What’s more super than the super Super Bowl?

Imagine for a moment…

that God decided to tell us 2-3 months in advance when Jesus is coming back! (Wow!) The TV networks and social media would have plenty of time to prepare for this spectacular, blessed EVENT to end all time! All the advertisers would have a chance to buy time across all forms of mass media and to create a dithering blitz of promotional flash and dash likely to make us all go blind. (Cue Music Here: “Thus Sprach Zarathustra,” Full Volume.) The repetitive and ever-intensifying build-up of frenzied sound and dazzling visual imagery leading up to the VERY MOMENT of the EVENT– the KICKOFF OF ETERNITYwould likely be unequaled in human history!!

Or… would it?

Photo Credit: TwentyFourZero via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: TwentyFourZero via Compfight cc

The NFL Super Bowl has been called the biggest media EVENT in the world, and every year both the NFL and the media strive to make the latest EVENT demonstratively more spectacular than the previous year. Everyone and everything associated with the EVENT, even the slightest social quicquidlibet skirting along its periphery, is BLOWN UP into caricatured, Macy’s helium balloon-sized, looming cumulonimbus celebrity extraordinaires.

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Photo Credit: Jakob E via Compfight cc

But what would such an EVENT be without all the media hype?

Mass Communication research shows that the “media spectacle,” or the EVENT that media built, is actually ideologically constructed and refied through the very media mechanism that channels it. In other words, it is the MEDIATED “EVENT” which becomes larger than life. The reality of whatever a football finale might be sans press will never be known. Sure, fans would show up… and cheer. Refreshments, souvenirs, and entertainment would be had by all.

Within the agenda-setting paradigm we find the more narrowly-defined concept of brand salience. From issue salience to image salience, media audiences are bombarded with reinforcement messages and subconcious triggers to keep a narrow range of topics and brand names foremost in our minds. This comes in handy for marketers who can successfully get us to take mental shortcuts when making purchases by choosing from concepts and name brands that are already prominent in our active memory. It’s convenient–and all too easy–for the consumer. It’s perniciously satifying to the marketers’ bottom line.

What’s the takeaway for mass communication students?

Before we can answer (or at least surmise) whether our Lord’s return would warrant as much publicity and TV time as a Broncos/Seahawks matchup, we have to understand the intentionality of the media in re-creating every EVENT as their own reality. They never simply provide coverage and analysis, regardless of how potentially large any EVENT might be (on its own), or how NEWSWORTHY any story might seem, prior to its being reported. I try to help my students appreciate that nothing in media is unintentional. Media do NOT simply provide us with a window to the world where the bizarre and barbaric compete for our attention.

Media ARE the EVENT.

Students typically are blissfully unaware that media do indeed wield this much influence on what they see. They are usually nonchalant (at least at first) to learn that because the media painstakingly construct every viewpoint of the EVENT, what they show us directly affects how we think about it. Media are not only our viewfinder and lens. They build the stage and invite the players. They provide the motivation, rules for play, and the consequences for winning and losing, all of which they then report

as if it all just sort of happened.

They also put us in exactly the right position to see what is taking place so we won’t think to change perspectives 0r become uncomfortable. Media is the show producer, the talent, and even the audience (through us). Thus, because media could not control, direct, and provide us with a meticulously forced perspective of The Second Coming, all the while using promiscuous models and over-the-top promotional tactics to inappropriately profit from this one gigantic final EVENT of Creation, then the answer to my first question is

NO.

Did you get it right?

Dr. Darrell Roe (Ph.D., UGA, 1998) is an Assoc. Prof. of Mass Communication at ETBU. His specialty is analyzing the content of visual media and its effects on audiences.

You mean, I have an agenda?

An abundance of research has shown that the mass media, while not telling us what to think (or making us think or act certain ways), clearly tell us what to think about. McCombs and Shaw did seminal work in this area in the 1970s, and their findings are still highly regarded–and have been rigorously emulated–in the academic field of mass communication through the present. This body of work has been directing our attention to—and illustrating how—some issues, values, video clips, and a milieu of daily highlights are shuffled and re-shuffled in order of importance in our minds, some decreasing and some increasing in salience and prominence among our thoughts de jure. Many take up permanent residence in our medium-term memory; others hang around only long enough to cloud our values and blur our vision of that supposedly ever-graying line between right and wrong.

“But we’re just giving people what they want!”

The entertainment industry conveniently ignores its role in causing people to develop an appetite for the lurid, the profane, and prurient. The news industry goes further with its claims.

“We’re giving people what they need.” (As if they know.)

