Mass media are important in figuring ourselves out. Insights into the human condition come from prose, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in every medium. Mass media are powerful vehicles for self and other exploration. Think about listening to a moving obituary on a pivotal person in our society, or reading a powerful novel—Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun on the price of war or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and imagine how you were changed by content of those media. Ideas that have changed our worldview gained traction and acceptance as mediated messages— Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, or Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique—all were fundamentally transformative in their own way. The whole range of media products, as diverse as sappy television sitcoms, somber radio documentaries, and online brooding anime cartoons, can tell us something about ourselves.
Mass media has such a strong impact on the thoughts, attitudes, opinions, and behavior that people often turn to certain types of media when they want to be enlightened and educated. Consider bibliotherapy—a form of self-therapy involving an individual who is seeking enlightenment and transformative change by reading self-help books or inspirational novels. Many people who saw the movie The Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of walking the Pacific Crest Trail alone in order to deal with her grief in the wake of her mother’s death, became determined to do something similar to deal with their own heartbreak. Essentially, mass media are an ideal way to gain insights about ourselves and the world around us, to be moved emotionally, to feel connected with something larger than ourselves, to gain new perspectives, and to experience personal growth.
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