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I wish to record my sincerest gratitude to Professor Jacob Srampickal

for patiently guiding me to write this research. His suggestions influenced the

structure as well the contents of the study. I also wish to acknowledge that my

decision to do a research on the effects of television was inspired by his course

on Media Education, one of several courses he teaches at the Gregorian


I extend my gratitude to Rev. Fr. Robert White for providing me with a

bibliography, which proved very useful in the cause of my research. I remain
indebted to him for the role he played in my admission to the Gregorian
To Rev. Fr. Thaddeus Kuusah, Rev. Fr. Christopher Bazanaah,
Monsignor Blaise Zupour and the Most Rev. Gregory Kpiembaya, Archbishop
of Tamale, I wish to record my gratitude for the various roles they played in
my coming to Rome and my subsequent enrollment at the University.
To the members of my study group, namely, Fr. Peter Sutinga, Fr. John
Mary Busobozi, Fr. Philip Odii and my beloved cousin Clement Minyila, I
wish to say “ayekoo” for the assistance and moral support they gave me in the
cause of my study. Without them, I could not have made it this far.
To Emmanuel Ogbonnia, I wish to say thank you for helping me to edit
and format my tesina.

Without a good social life, my stay in Rome would have been very
boring. Several people contributed to making life in Rome interesting for me
among whom are: Al Dogar, the good Samaritan , Philomena Dovi, Harriet
Nnamutebi, the symbol of humility and perseverance, Fr. Peter Lopez, and Fr.
Dominic Adeiza, for their sense of humor and ability to see the funny side of
life, and Chika Asogwa and Ikenna Ugwu for being such great friends.

CHAPTER I............................................................................................................................7
1.1 INTRODUCTION.........................................................................................................7
1.1.1 Presenting the Problem .........................................................................................7
1.1.2 Is the media then a foe or a friend?......................................................................11
1.1.3 The Family Today...............................................................................................15
1.1.4 Theories and Perspectives of the Family ............................................................17
1.5.1 Nuclear families dominate.......................................................................................27
1.5.2 Kids world, with kids relating to other kids rather than parents..........................27
1.5.3 Secularization.......................................................................................................29
1.6 MEDIA AFFLUENCE................................................................................................31
2.1.1 Stages of television use and ownership...............................................................41
2.1.2 Family communication patterns and television viewing.....................................42
2.1.3 Television’s messages on sex .............................................................................46
2.1.4 How television undermines persistence..............................................................48
2.1.5 Television literacy and education........................................................................51
2.1.6 Televised violence and advertisements...............................................................56
2.1.7 Racial and sexual stereotypes on television........................................................60
2.1.8 Television soap operas in family life..................................................................65
2.1.9 Television as a tool of imperialism.....................................................................71
CHAPTER III........................................................................................................................75
3.1.1 News and Sports for men....................................................................................75
3.1.2 Televised sports..................................................................................................80
3.1.3 Children’s experience with television.................................................................85
3.1.4 Impact of television on the reading skills of children.........................................90
3.1.5 Soap Operas for Women.....................................................................................92
3.1.6 Music (MTV) for the Youth..............................................................................101
3.3 IS VIEWING TELEVISION A PASSIVE ACTIVITY? .......................................113
3.3.1 Challenge:........................................................................................................113
3.3.2 Concentration: ..................................................................................................115
3.3.3 Activation:.........................................................................................................116
3.3.4 Affect: ..............................................................................................................117
3.3.5 Relaxation:........................................................................................................118
CHAPTER IV.....................................................................................................................120
4.1.1 The passive or linear theoretical models...........................................................120
4.1.2 The magic bullet theory ...................................................................................121
4.1.3 The hypodermic needle theory .........................................................................121
4.1.4 Lazersfeld’s two step or multiple steps flow theory ........................................123
4.1.5 Festinger and the Consistency Theories ..........................................................123

4.1.6 McCoombs and Shaw Agenda Setting Theory.................................................124

4.1.7 Knowledge Gaps Theory ...............................................................................129
4.1.8 Stephenson’s Play Theory ................................................................................130
4.1.9 The Ritual Model of Communication ..............................................................131
4.1.10 The Behavioral Theories .............................................................................133
4.1.11 The Social Learning Theory ...........................................................................134
4.2 TELEVISION AND SOCIAL LEARNING.............................................................139
4.2.1 Interactions Between Televised Violence, the Family and Society......................140 Pre-observation Reinforcement .....................................................................141 Vicarious Reinforcement ..............................................................................141 Post-observation Reinforcement....................................................................142 Self-generated Reinforcements......................................................................142
4.3 CRITICIMS OF SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY..................................................143
4.4 THE STALAGMITE THEORIES ...........................................................................145
4.4.1 Cultivation theory..............................................................................................145
4.5 CULTIVATION THEORY AND THE FAMILY ..................................................150
4.6.1 Informational needs ..........................................................................................152
4.6.2 Need for personal identity ...............................................................................152
4.6.3 Need for social integration and interaction .....................................................152
4.6.4 Entertainment....................................................................................................153
4.7 SOCIAL USES OF TELEVISION...........................................................................154
4.7.1 Structural Uses..................................................................................................154
4.8 USES AND GRATIFICATIONS FROM SOAP OPERAS.....................................157
4.8.1 Uses and Gratifications from Television Quiz Programs......................................157
4.8.2 Criticisms of Uses and Gratification Theory.........................................................158
CHAPTER V.......................................................................................................................160
5.1 DRAWING CONCLUSIONS..................................................................................160
5.1.1 How do Soap Operas Affect Women?..............................................................160
5.1.2 How do Media Models Impact on the Youth?..................................................166
5.1.3 Children and cartoons.......................................................................................167
5.2 A LOOK AT GHANA IN RELATION TO TELEVISION.....................................170
5.2.2 Why Ghana Television was established ...........................................................171
5.2.3 Programs on Ghana television .........................................................................171
5.3.1 How Do Television Programs Impact on Ghanaians.............................................174 Television Impact in Respect of Language...................................................175 Television Impact in Terms of Program Content...........................................176
5.4 HOW TELEVISION IN GHANA CAN BE IMPROVED ......................................179
BENEFIT FROM TELEVISION?..................................................................................181
5.6 THE WAY FORWARD .....................................................................................182
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY .........................................................................................184

