Role of Media and Entertainment in American Society

Media has always served an important role in American society. At the start of the colonial era, papers were distributed amongst people as a source of information. As mass producing became cheaper newspapers wanted to be the one to sell the most and reach the most amount of people. As a result, their focus shifted to entertaining to the masses. When the radio came into play, people realized it was also a way to reach multiple people at once. It also was used heavily to promote political views.

The television’s combined attributes and the invention of the internet and cable completely changed the way we think of and view media. People have the ability to completely avoid the news and politics if they desired and can still consume large amounts of media. It has become so pervasive in our lives that it is almost impossible to avoid media consumption.

Media consumption in itself is not problematic unless we consider how commercialized media in the U.

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S has become. In today’s society, most media outlets only care about making a profit which means producing what will sell. They show viewers what they want to see and that in turn becomes our reality. Since there is almost no way to escape media there is in turn, no way to escape the influence that it has on our lives. Media’s impact on our self and our identities is so large that it tells us what is important, how to think, how to feel, what to like, how to dress and so on.

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Essentially the media tells us who we should be and forms our identity. Without media and its influence, we would be completely different people.

Ideally, we should have media that is non-profit and unbiased. Unfortunately, media are beholden to its advertisers which are their source of income. The main goal of the advertisers is to capture our attention. In order to keep our attention, we have to be entertained. This is the point that Neil Postman was trying to prove in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” We have grown so used to expecting to be entertained that when we are not, we automatically start to lose interest.

To show how ingrained in society media has become, Neil Postman gives the example of a tribe of people who determine justice based on cliche sayings. This may seem absurd but this is the point that Postman is trying to illustrate. A world without media is one that is so far away from ours that it seems almost comical to think about. This society he mentions are primitive people without media, and we would not be able to get away with the same thing in our world that is filled with technology. From this example, we can see that the media shapes the way we interact with one another. Throughout this book, Postman also gave examples of types of media that have replaced one another from print to the telegraph then to radio and then television. As media progresses, information is coming at us at a quicker pace and we continue to take it in without the same consideration we would give if we were reading. Postman points out that the photographs and images that we are seeing now are taking away our need to think about what we are viewing.

Postman also claims that the media has even changed the way that we learn. Education should not be entertaining according to Postman because if it is then we will expect to be entertained all the time. Postman gives an example of when President’s would give long speeches to the masses and he argues that we would no longer be able to listen and comprehend what is being spoken for that amount of time. Humans have lost the ability to learn and pay attention to the spoken word because of entertainment. This is an interesting concept because this implies that media has rerouted our brain to change the way we think. “At the end, one could only applaud those performances, which is what a good television program always aims to achieve; that is to say, applause, not reflection”. (Postman, 2007) We are constantly looking to fill this void and instead of filling it with rational thought and reflection we are filling it with entertainment, applause and more images.

Another book that relates to the commercialism and the media is “Deer Hunting with Jesus”, by Joe Bageant. Bageant focuses strongly on class in America and claims that essentially people are enslaved by their environment. The system does not allow for people to leave the conditions of their upbringing and many of the people who live in middle and lower class parts of the country grow up to be uneducated. Bageant explains that some of these people can not even read. As a result, these people rely on their local politicians to make decisions on their behalf. The problem with this is that many politicians are greedy and corrupt and are often controlled by people who have more money. This means that they often don’t have the lower class interest at heart. Although the middle class’s problems are mostly self-perpetuated, it is not the middle-class fault that they are uneducated because they are being easily manipulated into staying this way. Not only are they being manipulated by politicians but also by the media in which they are consuming.

Bageant is distrustful of the media and comes up with a concept that he refers to as the hologram. “Caught up in the great self-referential hologram of imperial America, force-fed goods and hubris like fattened steers, working people like... flat-screen televisions and the idea of an American empire.” (Bageant, 2009) The hologram is a construct of how corporatized the media has become. He calls it the hologram because what a person thinks that they are seeing is not really there. It is a thinly fabricated image. If people took the time to really look at the image they would be able to see right through it. The hologram wants you to keep consuming mindless media so that you don’t pay attention to what is happening around you. If people stopped paying attention to what they see on television and hear on the radio, they would realize that their lives represent a large part of America’s problem. The average middle-class worker is basically willing to give up their sense of awareness in return for being entertained.

There are some people who might disagree with the idea that media impacts our self-identity. Some arguments that I might see against this are that we get our self-identity from our peers and family members rather than from media. If our peers and family members are being influenced by media, then are we not inadvertently also being influenced through them as well? It is difficult to tell just how pervasive media influence can be and there is no real way to measure it.

The agenda-setting theory who was proposed by McComb’s and Shaw in 1968 tell us that although media will not tell us exactly how to think that it will tell us what to think about. The media tells us what is important in our lives and this has an impact on how we live it. Previous trends in media can often predict future ones. Although Postman did not accurately predict how important television was going to be in our modern lives, television was replaced by the internet and social media and some would say that is equally if not more important to people.

While I do agree with the concept behind these books, both of them are extreme in describing medias negative infuence. Postman does not take into account that television can be entertaining and if it is something that is interesting to us it can inspire reflection. With social media, concepts and ideas are being passed around faster than ever before. If a person uses media with the hopes of being entertained then that might be all that they take away from it. If the person uses social media with the intention and purpose of learning and gaining an educational experience then I believe that they will be able to learn. Perhaps media is not what it used to be, but perhaps our brains have also adapted to process information at the speed in which we are looking at it, something that people in the written era of media would not have had the chance to do.

To change how media has become commercialized is something that I do not think we will be able to change. To change the way that media is set up would require a structural change in the system. We would have to find another way to fund media that doesn’t make them dependent upon funding from large corporations. If this were to happen more people would be dependent on local media sources where there are less competition and pressure to broadcast or print information that is not needed. Postman quoted that we are a hostage of our time. This stood out to me because being a hostage means we are being forced to live in this era when in reality, we don’t have to blindly accept the way that we are fed media. I think the most difficult part is realizing that you are a “hostage.” Once you realize the control that media has over you it becomes easier to change the way that is being used and to take control of the situation.

  • Bageant, J. (2009). Deer hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from Americas class war. Carlton North, Vic.: Scribe Publications
  • Postman, N. (2007). Amusing ourselves to death. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.
Updated: Jan 21, 2022
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Role of Media and Entertainment in American Society. (2022, Jan 21). Retrieved from

Role of Media and Entertainment in American Society essay
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