The highly-successful, commercially marketed news product does produce a faux sense of what we need to know, far more successful than any Black Friday sales scheme, and this happens every morning and every evening on your favorite channel!

Jesus got it right!

Jesus best understood and described the human psycho-spiritual response to the world in which His disciples would continue to live after He left. With the following remarks he also laid responsibility on both the source and the receiver of unrighteousness.

(Matthew 12:33-35, NASB)
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.”

(Matthew 15:10-20, NASB) After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. 11 It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” 15 Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17 Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

Helping our students get it…

In the classroom it is vital that we help students find the relevance and workability of conceptual approaches to media. In my mass communication classes I strive to help them understand via discussion and media clips that broadcasters and webcasters do indeed create content which “sets our agendas” toward the inane, the preposterous, and the untoward. Students’ at first are typically indifferent to the notion that most of the media’s agenda is directing us away from truly pressing issues, let alone spiritual and God-centered perspectives on those issues. (Such content is not hard to find; in fact, it’s much harder to find where it doesn’t occur.)

The second challenge in successfully engaging mass communication students about agenda setting is to instill within them the recognition that they are indeed the future content-makers in both the entertainment and information industries and, as such, have a God-given obligation to help get the “ox out of the ditch,” so to speak.

In this regard, I must strive (with God’s help) to convince them that they CAN and WILL make a positive impact on the audio-visual world and that they have a responsibility to try. They WILL be the opinion makers and agenda setters of tomorrow, and what they say and how they say it will direct the hearts and minds of the upcoming generation. No pressure, eh? 

Dr. Darrell Roe (Ph.D., UGA, 1998) is an Assoc. Prof. of Mass Communication at ETBU. His specialty is analyzing the content of visual media and its effects on audiences.

Go for the Gold!

On February 7 the world will once again tune into media coverage of The Games, the Sochi (Russia) Winter Olympics!

Go Team U.S.A.!!

The Games will also provide media critics and analysts, such as myself, the opportunity to point out how interviews with athletes and news features (“packages”) about their lives and struggles are rather superficial and not particularly meaningful. Moreover, from a Christian (and scriptural) perspective the emphasis on individual achievement and personal attainment of goals should leave us hungry for the truth: that everything we are and can be is given to us by God, that everything we are privileged to achieve, to endure, to conquer, and to excel in, is because the Lord is giving us generously of His strength, giving us the ability to do whatever He has created us for in His wisdom. No one can do anything apart from the life, health, courage, stamina, and perseverance with which He blesses us.

But you won’t hear that on TV.

Before I explore this phenomenon from an academic standpoint, let’s remember what the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6“For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. 7“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. 8“For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.  (Jeremiah 17: 5-8, NASB)

I did it myself!

Schema theory is one conceptual approach which has proven successful in explaining how images and situations portrayed on television and film provide building blocks for how we, the audience, construct–and re-construct–our internal (cognitive) reality. What we see and hear provide us with the building blocks and structural blueprints for all sorts of cognitive structures (ideologies) through which our minds conceive of reality. Our reality about people, politics, tangible and intangible things, including faith, God, love, humility, as well as our concept of the “the self,” are made up mostly of a curious amalgamation of information bits about the things which we have been experiencing and observing since we arrived on the planet. As we learn more about anything we adjust the schematic references in our minds, or, in some cases, adjust the incoming information to fit into the existing realities already present there, since the latter requires fewer processing resources (and less work!). This has been demonstrated by Rumelhart (1980) and others who have done extensive research using schema theory.

What’s the take away?

If televised coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games bombards us with repetitive messages and idealic representations of the world’s best athletes as self-constructed heroes, many viewers will believe they can, too, in their own lives work hard enough to achieve success (and glory) on their own, with little or no consideration for the higher power of our Lord and Creator who provides everything with that which we need daily (cf. Psalm 145). Scheufele (2006) states that journalists’ schemata both inform and motivate them to report on stories from their own (i.e., preferred) point of view, indicating somewhat the extent to which story elements align with–or do not align with–their pre-existing news schemata. Scheufele calls it “attitude-fitting” (p. 68) or lining (attitudes) up “with the ‘slots’ of journalists’ schema” (p. 68).

Back to the Word

Finally, let us all take heed from the apostle Paul’s words as he winds up his second letter to the young preacher Timothy:

3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

>> And future Olympians (and broadcasters) would do well to remember the source of all our success and the rewards to come, as Paul continues:

6For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.  (II Timothy 4:3-8, NASB)

 
Dr. Darrell Roe (Ph.D., UGA, 1998) is an Assoc. Prof. of Mass Communication at ETBU. His specialty is analyzing the content of visual media and its effects on audiences.

