America. There is certainty no place like our home, a place where a better future for all is born. No matter race, religion or gender, your pursuit to happiness and personal freedom is valued and respected; "One nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all". But actions always speak louder than words. And if you look to the developing trends amongst the American media and our youth, you'd almost believe that being sexy and famous was the American pursuit, with hard work and morals of very little necessity, with many left feeling anything but united.
Believe it or not, the words of The Pledge of Allegiance were not meant to be something you unconsciously recited with your peers every morning before math class. Perhaps James B. Upham said it best in 1892 when he published the words of the pledge in a well-known children's magazine called The Youth's Companion, "…if I can instill into the minds of our American youth a love for their country and the principles on which it was founded, and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals which the early founders wrote into The Constitution, I shall not have lived in vain." Could you imagine either piece of writing being published in a youth magazine today? It's a nearly ridiculous, inconceivable thought. Imagine it. You open up the pages of any popular teen magazine on the shelf. The page on the left, an article with little tips on how to get the prettiest skin and best abs alongside pictures of the top ten sexiest celebrities; the page on the right, the words of The Pledge of Allegiance and The Unites States Constitution. It's almost humorous, isn't it? The visualization really begs for a moment of reflection. How is the media culture transforming America today? What effects is the media having on the psychology and identity of our youth?
Unfortunately, you don't have to look far for some answers. The media is everywhere you look and these days it is not just limited to a few handfuls of TV, radio broadcasts and print publications. Today, there are too many media outlets to list. Billboards light up freeways. Gas stations have TVs playing while you pump. The invention of the internet led to the expansion of social media. And with hand held devices came the capability to access nearly any media source available globally, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year with just a tap of a finger. With studies showing nearly 3/4th of American teenagers' accessing media via mobile devices combined with the general influx of media exposure, we really should be concerned, even outraged, with the media messages our youth is being bombarded with. After all, adolescence is the time preceding adulthood, when each individual begins to socially identify the self, its' esteem, belief systems, and the roles within myriad of relationships. Of such, perhaps the single most influential factor in developments being one's environment. And with media consumption up to over an average of 15 hours a day per American, it is our environment, like it or not. It is research that corporate giants surely are aware of and capitalize upon. Seven years ago, CBS reported that companies spend around $17 billion dollars marketing to US teenagers. According to a 2005 study by The Teen Research Unit, it is an investment that is surely paying off. American teens now spend well over $160 billion a year on these products, with 8-12 year olds influencing their parents to spend over an additional $30 billion in annual sales. I would say they got themselves a steal of a deal!
So what is the common theme the media has for our youth? Just what do they want our youth to identify with? Well, gone are the days when the broadcasters had to wait until after nine p.m. to air mature programming material. Just turn on the radio or TV, pick up a magazine, watch a movie or browse the internet, anytime of the day. The message is clear and I find it hard any one would argue otherwise. Sex, fame, fortune violence and drugs are the main themes everywhere you turn. A mother can barely walk through the grocery store without fear of her daughter equating being a girl, with being a sex object. It's disgusting. And that message is increasingly no longer reserved just for the female population. It's what I'll call the "brand of fame", the glorified life style of the rich and famous, their personas and their fictional characters. The messages come from every direction; be sexy, stay young, look perfect, act perfect, get the latest and the greatest, drugs are cool and violence solves problems.
The trivialization of human identity to sexual objectification, fame and materialism is not the only damage being imposed upon our youth. News story headlines, TV and radio personalities, characters and story lines, only further reinforce inadequacy through continuing to portray and represent false stereo-types based on race, gender, religion and even brand names. How are we supposed to be "one nation, indivisible, under God" if we continue to categorize, divide, define, judge, mistrust and persecute each other against values and ideals that are anything but Godly? How are we to be a country with "liberty to all" if our tolerance level of each other is reduced to the shallow ideals imposed upon us by corporate ran media? With eating and body-image disorders, suicide, substance abuse, mental illness, depression, bullying, sexual activity and disease, and violent and sexual crime on the rise amongst our youth – it is hard to turn a blinds eye and pretend that the increase in these problems is not a direct by-product of our media driven culture. Are we creating a breeding ground for a plethora of problems due to the lack of spiritual values projected by our media and an ever fading inner moral compass? Is this what we want for our future? Individuals who feel the most important part of their contribution to our society is their physical beauty and materialistic possessions. How and where will our youth learn to identify themselves with something other than the damaging images and messages the mass media pummels them with day and night?