1.1.1 Presenting the Problem
Most households today spend lots of money on burglar proof devices to
keep the home safe for the family, especially for their children, in order to
protect the family from danger. But does danger, threat to life and burglary,
come only in the form of the physical; through dangerous armed robbers and
gunmen. Is it not possible that a danger of a non-physical nature could seep
through the entire burglarproof devices, threatening the security of the home
and turning it into chaos?
The media today represents an unseen burglar, who is welcomed into
homes, especially via television and video and silently steals the most precious
of all human assets; values and virtues, and replaces them with media
produced counterfeits.
Available statistics indicate that, all over the world, over 3.5 billion
hours are spent daily by people watching television (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi,
1990:1) which absorbs 40 per cent of all leisure time and is the most time
consuming home activity (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:71).
A report, dubbed the 1984 Nielsen Report, claims television is in use
for 7 hours a day in the typical American home where persons older than 2
years watch television for an average of 4 hours a day (Bryant, Zillmann,
In addition, 75 percent of America’s population relies on television for
the majority of its information while 40 percent of American homes do not
possess books of any kind (Costanzo, 1994:108).

It has also been revealed that on the average, Britons spend 3 hours a
day watching television but only 17 minutes reading the newspapers and a
mere 11 minutes reading books. Britons also go on line for just 7 minutes on
the average a day (, 1, 2005).
In achieving this, this silent burglar stealthily presents media produced
representations of life as reality in a way that makes it impossible for the
untrained viewer and mind to read in between the lines and arrive at a true
judgment of what is being presented.
But how does the media and television especially, achieve this? This is
because television combines the visual and the aural, and the eye and the ear
are both active during television viewing (Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-
Mohammadi, 1995:35).
Further more “with its small screen, talking head format, and interior
settings, television combines the looming proximity of film with the
constraining space of the theatre” (Taylor, 1989:18).
Consequently, television lends itself to the intimacy of character and
relationship as well as the intimacy of domestic life (Taylor, 1989:19).
Of the three forms of persuasive proof identified by Aristotle, namely,
logos, ethos and pathos, televised material are normally richly endowed with
ethos and pathos.
According to Aristotle, logos, the use of evidence in rational argument,
ethos, the use of personal characteristics to claim credibility and authority and
pathos, the use of emotion such as hatred to move people, constitute the main
forms of persuasive language (Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-Mohammadi,
Television, as a form of secondary orality, brings back the power of
ethos that was lost by the printed word through the credibility and credentials

of media figures such as newscasters whose greatest asset is their ability to

win the trust of the audience.
In addition, techniques in the presentation of images such as the use of
close up shots that allow the audience to see the emotions of people on
television, coupled with the use of music that stirs up these emotions, whip up
the power of pathos in the audience in a way that is almost identical to their
being part of the scenes being screened to them. This is why one of the
greatest strengths of television lies in its ability to render the audience a
feeling of participation; as if they actually witnessed what has been screened
to them.
Experiments in this regard indicate that, “audiences confronted with
simultaneous projection on a large screen and on a television set regularly
prefer and overwhelmingly end up preferring the image on the smaller set.
The attraction of reality is somehow there” (Cater & Adler, 1975: 27).
Hence, there is sometimes a kind of bonding between audiences and
media figures such as actors, musicians, talk show hosts, newscasters, national
politicians, and even foreign leaders (Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-
Mohammadi, 1990:42) as a result of the power of ethos and pathos emitted by
these figures through television.
These relationships established with electronic friends and figures may
compete, interact or influence real life relationships with family members,
friends, co-workers and other people encountered in life.
Television, however, undermines the power of logos and herein lies the
danger. The development of rational understanding of issues and their analysis
is sacrificed for rapid and fragmented bits of information. The reflection
stimulated by abstract conceptual language that produces intellectuals is

replaced by vivid and selective images that produce celebrities and

In one experiment, when the normal viewing time for six-year olds was
cut down, it caused a shit from a more impulsive to a more reflective
intellectual style and produced increases in non-verbal IQ (Greenfield,
Television seems to increase the resistance of viewers to mental
discipline by tuning their minds away from an exegesis that moves serially
from point to point, the elucidation of the terms of an argument and the careful
analysis of chains of inference. Hence, television tends to cultivate and
predispose the mind of viewers to dialectics, rather than logic or exegesis
(Cater & Adler, 1975: 22).
In another development, when a ‘couch potato’ was asked by a reporter
to comment on a two-way cable system that will allow viewers to talk back to
television, he said, “Why watch T.V. if you have to think and respond? As far
as I’m concerned, the main point of watching T.V is that it lets you avoid
having to do that. If you are going to respond to T.V, you might as well go out
and cultivate friendships or read a book” (Greenfield, 1984:1)
Obviously, some viewers, who actively use television as an escape from
thinking, have realized this limitation of television in ‘logos’!
Added to this is the fact that, although television carries an
overwhelming amount of information and images, they are not the democratic
representation of reality where everybody gets to contribute on a level ground
but are tilted towards the ideas, views, economic and political aspirations of
their owners.

