Does media create society, or mimick it?

I was reading a few threads about censorship and such, and though of an interesting question that I wanted to see what you guys think.

The question is, do you think the media itself is responsible for degrading society, or does it merely follow the whims of society. An example of the question I guess would be a show like South Park. Do you think the show exists and therefore effects society, or do you think the show exists because society demands it?

In other words, when you look at all the trashy media today, which seems to be the majority of it, should we blame the media itself or is the media simply the servant of society and therefore it is society that needs to change?

I personally believe it creates society.

I believe that artists (writers, producers, directors, etc.), etc. have a creative “vision”, which is often, but not always, in opposition to the culture they live in. If they are allowed to present their vision in the form of a novel, play, TV show, movie, song, or visual piece of art, it may actually create the artist’s “vision” in real-life culture.

For example, when the Beatles came along, their music, fashion, language, etc. created a huge interest in mod, merrie old England here in the U.S. which to a certain extent, continues to this day. Many teenagers and adults turned to Carnaby Street to dictate their fashion, makeup, language, and attitude.

Unfortunately, the Beatles’ music, fashion, language, etc. also created a huge interest in drugs, promiscuity, rebellion against the establishment, world peace through pacifism, etc. Even to this day, if I’m feeling kind of counter-cultural, I’ll play my old Beatles LPs.

One of the best examples of media creating culture is the “Jimmy Buffet Parrothead Lifestyle.” It’s amazing how many adults are into this.

There are numerous examples of television shows in which phrases, fashions, and other quirks have become part of American culture. The first one that comes to my mind is the “Fonz” and his “Heeyyyyy!” Kids everywhere were buying leather, slicking back their hair, banging on vending machines, and saying, “Heyyyyy!” Thankfully the producers of Happy Days turned the Fonz into a “good” bad boy, who had a heart of gold underneath that tough exterior. That at least gave the children a good role model, and I think that the Fonz did more good than harm.

HOWEVER–to this day, many women fall for the “bad boy,” believing that he really is a good boy and will make a good husband and father. Tragically, they often discover that the Fonz is just a fictional character, and their bad boy husband really IS a bad, bad boy.

Actually, before the Fonz came along, there were plenty of “bad boys.” James Dean is probably the best example. He only made a few movies, but to this day, people all over the U.S. admire his wild, free lifestyle and try to live it, in some way, in their own mundane lives. We take off for weekends of “adventure,” we buy boats and motorcycles and sports cars, we dress in jeans and t-shirts, we swear–I think a lot of these actions are our attempts to be “bad boys” or “bad girls” like James Dean and others like him.

Another example of media creating culture are the “occult” movies, tv shows, and novels that came along in the mid-late 1960s. Rosemary’s Baby created a lot of interest in the occult, and sadly, so did the television show, Dark Shadows. (Dark Shadows was at least clear who the good guys were and who the monsters were! It didn’t blur the lines.) I think that these shows, and many of the books that came out during this time were a violation of a cultural norm that had stood for many decades that stopped most Americans from overt involvement with the occult. Before the 1960s, many Americans played party games with Ouija boards and gypsy witch fortune tellers, but after these media pieces came out, Americans began rejecting the Christian religion and using the occult religions instead. All this is the forerunner of the “New Age” movement that infects even the Catholic Church today. Very sad example of media creating culture.

Some of these examples are not “bad”–there’s nothing wrong with Anglophilia or beach life or riding motorcycles. That’s the wonderful thing about art–it can re-shape culture in good ways. I personally think that a lot of the “black” television shows of the 1970s and 1980s (Good Times, The Jeffersons, Cosby, etc.) helped many people in my generation to learn to accept black people as normal, everyday human beings just like us. (Many of our parents retained a belief that black people were slightly less than human, and that’s one reason why segregation and other racist policies were continued in the U.S. for so long).

Now I think that much of the “black” media is having just the opposite effect–black people are portrayed as jumpy, frenetic music-addicted “clowns”, or as cop-haters, or as women oppressors, etc. and many of these stereotypes are creating a new breed of white racists. I wish that many of the rappers would figure out that they really aren’t helping their fellow African Americans by yelling out degrading things about their mothers and advising their brothers to kill cops.

One Broadway play that will be revived for the first time in many decades this season is Finian’s Rainbow, which was originally done in the 1940s, at the height of Jim Crow. This is a brilliant musical which, on the surface, seems to be a story about leprechauns, pots of gold, fairies, romance, and daddy/daughter love. But the play is actually a stinging denouncment of racism. To me, it’s a marvelous use of media to attempt to create a culture in which racism is unacceptable.

