The Truth We Can't Afford to Ignore: Popular Culture, Media Influence, and the Role of Public School

The Truth We Can't Afford to Ignore: Popular Culture, Media Influence, and the Role of Public School

Danielle Ligocki (Oakland University, USA) and Martha Ann Wilkins (Lewis University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0000-2.ch004

Abstract

Popular media has become a central aspect of life for many individuals. With that exposure to media comes imagery that contains messages both covert and overt that are readily consumed by the viewers. Adolescents are especially influenced by these images because of their frequency and use of media. This study addresses the ways in which middle school students interpret and internalize stereotypical imagery found in popular culture, specifically reality television, and examines the role of the teacher and greater school community in helping students to identify and mediate stereotypical images. Through participatory literacy strategies, classrooms everywhere can become an educative, critical, thoughtful space for both students and teacher.
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Theoretical Framework

In order to analyze the ways in which the participants of this study viewed, interacted with, and consequently internalized the stereotypical images and messages found in various reality television programs, social cognitive theory was used. Social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986, 1994, 2001) is a research lens used to explain the effects that television and other forms of mass media have on the perceptions of its viewers. According to this theory, individuals create cognitive symbols and meaning from images situated in environmental events (Bandura, 1994, 2001), which is why it is imperative to examine individual’s thoughts and perceptions of reality television and other ‘constructed’ media images. This study sought to use social cognitive theory as a means of understanding the ways in which participants were making meaning and assigning meaning from images in popular culture, specifically those found within reality television programs.

A central tenant of social cognitive theory is the role of modeling. Models can be formed for individuals through interpersonal observations or from media sources; these models can then act as a guide for governing one’s own behaviors and attitudes (Bandura, 1986, 1994, 2001, Williams, 2008). These models are external observations created from images that influence the individual’s actions and beliefs. This means that through consumption of various media images, a viewer’s own behaviors and attitudes can adapt to reflect more closely those that have served as models. Bandura furthers this notion by positing that some viewers even go on to imitate said behaviors through what he refers to as ‘social prompting’ (Bandura, 1986, 1994, 2001) Thus, it is important to understand the frequency and types of models that young people are exposed to as indicators of how they might internalize these messages. “People have the potential to and will behave altruistically if given examples and models to follow” (Williams, 2008). However, it is important to note that the influence of media imagery does not influence individuals in isolation.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Critical Media Literacy: An approach to literacy instruction that not only examines a variety of texts (including digital texts) but also encourages students to question issues of power, voice, representation, and equity.

Reality Television: Popular programming on network and cable television that purports to present the real lives of people in an unscripted way.

Hegemony: Ideas commonly accepted as truth, with very little question or critique.

Pedagogy: Something that serves as the function of a teacher or the work of teaching.

Social Cognitive Theory: A research lens used to explain the effects that different forms of imagery have on the perceptions of individuals. According to this theory, individuals create cognitive symbols and meaning from images situated in environmental events.

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