They can’t sleep…

Earlier this week in my Broadcast News Reporting class we were discussing how to write a hard TV news story about the recent spree of violent crimes known as “The Knock-Out Game.” This sadistic “game” is generally perpetrated by young males in urban settings, sometimes in broad daylight. Generally, one male from among a group (or even walking all alone) will sucker-punch an elderly woman or unsuspecting man, an innocent passer-by, perhaps someone carrying something. In every case, the victim is caught completely unaware and completely defenseless. Coming from the blind side (or even from behind), the assailants hit their targets with a full force fist punch in the head, knocking them unconscious and to the ground with such violent force that some have died from their injuries. All have suffered serious injuries.

Why is this happening?

There is no theft or sexual assault accompanying the attacks. Wallets, purses, and bags are left intact, even beside the victims. There is little apparent motive, other than a few miscreants wanting to amuse themselves. But again…


Solomon (inspired to write Proverbs) tells us that wicked and evil [people] “cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble” (Proverbs 4:14-16, NASB). This very clearly tells us the Who, What, and Why of the story. It’s enough to get a writer going. But in class discussion another culprit became apparent, one that sees the crime but doesn’t help the helpless, one that may be as much to blame as those who strike down the innocent.

Who’s watching?

Photo Credit: hunnnterrr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: hunnnterrr via Compfight cc

The CAMERA is!

Yes, the camera! Several students, as well as I, became increasingly convinced through our discussion that the cameras which captured the crimes for all to see, as well as the Internet and TV networks which repeatedly showed the attacks, were very much accomplices in the crimes. No doubt. First, there are the security cameras in many locations, all too effective in capturing the attacks, but not always clear enough to identify…

Who Done It?

In fact, at least one assault was videoed by the assailants themselves on a cell phone, which later got lots of TV “news” air time, having made it into social media streams faster than the news of the crime itself, far faster than any ambulance could arrive on the scene to help.

In previous blogs I’ve pointed out that research indicates that visual media inspire imitation. Vicarious learning may be a release for some, but for others, a cue to reenact and reinforce what they’ve learned. Pictures and video on social media are no exception to this, and they may, in fact, make the behaviors shared by others seem much more plausible and easy to carry out. Add the illusion of anonymity, and there is very little regard for the consequences of one’s actions.

How do we write about it?

The budding journalists in my class were clearly struggling with how to begin telling a serious news story for their audience. The challenge of crafting that LEAD SENTENCE can be daunting for anyone, especially when a story evokes a range of strong emotions, not only for the victims, but for the journalists themselves. Our discussions about WHO did WHAT to WHOM, WHERE and WHY became very spirited. But when I try to get students to nail down one strong, concise phrase that grabs our attention, sets the tone of the story, and compels us to want to hear more, many are stymied.

As I typically find in class discussions about issues that are highly evocative, there are several stumbling blocks that must be overcome.

  1. Victim blaming (lack of empathy)–likely an attempt to gain distance from the uncomfortable topic
  2. Joking–making light of the injuries and seriousness of the crime
  3. Prioritizing–inability to distinguish the most important facts from lesser important facts
  4. Newsworthy elements–inability to choose which angle to take on the story, such as impact, magnitude, proximity, oddity, etc. (There are 8.)
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.



Oh, my…

How would you finish this all-too-common expression?

Photo Credit: liquidnight via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: liquidnight via Compfight cc

I am convinced that most people–my students included–would, sadly, complete it by calling on the Creator.

But not in sincerity. Rather, in vain.

Horse feathers! Poppycock! Fiddlesticks!

Do we ever really mean these expressions literally? Do we take time to think what they really mean and then speak them sincerely to someone, having considered the possible implications of our speech?

Probably not.

Why not? Likely because we think of them as merely fillers… void of true meaning, polite substitutes for their more bawdy counterparts.  In other words, people tend to use these filler words IN VAIN.

In fact, whenever we speak without meaning what we say, aren’t we referring to the subject IN VAIN? If I say “Good Morning” to you out of habit without really meaning it, did I really mean “Good”? Did I really think about it being “Morning”? Did I even consider whether you were actually having a “good morning” or not? If the answer to any of these is “No,” then I spoke this rather benign phrase to you not only innocuously, but also IN VAIN. Yes, IN VAIN.

The Third Commandment states very clearly, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain (Exodus 20:7, KJV). It’s a commandment, not a suggestion.

Can you imagine someone walking down the street randomly calling out names or words they don’t mean?

Whataburger! Gladys! Elm Street! Chevy Tahoe!!

Wouldn’t we think they had lost their mind?

