The effects of mass media have become a rather standardized part of life and can easily be described under the umbrella of normalcy. What has changed in this effect over the generations of its existence and evolution? From the days before the modern era to the present, media has played a pivotal role in the shaping of daily life in society. Whether it was a form of entertainment, news, gossip, or familial and/or social event, media held, and continues to hold, a dominant role within every class of people. How has the average experience changed within the last 80 years, and to what degree? What are the positives and negatives of the convergence of mass media from the last century? Finally, what are some possible predictions of the future of mass media based on the path society is currently on? These are the questions which I found myself asking regarding the subject of mass media and its effects on everyday living.
Has the effect of mass media changed over time in the daily life of the average citizen? When discussing the convergence of mass media with individuals of multiple generations, it becomes clear that a stark similarity in the power of the media is and has existed for some time, however with far less trust in those that deliver it. “My father relied heavily on his daily newspaper… Every morning he’d read The Gazette and The Sun from front to back”, said Judy Jorgensen, age 61, of her father Bob Jorgensen (1930 – 2019). She also points out that the trust in journalist and journalism was far greater than today, “My father wouldn’t doubt what he read in his newspaper or what he heard on the radio. To him it wasn’t something he felt he needed to question and wholly accepted whatever they said”, she says (Jorgensen J, 2023). This compared to today is a far more complicated matter. Trust doesn’t come naturally with any organization of power, wealth, prominence, or information. Why is this the case for media and society?
Somewhere along the lines of our modern world we began to realize we were being deceived and played like an instrument in some elitist orchestral agenda. Does that mean mass media is more, or less, deceptive today than it was yesterday? I don’t believe so, in fact, I believe that the proverbial “Rose Colored Glasses”, fell off from the very symptoms of the agenda that is the metaphorical manifesto of mass media. An example of this would be to reference three generations and to have each point out a national tragedy which everyone of their age could recount. Those born in the 30’s all say they remember where they were and what they were doing when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred with absolute clarity. When asking the next generation, it comes down to the assassination of JFK, RFK, and/or MLK. Finally, the younger generation would say 9/11, Columbine, the Boston Marathon, Hurricane Katrina, the COVID-19 Pandemic, etc. This is not to say that mass media is somehow responsible for these events, but that events such as these have become normal. Speaking as a member of the latter generation, I personally feel like we eat national tragedy for breakfast and are fully aware that we will be eating it again tomorrow morning. This isn’t to demeane the tragedies of the past generations, but to point out the radicalization of frequency that they have occurred. The part that media plays within their happening isn’t clear, but what is clear is that media’s role in the dissemination of these tragedies has become industrialized and sold like any other product.
The product of mass media is both tangible and intangible. It may be an idea that is being sold or some kind of material object. When my grandfather Bob Jorgensen was 14 years old, he played his first gig as the lead saxophone player in Glen Miller’s Big Band in Chicago. Although he became so nervous, he vomited and couldn’t play his solo during the second set and finished the night in the tour bus, he did however play a full first set. During this set he was tasked with handling the advertisements for the radio broadcast of the orchestra. Of these advertisements he was selling each of these things, Ovaltine, Lucky Strikes Cigarettes, Nylons, War Bonds, and Bourbon. However, at the start of his first set, he was also given a series of informative scripts; of these he gave the winners of the local horse races, the casualty numbers from the Pacific and European fronts, and the local recruitments for the Army and Marines. So, what exactly does that summarize? It says that when you were listening to the radio, you were told to “Drink Ovaltine”, “Look sexy if you’re a woman”, “Join the war and fight or help pay for it”, and “Drink and smoke American made only”. I don’t necessarily disagree with any of those, especially for the time, but they were forming the bases of an idea to follow. However, that idea wouldn’t work the same 60 years later. If mass media is going to successfully sell that same idea today, they’ll need several Pearl Harbors to consistently make the idea relevant and sellable. Though the very act of consistency makes the deception or manipulation far less hidden than before.
As the work of advertising and propaganda geniuses like Edward Bernays shows, the use of manipulative tactics and deceptive means is an absolute necessity for the overall method to work (Bernays & Miller, The Business of Propaganda 1928). Where it has failed is in its success. By that I mean, it has worked so well for the first six decades of its use, that now it is being used too much. Like any narcotic or substance, society has begun to develop a tolerance to its effects and has subsequently become more aware of its existence. This is not to say that it is not effective still, but I’m saying that it will require a new tactic in its delivery for the manipulation to continue. This leaves the population to either evolve or continue to be played like the instruments of the elitist orchestra. Simply because the population has begun to question the deception doesn’t mean the deception is any less powerful. The deceivers are not the ones to determine the future outcome, but it will instead be the sole responsibility of those being deceived. They will have to collectively say either “No, we’re not going to do this anymore”, or “Yes, we are okay with this deception”, but a choice must be made and only we can make it.
In conclusion, I believe that the path media has taken over the last 80 years is one of radicalism. It in itself is not good nor is it evil but can be used for either. Whatever the use it will be one of a radical nature. The future of mass media is certain to occur but uncertain in its form. Whatever the form it holds, it will be the responsibility of the generations living it to either nurture or destroy it. Like any system it is doing what it is allowed to do by nature, God, and the people living in it. So, if mass media has become a thing, we are ashamed of, fear, and no longer trust, then either nature, God, and/or the people must change it. This is one of the many burdens of the modern generation. The generations before us had the luxury of ignorance and are permitted to hold less responsibility in this burden. However, since we are heir apparent to this challenge if we decide today to change nothing, then tomorrow we have no right to complain about what it brings.
Bernays, E. L., & Miller, M. C. (1928). Propaganda. Desert Books.
Jorgensen, J. C. (2023). Oral History of The Jorgensen Family 1930-2023