In preparation for the Documentary module this second year, Debbie had emailed all students taking part asking them to watch a documentary to discuss in session. I relished this because such a long absence from academical work had began to start making me complacent and unmotivated. I scanned the Internet for a documentary I thought looked like it would be interesting to review, as well as appropriate for this specific course and genre of film making. Finally settling on an American documentary named The Mean World Syndrome (Earp, 2010).
This documentary is a look into the term coined by media scholar George Gerbner (1919-2005) 'Mean World Syndrome' which is an aspect of his Cultivation Theory of Media. This part of the theory suggests that peoples beliefs in violence and crime is escalated due to their constant exposure to it in forms of media, especially the news.
Thousands of films in modern culture use anti-heroes as protagonists, often glorifying murder and other forms of violence, this has led to violence becoming a popular form of entertainment value subconsciously to viewers from a young age. This film uses hundreds of short clips from movies that millions of people will have seen in their lifetime, instantly recognisable from violent scenes or characters specifically. This can also be attributed to modern video games where murder is a key, or the key goal to achieve. The documentary discusses how these popular images have an affect on the mentality of a viewer in regards their fear of violent acts on screen in comparison to the fear of real life examples.
The main goal of this documentary though it seemed to me, was to expose news in particular, and business, for the fear factor passed off in informative media. The news has ever increasingly over time, become more and more filled with articles and features on murder, violence and anti-social behaviour, which leads a viewer to think these things are on the rise and a constant danger to themselves. The Mean World Syndrome compares these fears to statistical figures which actually suggest that crime and violence is decreasing rapidly year on year.
These figures alone made me consider my own worry of violence and the possibility of ever finding myself in a situation that involves it. Then compare that to what I'm fed day in day out on television and in newspapers. It seems that the shortage of fear in a real world environment makes the news corporations sensationalise stories to create a scaremongering society.
This documentary in particular, being based in America, went on to feature a segment of 'race within media'. Which went on to discuss the victimisation and glorification of certain races in their different genres of media. For example, they discussed how black male characters in drama series' are often given very important successful careers and are well educated and fit perfectly into their environment. Whereas, in comparison, the American news constantly uses articles and cases of black men in violent and anti-social activities on a daily basis. Generating a negative impression on viewers and pushing fear into society in what a newsreader will pass off as 'factual media'. They also went into statistical detail on population to media representation in media. Explaining how the population of Hispanic Americans was vastly disproportionate to the representation of Hispanic characters in their programmed or films. Who once again tend to be portrayed as violent and angry.
It ended on a note which I feel is most relevant to the entire world at present, which is the media portrayal of Islam. News channels, Films and also television series' have become inundated with stories of terrorism and war in recent years, which is either verbally or subconsciously always attributed to Islam, and is creating a worldwide fear in society.
Overall I found this documentary very insightful, it makes me think of the programming and films that I watch myself and how they can be found guilty of such usage of fear on viewers, and also in how I can try to potentially stop myself from falling into the same trap.