Many would answer these questions with a simple, "their parents or in their home". Yet, any parent of a teenager today knows that being a good parent isn't always enough. Nor is it easy. Even adults obsess about being rich, fit and youthful. After all, the messages the media projects are nothing new. We have all, in one way or another, been influenced or affected. However, the technological advances and psychological marketing studies of our age are new. And the media's exploitation of these advances to infiltrate media into our lives makes it harder then ever to instill a competing image for our children. Sure, you can monitor, discuss and censor media outlets in your home, but short of moving to a deserted island or never allowing your child to leave the house without a blind fold, there is not much you can do to fully eliminate the influence. It is there, wherever you find yourself, like it or not. And if the numbers don't lie, the influence is working. So what can we really do? What should we do? If we are going to win this corporate media assault on our children, it really is a matter of what we need to do.
First and foremost, never give up on being principle-driven with the decisions you make for yourself, your family and your future. Actions are powerful ways to model putting morals and values before all else in life. And since the media is portraying less and less examples of those, it is important we offer many opportunities for youth to see and practice an alternative outside of what is being drilled into their brains by the media, and the significance of being able to identify with that alternative. Therefore, we must first live by example. Further, we should fully take advantage of what we do have control over, even if our children will sometimes hate us for it. Adults should continue to censor and limit media exposure with children under their supervision. We should talk with our children about the affects of these messages so they may process them from a larger, more spiritual perspective. Do not give in to the media pressures put upon you and your family. Demand more from yourself and expect more of each other. Stand strong in your beliefs and parental decisions.
Yet, the problem will never fully be solved if the solution starts and stops in our homes. We must spread knowledge and continue to raise awareness. We need to educate and dialogue as a nation about the impact the media is having on us and the pressures it is imposing on our youth. Perhaps the most powerful way to come together lies in the timeless old saying "put your money where your mouth is". After all, that power truly is still with the people. These companies would not be able to sell their messages, if we weren't buying them. So don't. Adults and children alike, buy a different message with your consumer power. And that responsibility extends to the people within the media itself. When actors, actresses, broadcasters, athletics and politicians themselves start standing for change and resisting or denying corporate paid agendas, we will truly have been victorious.
Imagine a media where the images that are projected and celebrated are not consumed with sexiness, dieting and the latest and greatest fashion brands, but with the celebration of all mankind types of people, talents and professions. A media where the works of people are celebrated more than their looks, where public service, tradesmen, scientists and spiritual leaders are highlighted far more often and paid just as much as a reality TV star. A media where one's beauty is a reflection of their wisdom and spirit, not the size of their booty. As a species, do we really want to leave a legacy that said we cared more about ourselves, what we looked like and what we had than how we cared about each other, and what we did to leave this world a better place for the future of mankind?
The media sure would like to trick you into thinking you cared more about the former. They'd have you believe happiness is something you can buy through a product or swallow in a pill. But happiness is not something in the movies, on a magazine cover, or a trait possessed by a famous person. Happiness is the pursuit. It is in the ability to overcome struggles, obstacles and our differences in life… united, together. It is identifying yourself by being yourself, and not what a company or someone told you to you to be. Happiness is in caring for each other. As a living being, you are more than sexual and materialistic desires. So, turn it off, put it down, throw it out… whatever it is. Log out, delete your account. Take the value of your life back. Use your consumer power to use products and services that reflect the change you wish for this world. Align your actions and words the same, individually and together. After all, wasn't standing together for morals and values what they were referring to when they said "one Nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all"?