Mass Media is an umbrella term used to describe any technology created in order to form a line of communication with the masses. It is often the first port of call for many people to get information regarding local and global news; as well as a source of entertainment in the form of Film, Video Games, and Music. As culture and technology are becoming more entwined, the amount of reach and influence held by Mass Media expands. With the rise of social media’s popularity with young people in the last decade there has been an emergence of news sources that are primarily aimed at youths, creating further influence between media companies and their audience (Campaign, 2015). As a result of the vast ‘control’ the media holds over young people, there have been many claims that mass media is to blame for negative youth cultures such as violence and anti-social behavior (Oxford Academic, 2016).
One of the biggest forms of mass media that have been targeted as a cause for negative youth culture is the film industry. There have been many claims made that both violence and smoking in films encourage youth to partake in the actions they view on screen. The US Surgeon General stated in 2012 that “The evidence is sufficient to conclude that there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people” (World Health Organisation, 2015, p.5); consequently creating a ‘movement’ that now blames motion pictures for smoking initiation among young people. However, it is difficult to assess the validity of such claims due to the nature of the research being recorded. Smoking among children and young people has always been a societal issue, but the number of young people smoking in the UK has been on a steady decline since 2002 (Action on Smoking and Health, 2019) whilst the popularity of the film has been rising and its content expanding. It could be argued that because of this it is almost impossible to find a correlation between smoking shown on screen and the numbers of young people smoking, especially considering the reductionist approach to most of the studies completed; completely ignoring other statistics and causes of smoking in young people such as smoking parents and friends that smoke as well as other environmental and social factors.
The film industry has also been accused of causing violent behaviors in youth culture through the violence depicted on screen by many directors. Quentin Tarantino, a director who prides himself on his use of hyper-violence in his films believes that the violence he creates is not there to convey a message, it is merely a part of his “palette” (Peary, 2013, p.22). He goes on to state his belief that as an artist with violence being part of his talent he cannot stop to think about the cause it will have on society or an individual as that would be putting on “handcuffs”, restraining the art he can produce; a restraint that other forms of artists such as novelists and painters are not expected to adhere to. This point is debatable though as not all directors associated with the use of violence would agree with him. After the release of A Clockwork Orange (1971), Stanley Kubrick’s most controversial film which focuses on a posse of young degenerates committing a string of crimes, there were reports of ‘copycat’ attacks on people that drew inspiration from the film’s protagonist (Foster, 2019). As a result of this Kubrick personally decided to have the film withdrawn from circulation in 1972 up until his death in 1999 (Schneider, 2006, p.536); this was shocking at the time as Kubrick had spoken on his views on the influence of violence in movies has, feeling that the idea of film making violence seems “attractive” as completely “incorrect”). His opinion on the matter was clearly altered, leaving him horrified by the powerful impact of his film on the world, more specifically on young men. This, for some, is still not enough to blame the film for negative youth culture as “no film can hypnotize ordinary cinemagoers into violence”, but can become a “template” for those already “disaffected and disturbed” (Collin, 2019); film acting as a reflection of society’s problems, not a cause.
The music industry is another hugely influential part of mass media that has started to be researched to see if there is a causal bond between music and negative youth culture. As the content of music continues to become more explicit (Newsweek, 2017) and artists are given more freedom to produce works that include substance abuse, violence, and sexual stereotyping it is more important than ever to fully understand its impact on society’s young people. Music forms a substantial role in the development of identity and relationship forming as well as being a medium to balance and understand emotions in many young people (AAP, 2009) because of this, it is imperative to look at how all of the roles music has in a young person’s development is affected by the content that is included in the music, be it lyrically or visually in music videos. Another element that needs to be taken into consideration is how accessible music has become for youths through the internet (ITU, 2017) and television making it far more difficult for parents to monitor and control what their children are listening to. Studies have been conducted to find the connection between substance use in music and the opinions that young people have surrounding substance use; the conclusion to one of these studies being that as youths become immersed in music videos with substance use they begin to believe that personal substance use will have positive consequences (School of Business, 2017) which could actively encourage young people to pursue substance use in some form. However, this may not be enough to blame music for negative youth culture as drug use in young people and music have always run perpendicular to each other, from 1940s jazz influencing heroin use to 1960’s mod music creating a trend of amphetamines in London teens (Guardian, 2008) which suggests that music is not the catalyst for drug use, rather the role models that fill the industries are.
Television news broadcasting is another important part of forming youth culture through the way in which they choose to represent the information they are sharing. Many news reports on television that involve violence and youth are presented in an episodic manner, focusing on the people and the crime itself rather than taking a thematic approach which would investigate the context surrounding the crime (Dorfman, 1997) this, therefore, leaves the audience with a narrower understanding of the situation, ultimately ‘molding’ the way they perceive the story. With this lack of information on the social context, it can be argued that the news is leaving youths unequipped to assess the cause of crimes that are happening in their communities and therefore unable to be a part of violence prevention, indirectly condoning violence among youths.
It is unquestionable that all forms of mass media have an effect on youth culture, whether it be negative or positive. However, it would be hearsay to claim that it is a primary cause for negative youth culture as media has always been a ‘mirror’ for society in which an ongoing dialogue is created, making many current social and cultural issues easier to be properly understood and consequently dealt with by the masses. It must also be taken into account that many of the causes for concern surrounding mass media and youth culture are generally involved with issues of accessibility to inappropriate media rather than the content itself, either due to the difficulty of monitoring what youths are viewing as well issues with classification boards across both the film and music industries not appropriately labeling who the content is safe for. The BBFC (British Board of Film Certification) has expressed its difficulty in giving films an appropriate age rating as the suitability of content for specific age groups will vary among individuals based on aspects such as personal culture and experiences of the audience (BBFC, 2010). Despite this, there are specific cases where mass media has been the direct cause of negative youth culture but these cases are normally influenced by many other factors, not solely media. This was demonstrated in 2012 in the Colorado cinema shooting during which James Holmes shot and killed multiple people claiming to be ‘The Joker’, the antagonist of the film being premiered. Although the massacre seems to be caused directly by the film, Holmes was prone to brief psychotic breaks; allegedly confessing homicidal thoughts to his psychiatrist prior to the shooting (Psychology Today, 2015.). This factor makes it difficult to place sole blame on the content of the film. It could be argued that by taking this factor into consideration it is clear that the film itself is not to blame, rather it is just used as a means of presenting violence and aggression for people with aggressive predispositions.