1.1.2 Is the media then a foe or a friend?

In so far as people fail to understand the media and fail to read the
subtleness of its productions, the media can be a foe. One can fall victim to the
spread of the ideology of the dominant class through the media and become a
passive consumer of the products of a foreign culture rather than ones culture.
One can also develop feelings of inferiority or superiority based on
presentations that have racist, ethnic or religious undertones on television. An
example of this is the stereotyping of African Americans on radio, which
shares secondary orality with television, in the 1920’s and 1930’s that
portrayed African Americans as having no education and unintelligent. The
radio serials were meant to serve a number of purposes in that epoch during
which African Americans did not have the vote. Naturally, what White
Americans derived from this program was that African Americans were
uneducated and unintelligent and giving them the vote or decent jobs was an
injustice to democracy and White Americans (Downing, Mohammadi,
Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1995:355). This kind of message, of course, served
only to enforce the status quo at that time but in the light of today’s evidence,
it has been proved to be a fallacy. But how many White Americans knew it
was a fallacy at the time the program was being heard!
This debate as to whether television is beneficial to the family or not
seems to be a re-echo of the concerns expressed by the Greek and Roman
philosophers about the function of entertainment which still remains
unresolved after 2,300 years. Whilst Aristotle was of the view that drama
(which is analogous to films on television) had a cathartic function, Plato
condemned the theatre for arousing passion and undermining the state, much
the same way some condemn television today (Buckingham, 1996:95).

Writing in the ‘Republic’, Plato said, “Then shall we simply allow our
children to listen to any story anyone happens to make up, and so receive into
their minds ideas often the very opposite of those we shall think they ought to
have when they are grown up?” (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:16).
In his criticism of the horror genre, which can be traced back to
representations of the underworld in the dramatic poetry of his age, Plato
admonished his people, saying, the “thrill of terror” induced by stories on
ghosts and corpses could lead to moral weakness (Buckingham, 1996:95).
Similarly, Cicero criticized the Roman theatres for their excesses,
much like how television is criticized for its excesses, saying, “If we are
forced, at every hour, to watch or listen to horrible events, this constant stream
of ghastly impression will deprive even the most delicate among us of all
respect for humanity” (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:16).
So, should television as an art form, be banned from the family, just as
the church abolished the Roman theatre as an art form in the fifth century
because it was so debased by commercial exploitation that it had lost its
relevance to the good of society? (ibid).
Already, some people think so. In Britain, some anti-TV campaigners
are advocating for this. One group, called “White Dot”, has been running a
“Turnoff TV Week” for eleven years during which time the group urges
Britons to turn off their sets for at least one week. During this year’s campaign
which begun on May 25, its spokesman, David Burke, said, “White Dot is
against TV at a fundamental level” ( 2005:1).
He said “the whole base model of TV depends on average viewing time
of three to four hours a day. That’s a huge commitment of time when you
consider we work eight hours, sleep eight hours; you give half of the rest of
your day to television” (ibid).

Mr. Burke said apart from stealing precious time from viewers,
television also contributes to obesity and has been linked to attention deficit
disorder ( 2005:2).
Further more, after the National Institute of Mental Health in the United
States had reviewed over 2,500 studies on the impact of television on human
behavior, it came to the conclusion that television was a major socializing
agent on American children that had a non-trivial influence on how people
think and feel about the world around them (Swan, Meskill, DeMaio, 1998:1).
But television has also made some positive contributions to society by
demonstrating an exceptional ability to challenge parochialism and unfold the
interdependence of the world community for all to see.
Hence, notwithstanding some of the negative impacts outlined above,
television does have benefits, but the family can realize these benefits only if
it attains television literacy.
Once one has acquired the skills of understanding media productions
and what they stand for and has the ability to distinguish what is real from
what is unreal, then the media can be a friend.
In view of the fact that the strength of television rests on ‘ethos’ and
‘pathos’ but its weakness lies in logos, it follows that, any attempt to reap
desired benefits from television should be based on addressing its deficiency
in ‘logos’. This can be achieved by equipping television audiences with skills
that will enable them to interact actively with the contents of television rather
than passive viewing as was exemplified by the ‘couch potato’ who was
interviewed by a reporter.
Such skills, which range from understanding the symbolic codes of
television that constitute the technical aspects of its language (Greenfield,
1984:9) to knowing the ideologies, the cultural and political economy

dictating its organization and control of contents will go a long way to make
audiences television literate.
For the benefits of television can only be realized by those who have
learnt to recognize its fallacies, to separate the ‘grains from the chaff’ and to
use the grains to feed and enrich their own lives.
This then is the purpose of this scientific study, which is aimed at a
critical examination of television in order to provide families with an antidote
against its defects so that they may use it for the benefit of all members of the
Television today represents a wild fire that needs to be tamed. And as
the old adage goes, “fire is a good servant but a bad master”. Hence,
discovering the means of making television to serve the needs of the family
and society at large rather than allowing it to dominate is the scope of this
scientific dissertation.

