Today, mass media play an increasingly more and more important part in the life of people because they become the major source of information and the major vehicle for information sharing. In such a situation, the question concerning the impact of mass media on the perception of reality by the audience emerges. The overwhelming impact of mass media on people naturally implies a considerable impact of mass media on the perception of reality by individuals, although some proponents of media development believe that mass media can help to share information and they rather mirror the surrounding reality rather than shape it. However, such an assumption is questionable in light of the overall impact of mass media and the inability of individuals to resist the overwhelming impact of mass media. This is why mass media have a considerable impact on the perception of reality by people and their worldview. In actuality, media representations, whether they promote themselves as ‘entertainment’ or ‘educational’, affect human perceptions of ‘reality’ and shape it to a significant extent.
Today, people are almost constantly vulnerable to the impact of mass media. Whether they want it or not, they are under the impact of mass media, even if they cannot feel that impact. Mass media are always present in the life of people from early childhood. People use mass media regularly and they can hardly imagine their life without mass media. As mass media have become a part of the regular life of people, they have started to influence people because they have become the major source of information about the surrounding world, which people receive from outside sources. Even in case of face to face communication, people often refer to the information, which they have learned from mass media.
Mass media tend to represent the reality from the standpoint of the mainstream culture, while minority perspectives often remain under- or misrepresented. In such a situation, media perform the role of the major drivers of the expansion of the mainstream culture. They impose the mainstream culture, its norms, and traditions on the entire society, whereas minorities remain to be under-represented. In such a situation, the under-representation of minority groups leads to the dominance of the mainstream culture, while mass media impose the mainstream culture on all social groups, which are unable to resist the mainstream culture and media.
In this regard, the impact of educational media may seem to be more significant because they intend to teach people a certain way of life or a certain way of perceiving reality. For example, Wikipedia has become one of the most popular sources of information for many students, although the online resource has little scientific credibility and reliability. Wikipedia has emerged as the free online resource providing information on various issues and subjects, but the ‘openness of the Wikipedia model irritates its critics beyond endurance’. Wikipedia was a sort of online encyclopedia but the problem was and still is that information presented in Wikipedia is not scientifically valid and reliable. However, many people believe Wikipedia is a reliable online resource. In actuality, information presented in Wikipedia is often one-sided and highly subjective, especially about sensitive issues. This is why Wikipedia may become a tool of imposing certain ideologies or worldviews on a wide audience. Other educational resources also tend to represent a certain worldview or present the information certain standpoint, which is intrinsically subjective and shapes the audience’s worldview and perception of reality.
However, the impact of the entertainment media should not be underestimated either. The entertainment media maybe even more influential in terms of shaping one’s perception of reality than educational media. The entertainment media has a considerable impact on the audience. At this point, it is possible to refer to the case of celebrities and their impact on the audience. Millions of people tend to follow the lead of celebrities, whom they view as an icon of their lifestyle and behavior. Mass media use celebrities as well as other tools to shape the contemporary culture and influence the worldview of people. Celebrities are not independent figures. Instead, they are dependent on publicity and it is only mass media that can give them publicity. This is why ultimately it is mass media that decide what to deliver to the audience, while the audience perceives messages from the mass media as the clues to their regular life behavior and the key values that determine their perception of reality.
Media convey certain messages, which the audience perceives and starts taking for granted. The major pitfall of the impact of mass media is the failure of the audience to evaluate critically the information and messages, which they perceive from mass media. For example, when people receive one message from one news agency and a different from another, they can compare and evaluate them critically. At the same time, ‘he information people access affects their understanding of the world around them and the decisions they make: biased information can affect both how people treat others and how they evaluate their own choices or opportunities’. However, as they start receiving similar or identical messages from the mainstream media, they simply start taking those messages for granted and believe they are true. Hence, mass media have the power to annihilate the critical thinking of the audience. At any rate, the majority of the audience turns out to be unable to evaluate critically messages received from the mainstream media. In such a way, they shape the reality as people perceive it from the media. At this point, it is worth reminding the permanent exposure of people to the impact of mass media, which makes their influence truly overwhelming.
