic investigation by The Boston Globe in 2002 that revealed to the world the rampant child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. What first appeared as several disconnected cases, turned out to be a network of conspiracies. Although accusations against many different priests were made for years, Catholic bishops kept these crimes secret and moved the accused to other positions where they continued abusing youth. Thousands of victims came forward thanks to journalists of the special Spotlight Team, who had spent months investigating the cover-ups and connecting the dots. The story they broke eventually led to the international scandal and the global crisis of the Catholic Church.
One can think of many examples when people communicating through technology hurt each other, and when they do good. Social networks are used for vicious harassment campaigns or to raise money for important causes. Books can increase our awareness about social problems that we have not personally experienced; alternatively, we can use the printed word to justify acts of cruelty and deception. One can uplift a friend in need by sending her text messages, or cause a serious car accident by texting and driving.
Despite this ambiguity, blaming media remains a popular activity. Search op-eds, blog posts, books, and articles that cover the state of the modern culture, and you will find plenty warning their readers about negative effects of different media texts, practices, and spaces. Violent video games are responsible for rising crime rates. Too much time with smartphones leads to depression. Stereotypical representations of darker-skinned people do not allow otherwise developed countries to eliminate racism. Early pregnancies, drug abuse, unfettered consumerism, sexual harassment, child abduction, low self-esteem, desensitization to suffering of others, gender pay gap, obesity – it seems like whatever problems society has, they all have at one time or the other been blamed on media’s harmful influence.
As we have established earlier, people constantly influence each other in direct and indirect ways. This is what society is all about. By communicating, we can help but also hurt those around us. And if we define media as people negotiating meanings through technology, it is logical to conclude that media influence is not necessarily benign. Yet, exactly because media is us, achieving a deeper understanding of the problems we associate with it is not going to happen through aggressive finger-pointing. A more nuanced approach is necessary.