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Wired Up and
Plugged In:
The Influence
of the Media

by Lonni Collins Pratt

(A summary of this month's Youth Update)

If Jesus were an anchorperson on the evening news, he would tell the truth about our world in all its beauty and all its suffering. Jesus would use the media—responsibly. All of us need to do the same. The question is: How?

1. Media Basics. Every form of media means to communicate. Sometimes it strives to inform, raises consciousness and engages debate. Sometimes it entertains.

Providing "news" is often the work of agencies who bring the news to the attention of TV and radio outlets. The perennial issues of love, justice and death seem to inspire the best music, movies and print. The Internet reveals both the strength and the flaws of media in microcosm. It has opened the world, providing information, communication channels and entertainment. At the same time, it has made pornography more accessible than ever before. Media choices require a conscience.

2. Teen Survey. Four teenagers, ages 14-17, estimated their use of print, TV, music and radio, Internet and movies. They tried to remember the many ways media can be used almost unthinkingly—watching videos or listening to the radio while working on something else. The highest estimate was 46 hours total per week.

Then the teens tracked their actual media use in a log, recording it as they used each medium. The lowest actual use was 54 hours total. The teen who estimated 46 hours actually spent 56 hours in all. (The complete results of this survey are available on the last page of the print edition of this month's Youth Update.)

3. Media Influence. Media is the gathering force in this day and age. Movies, TV and music are the rallying points for get-togethers and the topics of conversation. What happens as a result?

The influence exerted over the viewer or listener (known as the target market) is subtle, disguised and hidden, but planned with care. Your needs, your wants, your feelings are primary. Media appeals to your fears as well. All these appeals are made more effective by repetition and promising rewards.

4. Is Media a Monster? Is all media to be mistrusted? Is media itself some great evil? No.

You have to sort it all out—just as you sort out other influences in your life. Media is created by people. You know you are capable of both good and evil, right and wrong. So are the people who create media.

St. Paul offers some advice: "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).

True, excellent movies, songs and publications are created all the time. Many teens, though, don't listen very closely to lyrics and don't think much about the underlying message of what they see and hear.

You can choose to be influenced by positive, life-giving thoughts—or not.

5. Think Sacramental. The Catholic faith is filled with sacraments. These sacraments involve outward symbols. We believe God touches us through the physical: touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing.

The Catholic mind is able to discern how God is present in our culture—even in media. What in the culture speaks of God to us and turns us toward God? To the Catholic mind, the possibilities are endless. The Catholic mind has also been a creative force in the media and all creative and performing arts. Whatever the media creates, whatever it becomes, will be your responsibility.

Teenagers from St. Mary Parish in Hillsboro, Ohio, previewed the complete manuscript of this edition and asked these questions. If you would like to preview a future edition in Youth Update's private online chat room, contact CarolAnn@franciscanmedia.org.



Media pressures us to be the same, to fall in line, I think. Lots of teens find it very hard to be different in any way. Any advice?


You're right about media pressuring everyone to be the same. Compliance is an important element in any ad. Do this, wear, this, buy this and you'll be accepted. Since this is a built-in desire, it's a powerful hook, difficult for teens and adults alike to resist. I've found that accepting myself, liking myself and growing more comfortable with who I am lessens the pressure to follow the crowd. I also find that getting to the real, deep-down reason for a choice—not easy, not painless—helps. If it's "because it would be cool and make me look cool," that's most likely compliance with the crowd.


What makes you think we don't listen to the words of the music we like?


In the 25 years I've worked with teenagers, I've often asked them about words to music. Frequently, they will answer by saying, "I don't pay much attention to the words but the music rocks!" I heard this in 1979. I hear it in 1999. Of course, there will always be those to whom words matter. May their number increase.


Is it Christian to listen to some of the popular music that's more violent?


That's a tough call, except in the most extreme cases. Listening to music is not a Christian or non-Christian action any more than brushing your teeth or playing basketball. Anytime we expose ourselves to violent or dehumanizing imagery, we are damaging ourselves. It's also important not to judge others. You can't measure someone else's Christianity only by his or her music choices.


I want to order print copies of this Youth Update.

I want to order a 12-month bulk subscription to hand out in my parish or classroom.


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