Look around you, what do you see? I see Billboards and commercials advertising the return of the famous “McRib” to McDonald’s stores, people trying their luck at the newest diet featured in some well-known health magazine, hundreds of different products on the shelves that serve the exact same purpose, and every news station reporting on every shooting, crime, potential terrorist threat, and offensive trump quote they can get. I see all that and much more on a day to day basis. Those days add up, and as weeks, months, and years go by, it all becomes normal. It becomes so normal that we don’t even realize that everything that we see, we see for a reason. That reason being: To incite thought, feeling, emotion, and response within all of us; which all correlates to us purchasing a specific kind of pain reliever because we recognize the name, voting for one presidential candidate over the other because one of them has had something they said twisted and mangled and posted all over the internet for people to ridicule, and to consume a specific brand of animal product because it is “Free-Range” or “Organic.” We see so much in our day to day lives, yet we are blind to what is really happening.
This thought had never occurred to me until my Critical Thinking and Writing Class taught by Prof. Leither. While this course primarily focused on the meat industry and violence, there was much more to it than that. While I didn’t realize its relevance at the time, it wasn’t till the end of the second quarter of the course that I understood the importance of the very first reading we had for the class. This reading was a small section of a Book Titled Pop Culture Freaks written by Dustin Kidd, which talked about identity, mass media, and society. While reading this except for the first time, two ideas stood out to me the most, little did I know at the time that those two ideas would influence my work in the class for the next two quarters. The first of which being that, “Nearly all Americans identify themselves as middle class. As a cultural category, middle class refers to a set of lifestyles that are characterized largely by consumption” (Kidd, Dustin). While this idea seems basic all alone, when paired with this second idea, it invokes much greater thought. That second idea being that when it comes to the culture industry, “It is controlled by a very small handful of corporations,” five to be exact (Kidd, Dustin). Not only that, but those five corporations “do not need hard-working Americans today as much as they need hard-spending Americans” (Kidd, Dustin). What stood out to me was this: Because of the size of the middle class in modern society, those corporations have all the hard-spending Americans they could ever want; however, when the consumption of the majority of Americans is controlled by only five corporations, doesn’t that translate to everything we do is controlled by only five corporations? While I never actually specifically address this question, I allude to it in multiple essays I wrote throughout the course. Specifically how we as humans and consumers are influenced by the media all around us and we don’t even realize it.
I first pursued this idea with food in mind, primarily when it comes to diets. We see them everywhere and I’m sure we all know one person who is on a different obscure diet every other week. Within recent years, Celiac disease — an immune disorder in which the body cannot tolerate gluten— has been gaining a much larger spotlight. People who suffer from this disease, are required to emit gluten from their diet in order to prevent upsets within the body. This is not where the problem lies, an estimated 18 million Americans do not necessarily have a gluten intolerance, but do in fact have a gluten sensitivity in which their body still seems to react negatively to gluten despite being Celiac free. As more and more of these 18 million people have begun to cut gluten out of their diet, a common trend has become clear: if you eliminate gluten from the foods you eat, then you will find yourself losing weight, having more energy, and feeling healthier. It wasn’t long until the media picked up on this and began to commercialize the gluten free diet.
The media has turned a health condition into an industry with“sales of gluten-free items growing 34% annually in the five years leading up to 2014, and expected to have a 140% increase from 2014-2019” (Crawford). Not only that, but the media has created such a craze for the gluten free diet that clinicians have even developed a condition around it. When people eat gluten-free, some experience the “nocebo” effect, which “causes patients to feel alleviation of symptoms because of the popularity of gluten-free eating and celebrity endorsements from people like [Miley Cyrus]” (Melnick). Because of the mass media coverage, people are buying gluten free products and claiming to feel healthier because everywhere they look there are celebrities doing the same; they are acting completely blind to the fact that the gluten free diet is just a glorified way of eating healthier, having little benefit to their actual health.
By plastering the diet in every magazine, health show, etc., consumers only see what the media wants us to see rather than the truth. We are essentially being forced to shift to a gluten free lifestyle, yet to many it feels like they are making the decision themselves. If people were truly knowledgeable and not just following a trend, they would know what gluten is right?
My research into the issue of the media’s control over us continued In the second quarter of the class when I began looking into superheroes and their evolution into violent action heroes. I put a large emphases on researching specifically why this occurred and why it has gone relatively unnoticed. What really drove me to look into superheroes specifically was the fact that when I went to go see the newly released Deadpool — an R-rated superhero movie filled will brutal violence and other mature content — there was a little boy (anywhere between 8-10 years old) in my theater having a grand old time. After much research and a survey, I concluded that superhero movies give the impression that violence is okay if backed by good intention; when that idea is combined with the over saturation of superhero marketing in our culture, violence becomes a much less controversial idea.
In a survey given to my peers, 85% of respondents claimed to come in contact with some form of superhero marketing one to five times a day. This ranges from clothing, toys, movie trailers, and even video games. In addition to this, Marvel — one of the worlds leading comic book companies — has 11 confirmed movie releases planned within the next four years (Phase Four). DC Comics — another leading comic company — has the same amount of confirmed movie releases planned for the next five years (Schaefer, Sandy). With superheroes being one of the leading markets in todays society, every new superhero product adds a little more violence to our culture. However, to consumers it seems like nothing has changed. Just because somebody goes see the newest Captain America movie doesn’t mean they are a more violent person because of it. Then how is it that a small child is able to sit and watch a man’s head get chopped off and be perfectly content with it? We as consumers are flooded with so much content that we are unable to see the bigger picture, that we are being subconsciously controlled by the things we see.
My professor often said that people wear blinders, refusing to see whats really in front of them. I believe that this is very much the case when it comes to media and popular culture as well. I would have never come to this realization if It hadn’t been for this course and the themes we explored. The media gives us so much to look at, that we stop focusing on whats really going on. People are influenced by what they see and what is popular, and because the media controls both of those things, they control our influences. If we want to prevent this, all we have to do is remove our blinders.
Crawford, Elizabeth. “Sales of Gluten-free Products Continue to Grow Double Digits on Quality, Selection.” <i>FoodNavigator-USA.com</i>. WilliamReed, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
Kidd, Dustin. Pop Culture Freaks: Identity, Mass Media, and Society. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Melnick, Meredith. “Miley Cyrus: Gluten-Free Diet Is Responsible For Weight Loss.” <i>The Huffington Post</i>. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
“Phase Four.” Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Schaefer, Sandy. “Warner Bros. Has 11 DC Comics Movies in Development.” Screen Rant. Screen Rant, 29 Apr. 2014. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.