1.1.3 The Family Today What is a family?

Since the family constitutes the subject matter under examination in its
relationship to television, there is the need for a critical examination of what is
meant by family, it’s historical, cultural, sociological, economic and political
evolution and the role that the media have played in defining its place and
evolution in society.
Simplistically, the family is regarded as the smallest and basic unit of
any society. It is both the foundation and the building blocks upon which and
with which society is built. What are the functions of the family?

Basically, the family is the cradle for socialization where human beings
are nurtured and prepared for roles in society. It also aids the survival of
individuals by providing warmth and protection from the onslaughts of
The family thus performs a duel role; it prepares an individual to live in
society and at the same time protects that individual from that same society.
In preparing an individual to live in society, the family equips him with
skills for surviving in the world. These skills are not only economic and
political, which are achieved through training and education but also socio-
psychological which is achieved mainly through parental nurturing that
satisfies the emotional and psychological needs of the individual. To achieve
this, the family serves as a point of relation where individuals learn how to
relate to members of the family, to love and be loved and subsequently import
these skills to relate to other individuals outside the family.

It is thus the love that individuals acquire within the family that they
express in the outside world. Consequently, cold families produce cold
societies and warm families produce warm societies and communities. This is
because families, as the building blocks of society tend to lend their color and
characteristics to society. It is for this reason that the well being of the family
is very important since it is crucial to the formation of healthy societies. When
families cease to function well and fail in their socialization of children and
individuals and become ‘cancerous’, they produce ‘cancerous’ societies. Structure of the Family

The structure of the family within a particular society depends on the

kind of marriage systems operating in that society. A family based on the
monogamous marriage system is one in which only one man and one woman
live together in biological and economic reciprocity. In a family system based
on polyandry, one man is married to more than one woman at the same time.
In a marriage system based on polygamy, one woman is married to several
men at the same time.
Monogamous marriages tend to be the norm in western societies and
societies that have developed along a strong Christian tradition whilst
polygamous marriages exist mainly in Africa and societies with strong roots in
One can also talk about the nuclear family and the extended family.
Nuclear families tend to be based on monogamous marriages, which consist
exclusively of the married couple and their children. Extended families can be
based on monogamous and polygamous relationships. The distinguishing
factor is that extended families include vertical generational extensions to

include grandparents and great grandparents and horizontal extensions to

include aunties, uncles, grand aunties, grand uncles, first, second and third
cousins, nieces and nephews.
A recent development is the creation of gay and lesbian families by the
promulgation of laws in some parts of the world that allow men in gay
relationships and women in lesbian relationships to get married.

1.1.4 Theories and Perspectives of the Family

Over the years, sociologists have made several attempts to trace how
the family came to be in existence and what roles it plays in society. These
perspectives are used not only to describe and explain the functions of the
family but they also serve as a basis for a critical analysis of the family. These
include the Judeo-Christian view of the family, the functionalist view, the
African View, the Marxist view, Feminist view, views based on
Communication theory, the theory of Post-modernism and the
Capitalist/Historical view of the family. Judeo –Christian theory of the family

The Judeo-Christian theory of the family originates from the Biblical

story of creation. According to this story, which occurs in the book of Genesis,
the first book of the Bible, man was the last creature to be created by God.
However, man was lonely because there was no suitable companion for him
so God created woman, called Eve, out of one of his ribs to be a companion
for him (Jerusalem Bible, 1990:6).
According to this legend, it is for this reason that a man leaves his
family in search of a woman with whom to spend the rest of his life. God also

commanded all his creatures to be fruitful and multiply. Hence, seen from a
Judeo-Christian perspective, the family was created out of the need for love,
warmth and companionship and also as a cradle for the regeneration of the
human race.
The family can also be regarded as a basic unit for instruction from this
perspective when one considers the book of Numbers in which God
commands the Jews to instruct their children, saying, ‘Teach them to your
children and keep on telling them when you are sitting at home, when you are
out and about, when you are lying down and when you are standing up. Write
them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…” (Jerusalem Bible,
This view of the family from a spiritual perspective is further enhanced
by Biblical passages that compare the Church to a bride of Christ and the call
on men to love their wives as they would their own flesh (Jerusalem Bible,
Whilst the Judeo-Christian view of the family perceives it as a divinely
ordained institution established by God to meet the emotional, psychological,
physical and spiritual needs of adults and children alike, other theories and
perspectives consider the family as a purely human institution. The African perspective

