Mixed Signals // Sean Karstein

When I was enrolled in my first college English class, I was surprised to see the title of the course, “Food, the Self, and Culture.” I had no idea how a class could cover such a broad range of topics. The class turned out to be an exciting look at a variety of issues like animal abuse in the industrial foods system, and violence on American soil. Although some of the subjects we discussed seemed disconnected, I found that they were all connected by the mass media. The media always played a prominent role in controlling the perceptions of viewers, and ultimately shape the controversies that I wrote about in both of my writing classes this year.


My first essay centered around advertisements and how the media uses images to manipulate viewer’s perceptions of masculinity in order to sell their products. I found that advertisers use a variety of methods in order to make men feel inadequate and feminine in order to persuade them to buy their products in order to recover this sense of lost masculinity. The language that companies use in particular, is very revealing of their intentions. Through my research and writing, I realized that the concept of masculinity is very much shaped by the media itself.

The power of the media was reinforced for me when we went on to discuss the industrial foods system. We went in depth on how violent animal abuse is accepted on such a massive scale. Throughout my research, I found that the average human is extremely opposed to animal cruelty, and violence in general. However, because of the media’s advertizing and marketing techniques, Americans are largely unaware of the crimes of the factory farming industry.

Moving on to my second quarter at Santa Clara, we began discussing violence broader terms. We discussed the columbine shooting in great depth, paying close attention to the two shooters, and possible causes of this type of violence. Through my research during that quarter I found that the suburb culture was very possibly responsible for tragedies like school shootings. I went particularly in depth into how the media can strike fear into suburbanites. I found that the media has considerable power over the thoughts that the public holds. I also found that these nightly news broadcasts can have dangerous side effects. As Debora Serani, a psychologist from Hoffman University notes, “children and adults who are exposed to media are more likely than others to feel that their neighborhoods and communities are unsafe, believe that crime rates are rising, overestimate their odds of becoming a victim, and consider the world a more dangerous place.”(Serani). The media has the power to make people paranoid and very clearly have an impact on our emotional states.

"See the First Images of Colo. Shooting Suspect James Holmes in Court: Orange Hair, Bizarre Looks"
“See the First Images of Colo. Shooting Suspect James Holmes in Court: Orange Hair, Bizarre Looks”

As our class went on to discuss violence as a philosophical topic, the media continued to be a prominent theme. We watched the Michael Moore documentary, Bowling for Columbine, which gave a much broader perspective on gun violence in America than any of our other research. The film was harshly critical of the American news media, and blamed it for creating paranoia among its viewers. I incorporated this thought into my essays, and elaborated upon its ideas. I found that the American news media places intense focus onto the killers when a tragedy like a mass shooting occurs. I also found that the media can have a huge impact on the number of imitation suicides and murders after tragedy occurs.

From my time in CTW 1 and 2, I have clearly discovered the power that the mass media holds. Unfortunately, I also found that they way in which the media uses this power is often immoral or harmful. However, if the media were to give viewers more positive messages and focus on long term goals that our government and people have achieved, then the media might actually inspire positive change. Or if the media focused on real problems with society, like factory farming or pollution, then rather than instilling paranoia, the media could cause viewers to stand up to important issues.


Serani, Deborah. “If It Bleeds, It Leads: Understanding Fear-Based Media.”Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 07 June 2011. Web. 02 Feb. 2015.

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