The TV and movies we watch, the games we play and the music we listen to form a big part of our identity. “Geek culture,” which has become the popular culture of this decade, is a cultural identity entirely based on what media you consume. Dating websites use your favorite music and movies as a means to match you with other people. Essentially, you are what media you consume and that media can influence your behavior and self-image.
This is a fairly controversial idea. In the 1990s, Senator Joe Lieberman led a number of Senate hearings over violent video games and their effects. Groups, like Parents Against Media Violence, campaign to limit the violence in media and its exposure to children and adolescents. Media critics, like feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, argue that problematic media can perpetuate things like rape culture and misogyny. Entertainment industry groups like the Entertainment Software Association refute the idea in an effort to prevent government regulation and censorship.
A number of studies have shown that the type of media you consume can be a predictor for behavior. One such study conducted by Karen Dill at the University of Missouri in 1997 looked at video game playing habits and their impact on behavior and worldviews. Dill found that playing violent video games was an accurate predictor for aggressive or violent behavior.
Another study, conducted by F. Scott Andison for the American Association for Public Opinion Research in 1977 found that a weak positive relationship existed between watching television violence and future aggression displayed by viewers. Andison concluded television “probably does stimulate a higher amount of aggression.”
More recent studies found that media influences or predicts other forms of behavior. A 2008 analysis of past research conducted by Liliana Escobar-Chaves and Craig Anderson for the Princeton-Brookings Institute publication “The Future of Children” found that use of electronic media, like TV, movies and video games increased the likelihood of risky behavior, like smoking or drinking alcohol, in adolescents.
A similar analysis done by Shelly Grabe, Monique Ward and Janet Shibley in 2008 found that exposure to media depictions of the “thin-ideal body” increased women’s risk for developing eating disorders. A study by Daniel Agliata and Stacey Tantleff-Dunn in 2004 found a similar effect on men when they are exposed to media images of the “ideal male.”
The negative effects of the media we consume need to be identified and addressed. However, censorship is not the answer. Creators need to have the freedom to tell the stories and create the things they want to create, otherwise expression and innovation become stifled. It falls on us - the consumer- to be aware of what it is we are consuming and how it can affect us. By being educated and critical consumers we can eventually limit the negative effects of some popular media. Ultimately, this will lead to better and more inclusive media.