Jesus and The Duck Commander

Please allow me to clear the air… of gun smoke and duck feathers…

It would be hard to exaggerate the success of A&E’s Duck Dynasty and the seemingly boundless merchandising blitz which has followed the cable TV show as it soared to fame on riparian wings. All that DD regalia, posters, and plastic-ware making its way to the suburbs–to be snatched up by yuppies?

Phil Robertson couldn’t have dreamed it, wouldn’t have.

However, along the way Bible-waving and back pew-warming Christians alike have gotten caught up in a flock of heated discussions among themselves and with non-believers about whether Duck Commander Phil is a good role model and whether we should applaud or boo his direct-to-the-solar plexus, down-homey style of wit and simple life lessons, both on and off screen.

Don’t get your feathers ruffled, Jack, but… nobody’s perfect, including Papa Phil and the boys. best duck

Let’s not make them out to be more than men. If you’re looking for a paragon of human living, you have it… in our Lord Jesus Christ and the four gospel accounts of his model physical and spiritual life. And if you still want a TV show to further inspire you, watch that other Robertson’s The 700 Club (nonfiction).

Moreover, here are some things I don’t think Jesus would have done, even if he’d had his own reality TV program.

  1. He wouldn’t have lied (a staple in numerous DD storylines).
  2. He wouldn’t have broken the law (put in some DD episodes, just for laughs?).
  3. He wouldn’t have been contentious just for kicks (a dietary staple on DD, along with beef jerfy and black coffee).

Still… some ecstatically tout Willie’s dad and his counter-social homilies (Notice, I didn’t say anti-social) as what TV ‘art to be’ and give the show far too much credibility than sanity should justify, while others bemoan the right-wing conservative voices of a few multimillionaire duck hunters who just want to have fun and spread the gospel message on the second cable tier via A&E.  Have we no room left now for some down-home preaching and cooking, after enduring the Kardashian dynasty for so long?

Why have some Christians gotten more than a little quacked up over this?

front duck

After waiting so long for anything wholesome to watch on TV and eager to talk to somebody at church about what you saw last night, it’s hard not to get enthusiastic about this generally good hearted, G-rated TV show.

But it is just a show, right?  C’mon, say it with me… It is just a TV show.  Now that was easy, right?

So… shouldn’t I be saying something all pithy and academic about now?

I’m glad you asked! (I’ll take a quack at it.)

In their intriguing study, Nabi and Clark (2008) found that “negatively reinforced behaviors on TV may be modeled anyway” (p. 407), that is, despite, and perhaps even because they are negatively modeled. And a plethora of mass communication research on everything from sitcoms to movies to TV ads and even the so-called reality of news violence has bolstered our understanding over the decades that there is something inherently attractive and, unfortunately, more memorable about negative portrayals than positive ones (be it strong/suggestive dialogue, anti-social behavior, immoral lifestyles, physical conflict/injury, and even damage to property).

Pointing to Social Cognitive theory (SCT), Nabi and Clark remind us that “vicarious learning” (p. 409) is indeed prevalent among TV audiences. Echoing Kellner’s (1980) work, in which he warns that “[TV's] imagery is. . . prescriptive as well as descriptive,” (p. 5),  Nabi and Clark’s research help us understand that what we view may ultimately become a guide for our own behavior thereafter. They point to Bandura (2002)  whose seminal work with children and violent behavior goes back to the 1960s (see “Bobo doll study“). In more recent studies, Bandura has explained in detail that four process guide how one’s “observational learning” and subsequent behavior are linked. And here I’ll succinctly apply it to DD fandom:

Bandura’s (2002) four processes are, in order:

  1. attention (watching the TV show with your undivided)
  2. retention (sharing it with friends and watching the reruns)
  3. production (doing as they do)
  4. motivational (why you like them)

By now you’ve surely convinced yourselves of some things I’ll need to clear up. No harm, no… foul. But let me get them off my bill :

  • So you’re anti-Phil Robertson? On the contrary, I sincerely admire his pluck in standing up for Biblical principles and against unrighteousness. I’m grateful for his mealtime prayer at each show’s conclusion, invoking the name of our Dear Lord Jesus. He is not, however, my idol.
  • So you hate Duck Dynasty? No, I’m not down on the Duck Commanders. Several episodes I’ve seen multiple times, and I look forward to more this year! But as a mass media academic, I enjoy taking some shots at it!
  • So you think merchandising is un-American? (Do you even know me? I’m thinking about getting someone a Valentine’s candy box with the Duck Commander and crews’ pictures on it. It don’t get more redneck, southern, all-American, Walmart than that, Jack!)

    left to right duck

    QUACK!!