In this regard, the younger audience is particularly vulnerable to the impact of entertainment media. At this point, it is possible to refer to the case of online video gaming, which has become a serious issue as many adolescents as well as adults can ‘become addicted to online gaming’. The impact of online gaming is particularly strong on adolescents and children, who simply fail to distinguish the virtual world from the real one. As a result, they may extrapolate online gaming behavioral patterns on the real-world situations. Hence, frequent cases of violence and aggression occur among teens addicted to video gaming.
In this respect, it is possible to refer to the case of violent video games, which may have a particularly negative impact on the perception of reality by people, especially adolescents and children. The constant exposure to violent video games makes the audience vulnerable to the respective behavior patterns, which include the high level of aggression and violence. They develop dysfunctional behavioral patterns. For example, they may become vulnerable to aggressive and violent behavior as socially acceptable tools to resolve their problems and achieve their social goals.
Furthermore, another example of a powerful impact of entertainment media that shapes, to a significant extent, the reality of individuals is the reality television. The audience grows virtually addicted to the reality television but steadily the audience fails to distinguish the reality from the entertainment media. The reality television creates the faux image of the reality, which is different from the real-world reality. The reality television ‘addressed viewers as consumers of entertainment instead of citizens’. Nevertheless, the audience perceives the information and messages from the reality television as true and takes them for granted. As a result, people may start following behavioral models, which they observe in the reality television, which is often created not on the ground of reality but the ground of entertainment. In such a way, the reality television simply eliminates the frontier between the entertainment and reality but the audience often fails to notice that frontier. Hence, the reality television shapes the new reality, which is created on the ground of the media entertainment industry but not on the reality proper.
On the other hand, some researchers suggest that media are mere products of the contemporary culture and do not impact the perception of reality but they rather mirror the reality. For example, ‘The media, in their capacity of informing us about the world and as entertainers, show us an immense range of possibilities and practices of ‘doing gender”. The development of the new reality by mass media is therefore impossible because they just follow the lead of the mainstream culture. Such a view on mass media, as mere tools of the communication of the key ideals and values from the mainstream culture drivers to the mass audience, implies that mass media perform the role of mediators but not drivers of the dominant ideology and perception of ideology.
However, the assumption that media do not shape and represent reality but just mirror it is the obvious underestimation of the impact of mass media because people are vulnerable to the impact of mass media from the early childhood and their views and beliefs as well as their personal experience are, to a significant extent, grounded on the media representation of reality. ‘The elusiveness of media discourse and the shifting meanings of messages that may be interpreted in one way or another is what sets discourse analysis apart from more exact, more concrete, and perhaps more threatening, ‘products’ of science’. Moreover, today, people simply use media as means of communication and they create their virtual world and reality utilizing such media as internet and social networks. The perception of mass media as mere tools raises the question concerning their power to shape the audience’s worldview and perception of reality, but people perceive messages from the mass media above all and they take it for granted, regardless of the source of those messages or values which they learn from mass media. Hence, mass media become dominant and prevail in society.
Thus, media have a considerable impact on the formation of reality or, to put it more precisely, the perception of reality by the audience. As people are always vulnerable to the impact of mass media, they tend to shape their reality under the impact of media. In this regard, the impact of mass media is particularly strona are inconsistent because mass media do not merely mirror the reality shaped by the mainstream culture but they tend to create it and shape both the reality and the mainstream culture, although it is true that media tends to highlight the reality from the standpoint of the mainstream culture, whereas the position of minorities remains under- or misrepresented.
This Opuscule provides an overview of the recent empirical literature on the role of mass media in influencing political, social, and financial outcomes. Empirical evidence indicates that mass media has a very important effect on a variety of outcomes, including political outcomes, such as electoral support of particular parties and participation in political protests, social outcomes, such as education outcomes and fertility decisions, and financial outcomes, such as stock returns and corporate governance performance. The power of mass media provides strong incentives for the special interest groups to try to exploit this influence. There is plenty of evidence documenting media capture not only by governments and politicians but by private special interests, such as advertisers. Media capture, however, is limited both by the market forces that provide incentives for the media to report truthful information and by the reaction of the audience, who are likely to discount information from biased sources and to switching to alternative sources of information.g to children and adolescents because their worldview is not shaped so far and they may have difficulties with distinguishing the reality from the entertainment world created by media. The impact of mass media on the formation of reality and its perception by people may have multiple manifestations from online gaming to Wikipedia, which is erroneously viewed as reliable, educational online resource.
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