During the African Synod, the family was given a prominent emphasis
judging its importance in African society. The Ecclesia in Africa points out
that, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family”.
Not only is the Christian family the first of the living ecclesial community, it
is also the fundamental cell of society. In Africa in particular, the family is the

foundation on which the social edifice is built. This is why the Synod
considered the evangelization of the African family a major priority, with the
view of evangelization of the family through the family. The encyclical
enjoins, “the holy family is the prototype and example for all Christian
families and the model and spiritual source for every Christian family” (John
Paul II, 1995:81).
The human family is constituted of man, woman and children. In most
cultures in Africa, the family is not closed to the first generation but stretches
the ties of kinship to members of the extended family. In God’s plan, the
conjugal community is established upon the consent of the spouses. Marriage
and family are ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and
education of children. The man and woman united in marriage, together with
their children form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by
public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. In creating man and
woman, God instituted the human family and endowed it with its fundamental
constitution. Its members are persons equal in dignity. (The Catechism of the
Catholic Church, 1994: 2201).
John Paul II speaking of the family as a communion of persons, points
out that in matrimony and in the family, a complex of interpersonal
relationships is set up within married life. These include fatherhood and
motherhood, filiation and fraternity, through which each human person is
introduced into the human family and into the family of God, which is the
Church.”(John Paul II, 1981:15).
The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in
which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of
life. Authority, stability and a life of relationships within the family constitute
the foundations of freedom, security and fraternity within society. The family

is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin
to honour God and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into
life in society. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church :2207).
In the African context, the concept of the human family is loaded with
much greater meaning than just a man, wife and a child. Man is born into his
immediate family and to a larger family; the extended family and the society. Functionalist theory of the family

Viewed from a functionalist perspective, the family is considered as a

component of the social system, which helps to ensure the economic, political,
social and cultural survival of society (Lull, 1988:13). It does this by bearing
and nurturing children who are socialized to take up future roles in society.
The family thus, apart from ensuring the continuation of lineages, also
provides financial and emotional support for its members whilst maintaining
their morale and motivation. According to the functionalist theory, the family
above all provides the prototype for power relations within the larger political
relationships of any society. Patriarchal families therefore result in a society
with patriarchal political relationships. The Marxist theory of the family

Under this theory, the family is seen as an institution that reinforces the
existing status quo in a given society (Lull, 1988:14). It does this by preparing
young people to partake in class- based work roles that serve the interest of
those in control of economic power. From this perspective, the family is seen
as a human system that undermines its own interest by unconsciously
reproducing the economic structures of domination in the society. This is

accomplished by socializing the youth to compete for under-paid jobs. At the

same time, the very structure of the family reinforces the boss-worker
relationships at the work place, which is modeled after the power relations
between husband and wife. The Feminist Theory

The feminist theory sees the power relations between the male and
female sexes in the family as a factor that produces and sustains patriarchy in
societies where power and control are vested in the male members and
females are dominated (Lull, 1988:14). The gender differentiated roles
assigned to boys and girls within the family are designed to oppress women,
which is reproduced in the dominant ideology of the society. According to this
theory, efforts should be made to rescue women from a history of oppression
and discrimination perpetuated by the family through awareness and
consciousness raising. The Communication theory of the family

The communication theory of the family considers the depth or dearth

of interpersonal communication within the family as an indicator of its
emotional health (Lull, 1988:15). This may in turn produce individuals who
may exhibit emotionally healthy or unhealthy personalities. From this theory,
the emotional health of individual family members depends on how well they
are allowed to communicate their needs, their affections and frustrations.
In a family with a strong depth in interpersonal communication,
individual members are free and encouraged to express their needs, affections

and frustrations, which results in warm personalities who are emotionally

balanced and outgoing.
However, in a family where there is a dearth of interpersonal
communication, each individual is locked up and fails to communicate his
needs, affections and frustrations. This in turn leads to emotional problems
that then need to be resolved by experts to liberate their personalities. The Post-Modern View of the family

The media forms the pivot of the post –modern view of the family,
which is seen as producing a chaotic informational environment that offers
broad based information without distinguishing between age, gender and
authority (Lull, 1988:15). The mass media, and especially television, makes
everyone privy to the same information, blurring the private communication
domains that once lent structure to society. It does not demarcate the world of
adults from the world of children, men from women, politicians from the
electorate. The muting of differences between the different ages, sexes and
social status has led to a harrowing social change. This blending of traditional
expectations with the impersonal media world produces a neurosis that is
characterized by confusion, and debilitation that is experienced at the familial
level. The Capitalist/ Historical View of the Family

The Capitalist/ Historical view of the family attempts to analyze the

structure and functions of the family in relation to prevailing economic
structures. According to this perspective, the structure of the family during
each historical epoch is influenced by the dominant economic system. Hence,

one can talk of pre-capitalist or Bourgeois family systems, family systems

under entrepreneurial capitalism and family systems under advanced
capitalism in its corporate state (Luke, 1989:98).
From the capitalist/ historical perspective of the family, the domestic
order of the family that prevailed under the Bourgeois family system was
transformed with the onset of entrepreneurial capitalism under which
industrialization flourished. Multiple nuclear households were created out of
the looser extended kinship family systems of pre-capitalist society (Luke,
1989:103). Material production was also split between its socialized forms of
commodity production and private labor performed in the households.
According to this view of the family, there is an existing tension today
between the ideology of the traditional nuclear family that was instrumental in
the development of capitalism in its entrepreneurial stage and the emergence
of the utopian permissive individual who is needed for the consolidation of
advanced capitalism in its corporate phase (Luke, 1989:98).
The nuclear family consisting of mother, father and children living
together harmoniously legitimized entrepreneurial capital. This is because, the
nuclear family, apart from its image as a haven for workers in the heartless
world of industrialization provided a secure ideology that defined the
productive role of family members (ibid).
Successful industrialization brought in its wake urbanization and
secularization but capitalism needs to redefine the family in order to advance
to the corporate order which will require more people to spend more on
material goods and services.
In a bid to pave the way for the emergence of corporate capitalism in
capitalist societies, the private sphere of the family was fused with public
administration. This enabled the state and the firm to regulate individuals

