The debate continues over whether media influences behavior or whether media is a reflection of current behavior. I don’t know how long this argument has been going on, but I have heard it for over forty years. Social scientists line up on both sides of the question relating examples of scientific studies which, if believed, prove both positions to be true. Pretty confusing, huh?
Whenever I hear the question being raised, I am mindful of a story my dad and his brother used to tell.
My dad and his brother, John Andy, grew up in the depression, the sons of a sharecropper, working the fields owned by others. One of their special treats was the rare occasion they got to go to a Saturday matinee at the movie theatre in Paducah, Kentucky. (It cost a dime!)
One such Saturday they saw a Gene Autry movie. (For those of you too young to know who Gene Autry was, he was the “Singing Cowboy” that paved the way for the likes of Roy Rogers. And if you don’t know who Roy Rogers was, then I’ll have to say your parents severely neglected to raise you properly.)
In this particular Gene Autry movie, the damsel in distress was tied up in a dry gulch by the man wearing a black hat. (It didn’t matter what his name was. Bad guys always wore black hats.) Gene Autry receives word that the lovely lady’s life is in peril because the bad guys are going to blow up a dam at the head of the gulch and flood it.
Taking a running start, Gene leaps onto his trusty steed, Champion. (I have to admit I tried that one time, too. It’s probably why I was able to sing tenor for such a long time into adolescence.) Champion tears out, running like the wind.
They get to the edge of the gulch where Gene peers down and sees the helpless victim. At the same time he hears the explosion further up the canyon. There is no time to waste!
He gets off of Champion, ties one end of his lasso around the horn of the saddle and the other end around his waist. He then slowly rappels down to the hapless victim.
The water is rushing toward them in the background. Gene hoists the lady and whistles at Champion who responds by slowly pulling them to safety, just in the nick of time! (Whew! I get breathless just retelling it.)
Well, my dad and John Andy were mesmerized by that scene and thought they would try it out when they got home. Unfortunately they did not have a Champion. Actually they didn’t even have a horse. All their plowing was done by mules. But that was not going to deter them from reenacting the most exciting thing they’d ever seen.
I’m not sure how it was decided, but my dad got to be Gene first. He tied one end of a rope around his waist and the other end around the neck of Mike, one of their mules. He let himself down into a deep ditch on the farm they were working as John Andy watched closely.
What happened next depends on who was telling this story. My dad said that John Andy (who, truth be known, had a serious reputation as a prankster) spooked the mule, whereas John Andy said that he doesn’t know what got into Mike. But whatever the cause, Mike suddenly and without warning bolted into a dead run.
My dad was jerked up the side of the ditch so fast he almost lost his pants. Mike ran so fast that my dad bounced along behind him like the tin cans tied on the bumper of a wedding party’s car. He was skinned from head to toe! (I think that John Andy lost some skin later on a peach tree switch that was wielded by my grandmother.)
So here’s my point that takes me to my opening paragraph. If my dad and uncle had not seen that Gene Autry movie, it would never have occurred to them to try such feat. But seeing it was enough to set their imaginations spinning.
It’s a humorous story that I use to make a serious point. None of us has control over what the media spews at us, but we do need to try to control what parts of it our children and grandchildren are exposed to. Children are having a more and more difficult time differentiating fantasy from what is real. Those media messages are not as harmless as you think.