In this day and age, violence is everywhere – in movies, cartoons, reality TV, magazines, video games, music, etc. All platforms share the same social media off of which we base our own individual culture … Or do we?
Since around the 1960s and the birth of rock-n’-roll (or even track back to the 1920s’ evolution of jazz and blues), America has had moral input into that with which we surround ourselves and listen to, output by media moguls. Thus, the idea of censorship has always tagged along with our first amendment rights. What is appropriate and inappropriate is eventually controlled by FCC once an individual sense of expression is introduced to a public forum. This begs the question, to whom are we expressing ourselves? Perhaps more importantly, from whom are we getting these ideas in the first place? Is it really individual thought or even rebellion posed as expression, or just a subliminal message introduced to us by these public forums that are restricting the very right and art form we are supposed to be encouraged to displaying?
Media conglomerates define us as ‘individuals’, while undermining our freedoms to individual success by masking our life ambitions with materialism, stereotypes, and tunnel vision. This may explain increased rates of violent incidents such as mass shootings, bullying, and domestic violence. When stress occurs, we become reduced to looking to public figures rather than our own local resources, which are readily available, because our vision and standard of living is restricted by a larger, unseen force.
This perplexity is explained in the 2012 documentary film, Miss Representation, “It has been proved in the field of advertising that sex sells, and companies race their commercials and magazine advertisements to an invisible finish line to see who can be more daring and provocative” (Steve Pulaski, IMDB). This can easily be compared to the media and violence as well.
Flash forward to August 8th, 2013. Posted as an update with social networking mogul, Facebook, internet trend sharing company BuzzFeed revealed gruesome details of the murder of South Florida resident Jennifer Alfonso by her husband, Derek Medina. The author of the piece warned the audience of “graphic images”. That said, nothing could have prepared me for the shock and alarm I experience when I scrolled through the text and was confronted with a mobile phone picture of Jennifer Alfonso, dead – shot several time and slumped backward in a kitchen corner. It was horrifying to see a once-vibrant human being now lifeless and dead. Even more shocking was that this execution-style murder was allowed to be distributed among trending sites and subsequently to a global audience (daring not to refer to it as “journalism). Facebook was a prime sharing platform for the horrible image. Perhaps even more shocking was the accompanying link to Derek Medina’s Facebook profile link, where the image was originally posted.
I have argued that contemporary media – filled with vulgar sexual and violent content – has only served to push proverbial buttons and activate “hotspots” in the social-psychological areas of our brains. Yet, people forget that the content with which we’re presented in the media is all relative to how we perceive our own realities. Looking to outside sources to channel our emotions has surpassed what most would consider healthy levels.
What happened to having a meaningful conversation with someone, in good times or bad? When was the last time you, as a consumer, took the time out of your day to physically relieve stress in a positive way? When was the last time you were without your phone and weren’t worried about it? We’ve become so dependent on mass media to meet our emotional and social needs that we don’t seem to be able to recall what life is like without it. Anything that is fed to us through music, TV, video games, movies, magazines, and so-called “news” becomes our reality. We manifest this projection of “reality” in our actions, without self-evaluation and sense of identity.
This is what is lacking . . . a sense of individual worth.
This is what creates stress and unrealistic perception of others, as well as ourselves. It’s what fuels anger and loneliness. It’s what promotes violence, bloodshed, and death. The mental switch that regulates empathy and morality becomes broken. As a society, we must act with unity and intent to ‘fix it’; after all, we got into this mess together . . .
As a prevention educator for middle school and high school youth, I’ve noticed what young minds feed off of – a sense of self-worth through environmental identity. They are sponges for anything their community is feeding them, including perceptions of “normal” violent activity and “acceptable” media dependency. They are our next generation, but their faces are glued to their phones. Should we wonder why teenage suicide rates are rising among younger age groups? Is it any surprise that school shootings have become a rising American trend over the past decade?
There is little information about Derek Medina, but while this case remains active, additional details are sure to emerge. What we do know is that he worked as a property management supervisor and was an aspiring actor and writer. His Facebook profile shows that he had an interest in martial arts and weaponry.He had a small stint as an actor and was an extra in a scene on the TV series Burn Notice. He alos published many “self-help” e-books. In a tragic twist of fate, some of these e-books were written about saving one’s marriage. In his horrific Facebook post, he alleges that he was being abused by his wife and that he often turned to Facebook to mitigate stress. Medina even went so far as to apologize to his “Facebook family” after murdering his wife. After a period of five hours, Facebook removed the gruesome image of Jennifer Alfonso’s murdered body, but not after BuzzFeed shared it with the world.
What did BuzzFeed want to prove with all this? That answer isn’t clear.
What is clear is that if we want to see change, we must start with ourselves. If we want to end violence, which ultimately affects us all, we must emulate respect, empathy, and compassion. Violence in our culture is pervasive and unlikely to abate anytime soon. However we can choose to reach out to those closest to us, particularly in times of duress (as opposed to ignoring or actively pushing them away, or assuming that “everything is fine”). We can choose to focus on the positive contributions that others make – either to those around them, or to society in general. We can choose to acknowledge good people who have a consistent ‘presence’ and availability for all levels of help and support (e.g., expert local community agencies) as we move forward. Eventually, we will come to the realization that mass media only provides a very narrow slice reality – life, in all of its richness, complexity and variety – is so much more interesting than the media could ever capture.
Youth Education & Advocacy Coordinator
YWCA Monterey County