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American Values Shaped by Mass Media

Updated on February 4, 2018

What is Mass Media?

In society today, there are media influences everywhere. Mass media is a form of communication, whether it’s broadcast, spoken, or written. It reaches a very large audience through television, advertising, radio, movies, magazines, etc. Mass media is a dominant force especially in America. Sociologists refer to this as a mediated culture where media reflects and creates the culture. Whether you believe it or not, you are constantly being influenced through this mediated culture. These messages though not only promote products, but also attitudes, moods, and a sense of what’s important and what’s not important. Without mass media reaching millions of people, celebrities would not be famous, making them celebrities.

Media Saturation

Going back through history, it’s clear that Americans were not always influenced by mass media. This is simply due to the fact that the level of media saturation (constant bombardment of media) was not always around. Television being the most popular mass media medium, was way less accessible back in the 1960’s and 70’s. Televisions consisted of mainly three networks, public broadcasting, and a few local stations. These channels aimed their programming primarily at two‐parent, middle‐class families. Even with this being the case, most middle class families didn't own a television. Today, one can find a television in the poorest of homes, and multiple TVs in most middle‐class homes. Since television availability has increased, so has it's usage. Below are the results from a study done by showing the average individual daily media consumption of North America compared to the rest of the world as of May,2017;along with the estimated increase through the year 2019.

Individual Media Usage
Individual Media Usage | Source

Nuclear Family and Family Dynamics

Families living in the 1960's-80's would never have tolerated a reality show. Television shows like, “Leave it to Beaver” was a representation of actual middle-class life in the early 1960s. The same families sitting in front of a television to watch a 1960s sit-com would probably have never liked the shows on today and vice versa. Our moral values in the early days of television dictated content and influenced advertising. Looking back at clips from "Leave it to Beaver", it is safe to say that if the media portrayed some of the same thoughts and actions from this 1960's period, it would not go over well with a lot of viewers today. We controlled mass media by our level of acceptance. Although television shows are quite a bit different now than they were back then, some shows still have the same basis and influence. This being, what an "ideal" family should look like. This ideal family (a nuclear family) that was portrayed in the media can be tied to what many people refer to when asked about their ideas of the "American Dream". A "nuclear family" is one that is historically most often represented in the media. They consist of two biological parents who are married, with their children (typically two). A very popular television show from the late 1950's to the early 60's that comes to mind when thinking about a nuclear family is "Leave it to Beaver". Below is a clip from an episode.

Leave it to Beaver Clip

Do you think that media influences people's views of the "American Dream"

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Is advertising misleading?

To cut to the chase, television influences children's eating habits. The downfall to this is simply the amount of fast food commercials that play per hour. This exposes them to food advertisements that contribute to develop poor eating habits that can set kids up for health problems as adults. “We created a perfect storm between media use, junk and fast food advertising, and physical inactivity,” says Dr. Victor Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. He is 100% correct. Big and well known fast food companies know the type of influence that they have on children simply through commercials. They all undoubtedly use this to their advantage. According to Strasburger, the average American child sees nearly 8,000 commercials on TV for food and drinks, and only 165 of these are for nutritious options like fruits and vegetables. “Clearly eating behavior changes if you watch a lot of TV,” (Strasburger).

Take a look below at two McDonald's commercials. One from the 1970's, the second from 2017.

1970's Mcdonald's commercial

2017 Mcdonald's commercial

Notice any differences?

Were you able to spot any differences? The 1970's commercial was a lot less aggressive compared to the 2017 commercial. This is a clear example of the change in media representation over the years. The 1970's commercial was inviting while the 2017 commercial was simply trying to force feed you a burger. McDonald's, now knowing the type of audience as well as the amount of people that they have watching, gets straight to the point of what they are trying to sell you. Once again, influencing the audience to get up and grab a burger from McDonalds.

Which commercial is more likely to make you want to go buy a burger from McDonalds

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Positive side of advertising

In October, 2007 the NFL launched a campaign called NFL Play 60. It's a national youth health and fitness campaign. "Designed to tackle childhood obesity, NFL Play 60 brings together the NFL's long-standing commitment to health and fitness..Play 60 will also be implemented locally, as part of the NFL's in-school, after-school and team-based programs, from youth football to 'What Moves U'." ( The NFL is doing the opposite of what these fast food restaurants are doing. They're using their platform to positively motivate and encourage the youth to live a healthy lifestyle as well as staying active. Advertisements for Play 60 can be found in children's magazines such as "Sports Illustrated for Kids". They are also running many commercials on television featuring different NFL stars.

NFL Play 60 Commercial

NFL Play 60 Commercial 2

How much would you say the media has influenced you and your values? With the younger generation growing up in the age of social media, it's interesting to think about what some of their opinions and views would be had they not grown up with social media being so relevant. It starts to make you question if media is slowly starting to take over. The influence is always there, but will it continue to grow stronger or stay relatively the same?

It is definitely safe to say that mass media shapes the values of Americans. Media is everywhere, and there is no hiding from it. Whether it's an advertisement on a bus or a commercial on television. The media can subconsciously influences us and what we believe/believe in. Sometimes positively, but also negatively. As long as television and social media is around, advertisements will continue to grow and have a huge impact on your life.


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