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The Edutained American

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    You may try to deny it; many of us do. We are our own people, with our own thoughts,

    feelings, and opinions. We are individuals, and nothing influences us without our knowledge and

    permission. Certainly not the media; we create the media, after all, and direct it with our own

    tastes and preferences. It is merely a part of our lives, a not-too pervasive part. We say this with

    absolute certainty and still know that we lie. For the media is not a part of our lives, it is our lives.

    It directs us, moves us towards what its creators, directors and sponsors want us to see.

    Everything we do is not media influenced, it is media-dictated.

    In some ways, our modern information systems are helpful. They are, after all, informative.

    From these systems we learn, we process the information they bring on current events, popular

    culture, and every other subject known to man. But the information is tainted. It is filtered through

    the corporate sponsors and the agendas of those who bring it to us. Therefore we bow to the

    opinions of those who give us our knowledge on every subject they expose us to, from the clothes

    we buy, to the music we listen to, the films we see, books we read, politicians we vote for, religions

    we believe in. Our thoughts are not our own. What does this mean to the world in which we live?

    How does this effect our leaders, our schools and our families? And in a society so permeated with

    For many of us who attend college now, the media has been around us since birth. The

    television was a effective babysitter, and we grew up accustomed to the quick, joke-a-minute style

    of cartoons and situation comedies. With the advent of MTV in 1981, we learned to absorb

    information through the two and three minute stories offered on that channel, as well as VH1 and

    BET. These channels opened to us a world that most of our parents simply didn’t see as children.

    One hour of MTV’s Total Request Live can show a child a re-enactment of JFK’s assassination,

    done by Marylin Manson, in one of the most popular videos of the week. The words of the song,

    however true and relevant they may be, are lost in the image, in closeup and slow motion. Vidoes

    by pop bands, while less violent, are no less disturbing in their objectification of humans and in their

    motion sickness inducing, rapid-fire images. They cater to a generation that already suffers from

    shortened attention spans by providing whirling sights that can be easily understood in the

    half-second they are shown. They show a world of anger, violence and cynicism. True, they often

    reflect the feelings and actions in parts of the nation, but also bring those to the sight of

    impressionable children who would not otherwise have known of it until they were much older. At

    the same time, the video-babysitter separates child from parent and makes us reluctant to ask what

    these images meant. After all, we are led to identify with the musicians and models in the videos,

    and they often assure us that our parents do not understand and cannot be trusted.

    The information we soak up through these vignettes generally point to a distinct set of

    values, at odds with those of our parents. While they ask for respect and obedience within reason,

    we learn that adults are the outsiders, the butt of jokes and objects of ridicule, probably not very

    bright either. The regular television shows that we sit down to watch, often with our parents, are

    not much better. It has become much cooler to defy and be irreverent than to listen. This is

    certainly nothing new, one need only look at the flappers of the 1920s to see that youthful rebellion

    has been around for as long as anyone still alive can remember.

    It does seem, however, that the adolescent exuberance and resistance of the Baby

    Boomer generation became something very different for their children, something darker and

    dangerous. Of course, the television that they were raised with stressed old-fashioned family

    values: respect for elders, kindness to neighbors, do your homework, eat your broccoli. The shows

    that children and young adults watch now are very different. We see insults thrown left and right,

    especially in comedies, where we learn to laugh at other peoples’ embarrassment and enjoy their

    discomfort, hoping to hone our own wit to be as sharp and cruel. Again, the jokes and images

    come very quickly, passing through our visual cortex and into the recesses of our brains before we

    have a chance to ponder, discuss, and dismiss them.

    The reigning kings of speedy information, of course, are television advertisements. In

    these, the images zoom by so quickly that we often don’t realize what we have seen and remember

    only one or two images, those that impress us most and make a false connection to our emotions.

    Advertisers count on this, of course. It is no longer enough to name the product and tell the

    consumer what it does and why they should buy it. We have seen enough of that, and our

    attention spans are bored with it. Advertisers now seek to make us identify with the actors in some

    way, or cause an adrenaline surge that we will thereafter associate with their product. This method

    of connection is spilling over into the film industry, as well; one need only watch the recent release

    Fight Club to see it. The director, David Fincher, readily acknowledges the flood of imagery with

    the statement “This is not unspooling your tale. This is downloading.” (Entertainment Weekly, Nov

    What, then, are we downloading? The values of modern media are clear and easily read,

    according to the students interviewed. Five of the students mentioned youth or physical

    attractiveness, or both. This is easily explained; the casts of most television shows are under forty

    years old and in most cases represent the prevailing standard of beauty. Four students noticed a

    preoccupation with wealth and standards of living; many shows popular among young women

    (Beverly Hills 90210, various soap operas) showcase characters obsessed with wealth, be it their

    own or someone else’s. Commercials are the same: young, attractive people with middle class or

    higher incomes, showing how this product helped them reach, maintain, or enhance their exciting

    None of the students mentioned intelligence, education, or respect as values portrayed in

    television shows or commercials. Of course, it is not that the characters are deliberately

    anti-intellectual or uneducated, they simply do not hold these characteristics up to be emulated.

