Essay: Mass Media on Modern American Society

Pages: 7 (2087 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Communication - Journalism  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Mass Media on Modern American Society

In the immediate aftermath of the infamous trial of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, several events unrelated to the actual murder provided startling evidence of the extent to which Mass Media influences contemporary American society. Namely, the slow-speed highway chase of Simpson on a Los Angeles freeway system depicted the white Ford Bronco in which Simpson was traveling. News reports covering the crime scene described the white Husky owned by the murder victim and testimony at Simpson's criminal trial included evidence intended to establish that the obscure luxury brand of shoes known to be worn by Simpson were the source of blood-stained shoe prints left at the crime scene.

Almost immediately, sales of Ford Broncos (in white) increased, pet stores sold out of Huskies, and reported that people had simply begun inquiring into purchasing an "O.J. dog," and Bruno Magli, an Italian luxury shoe designer increased its sales from a few dozen pair of men's shoes each month to hundreds, resulting in extensive backorder delays on a product that was virtually unknown previously. What is remarkable is the degree to which even apparent murderers have the ability to influence public demand simply by virtue of their public recognition through mass media. If there had ever been any doubt as to the extent of the influence of mass media on public perception and interest, some of the events surrounding the O.J. Simpson trial removed them.

The Psychological Basis of Media Influence

Most people have a psychological need to be held in high regard by others in society. That is one of the fundamental bases for the modern advertising industry and the financial justification for commercial product manufacturers and service providers to commit such large budgets to advertising in general and to paid celebrity endorsements in particular (Ogilvy, 1983). For decades, commercial advertisements featured product endorsements of motion picture and sports celebrities like (O.J. Simpson) hired as spokespeople. During and shortly after his football playing days, Simpson himself had been a highly-paid product endorser much the same as Tiger Woods was more recently prior to his notorious fall from grace in 2009.

According to psychologists and experts in the psychology of modern advertising media, there are two specific mechanisms responsible for the power of advertising through mass media: first, people simply enjoy being recognized and associated with others who are highly recognized in society; second people trust the expertise of those who have proven themselves to be successful (Ogilvy, 1983). Modern advertisers pay celebrity spokespeople millions of dollars to lend their names to products because they realize that linking virtually any product to a highly recognizable individual is virtually guaranteed to increase public demand for that product (Ogilvy, 1983). In the case of expert testimonials (such as where a famous golfer endorses golf clubs), the basis of the influence is the assumption that there is a correlation between the success of the individual and the use of the product that may transfer to any user of that product. However, the other source of the power of commercial endorsements arises simply from the casual association of recognizable individuals for no other reason than the degree to which ordinary individuals crave virtually any association with famous celebrities (Ogilvy, 1983).

As was the case with the unplanned publicity for Ford, Huskies, and Bruno Magli shoes (Tyre, 1997), the phenomenon is illustrated even better by such happenstance than by carefully orchestrated advertising campaigns. More recent examples would include the original hairstyle debuted by actress Jennifer Anniston in the 1990s that was very widely emulated throughout the nation, despite the fact that it was impractical and inconvenient because it required constant preening to keep locks of hair out of the eyes.

Likewise, a walk down any busy city street today would bear testimony to the explosion of the popularity of eyewear similar to that worn by former Alaska Governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Immediately after she first wore square, black-rimmed glasses during the televised political debates in 2008, that particular style of glasses became highly fashionable. Psychologists would argue that the fact that they may have looked good on her played only a small role in that phenomenon; the more important element was the fact that those glasses became so recognizably associated with a high-profile public figure. People have a natural psychological need to be recognized by others; in modern society, that often manifests itself in the emulation of anything that others recognize, especially in connection with high-profile public figures, precisely as explained by Ogilvy (1983).

Negative Influences Attributable to Mass Media Influence

Whereas the power of mass media in advertising may be considered a benign form of social influence, there are also other aspects of social influence attributable to mass media exposure that may be problematic for the individual and for society. It is well-known that media substantially shapes social perceptions of what is considered physically attractive in other people (Levine & Murnen, 2009). In that regard, there is undeniable evidence to suggest that one of the principal reasons for low self-esteem, insecurity about physical appearance, and eating disorders, particularly in young women in the U.S. is a consequence of constant bombardment with visual images of the idealized physical image of beauty popularized in modern entertainment media (Levine & Murnen, 2009). While there are contradictory empirical studies on the issues, a comprehensive review of all of the available literature investigating the possible connection between mass media and body image problems and eating disorders documents that, at the very least, the constant media depiction of extremely thin models and high-profile celebrities hailed for their physical attractiveness is a contributing factor in body image issues and eating disorders in some women who are already predisposed to such problems (Levine & Murnen, 2009).

In 2007, the Federal Communications Commission determined that media depictions of violence are a causal factor in aggression and actual violence in society (Freedman, 2007). That conclusion has not been accepted by some authorities (Freedman, 2007), but more on the basis of the faulty data collection and analyses used to reach that conclusion. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that regular exposure to images of graphic violence could have negative effects, especially in young consumers and in light of the increased realism and user control over violent imagery in video games.

In fact, the phenomenon

The Future of Mass Media and Social Influence

Today, modern media is changing in two fundamental ways: consumers of mass media are gaining increasing control over the formats and schedules in which they choose to consume entertainment, and mass media is rapidly becoming a two-way medium (Carr, Choi, DeAndrea, et al., 2008). Today, the widespread availability of online applications and social media have begun to reshape the way that individuals communicate with others as well as the manner in which they establish their personal identities more generally. Previously, computer applications provided valuable capabilities at work as well as in personal communications. However, the medium is developing so quickly that applications such as Facebook and Twitter have begun to be much more fully incorporated and integrated into personal identity. Expectations in that regard are that soon, there will no longer be any distinction between online and offline life at all, with online media playing a fundamental role in the establishment and maintenance of personal identities (Carr, Choi, DeAndrea, et al., 2008).

While there are undeniably positive aspects of the new two-way nature of mass media, there are also likely to be negative consequences that must be considered as well. For one thing, unlike offline relationships and personal exchanges, online transmissions may be difficult, even impossible, to delete or change once published. As personal web postings and online elements of social relationships are published and become publicly available, some of our most personal exchanges may persist in a very public way, in effect, becoming part of mass media.

Ultimately, the evolution of more interactive two-way uses of media are likely to increase rather than decrease the influence of media on the lives of individuals. In some ways, that may contribute positively; in other ways, it might present dangers and problems that were previously never issues when media communications were exclusively one-way.

Annotated Bibliography:

1. Carr, Caleb; Choi, Scott; DeAndrea, David; Van Der Heide, Brandon; Kim, Jinsuk;

Tong, Stephanie Tom; Walther, Joseph B. (2008) "Interaction of Interpersonal,

Peer, and Media Influence Sources Online: A Research Agenda for Technology

Convergence." Retrieved July 7, 2010 from:

https://www.msu.edu/~carrcale/ICA_Carretal_2008_Convergence.pdf

This source is a peer-reviewed scholarly article authored by researchers affiliated with the Montreal Department of Telecommunication, the Information Studies & Media, the Department of Advertising, Public Relations, & Retailing, and the Department of Communication. It was presented at the annual meeting of the International

Communication Association (ICA) in May, 2008. The article details the changing influence of mass media on contemporary culture, and particularly on the way that individuals have begun establishing an online or virtual element of their personas.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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