Marty Pelletier Essay Research Paper Channels of

Marty Pelletier Essay, Research Paper

Channels of Identification

When we see stories on the news of children murdering each other, what

must we think in terms of responsibility and which influences

contributed to the decisions which left four children and a teacher

dead? Who is responsible? How do we as individuals make decisions?

What in our culture influences our behavior and impacts our value

systems? More specifically, what exactly does it mean to be

influenced? I have chosen television as my focus because I feel it is

the most successful media in terms of sculpting social values and,

therefore, social relations. The examination of the television

industry, with an emphasis on communication (through perception and

subsequent identification), yields answers to these questions that are

so essential to understanding core sociological themes. I will first

discuss how the process of acculturation produces the human need to

create a personal identity every second, and the inherent implications

of the role of communication toward this goal of self-identification. I

will examine why television fits this human need so perfectly, as it

presents an incredibly safe place to identify without being judged in


Television is notorious for its ability to create and alter our concept

of reality, but how did it become such a powerful influence? Which

human cultural need produced such a demand for a medium that can be

passively consulted for clues to our personal identities? What is the

nature of the interaction that people have with television? The act of

watching television highlights a number of phenomena that explain the

culture of television. The key players are the programs on TV and the

viewers, the latter creating a need for the former. After all,

television would have no place in a world with no viewers. Television

is a profound clue in to the inter-workings of the larger culture, as

well as to the nature of human behavior, in that it reflects our

weaknesses and goals, and the extremely exploitive nature of power.

^?Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced,

maintained, repaired, and transformed^?. This process is enabled by the

fact that communication is necessary for human survival. The very

nature of humans as a social animal accounts for such a need to

communicate. The media^?s ability to influence the individual and serve

as a cultural resource is the result of the individual^?s incessant

search for identity, which established a permanent niche for television

in society. In other words, it was our need to be influenced, to have a

resource of clues as to our identity, which made television an authority

in values and ideas about reality. TV is important because we as humans

need to identify ourselves everyday and it is an easy and safe way to

reinforce what you want to see. It is a basis for interpreting and

defining our environment, about which we are constantly having to learn

and adjust. I will argue that inherent to human social relations is the

need to identify oneself in the moment in order to know how to respond.

All living organisms have a fundamental need to interpret their

environment in order to survive, and to do so as efficiently as

possible. This raises the issue of why humans have such a need to find

identity in sources outside of the self. The answer lies in the fact

that humans do not have instincts, meaning that we do not have the

luxury of having access to predetermined responses to stimuli within the

environment. As such, we have to scan and consult our environment

(culture) to learn a system of responses that appeals to us

individually. Orchestrated by the ^?self^?, our perceptual data from our

five senses is filtered and interpreted based on how we need to see the

world. Every second we are efficiently interpreting only the necessary

stimuli that must be responded to according to our self-created

investments. This is the reason you have not felt your feet in your

shoes until just now, there was no reason to. In a very real sense, we

are controlled by our investments in that it is in our investments that

we make or break our identities. Where we look then, what we listen to

is almost chosen for us (and yet somehow by us) as we are driven to

create an identity every moment based on the brain^?s incredible need to

efficiently respond to its perceptions. We take clues from family,

educators, role models, peers, and the media, among others. Television

was designed in such a way that it is easy for us to consult it for

quick answers about who we want to be, what appropriate behavior is, how

we want our society to view us, how we want to spend our time. This is

a critical aspect to TV^?s ability to impact us. It takes very little

energy for us to turn on the TV, it allows us to forget about the stress

in our own life, it does not require that we speak with anyone or have

to defend our ideals, it is optimistic in that it convinces us that we

can always be prettier, richer, better, and always more accepted by

others, only with the help of their products of course.

My intention in purposing this thesis of self-identification as the

basis of all communication is to show where the relationship between

perceiver and perceived truly lies, as this will show where

responsibility rests. I will demonstrate why TV is so appealing to our

impressionable nature, and why it is so potentially dangerous. I say

potentially because I will simultaneously argue that it is the perceiver

that ultimately must react to the message, and that although accountable

for her reaction, she is not necessarily in control. This idea that

humans are accountable for their perceptions while not being in control

of them may seem awkward or even conflicting, yet it is evidenced in

this theory of self. This theory is instrumental in illustrating the

process of perceiving, and thus the formation of values, because it

reflects how and why humans allow their mass media to affect them. It

is in the way in which we perceive an event, a commercial, or a

conversation that determines what we think about it, and therefore

whether to invest energy in it. The real question is what determines

how we perceive, how much influence is taken, how much is forced?