    We do not respect our athletes or movie stars or even our political leaders for their knowledge and

    discernment, and only sometimes for their wit or ability to think on their feet. We know what we

    see and how we see it, the question is, how do these values, brought to us in this rapid-fire way,

    The great computer that is the human brain grows ever more capable of processing large

    amounts of information in microseconds, and we of the younger generation are accustomed to the

    nonstop barrage of images and information that we are faced with. Have we habitualized this

    behavior to the extent that we can no longer internalize information presented in other ways? The

    evidence seems to say yes. Three of the students interviewed listed “entertaining” as one of the

    top two qualities of a good teacher, another named it as one of the most important qualities of her

    favorite PSU courses. All of these students are under the age of 30, all part of the MTV generation.

    In fact, all four listed MTV as one of the channels they watch most. Do they feel that our culture of

    entertainment and immediate gratification contributes to their need for amusement and lack of

    interest in classes that do not provide it? Three of the four who claimed to have short attention

    spans and trouble paying attention in class say that the swift parade of visions seen in their daily

    life may be to blame. One student who does not admit to a short attention span, but “…bores

    easily” (Int.1) believes that television shows and commercials has not affected her, but has the

    Educators say this with more certainty. Altschuler states that his students comments

    “…attest to the pervasiveness, in colleges and universities, of the same culture, obsessed

    as it is with entertainment and celebrities, that dominates the rest of American society.” (Altschuler,

    Sacks lays the blame even more firmly on the shoulders of the media and bemoans the modern

    students lack of ability or interest in other methods of learning. He goes on to shift some of the

    responsibility to teachers, who adapt to their student’s requirements and entertain them.

    Are entertaining teachers such a bad thing? How many students, of any generation, enjoy

    a professor who lectures in monotone, with no videos, slides, or other teaching aids? Perhaps the

    new breed of educator is, in fact, good for our nation; GPAs are, after all, higher than ever in high

    schools and colleges. Possibly these teachers are exactly what we need; they reach the students,

    and if they make learning easier, then students must be learning more, correct?

    Unfortunately, this is not the case. While grade point averages may be higher now, it is not

    the result of better teaching or more capable students, but of instructors willing to lower standards

    and cater to student whims. This is shown by the abysmally low scores of US students in

    standardized tests, from the SAT to the 3rd International Mathematics and Science Study, a test of

    twelfth graders, where “…no other country marked lower than the US in student performance in

    advanced math and science.” (Christian Science Monitor, Feb 25 1998:1) Educators no longer

    challenge students. They accommodate our preference for entertaining lessons and information

    that can be boiled down to Cliffs Notes. As a result, we are no longer competitive with students

    By far the worst result of this devaluing of education, however, is the difficulties our nation

    will face when the reins of leadership need to be passed on. Will this generation be ready?

    Pronouncements by the media indicate that this generation is, at best, unconcerned with politics,

    and at worst, incapable of the critical thinking needed to make political decisions. Students who

    display a lack of interest in their own education and are constantly reminded that intellectual ability

    is not valued in popular culture can hardly be expected to develop the skills necessary to

    participate in government in any informed manner. An early indication of our students shortage of

    concern for politics can be found in the similar disinterest in schoolwork and learning. Laurence

    Steinberg, as reported in the Kansas City Star, says that the student’s failure to learn is by their

    own choice. “…it is a problem of attitude and effort, not ability.” (KC Star, Sept 1 1996:A-18)

    This deficiency in desire for knowledge can be traced back to the values that students see

    in the media. Again, the images of intelligence are not flattering. Smart characters on such shows

    as Married…With Children are often unattractive and the object of ridicule. Even on those shows

    where all of the characters are supposedly educated and of at least average intelligence, those that

    actively pursue higher learning and critical or theoretical thinking are odd, not a part of the main,

    admired pack. All of the students interviewed, regardless of age, recognized this trend and see its

    application in everyday life. One of the students had this to say:

    “Curiosity is not encouraged by your peers; if you ask questions or know the answers

    you’re a freak. Maybe it isn’t so bad in college, but by now we’re programmed not to excel if we

    Another student acknowledged that he dislikes students who ask questions in class and does want

    discussions to be prolonged, but would rather “…get it over with.” (Int 3)

    These students are the future of our nation. One wants to learn, but has been

    discouraged, the other seems to actively avoid difficult concepts and extra work. What kind of

    decision-making skills have these students acquired, and what difference will this make to our

    system of government? It may be safe to say that the latter will not seek out information and will

    instead allow himself to be fed his opinions by the prevailing wind in the media. It seems that this

    student is indicative of the majority of American youth, if we are to believe the numbers quoted in

    the Christian Science Monitor of Sept 8, 1998, which demonstrate how little US students know

    In addition to lacking the skills to make informed political decisions, the pervasiveness of

    the media and its effects on our learning abilities and values make our economic future bleak.

    When students are so accustomed to advertisements blaring in their ears that they no longer notice

    them, they become susceptible to the imagery in many ads. Unless they have cultivated the ability

    to think analytically, there is nothing to stop sponsors from pulling consumers in whatever direction

    they want them to go. They will not have the intellectual means to stop corporations from telling

    them what they want and what is best for them.

    This mindless consumerism is a direct threat to democracy. As Barber states:

    “…capitalism seeks consumers susceptible to the shaping of their needs and the

    manipulation of their wants while democracy needs citizens autonomous in their thoughts

    and independent in their deliberative judgments.” (Barber, 1996:15)

    Where will students learn autonomous thought if they refuse to learn anything that is not presented

    in a song-and-dance routine, which is, after all, what they are conditioned to respond to?

    What the evidence does not show is this: most students want to learn. It is not surprising

    that surface research often does not indicate this, and test scores and teacher evaluations do not

    reflect it, for students have learned nothing form the media if not how to mask their true selves. Of

    the students interviewed, four believe that a B would be a reasonable average grade, rather than

    the traditional C average. Four students also concede that one of the top two qualities of a good

    teacher is the willingness to accommodate learning styles and abilities, indicating a willingness to

    learn within those abilities and a need for teachers who connect and work with them. The students

    all exhibit a preference for teachers who are helpful and who “wanted to impart knowledge” (Int 4).

    How do we take this hidden thirst for knowledge and bring it to the forefront? First, we

    must counteract the principles shown in the media. It may be too much to ask that student quit

    watching television, listening to music, or reading magazines, but we can teach them to watch with

    a critical mind. We know that children begin to develop their own ethical codes very early, shaped

    by family and teachers. We must acknowledge, then, that the media also has the power to

    influence people, and start teaching children to observe and question as early as possible. If we

    can ingrain in the young a sense of their own intelligence and give them both the tools to

    distinguish fact from fiction and the empowerment to assert themselves and stand by their

    observations, they will grow up able to find their own path without undue influence from the media

    For those students already past childhood, we must decrease the stigma attached to

    intellectual curiosity. These students must be allowed to recognize their own potential and the

    need that they have to achieve it. These students can also be taught to keep a critical eye on the

    world around them, and the advertisements they see. To this end, some teachers are turning

    corporate sponsor’s teaching aids against them. Ms. Beccera, a teacher in the Seattle school

    district, uses Hershey’s “The Chocolate Dream Machine” to demonstrate “…the art of seeing behind

    the image being presented” (New York Times, Jan 5 1997:30). Her students will learn to question

    the motives and truthfulness of corporations that provide these types of aids, and, by learning to be

    fact-suspect, will not be so easily swayed by commercialism in the future.

    Young adults and the children now coming up may have been raised in an environment

    permeated with harmful images, but we can learn to tune these images out. Teachers and parents

    need only to set an example by questioning the media themselves, and showing students that

    independent thought is far more valuable than any popularity promised by advertisements or wealth

    touted in television shows. The youth of America are absolutely capable of regaining our liberty

    from indifference and materialism. We can develop ideas unconstrained by the media. We have

    the tools to do so, we only need to be shown them.

    work sited (not MLA standard)

    Altschulter, Glenn C. “Let Me Edutain You”

    Barber, Benjamin R. “Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping
    the World

    Christian Science Monitor, “US 12th Graders Miss the Mark”

    Entertainment Weekly “1999 The Year that Changed Movies”

    Kansas City Star “ US Teens Losing Drive to Excel”

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