The Impact of Mass Media on how People View Reality Essay

The Impact of Mass Media on how People View Reality


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            It has been said that mass media is the most influential organization anywhere in the world today - The Impact of Mass Media on how People View Reality Essay introduction. As the digital communication technology continuously improves and produces more and more new devices, the people have become more exposed to the influential demands set by the mass media. As the world conforms to modernity, mass media has been constantly creating new shows that would capture the attention of their viewers, readers, or even listeners. Consequently, people all over the world have been exposed to mass media. It serves as the most efficient way of communicating with others and the easiest way to get all the information needed. Hence, through the Agenda Setting Theory, this research aims to evaluate the impact of mass media on how people view reality, specifically the way they perceive young adults, and assess the influence of mass media to the society.

 Description of Selected Theory

            According to agenda setting theory developed by Prof. Maxwell McCombs and Prof. Donald Shaw (1972), the media highlights certain issues for public opinion. In agenda setting theory, McCombs and Shaw (1972) discussed the powerful influence of media. They explained how media affects the way of thinking of the people towards an issue. That is, the media agenda (policy rankings by importance in the media) influences both the public agenda (rankings in opinion surveys) and the policy agenda (rankings in legislative bodies) (Garson, 2006).

            Media gives more attention to issues which they perceived as more salient. They would exert significant influence to a certain issue until they capture the attention of the viewers. McCombs and Shaw tested this theory by investigating presidential campaigns. Both theorists focused on only two elements: awareness and information. In the article of McCombs and Reynolds (2002), they stated that most of the researches reveal that media viewers not only learn factual information, but they also come to understand the importance of issues exposed by the mass media based on how they highlighted them.  McCombs and Reynolds (2002) provided a summary of how McCombs and Shaw conducted their research:

To test the hypothesis that the media agenda can set the public agenda, McCombs and Shaw conducted a survey among a sample of randomly selected undecided voters in Chapel Hill North Carolina. Concurrent with this survey of voters, the nine major news sources used by these voters—five local and national newspapers, two television networks, and two newsmagazines—were collected and content analyzed. The rank order of the issues on the media agenda was determined by the number of news stories devoted to each issue (pp. 2-3).

             To easily understand the agenda setting, the theorists explained some important concepts. Salience transfer refers to the capacity of the media to influence the relative importance individuals attach to policy issues. On the other hand, gatekeeping determines the content of salience transfer.  Media has the ability to control the issues to be transferred to the audience. When an important issue was shown by the mass media, viewer would perceive such topic depending on how the media transfer the information. If a certain issue was described by the media as “tragic,” people would conform to the idea given by them. That refers to framing which also constitute to the priming. Where framing centers on the presentation of news, priming refers on how people would view a certain issue. In priming, viewers would give attention to that certain topic regardless to their perception prior to the exposure of media. (Garson, 2006)

            In addition to this, Bernard Cohen (1963) stated: “The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think,  but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about” (cited in Garson, 2006, n.p.). This explains that the mass media affects the people in choosing what issues to be concerned about.  Hence, agenda setting theory attempts explain how powerful mass media is in telling people what to think about. This theory suggests that what media shows is what people think more worthy of their attention.

            However, the need for orientation is needed based on the level of knowledge and experience of the viewer.  A certain issue might affect differently to people based on their knowledge about the topic. Issues can be arrayed along a continuum ranging from obtrusive (i.e., the issues that we experience personally) to unobtrusive (i.e., those issues that we know about only through media) (McCombs & Reynolds, 2002).

            In the agenda setting role of the media, the relevance of the issue to an individual still has to be considered. It means if the person already knows what a certain issue is all about, then the need for orientation is low (obtrusive). On the other hand, the issue that has never been encountered or rarely encountered and only seen through media is considered as unobtrusive.

Description of Selected Artifact

            Sexually active, carefree, and partying individuals—this is how society perceives college students nowadays. It has been said that these young people are no longer concerned about what is happening to their environment. These are the people who love adventure and are always ready for challenges. Most of the parents would say that their college-age son or daughter had just been influenced by what they had seen on television.