through the media, mass education and professional experts who prescribe
rules for normal behavior and the needs of the family and society at large
(Luke, 1989:101). Individuals in society then attempt to counter code, subvert
or to re-function under these prescribed needs and behaviors. These prescribed
needs and behaviors is perhaps more evident in the area of fashion where
fashion experts, aided by television tell society what is fashionable at a
particular point in time. This results in individuals cladding themselves in
these prescribed ‘temporary uniforms’ until the fashion experts once again
prescribe the next one.
The firm and the state thrive on these needs that are extended to the
individual since they fuel economic growth and provide the economic force
that will guarantee the development of the state corporate system (ibid). How the corporate family system was developed

As the traditional nuclear family accepted the needs defined for it by the
corporate capitalist system, the organic need for air, drink, food, clothing,
shelter and affection which were the preserve of the family underwent
commercial redefinition as the commodified need for buying air conditioners,
coca-cola, wonder bread, coats, etcetera (Luke, 1989:107).
All individuals in the family, now as consumers, are transformed into
capital assets since their consummative mobilization boosts the productivity,
profitability and the power of corporate capital intensive industries which is
expressed as a rise in Gross national product (G.N.P.) (Luke1989: 108).
Hence, each individual family member becomes an integral part of the
means of production and the family unit is transformed into a service delivery
system of the modern corporate state.

In addition, by encouraging families to concentrate on the accumulation

of material things and the pursuit of pleasure, a disincentive was placed on the
raising of large costly families. The purpose of sexuality shifted from familial
procreation to personal recreation.
Consequently, by gearing the family towards the cultivation of passive
consumption, social dependence, cultural submission, and the so-called
emancipation of personal needs, corporate capitalism evolved the regulatory
apparatus for managing personal and family life (Luke, 1989:115). The role of television in the development of corporate capitalist


Since the planned productivity of the corporate capitalist economy

requires more and more consumers to which it can sell the needs that it creates
for them, the family as a unit has proved to be a limitation (Luke, 1989:100).
In order to fuel its growth, the corporate capitalist system proposes new
values, norms, and practices that do not favor a single-family unit but glorifies
in its disintegration.
Television provides a key role in the dissemination of these values by
producing images that legitimize the split up of the nuclear family into several
Hence, “broadcasting outlets give capitalist ideologues a tool of
incalculable power to promote and expand support for the prevailing belief
system” (Altschull, 1984:135).
This implies that, “television neither simply creates nor reflects images,
opinions and beliefs. Rather, it is an integral aspect of a dynamic process.
Institutional needs and objectives influence the creation and distribution of

mass-produced messages which create, fit into, exploit, and sustain the needs,
values and ideologies of mass publics. These publics, in turn, acquire distinct
identities as publics partly through the ongoing flow of messages” (Bryant,
Zillmann, 1986:23).
Television is thus a home appliance that can be used to sell other
appliances. Through its episodic series, television manages to sell “an image
of desirable family life with consumption casually woven into the fabric of its
stories” (Taylor, 1989:20).
But who are the people behind the scenes of every television output,
who wield so much control over the lives of viewers? They are invisible
business moguls who derive both profit and influence from their ownership of
television channels.
“In television, genre is an explicit industrial category organized in the
service of efficiency and rationalization of a commercial product” (Taylor,
History has revealed that at each epoch in history, a selected group of
men and women dominate and control society. Human history has moved
from the era of the philosopher kings of Plato’s dreams through the traditional
religious and aristocratic authorities of oral culture to the intellectual and
political activists of print and halted at the electronic period, which is the
epoch of the Hollywood celebrity and entertainer and the televangelist.


In spite of the numerous theories enumerated above, today’s families
tend to share certain characteristics that lend themselves to scrutiny.
Generally, nuclear families tend to dominate and are considered the norm
which results in most kids being left out on their own since the burden of

parenting is sometimes overbearing for parents in nuclear families. The

secularization of society means that most families are secular in orientation
and tend to exhibit some degree of media affluence.

1.5.1 Nuclear families dominate

Industrialization as a result of the development of technology over the
last two hundred years has resulted in the modernization of society, which has
affected the structure, and functions of the family. The migration of people to
urban areas to seek employment in factories and the gradual loss of traditional
economic activities that sustained traditional family life to industrialization
has resulted in a preference for and a dominance of the nuclear family even in
societies where extended families had been prevalent for centuries. An
example of this phenomenon is Africa where nuclear families are beginning to
emerge in the cities and towns.
In addition, most of the socializing roles of families have been taken
over by formal school systems with the media threatening to take over
whatever has been left for the family.

