The Assent of Degeneration

 
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When the luxury car Lexus was first launched in 1989, TV ads were narrated by actor James Sloyan, and accompanied by vehicles that performed unusual stunts onscreen. But while the ads promoted higher levels of perceived quality and a car with lower prices than its competitors, only a small percentage of people actually bought a Lexus.

The advertising campaign was hardly considered a failure however, because Lexus had a longer-term strategy. Their ads were not simply about persuading some wealthy middle-aged consumer to buy the car as soon as possible. They were designed to plant an idea in younger viewers that a Lexus is a desirable status symbol; a suitable trophy to crown future success.

And 25 years later, Lexus has become Japan’s largest-selling maker of premium cars and commands prices that were long dominated by rival Europeans. Lexus’s advertising strategy worked!

Other Media Sales

Nearly all available research suggests that the media sells violence and other forms of destructive behaviour in much the same way it sells cars. Repeated exposure to media images alters our perceptions of the society in which we live and gradually shapes what we accept and expect.

This doesn’t mean that everyone who watches violence will become the next person to “coward punch” someone in a drunken rage. But what’s clear is that just as in the case of car ads, repeated exposure only has to influence a small segment of viewers to make a difference. Even a marginal increase in the number of violent criminals can damage everyone’s quality of life.

Studies estimate that between the ages of 5 and 15, the average child will witness the violent destruction (albeit fictional) of some 13,400 people. Through watching TV and video games, children will see more violence than most adults do their entire lives. For these kids, killing is as common as taking a walk.

Children of school age will spend more time in front of the TV in one year than they will spend in front of a teacher. In fact, research says they will spend more time watching TV than doing any other type of waking activity in their lives. So the reasonable question to ask is, What values might these children learn from watching TV and playing video games?

What Values Are They Learning?

An analysis of the contents of programs children watch suggests that the major message they receive is that violence is the way to get what you want. Another often repeated theme is that violence is acceptable if the victim “deserves it.” The problem with this is that everyone feels they are right. Such an opinion essentially justifies any violent behaviour against anyone who is “wrong” or the “baddie” in the perpetrator’s mind.

The impact of the media upon our society is subtle and gradual. It’s the cumulative impact rather than any one particular video game or TV show. It’s the hundreds of thousands of repeated messages that we see over and again during those long periods we spend in front of the flickering television set.

Studies have shown that the media—TV, videos games, printed material and even advertisements in newspapers and magazines—fills our minds with fantasies and images that powerfully affect our beliefs, our feelings, our values and, finally, our behaviours. And this can be for either good or evil.

Many behavioural scientists are studying how the media can be used to teach positive values. They are showing how, by way of movies and TV, children can be taught positive values such as self-control, sharing and a willingness to help others and to care for their health. TV can also increase their vocabulary and teach them mathematical concepts.

Unfortunately, such beneficial shows are few and far between. Very often, the media reflects lifestyles and pathological value systems where dishonesty is presented in a heroic way and is justified because of the circumstances; where criminal activity pays off and is an exciting pastime with few negative consequences.

A Biblical Perspective

The apostle Paul, in describing the time just before Jesus returns, warned that “there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1–4).

The media in all its forms certainly plays a part in influencing the values of society today. And it seems that as time goes on, there is an intensification of those indicators mentioned by Paul.

As author, comedian and late night talk show host, Steve Allen, says in his book Vulgarians at the Gate: Trash TV and Raunch Radio: Raising Standards of Popular Culture,the consequences of rearing millions of innocent children in a social atmosphere characterised by vulgarity, violence, brutish manners, the collapse of the family and general disrespect for the traditional codes of conduct is to chill the blood of even the most tolerant of observers.”

It is no wonder God called us to a different standard: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

The images we see, especially those well-crafted ones we’re exposed to repeatedly, can have a profound impact on our thoughts, values and opinions. What is your family watching today?