What if someone texted you with seemingly uncalled-for proper nouns?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt! Santa Claus! Nebraska! Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!!

Would we be offended? Would we block them from messaging us? Or would we laugh and/or take it lightly, as what we’ve come to expect from our superficial communication these days? (And then maybe even return the post to them using a similarly VAIN turn of phrase?)

What is your point, already, Dr. Roe?

Our students, like most of society, have become far too comfortable in vaguely and insincerely referencing the name of our Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, the One whose Name and Person should always, ALWAYS be held in highest reverence by all who breathe… since He gives us breath… and everything else we have from His generous hand. (See Isaiah 42:5; Acts 17:24-28; Psalm 145:14-16)

Why do people do 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. 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.

What’s the take away for our mass comm students?

It is challenging, but vital to get students to recognize where their patterns (and bad habits) of communicating come from. In fact, teaching people to become self-reflective, in general, is a daunting task, but oh, so vital.

In class, we have to begin by discussing what seems most obvious–because that’s where the pernicious influence of society begins to have its influence. We have to discuss why we do–or don’t–think of such phrases as “Oh, my God!” (or its text version, OMG!) as being just another way of showing surprise or disdain. Are we speaking TO the Almighty when we employ such words? If not, then why are we using His Name–IN VAIN? (His Name is above all Names, right? See Philippians 2:9-11.)

Or did we forget?

A few years ago a detergent maker began to advertise what was a short-lived addition to their long-known brand name. I’d like to think it was informed, pro-active media-savvy consumers who got them to change their name back and to stop running those irritating commercials. People like my students who have learned from class discussions not to take such things for granted, and from Bible-reading Christians who have learned that they will give an accounting for every careless word. (See Matthew 12:36.)

I mean, really? All-Mighty laundry detergent? Is it that good? Only God is good, said His only Son (Luke 18:19).

What was Sun Products Corp. thinking?


…did not kill Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was dead long before that last needle punctured his vein.

Arguably before ANY needle delivered the addictive narcotic to his waiting brain, the long-since abandoned depot waiting for a bullet express train to crash full throttle through its inner cavity, horns blaring and metal shrieking to a deafening roar and then… dead silence. Once again. Like so often before. The depot being haplessly reconstructed, so in due time the scenario could be re-enacted. Once again.

Photo Credit: ZaldyImg via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ZaldyImg via Compfight cc

Mass media just don’t get it.

(Click here to find out why.)

They never have. Countless celebrities have succumbed to alcohol and drug addictions, and countless more are succumbing as you read this. But the typical media response has been

Tsk, Tsk. What a shame. She (he) is such a “nice person.”

The collective media dullards entice us to make allowances for the artistically-gifted personality, characterizing them as luminaries on a far higher plane than most, who need to occasionally partake of the dark side of life for inspiration or to feed their never-satiated inner muses. So the drinking and the drugs and the uncivilized outbursts are tolerated, even venerated, as potential fodder for their on-stage or on-screen lives, so long as… the celeb de jure is generally perceived as… (yes)


Until finally, much too late, the same media–though only for a moment–realize their own role in the artist’s demise. Then they superficially bemoan

Tsk, Tsk. What a shame. She (he) was such a “nice person.”

Schema theory explains that images and situations portrayed on television and film provide building blocks for how we, the audience, construct–and re-construct–our internal (cognitive) reality. Our reality about people, politics, tangible and intangible things, including 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, we 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 for mass comm students?

I think most of my students don’t believe they can make a difference in the field of mass communication. But I am increasingly driven to help assure them they definitely can and to motivate them to want to try because Christians in media, working through the power of the Almighty, CAN help us all to GET IT.

We have to make sure that the world GETS IT. Those who produce, direct, and appear in media must be willing to bring the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to light in every performance, in every commentary, in every production, in every TV or movie scene. Christians have the truth about the Savior, and that is the only truth that will really set people free (John 8:31-32). The next generation–our current college students–are the ones who have to be “the light on the hill” that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14-16).

Being a “nice” person will NOT, in and of itself, bring one happiness in this life. Nor will it secure one eternal life with our Creator after all these perishable things which we see fade away and are gone forever (I Peter 1:17-25). Jesus Christ is forever (Hebrews 13:8). Only a personal relationship with Him gives us both lasting JOY now and LIFE in this dying world. More importantly, He offers us an eternal home in paradise with God the Father on that forever bright, Son-shining, everlasting day of eternal bliss which shall not fade away (Revelation 22).

Without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we are ALL, sadly, Walking Dead.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23, 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.


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.


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


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.

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