1.5.2 Kids world, with kids relating to other kids rather than parents

The breakdown of the extended family system where baby sitter roles
were assigned to grandparents, cousins, aunties, uncles and other relatives has
resulted in increased emotional and physical pressure on parents to raise up
their children alone without the emotional and physical assistance normally
found in extended family systems. In some families, this baby sitter role that
used to be performed by members of the extended family has been shifted to

Coupled with this is the high cost of living in urban communities

compelling both parents to seek jobs outside the house in order to meet the
financial needs of the family.
In addition, the education of women with some of them working in
highly specialized fields and demands that women contribute their quota to
society have produced a situation where kids are normally left on their own.
Added to these is the growing desire of woman to be financially
independent and their search for emotional and psychological fulfillment in
jobs outside the home. In Britain, only 13.8 percent of families have a mother
staying at home full time (Lull, 1988:22) whilst “the American family has
continued to develop along a path marked by increased parental absence from
the home and a diminishing family performance” (Douglas, 2003:134).
This trend derives from an ideology that places personal ambition and
achievement over and above family life and family relations that has the
tendency to erode the ability of parents to provide their children with the
attention, care and support that they need.
Modern society has responded to this tendency for modern couples to
leave their children alone at tender ages by the establishment of crèches
designed to provide care and support for the child whilst the parents are away
working. But most of these crèches are designed with a profit orientation
hence few adult hands take care of several children. The result is that children
relate more to each other than to the adults who are supposed to provide them
with emotional support.
Children above crèche level normally spend time after school huddled
with other children in the neighbor hood whilst they wait for their parents to
return from work. Hence, on the average, kids relate more to each other than
they do to adults, including their own parents.

These kids normally undergo a “latch-key” experience that has been

blamed for child-related problems such as teenage pregnancy, drug abuse,
depression, and falling grades at school. In fact, it has resulted in the demise
of the traditional family and the emergence of the “scattered family” (ibid).
Most child psychologists have decried this trend and called on parents
to spend more time with their children. The response on the part of some
parents has been that it is not the amount of time spent with children that is
important but the quality of the time spent with children.

1.5.3 Secularization

Secularization remains one of the key characteristics of modern

families. This is in part due to the achievements made by science over the
years, which has allowed mankind to solve problems in all fields of life. In
medicine, the cure of formally incurable diseases like leprosy, which was
considered a curse by God and several others such as tuberculosis and the
discovery of vaccines to protect man from certain diseases once deemed killer
diseases, has diffused the fear that people once had for God and for religion.
With other remarkable achievements in agriculture as a result of genetic
engineering and mankind’s conquest of space using space ships and satellites,
society has come to rely more on science for the solution of everyday
problems than on religion. What is more, with the ability of scientists to effect
sex changes in people, the creation of test tube babies, the ability to change
one’s looks by plastic surgery and the recent ability to successfully clone
living organisms, mankind has won its independence from religion and
science is now the religion of the modern world.

This shift from religion to science has been given evidence by the
elimination of religion from the school syllabus of most countries. Apparently,
most governments and parents do not want their children to waste their time
on a religion that has failed to help them solve their problems in the past.
The result is that, the guidance and sense of belonging as well as the
psychological well being rooted in religion and the reverence for God that was
available to children and parents in the past to help them meet life’s
challenges is no longer available today.
Still absent is the lack of a system of values by which parents and
children can decide on what is of value and what must be discarded. In the
midst of this vacuum created by the absence of religion, the media becomes
the reference point for values, which people choose to assimilate.
The media, especially television easily takes over the role of religion in
this vacuum because “If one agrees that religion is a statement about life and
tackles the ultimate meaning of life, then television is religion. Television
seeks to define our world, to tell us how it works and what it really means”
(Soukup, 1996:138).
Like religion, the task of television is “to read the signs of the times”: it
mediates meaning and offers an alternative reading to life (Soukup, 1996:139).
Thus, rather than being a neutral communication medium, television is an
integrated symbolic world of myths that suggest a consistent value system.
Some of the myths and values central to television are: the fittest
survive; happiness consists of limitless material acquisition; property, wealth
and power are more important than people; everything can be purchased to
satisfy our narcissism and immediate gratifications and progress is an inherent
good (Fore, 1987:64-67).

Furthermore, the television viewer normally finds himself becoming an

unconscious partner to behavioral patterns prescribed by television which are
very effective because they employ the symbols of culture, religion and myth
and easily sink into the psyche and subconscious mind (Soukup, 1996:140).


Today’s world can best be described as a media affluent society where
the experiences of people are shaped by widely shared instantaneous mass
communication, especially via television. Since the invention of the
Gutenberg printing press in 1453, which allowed the Bible to be printed and
consequently led to the mass production of books, newspapers, magazines and
other print literature, the development of ever new technologies has enabled
the world to advance in mass communication (Savarimuthu, CP2032: 2004).
In 1837, Samuel Morse invented the telegraph; Bell invented the telephone in
1876 and Marconi the radio in 1894. Cinema (devoid of sound) was invented
in 1896 and in 1927 cinema, which combined moving pictures with audio was
invented (ibid).
In 1936, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) begun television
broadcast followed by the United States in 1940. Between 1947 to 1952, up to
15 million people in the United States viewed television and the coronation of
Queen Elisabeth was viewed by three million people in the United Kingdom
In Japan, the marriage of the Emperor was broadcast to one million
people in 1958, making television the preferred mass medium, with adult
Japanese watching more than three hours of television a day by 1960 (ibid).
When the 1964 Olympic games were broadcast in Japan, the popularity of
television soared (Ibid).

