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What Are You Really Afraid Of?
how media pressure influences the way we feel

To understand how the media can really influence us, let's take a squint at series programmes. Actually, we give these far more than a squint. They have the power to pull audiences in to such an extent that some families organise their days and weeks around them. For this very reason they are allocated prime-time slots catering for specific audiences, not only in consideration of who they are and what appeals to them, but also what they are likely to be doing when the shows go to air. Episodes intended for adults may not be screened until eight-thirty in the evening to be watched after the meal is over and the children are in bed. Soapies produced for a mixed audience including youngsters seem to appear around seven. By then, the kids will probably have had tea and finished their homework - well, so they maintain! Everyone sits down to watch what has become an essential part of family life. There's nothing wrong with enjoyable entertainment; and it would seem to have little to do with promoting the fears of viewers; but it does exactly that in a way far more subtle than any disturbing news report. Many regulars not only warm to the characters and their stories, but mentally adopt them into their own lives, thinking of them as intimate acquaintances, real people. They may discuss their problems, have expectations for them, be happy or sad for them, worry over them. Then, the trials, tribulations and concerns of these make-believe friends and relations become their own.

Movies use a different ploy. They don't pretend to portray entire lives as they happen, just a condensed segment focussing on a few well-chosen characters the audience can immediately identify with. We see their stories unfold as dramatic scenes shot from dynamic angles, brief clips that hold attention and generate emotions. Sound effects and stirring music contribute to the hypnotism and by the end of the film we may be feeling warm and satisfied that our on-screen love affair had a happy ending; or be flopping back in relief, literally exhausted by our imaginary ordeal. What we have just experienced, however, was someone else's life in a bottle, a very minute part of it that was resolved in two or three hours. It only seemed real because we filled in the gaps with reality from our own lives, much the same as we did as children, but with a significant difference: this boogie-man was more than just imagination - we actually saw it! Actually? Of course not - it was simply a digital representation. Once we switched off it was over, gone, its momentary influence returned to the video cabinet. Or was it? Weren't we still a wee bit on edge, maybe inclined to jump at the odd shadow; didn't we continue to ponder how similar some of the movie was to our own situation; don't we still? In truth, the scenes and associated emotions from that clever piece of film-making are in our memories and have already begun to influence the way we see life.

Accept it or not, like it or not, that's what happens each time we are exposed to information, whether new or a repeat of something already known. We take it in, store it and use it. With a bit of thought, it will be to our advantage; adopted casually, carelessly it may be a source of regret. Most of the time, however, it won't even be realised that many of the ideas influencing our actions aren't our own at all. We can't blame the media: they only broadcast what we crave - moments of love and affection, endeavour and achievement, violence and fear. What we do with these addictive stimulants is our choice. Some of the time, anyway.

I am influenced by the media as much as anyone, so I have difficulty trying to decide which fears are a result of my own personal experience as opposed to those suggested by events I've only ever witnessed second-hand. Whether this is good or bad depends on circumstances and the individual. Being forewarned of possibilities must be beneficial as long as a sense of perspective and objectivity is retained. Even knowing how others cope with situations similar to our own, especially when the resolution would satisfy our agenda, can be reassuring; however, it should be remembered that we are looking through keyholes and are able to view only a small part of what's happening beyond doors that we may never pass through. Conversely, everything on our side is freely available to experience, enjoy and, if necessary, worry over. I have no problem comparing the way things are for others with the way they might be for me, but that’s where I draw the line. I reckon living one life at a time is scary enough.

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Where every effort has been made to be accurate and fair-minded, comments and opinions expressed on this website are based on personal experience and do not necessarily reflect the views of the wider community or those groups and institutions mentioned. A Season of Happiness and its staff accept no responsibility for any outcome based on suggestions offered. What works for us may not work for you. Please bear this in mind.

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