The Media Is A Reality Construction Tool

Media awareness – how it works

Most cultural leaders – politicians, CEOs, entertainers – are given formal media training, in which they learn to use the media to influence or manipulate people to further their aims. Media literacy could be taught to the rest of us as well. People who are media literate are less likely to be influenced or manipulated by it: according to research reported in the Journal of Communication, 1998 [i]. For example, media has less ability to change the opinions of individuals who participate in a media-literacy program.

Rectangle has short instructional segments explaining the exact methods media uses to direct the audience’s thoughts: how it leads the viewer’s eye, how it shows some things and excludes others, how interviews are edited to create or change the speaker’s meaning, how video news releases create sponsored “news”, and so on.

Media – how to work it

Groups can use media effectively to further social progress. For example, National Nurses United has a problem: corporations have successfully portrayed unions as impeding progress and increasing people’s taxes. Hospitals are busting union contracts. Using newspaper ads, getting news stories with their point of view in the press and on television, and using viral videos on the web, National Nurses’ United has been successful in changing public opinion about union nurses and reversing take-backs in hospital contracts [ii].

The environmental group 350.org, MoveOn, and others have had similar successes using similar means. Media skills can be taught and used to great effect. Rectangle uses the nurses’ union’s story as an example to show how any group can use the media.

Media can frame reality

Jean Baudrillard, near the end of his life, depressed about post-modernism’s reflected life, paradoxically retreated into photography [iii]. In his view, the silent, still photograph can sometimes give us a sense of what the world is like in our absence, unobstructed by the layers of significance we lay upon images. Christopher Alexander, similarly, feels that art is important and can connect people to the “ground” of reality [iv].

Some media experiences frame reality better than others. The television and your cat are in the same plane of experience in your living room, whereas a darkened movie theater is a more substantial dream world. Media can obfuscate, conceal, falsify, suggest, illuminate or heighten reality. To a greater or lesser extent, media can draw a rectangle around an aspect of our actual life disclosing the essentialness of it – or not, depending on the media maker’s intent.

One way to connect the viewer to the real world is to show a protagonist’s reaction to the movie’s depiction of real things. The audience identifies with the protagonist, feeling his or her strong emotion for them.

Movies can also show the filmmaker’s honest insight, creating a world for his characters. The authorial voice becomes a character in itself, with which the audience can identify. A clear authorial voice leads to clear and meaningful characters. Instead of becoming copies of copies of copies of people, or plot-advancers, the characters are tangibly closer to Alexander’s “ground of being,” or reality.

Items photographed in real life can be shown as having lives and stories of their own, apart from the plot of the characters in the movie. Characters live in a world irrespective of the story, just as we do in our world. For example, in Rectangle, Roy escapes the movie set to notice simple moments in plain life: a person listening to another outside a café, a bird stealing French fries and sunlight reflecting off a window. Crucially, our audience shares Roy’s (the protagonist’s) reaction to these things, leading them back to their own lives.

Can media be true?

Media is stories told by someone. Are stories true? This intriguing question is made salient by the fact that we live so much in stories. Is the news real? How does a picture lead your eye? Who decides what you see on TV? Why doesn’t my McBurger look like the one in the photo? This movie is true, isn’t it?

As journalist and author Joan Didion advises in Rectangle, the only way to approximate truth in media is to triangulate between several sources. For example, one could consult Jon Stewart, the New York Times and your Twitter feed before making up your mind about the military’s role in a government crackdown.

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footnotes:
i: Hobbs, R., “The seven great debates in the media literacy movement”. Journal of Communication, 1998. 48(1), 16–32.

ii: “Taking Media Into Our Own Hands”. National Nurse, January and February 2011. 11–13. Web.

iii: Haladyn, Julian. “Baudrillard’s Photography: A Hyperreal Disappearance Into The Object?” Diss. Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, 2006. Web.

iv: Mehaffy, Michael. “A Conversation with Christopher Alexander”, Katarxis 3, 2004. Web.

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