Modern media can be a tricky little bugger. Just when you think you’ve spotted all the little messages and hints that try to get into your home where they can rest comfortably in the back of your mind, something slips by all your defenses and you start to see things just the way those big corporations want you to.
Media messages are designed to be memorable, persuasive, and, alternatively, overt and very subtle. They build up an image of the world that only requires a certain product, a specific look, and a certain kind of friend in order to have a good life.
The creators of these messages are strongly motivated to get past your defenses and into your daily life.
Is it always bad?
Does it create unobtainable standards?
So how do you tell the difference?
Modern media is delivered faster and on a larger scale than it ever has before. It’s easier to craft, create, and get these messages out into the wild than previous generations, so it is now pretty much everywhere you look.
Being media savvy is an important skill to develop in these circumstances because it will help you understand the motivations behind those messages and how they are affecting you.
A Little Suspicion is a Solid Defense
In our media-saturated society, it’s hard to avoid seeing images or hearing messages that tell us what we should or shouldn’t like, look like, and appreciate.
Because there is a lot of money riding on whether or not you will eventually purchase the products that will “supposedly” help you reach those unreachable standards.
Every television ad, every movie, each product placement, every viral social media post, is going to tell you how “things ought to be.” They’ll have a lot of people already onboard this hype train, agreeing with, or espousing the wonders of, these products and services.
One of the best self defense mechanisms against the onslaught, then, is a little suspicion and doubt. You don’t need to be a crusader for justice. You don’t need to rail against the established media (though that is sometimes fun), you just need to ask yourself a few simple questions to be really media savvy.
Who created this message?
Understanding who is behind the media push is the first step to understand what they might hope to accomplish with their message.
What is the purpose of the message?
Are they simply trying to entertain you to build good will (Are you not entertained!?!), or do they want to persuade, inform, or manipulate you?
Who is paying for this message to be heard?
Sometimes a message may not have a direct link to a product or service, but if you know who is paying to get that message into the great wide open it will help you understand the real motives behind it.
Can you spot any known manipulative techniques?
Sometimes specific words or images will stick in our minds. Sometimes a certain spokesperson can have more of an impact on us than others. What are these messages using to get to you?
What is the point of representing a specific lifestyle?
When it looks like “everyone” is having fun living a certain way, ask yourself why this is an image they would want to create.
The Most Important Question
While all of the above questions are a good way to build up some defenses against unachievable, media-promoted images, there is one that matters more than them all.
How does a given message make you feel about your own body?
Does it make you feel like you need to change something about yourself? If it makes you feel like something needs to be changed in order to be more like the people you see in these images – or that you need to be like these people – then the companies paying all the money to spread this message have, in a sense, succeeded.
Of course, not all media is inherently bad. You just need to be aware that some messages out there are trying to manipulate your perceptions to increase their bottom line.
A World of Media
Social media has changed the way we consume different messages, images, and opinions. It doesn’t even have to be a “shady corporation” that makes us feel bad about our bodies. It could be an otherwise innocuous comment from friends and family on our favorite social networks. The things they “like” or post online come through our computers and mobile devices all day long and affect us in new and different ways. Sometimes we don’t even realize that it’s happening.
So as you become more media savvy every day, just remember that all these questions apply to more than just the “traditional” forms of media. Soon you’ll be able to spot the messages that deserve a little wholesome suspicion and those that really have a positive motivation.
This article was published first on Center for Change, an organization specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. If you are also interested in partnering with us, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.