I have written several teen novels that I actually HOPE will create a better society! I know that’s very grandiose of me–that’s the way artists are! We all want to change our world. I have included themes in the novels such as tolerance and acceptance of others, belief in God, kindness towards fellow man, never giving up, courage, willingness to sacrifice for others, hard work ethic, etc. I hope that my novels don’t sound like morality tales, but I also hope that children, teenagers, and adults who read them will be inspired to live better lives and be good citizens of both God’s Kingdom and the kingdom that they live in here on this earth.

There’s so much more that could be said. I wish this topic could happen in real life at a coffee shop and last all day, as I’m sure there will be many who argue that media is created by society. It’s a fascinating topic, and very timely for anyone involved with the arts.

The media used to reflect society, and claim they still do, but all we have to do is look at the last election process to see that they have the power to manipulate the majority of people’s thinking and are using it.

Today, the media has a great role in manipulating society. In the early 1900s, there were many independent newspapers and magazines. By the end of the 20th Century, only a small handful of companies owned most newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television studios. The amount of advertising allowed on network television programs increased, including the digital insertion of cans of soda or other products into reruns of TV shows.

In the book, The Creation of the Media by Pulitzer Prize winning author Paul Starr, it is quite clear that the media was a propaganda tool from day one. It has gotten worse as the same media giants are buying internet companies as well.

The Catholic Legion of Decency had a great positive effect on Hollywood beginning in the mid-1930s. Few are aware it even existed today. In the 1950s, Catholics took a pledge that they would not see an immoral movie. There were many movies that mentioned God or showed priests and other religious in a positive light. The Networks had Standards and Practices Departments that would watch everything and make certain it was suitable for the entire family. I recall announcements on TV in the 1960s explaining what they did.

In the late 1960s, various simultaneous events occurred that would alter people’s perceptions, partly assisted by Hollywood. The media also allowed itself to become involved in explicit pornography beginning in the 1970s. Ms. Magazine was created by Gloria Steinem as a platform to get out the word about Womens’ Liberation. Only the word Ms. survived.

The society was assaulted by Hippies yelling Free Love! Off the Pigs (kill the police). Smoke dope and drop acid (LSD; a dangerous hallucinogen). Underground comix and newspapers introduced young people to Communism, Eastern philosophy, Anarchism, anti-Catholicism, perverted sex and criminal activity against big business. They also featured articles promoting the Hippie lifestyle and their version of freedom.

So some people dropped religion, moved in with their girlfriend, dropped out of society and spent their leisure time using illegal drugs. They wanted to separate themselves from what was the average society of the time. The Sexual Revolution occurred, but it was about sex, not love. The publishers of porn relabeled adultery and fornication as Swinging, about which Newsweek recently ran an approving article.

In the past 40 years, all media have been involved in some degree to separate sex from love. To turn adultery into a classified ads category in the newspaper. One local paper calls this “Wild Hearts,” but it would appear that the heart is not involved by reading the ads.

Barney Frank wants to legalize marijuana, which was a decades long goal of NORML, the National Organization for the Repeal of Marijuana Laws.

The goal of all of this was to get the sexually deviant to come out of the shadows and into the public spotlight. To get everyone to say, Hey, What’s the big deal? What could possibly be wrong with any kind of sexual relationship?

That is the challenge facing Catholics today. We need to be reminded of Christ’s words, and not participate in sin. And for those struggling with it, to make a decision to turn away from it. The goal was always to turn this country into the image and likeness of a small group. What they want was explained to me on another forum. “We no longer want to feel guilty, ashamed or sinful again.” My brothers and sisters in Christ, I encourage you, do not lose sight of these things in a Dictatorship of Relativism that demands our tolerance of whatever. We should love our neighbor but not tolerate sin.


I stopped watching cop / crime shows because ALL of the female actors in their “normal” office / work clothing had cleavage down to their navels. They were showing EVERYTHING.

Dr. G, who does the autopsies on television, doesn’t dress like that.

On top of that, the plots of the crime shows have gotten more and more violent. Can’t watch them anymore without having nightmares.

Pretty soon, I will be back to reading books. No more television at all.

But, sorry, to answer the question: they are trying to create an atheistic materialistic secular immoral society.

I am a student of film history (absolutely loved QT’s new movie) so, yes, I am well aware of the Legion of Decency. Part of the reason for the Legion of Decency’s demise, apart from the then-new MPAA, was the Legion of Decency’s apparent selectivity of which movies with IDENTICAL CONTENT they deemed objectionable. One of the most famous examples was the Legion’s double-standard treatment of the non-gratuitous nudity in “The Pawnbroker” versus the excessively gratuitous nudity in “Hawaii.” So, too, did filmmakers capitalize upon Legion of Decency condemnation for their own benefit: there’s a very historically accurate scene in Martin Scorcese’s movie “The Aviator” about Howard Hughes’ troubles with the Legion.