Television is an authority in social values because we invest so heavily

in its messages. In other words, people have assigned to television the

role of educator, informant, and mentor through our reliance upon it for

clues. Commercials serve to tell us what products, attitudes, and

behaviors we need to be socially acceptable, and characters model the

lives that we ought to lead. Through these means television sculpts our

ideas of success, health, beauty, happiness, love, and morality, of

which these productions avow to be an authority. However, it must be

acknowledged that viewers are those that truly make TV an authority in

social relations and ideals. The producers simply live up to such


The initial step in television^?s ability to influence us is its capacity

to hold our attention in the first place, long enough to impact us and

leave a lasting impression. Television has long been a greater source

of entertainment than books or lasting conversations about life. We

turn to it and dedicate more time to watching than we do to any other

leisure activities. It is from these large proportions of invested time

that television derives its power as a primary influence. Furthermore,

the viewing of television is a ^?safe^? activity because we are not judged

as we view, no one knows what reaction we have to what we see is in the

privacy of our own mind; whereas with speaking we have to risk having

our ideas refuted.

The second step in television^?s success in influencing us is through its

array of programs, messages, and realities, which ensures that everyone

will find something that speaks to them and provides some sort of

desirable feedback. Television is a powerful invention in that it allows

channels to human identity. Satellite TV, (soon DHTV) and comprehensive

cable programs present hundreds of channels with individual programming

that have the power to captivate anyone, regardless of background or

belief. This makes it easy to identify. Producers are able,

furthermore, to determine in which ways we identify with the messages

through Nielson ratings and product sales, and continually reinforce

whatever values or messages that sells. This selling of attention makes

billionaires of certain CEOs and immediately raises questions of

responsibility, morality, and where exactly free-will lies in a society

so structured in conformity.

Producers of programs and advertising are well aware of the competition

they have with other sources for clues as to identity. Being the

quickest, easiest, and least expensive product through which values and

answers are communicated is an asset that makes it so influential. This

is why millions of dollars are offered per episode to a comedian living

in New York City for playing the part of a comedian living in NYC.

Conglomerates of businesses, thousands of jobs, all rest on product

sales. Americans have become so addicted to finding our personal

identity in consumerism that Jerry Seinfeld has become extremely

influential to our economy.

Is it too late? Are we already so conditioned to need to be influenced

by the same messages that we can^?t see it? Are corporations already so

invested in their own growth that to take their ^?customers^? well being

in to account would be bankruptcy? A perfect example is the Tobacco

Industry. They are so incredibly invested in their worldwide

distribution of nicotine that they knowingly target children, heighten

nicotine levels, and then lie about its addictive nature and ability to

kill if used properly. They were not born evil, I believe they have

just learned to identify themselves by not looking at the consequences

of their actions. This would be pretty easy with billions of dollars to

spend and a true belief that one is simply offering a product for sale,

as a public service almost.

Smoking cigarettes is another perfect example of how the ^?self^? needs to

find identity. The act of inhaling cigarette smoke is incredibly

dangerous to one^?s body and yet I feel that is exactly why kids do it.

They know its not healthy, they smoke because it^?s not healthy. Smoking

started out as a social activity but as it became a ^?dirty habit^?,

suddenly it was attractive to anyone who wanted to rebel or make a

statement, namely teenagers. They smoke because it^?s cool and important

to claim your independence as a teenager. What better way than to show

that they can successfully ingest one of the most harmful substances

known to man. The recent uproar and court cases over tobacco, I

believe, only gives kids more reason to smoke as they see how easy it is

to find identity in what others believe is bad. That is why they snuck

that first cigarette in the first place. What are the implications of

all individuals needing to find their own identity and a society so

attached to its products? Are we growing in our consumerist need to

find our^?selves^? or will this trend result in an intense rebellion when

the cards are finally laid on the table and everyone sees the true

relationship of a commidified culture to it^?s need to identify?

To what extent does conformity promote a stable society and at what

point does it limit its possibilities? What responsibility do

corporations have in sending messages that could easily harm social

relations, such as the beauty myth, or the problem of drinking and

driving? What freedoms are granted by our Amendments and further

reinforced by our government^?s subsidizations? What is my

responsibility? I hope to attack these questions, based on the above

assumptions, in my next paper.

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