Media Research: Think Again

1950s-television-set-006We may need to re-think how media affect our attitudes and behavior.

The foundation for media theories assumes people use information in predictable ways: we watch television during prime time and search the web to learn how to bake a pie.

Some findings are based on the sheer time people engage in television while other scientists show kids violent programs and then test whether their responses are violent in turn.

Hands down: media researchers—except for conspiracy theorists—agree that media have limited effects.

Media sometimes influence some people under some circumstances.

Problem is the way we engage in media is shifting: some of us are plugged in throughout the day—on telephones, tablets and computers—listening to music, watching TV and reading email.

This varies from the traditional ways people used media.

In other words, as researchers, we need to reframe the way that we think people engage in communication.

The notion hit me while watching a truckload of episodes of West Wing and House of Cards while preparing for my propaganda class.

Unlike tuning to a weekly TV program, I was able to stream shows back-to-back and could watch colorful characters spewing insults several hours each day (all in the line of duty, naturally).

I noticed that my frames of reference changed.

When I read news about Barack Obama I pictured Jed Bartlet (the fictional president on West Wing played by Martin Sheen).

And I acquired some new best friends: CJ Cregg (press secretary) and Bradley Whitford (deputy chief of staff). Mind you, these are fictional characters.

My vocabulary altered dramatically after streaming episodes of the new Kevin Spacey vehicle on propaganda and politics.

Like my new best friends on House of Cards I can now swear forward, sideways and backward.

My family and friends are hardly shocked by my sailor’s tongue.

But some of the TV characters resort to lies, cover-ups and even murder.

While I can usually distinguish reality from fiction, a question lingers: Does viewing some kinds of programs back-to-back, over and over, normalize the behavior we see?

If so, I may need to stop watching episodes of Dexter.

Image downloaded from the Guardian at


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in ethics, film, framing, journalism, science, social media, writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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