A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication

By Richard Jackson Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Media Portrayals of Groups:
Distorted Social Mirrors

Q: What percent of teenage girls from Fiji suffered from eating disorders in 1995, before the advent of television to the island nation, and how many after?

A: 3%in 1995. Three years later, 15%did, with another 29%“at risk” for eating disorders. 74%of the teens said they felt “too big and fat. ” (Goodman, 1999; Numbers, 1999)

Q: How do today's advertising models compare in weight to real women?

A: The models weigh 23%less than the average woman, compared to only 8%less in the 1970s. They are also taller and generally of a very unusual body type (tall, thin, small-hipped). If they have large breasts, they are probably implants, since women of that body type seldom have large breasts (Kilbourne, 1995). All this is happening at the same time as the average women's size has increased from 8 to 14 since 1985! (Kher, 2003)

Q: How many television commercials are targeted at people over 50?

A: Less than 10%, in spite of the fact that this group controls half of the disposable income in the United States.

What do you know about Mexican Americans? Arabs? Jews? Farmers? Schizophrenics? Aging people? One of the major perceived realities that media help create for us involves information about groups of people. Through media we are exposed to a much broader range of people than most of us would ever encounter in our own lives. Not only are media our introduction to these people, but sometimes they are practically the only source of our information about them. Sometimes everything that we know about some kinds of people comes from television. Some rural White North Americans have never seen any African Americans or Jews in person.

-53-

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