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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Normalization of the Media

Okay, so if you're paying attention, you might notice that the title is ambiguous. Is it referring to the media being normalized, or is it referring to normalization that the media brings? See? English is a tough language.

There is a saying: "More is caught more than taught." You see it in children who learn from watching their parents far more than they learn from what their parents tell them. You see it in school kids who observe those around them and incorporate that into their "normal" regardless of what their parents and church and all have taught them. You see it in church, where "Christianity" is more "what we see" than "what we hear". You see it in character development, religious views, child-rearing, work culture, just about everywhere. "Normal" is determined not by what is said, but by what is observed.

What's interesting is how the media plays a similar role. It's interesting because of the unique nature of the media. Television and movies and the like are not necessarily intended to be either educational or even truthful. They are intended to be art. Starting with the "entertainment" side, a movie is typically built on a concept that will be expressed in its dialog and story line. So we get The Ten Commandments complete with dialog that the Bible does not include because the goal is not to provide a documentary of the story of Moses and Israel leaving Egypt, but to entertain. And you'll see "based on an actual event" as a teaser not because they're claiming what they're showing is the truth, but because it's sort of the truth and should be entertaining to watch. Then you get to the "truthful" side, like documentaries or, the most common, the news broadcasts. These do intend to express the truth, but they do so with a slant. They have to. There was 24 hours of events in the world, most of which you have no interest in hearing, and they need to tell you what you do want to hear of it in an hour. Or less. So they'll throw the truth at you ... in part. We'll hear of disasters and tragedies and shockers and, very rarely, the amazingly good thing someone did. Because that's "news". That 99% of America got home safely from work today is not. It's that accident on the interstate that is news. That 80% of America is suffering from no real malady is not news. That a tiny number are suffering from a disease is. And, of course, they'll include their bias. Whether it's "We don't really like conservatives" or "liberals" or "Christians" or whatever it is, they'll slant their presentation that way. This is why every news outlet in the country is talking about "anti-LGBT laws" instead of "pro-religious freedom laws" and the like. They'll present "People have to use the bathroom that corresponds to their birth certificate statement of gender" as "anti-transgender" and barely mention the "Transgender editor killed in Bangladesh" which is anti-transgender. They'll mention how the "UK warns LGBT tourists against visiting America" but can't differentiate between that and the "father kills his son because he's gay" story which is "anti-gay". It's all in the bias.

What's interesting, though, is not so much the slant, the bias, the art, or the entertainment. What's interesting is that we don't seem to notice any of it. We take it in. We breathe it. We exhale it. We begin to think that satellites are out there that can read license plate numbers because we saw it on Enemy of the State. Never mind that it doesn't make any sense. We saw it; it's real. Listening to arguments and positions is one thing. Our brains are engaged. But listening to music or watching television or movies, not so much. We're being entertained. We're not analyzing; we're absorbing. So we catch, rather than are taught, that most families are dysfunctional, men are useless, children are brilliant, gay is good, transgender is reasonable, heterosexual marriage (normal marriage) is the pits, sex is part of everything ... on and on and on it goes. We absorb these values rather than evaluate and incorporate them.

As Christians in a world that Scripture says we are not to love (1 John 2:15), we need to be careful. We need to pay attention to what we're absorbing. We need to analyze what we're barely aware we're being told. We need to compare the truth our world offers us against God's Word. Because being passive learners makes us victims of what the media makes out to be normal rather than ambassadors for Christ.

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