In light of the Japan earthquake and the tsunami that followed after, the large number of pictures and videos were rampant on the internet, especially on Youtube.com and reputed news websites such as BBC.
Marshall McLuhan (1967) media determinism theory states that the medium is more important that the message. In this case, instead of just printed words, the disaster that struck Japan was depicted through pictures of the after effects and videos of the tsunami swallowing Sendai through news agencies on television and on the Internet. No doubt that the message is important, the method of delivering the message determines how the audiences react.
Pictures and videos convey more than just the information we need to know, it conveys the emotions and plight of the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. If the whole crisis was relayed through chunks of printed words, there would be very little, if not no trigger of emotions from the audience. Therefore, like how the old saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. It is only after seeing what Japan has become that we can visualize and sympathize with the tsunami victims.
Moreover, the Japan crisis happened only shortly after Christchurch’s unfortunate disaster. Together with these headline news are news update on Libya’s protests and revolts, the Ivory Coast crisis. It is not just these recent news, news reported have always been more bad than good. According to George Gerbner (1976), his cultivation theory states that people who watches television more than four hours daily are exposed to more violence and therefore are affected by the Mean World Syndrome, an idea that the world is worse than it actually is.
Ergo, we cannot blame the Mayans or Nostradamus for the many different prophecies of how the world will end and how large numbers of the masses actually firmly believe in these predictions. It is the fault of natural and human disasters that sparked such beliefs, which was made worst by the media. The media influences its audience gradually and cultivates the idea of how the world is more violent and mean than it actually is.
Aside from what is real, television programs also further aggravates the Mean World Syndrome with the thriller and crime genres. Local television often show kidnaps, gang fights and other crimes which do not usually happen in a safe and secure country like Singapore. In addition, imported foreign television dramas with more exaggerated story lines further exacerbates the whole idea that the world is worse than it actually is.
We need to have our own sets of filters to sieve out what is real and what has been exaggerated by the media through the use of television. We cannot allow the media to shape how we view the world, and most of all, we being the receiving end of the media needs to know that the world is not as mean as it is being portrayed on television.
Having said that, is this really possible? Can we really be unaffected by the media? Or are we already panicking inside after receiving all these bad news?