In short, I think with the formation of what’s now known the MPAA, some Catholics felt the Legion’s work would be redundant - even though the MPAA has proven to be a joke. Incidentally, the Legion’s Joseph Breen (who many biographers allege was anti-semitic) received an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards in the 1960’s. Not many people know that.

“Life doesn’t imitate art. It imitates bad television.”

I think that nowadays, society tries very hard to mimick what is presented on TV, in the movies, in the magazines, and on the radio. The archetypes of the modern media have been cemented in the culture. As a high school senior, I can attest that many teenagers feel a lot of pressure to dress and act a certain way so that they can be as attractive and popular as the characters on TV. And for the 99% of the student population who don’t have varsity-football-captain boyfriends, a huge group of friends, and straight A’s, it can feel like you’re not living “the American dream”.

I think that too often, people are so wrapped up in following celebrity gossip and gluing their eyes to the tube that they don’t live out their own lives to the fullest. More than anything, that’s incredibly sad.

The media is, generally, a very bad influence today. In the 1950s and 1960s, people in the United States were limited to 4 channels. There was a Standards and Practices Department with each network that spoke to viewers: “We watch all the programs you watch to make sure they are suitable for the entire family.” TV shut off after the 11:00 o’clock news. Right before it shut off, there was a film showing a silver jet flying through the sky with a voice over that ended with the words “… and I touched the face of God.”

The society was far more interested in promoting religious faith. There was a nativity in front of the local City Hall, Christmas Greetings were everywhere, homes were elaborately decorated, you could play Christmas music, with the words, from stores to the outside. No, it wasn’t perfect but television programs reflected solid Christian values and norms. Sadly, most TV today rarely does.

It took 40 years to gradually become desensitized to the point where ABC put partial nudity and profanity on NYPD Blue. As a writer, I am saddened to see the creative community embrace the immoral and the profoundly dysfunctional and call it “entertainment.” You can pick up the first season of Dexter at Target. That wonderful show where a serial killer is the lovable lead character. Filled with profanity and fornication and scenes of dismemberment.

God forbid,


The old “Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?” :wink:

I agree with GoG, the answer is both. Cat spelled things out quite well. I particularly like her statement that, as an artist, she hopes her work will change society. I am fairly certain that sentiment is not unique to her.

On the other hand, I think the reverse is also true. Artists want to change the culture. And then, artists also want to reflect the culture. Perhaps some aim for one more so than the other, but I think both are present to some degree in most art.

I never could understand the people that adamantly insist that life does not imitate art, that art and the media only reflect what they see. The whole point of art is to move people. Why is it such a leap to think that artists or media moguls are actively trying to shape the culture with what they produce? Of course they are.

I think there has been a trend in much modern art towards a sort of hyper-realism. In my writing courses, there was always a big push to “write what you know.” I quickly learned, too, that most of my fellow students assumed that any story or poem you wrote was autobiographical in nature. It’s this mentality that leads many to claim that art is only about reflecting reality rather than shaping it.

Those are my random thoughts on the matter. :slight_smile:

Hi Joe,

Most of my friends are published writers and artists. The purpose of art is communication. I remember my advanced painting class which lasted for 4 hours. The guy next to me kept slapping paint on his canvas. He never painted anything identifiable.

Hollywood is a little clique. All media platforms are interconnected and they all spew the same message. A small clique in the fashion industry decides which female body shape is acceptable. A small clique of writers do the bidding of producers.

Actors are just mouthpieces for the writers. They are just repeating what they read.

Only independent artists and writers have the ability to influence people but only if they offer the truth, even in fiction. Today, the sordid, the vile, the dysfunctional and the graphically perverted are being marketed by the common media. That is all designed to get the average person used to the sordid, the vile, the dysfunctional and the graphically perverted. That’s why Britney appeared on Letterman in her underwear (mistakenly called a bikini). They want to normalize sin.

I don’t own a TV.

“write what you know”? 90% of writing quality fiction is research combined with whatever you do know.


This is a really good question, and I think the answer is that both occur. You just have to look at each case individually. Some artists only echo society, some challenge it, and some shape it. I think the media is in a good position to influence society because people are trained to follow what everyone else is doing, and if they don’t have a strong foundation and good values, they will easily be swayed.

Take commercials for instance. We have more drug commercials than ever before, mostly for antidepressants. We also have the most people hooked on antidepressants than we ever had before.

“hooked on antidepressants”? Antidepressants are nonaddictive.


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