Do you remember the Matrix movies?
You should. For one simple reason:
The media is our matrix.
Todd Gitlin, one of the leading thinkers on media and our lives, says that “the torrent of images, songs, and stories streaming has become our familiar world.” This “torrent” determines what we see and what we don’t, what we think about and what never enters our mind.
Marshall McLuhan, an earlier thinker on all things media, warned that: “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.”
But like the matrix in the movie, most of us aren’t aware of it.
We don’t see how immersed in it we are.
Gitlin offers a parable about a customs officer who observes a truck pulling up at the border.
Suspicious, he conducts a thorough and painstaking search of the vehicle but finds nothing.
This begins a pattern where week-by-week, the driver approaches the border, the truck is searched, and nothing is found.
Yet the customs officer is convinced that there is contraband.
Finally, after many years, the officer is set to retire.
Once again, the driver pulls up, and the officer says:
“I know you’re a smuggler... don’t bother denying it. But... [I can’t] figure out what you’ve been smuggling all these years. I’m leaving now. I swear to you I can do you no harm. Won’t you please tell me what you’ve been smuggling?”
And the driver says, “Trucks.”
Point of the parable? What the media have been smuggling is the habit of living with the media.
And being shaped by it – knowingly or not.
For example, think of MTV. As MTV’s founding chairman, Bob Pittman, stated in a 1982 interview: “If you can get their emotions going, make them forget their logic, you’ve got them. At MTV, we don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds, we own them.”
And nowhere does media own us more than in regard to our sexual lives.
Did you know that most children aren’t exposed to sexual content on the internet as much as they are through television and music?
And it’s quite an exposure.
Just think about Friends, which ran for ten years between 1994 and 2004, and is now one of the most popular shows in syndication.
But not innocent.
A survey of all 236 episodes of the NBC sitcom found that the characters had a total of 85 sexual partners – and that’s only counting those who appeared on screen.
What does that do to us?
More than we realize.
This is important. What the media does is normalize things. If you see likable characters on TV having sex outside of marriage enough times, it becomes not only acceptable, but desirable. That’s why Fred Fedler, author of one of the most widely used college textbooks on the mass media, writes that “the media may constitute the most powerful education system ever known to man.”
And not just education, but indoctrination.
The real power of media is how it makes you feel.
If I can get you to feel a certain way, I can get you to think a certain way and to act a certain way.
I can make something that was once condemned approved of.
I can make you oppose something you used to support.
If I can get your emotions – your feelings – I own you.
And that’s exactly what media does.
What made homosexuality so culturally accepted in such a rapid period of time? That’s easy. It was Ellen, followed by Modern Family.
(It began even earlier with Billy Crystal and a show called Soap, but I don’t imagine many of you will remember that. But it was probably the first volley that softened any defense.)
Now we have the final cultural stake in the heart of any last resistance. Disney is putting its first “exclusively gay moment” into its new live version of Beauty and the Beast.
Yes, Beauty and the Beast.
It’s not the first time Disney has tried to introduce gay characters and situations. But this is the first “official” entry into the media mix.
I’ll be honest… I have no doubt it will be an amazing movie. But I also hope that it bombs, and that the reason the media picks up on is because of Disney’s gay agenda.
Maybe that will slow things down a bit.
Not stop the slide, mind you…
… but maybe just long enough to see the beast in what is being put forward as the beauty.
James Emery White
Todd Gitlin, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives.
Marshall McLuhan with Quentin Fiore, The Medium Is the Message: An Inventory of Effects.
“‘Friends’ Cast Had 85 Sexual Partners Over 10-Season Run,” Fox News, July 28, 2011, read online.
Fred Fedler, An Introduction to the Mass Media.
Hannah Furness, “Disney’s First ‘Exclusively Gay Moment’ Hits Screens in Beauty and the Beast,” The Telegraph, March 1, 2017, read online.
“The Secret - and Not So Secret - Gay Disney Characters,” The Telegraph, March 2, 2017, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.