            One of the most popular shows for teenagers today is the “MTV’s Real World”. It was launched in 1992 and is continuously filming in different cities across the world. The Real World is a reality TV show that focuses on the lives of seven strangers who passed the audition and agreed to live in one house for several months. Their actions for the entire period of their stay in the house will be recorded in the camera. Each season, the show moves to different city to look for another set of strangers. Each year, series producers choose a group of seven people in their 20s, from different backgrounds and countries, to live together in a major city. The series presents their spontaneous, unscripted interactions with another and the world around them (Sorensen, 2008). In this show, the cast members are used to encounter people of different races and sexual orientations. Most of the cast have different points of view in various issues such as politics, religion, romance, and sexuality (MTV Networks, 2008).

            MTV has been claiming that The Real World is the longest running television show because of its consistent success in showing the audience the concept of real life. In fact, most of the casts had been known and became celebrities during and after the shooting of this show.

 Analysis of Artifact

            Indeed, MTV is one of the most popular channels in the whole world today. Many watch their shows and become fan of the celebrities in their programs. Almost all of the prominent artists can be seen on their shows. MTV has also been successful in turning an unknown individual to a famous one (MTV Networks, 2008).

            The Real World on the other hand is one of the most favorite shows, especially those viewers who are in the age of the cast members. However, there have been a lot of negative feedbacks toward the casts. In the site Reality Blurred, Andy Denhart (2007), one of the bloggers, wrote the following:

The Los Angeles Times looks at the people who “have spent much of the last five years living a 21st century version of the carny life, crisscrossing the nation while punching one       another in the face, suffering hissy-fit meltdowns and committing other indignities on            camera for the vicarious delectation of their peers.” Those, of course, are the cast members             of Road Rules, many of whom have been regulars on the various challenge shows (n.p.).

As the agenda setting suggests, media cannot tell people what to think, but they are successful enough in telling us what to think about. The cast of The Real World as well as the audience, may not aware of it but the entire show can create an impression not only to the seven young adults in the program but also to the people who are in their age. In priming, it was discussed that the media presents a salient issue, and the audience may pay attention even in a neutral manner. What media shows to the audience regardless of the concept of the program would leave an impression to the viewers.

            The society might look at young people as carefree and sexually active individuals for a mere reason that that is how The Real World portrays the seven strangers. The viewers who are consistently watching the show may develop the same perception about the people in the real world. The society may assume that the young adults act, talk, and speak in the same way as the cast members do in front of the camera. Denhart (2007) added:

As viewers already know, the story points out that “The shows don’t mirror their lives; they become their lives. And thus viewers may not be the only ones having trouble separating reality from overlapping layers of entertainment-industry artifice. The contestants dub themselves, with little self-consciousness, ‘reality kids.’

            This statement agrees with McCombs’ and Shaw’s agenda setting theory. People unconsciously conform to media. This is also consistent with what McCombs and Reynp;ds (2002) stated in their article:

People do not and cannot pay attention to everything. Rather than engaging in a             comprehensive analysis based on their total store of information, citizens routinely draw on those bits of information that are particularly salient at the time they must make a judgment (p.14).

Viewers would definitely have different reactions and perceptions based on their experience and based on what they have seen on the show. Some might agree on one of the cast, but the others may give a negative feedback. However, since the young adults are the main focus of this show, the perception of the audience, specifically those who are not included in their age cluster, would have a stereotype judgment about the college-age individuals.


            MTV’s Real World, as the title of the show itself suggests, may create a perception among the viewers that what they see on screen is the same as the same scenes they could witness in real life.  Media affects the way of thinking of the society and makes them conform to what they can hear from them. Media portrays and gives another impression toward the young adults. Hence, since media has the power to influence the society, this organization should be more careful in creating programs. People may have different perception toward a salient issue, but what media shows always has an impact on how people view reality.


Denhart, A. (2007, March 16). Real World creator: “these kids are paid good money to

endure” “unduly harsh” fan criticism [blog entry]. Reality Blurred. Retrieved October 8, 2008, from

Garson, D. (2006). Agenda setting theory.  College of Humanities and Social Sciences

(CHASS), NC State University. Retrieved October 8, 2008, from

McCombs, M. & Reynolds, A. (2002). News influence on our pictures of the world. In J.

Bryant and D. Zillman (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in Theory and Research (pp. 1-18). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

McCombs, M., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public

Opinion Quarterly, 36, 176-187.
MTV Networks. (2008). Show summary. Real World:Key West. Retrieved October 8, 2008,


Sorensen, E. (2008). Plot summary for “The Real World.” IMDB. Retrieved October 8, 2008


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