Is mass media brainwashing our youth?
by Nguyen Thu Hien
Recently a 20-year-old girl had her image and profile splashed across the country's multi-media services for two weeks, inspiring millions of young Vietnamese people to become fans and followers.
Le Thi Huyen Anh is not a heroine, a singer or a film star but simply someone who posted a one-minute video of herself dancing around her bedroom without wearing a bra on her Facebook page. For this, she has been hunted down by the mass media.
Unfortunately, she is not the only star to be created by the mass media. My young sister, a former high-school student, once said: "this is a popular way for girls and boys to become famous. They do something weird and post it on a social network. If they're lucky, they will be spotted by the mass media and earn lots of money."
When I looked at a number of websites for teenagers the other day, I found that 80 per cent of the content is about the lives of stars, the latest fashion trends, cute girls and boys, entertainments and violent or sexual relationships. Only one or two stories were about studying or leading a meaningful life.
Nevertheless, the mass media has become more popular than ever. As Professor Henry Jenskins from the Massachussets Institute of Technology said, we are living in a world "where the media is everywhere and we use many kinds of media when relating to each other."
Of the 50 responses I received from teenagers to the question, " are you obsessed or do you start to imitate the things posted on these websites," 42 said "yes, our thinking, the choices we make and our lifestyles are all imitating somebody."
Ph.D Trinh Hoa Binh, director of the Public Opinion Centre said: "the deviations and actions that contradict traditional morals are being complimented and promoted by a large part of society."
Anh's case, as highlighted by the mass media is having a negative impact on young people, he said.
"It has lowered that values we hold dearly in life and made young people unable to differentiate between what is wrong and what is right, or what should be appreciated and what should be condemned."
Marcia Landendroff, a US-based lecturer of media literacy said that young people today always have a desire for fame. This is a consequence of a thriving mass media. It is the media that distorts what young people know about life values.
This is true, but are young Vietnamese people too submissive to be able to deal with information provided by the mass media?
Although Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung asked journalists on Monday to ensure that the information they provided was correct and in line with journalistic ethics, it is time our young people were equipped to resist the impacts of the mass media or at least know how to pick up the right information.
I thought about a book written by Andrew Mathews called Life Changes When We Change, which has the philosophy that we can't change life, but we can change ourselves. And when we change, life itself will change.
The country needs to categorise films and television channels the same as Western countries. This can act as the first filter to exclude "poisonous information." Are they to be allowed for all or just a limited audience. Which channels are for young people and what kinds of content should be prohibited?
In many countries, young people study media literacy, which gives them the ability to think critically when faced with wall to wall media coverage. They learn how to "read" serious journalism and differentiate between that and public relations exercises, politics or educational topics.
These are ways we can change young people's reactions to the mass media. Instead of passively absorbing all kinds of information, they can just refuse to do so. When they begin to ask for different types of information, not just stories about bra-less 20-year-old girls, the mass media will begin to change accordingly.
However, there is a lot of truth in that regardless of having different categories or studying media literacy or not, parents are still the ones who protect their children from "media violence."
How many families turn off their televisions during meals so that members can talk with each other? How many fathers cut back on the amount of time they spend surfing websites so they have time to play sports with their children? How many mothers discuss sex education or fashion or careers with their children? How many parents sit down and watch films with their children and discuss the rights and wrongs of films?
The mass media has an extremely powerful hold over young peoples' lives, sometimes due to family members being apart from each other in daily life. Parents must change their habits first to save their children from becoming victims of the mass media! — VNS