In Chapter 8, Baran and Davis write, “Media affect society because they affect how culture is created, learned, shaped, and applied” (Baran & Davis 199). In this quote, Baran and Davis argue that media directly shape a culture’s values and beliefs, and therefore, the messages we get from the media cause us to behave and think in certain ways.
In consuming media, we are consuming an infinite number of symbols. People who study semiotics, which is the study of symbols, try to figure out how people interpret symbols and how their interpretations affect both individuals’ lives and a culture as a whole. Therefore, my blog is going to focus on how alcohol is symbolized in the media, the messages linked to this symbolization, and if these messages affect our culture.
We all know that alcohol use is extremely common in college campuses across the country. In an article from USA Today from March 11, 2009, author Mary Beth Marklain writes, “Nearly half of college freshmen who drink alcohol spend more time drinking each week than they do studying, suggests a survey involving more than 30,000 first-year students on 76 campuses who took an online alcohol education course last fall” (http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-03-11-college-drinking_N.htm). This finding indicates that drinking is obviously an important part of college life and culture.
In the media, alcohol is glorified. People shown in alcohol commercials are depicted as popular, outgoing, and sociable. Advertisements for alcohol picture people who are attractive and glamorous (for example, this advertisement for Skyy Vodka - http://contexts.org/socimages/files/2009/01/skyy21.jpg). These outgoing, sociable, attractive, and glamorous people are symbols we learn to associate with alcohol. Therefore, the message linked to these symbols is that if you drink, you can be like these people too. In article by Judith Williamson in McQuail’s Reader in Mass Communication Theory called “Meaning and Ideology” Williamson writes, “…diamonds may be marketed by likening them to eternal love, creating a symbolism where the mineral means something not in its own terms, as a rock, but in human terms, as a sign. Thus a diamond comes to ‘mean’ love and endurance for us” (McQuail 300). Diamonds are advertised in such a way that we link them to love and endurance, while alcohol is advertised in a way that links drinking to making a person more popular and more attractive. However, is that really the case? MTV’s annual broadcast of spring break in Cancun shows plenty of young people drinking heavily, yet fails to show any of the consequences resulting from their partying. In portraying alcohol so positively, the media often ignores showing its negative effects. What do you think? Do you think increasing levels of alcohol use and alcoholism in college students is a direct effect of the symbols and message linked to alcohol in the media? If alcohol was not so glorified in the media do you think it would be as big of a problem on college campuses as it is today? Or do the media not really play any role in determining college students’ drinking habits?