A recent development in the history of television is the commercial sale

of digital television in 2004. Digital or high –definition television is designed
to enhance its picture quality. Whilst television sets in the United States offer
a 525-line picture, digital television provides 1,125 lines and a more realistic
5.3 screen aspect ration instead of the current 4.3 (Downing, Mohammadi,
Sreberny-Mhammadi, 1995:288). Digital television is designed to produce
much clearer images with better color and a greater depth that makes the
shape of faces on television more real thus enhancing the power of ethos and
Today, with the development of cable and satellite television backed by
a network of sophisticated computer and telecommunication hardware,
instantaneous broadcasting of news from one country to places far beyond has
been made possible paving the way for television companies such as CNN and
BBC to extend their coverage to most parts of the globe.
It is for this reason that MacLuhan labeled the world a global village,
since the media offers people all over the world the opportunity to hear and
view the same information at the same time.
The preference of television amongst the paraphernalia of mass
communication gadgets available today is illustrated by the following table
based on a research of school children in the United Kingdom to determine
which media is available to them in the home.
The table, which shows that television ownership is the highest amongst
all media used by the school children irrespective of age, gender and social
class, proves that television has emerged as the most preferred medium today.

Table 1.1 Percentage of children with media in their home by gender, age and


What then is the role of the media in the family today? The media plays
a duel role. It can be viewed as being analogous to the first fires where

primitive men gathered to recount the day’s events and to listen to stories
about heroes (Martinez-De-Toda, 2000:57). The primitive fireplace served as
a point for leisure and socializing for primitive man where entertainment and
history where brought together.
Based on this analogous relationship between television and the first
fires of primitive man, television today takes the place of these fires and
serves as a point of socialization where stories of the day (news), stories of
heroes (feature films depicting Hollywood celebrities) and entertainment
(sports, music) are provided for the family that gathers round the television
This is borne out of the fact that watching television today takes the
largest part of the time spent by adults at home. The table below illustrates

Table 1.2 ( Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:70)

Adults use of time.
Activity by environment % Of signals
Working 27.5
Socializing, eating, other 14.8
Total 42.3
Watching television 6.6
Cooking 2.4
Cleaning 3.4
Eating 2.3
Snacking, drinking, smoking .9
Reading 2.7
Talking 2.2
Grooming 3.1
Hobbies; repairing, sewing, gardening 3.7

Other chores 3.0

Idling, resting 4.0
Other, miscellaneous 5.8
Total 40.1
Public, other’s homes
Leisure and other activities 8.8
Shopping 3.1
Transportation 5.7
Total 17.6

From the above table, which is based on a week’s study between 8 a.m
and 10 p.m, 40.1 percent of time is spent at home whilst 42.3 percent is spent
at work. Television viewing accounts for 6.6 percent of primary activity,
which is not only the single most time consuming activity but also the
dominant leisure activity that consumes 40 percent of all leisure time.
Television also serves as an accompaniment and background to most
household activities today. Such activities range from talking, eating,
grooming, and childcare to even reading, which some people may claim to be
incompatible with viewing television. This underlines the structural uses of
television as propounded by the theory on the “Social Uses of Television”.
The following table illustrates this.

Table 1.3 (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:77

Also, television has become a predominant preoccupation for most people

who deliberately expose themselves to it as a means of leisure and relaxation.
Television viewing thus exceeds most traditional leisure activities as
illustrated by the following table:

Table 1.4 (Kubey, Csikzentmihalyi, 1990:79)

Reasons for Doing Seven Major
Home Activities
(Percentage of responses)
Televisio Reading Eatin Cooking Chores Talkin Grooming
n g g
Had to 4.4 3.7 17.6 55.6 64.4 11.2 52.8
Wanted 90.2 94.1 96.3 80.9 59.6 95.2 75.7
Nothing 19.0 10.3 5.4 7.8 4.2 13.2 2.5
else to
113.6 108.9 119.3 144.3 128.2 119.6 131.0

From the above table, 90.2 percent of respondents in the study watched
television because they wanted to which shows that people are highly
motivated to watch television. Also, the highest amount of respondents, 19.0,
said they watched television when they had nothing else to do, suggesting that,
television is the most preferred means for killing time out of the seven
activities studied.
The second role of the media is borne out of its function as a tool of
modern commerce. Herbert J. Altschull, a communication researcher, has
hinted that “It is in the distribution of goods –intellectual as well as material
goods- that the media’s position in the American system- as in all capitalist
systems is central” (Altschull 1984:123). Here, the media serves as an arm of
capitalism by fanning market forces that seek to promote consumerism. He
said “whereas from its earliest days the press had been a factor in the

economic well being of the United States, by the twentieth century, it had
become an ever more essential ingredient in the capitalist economy” (ibid).
Consequently, the media projects image packages that legitimize the
fragmentation of traditional family life. These fragmented bits of the nuclear
family then evolve into new family units thus multiplying their consummative
potential. Hence, broken households are the norm rather than the exception on
television and the single, the separated, the widowed and the divorced
(SSWD’s) are depicted as living in their own world of happiness, liberation
and professional achievement. Thus, the ideological apparatus promotes
norms, values and practices that do not help to forestall the internal collapse of
one unit of consumption; the nuclear family.
Besides, just as market forces determine our access to novels and films,
with those likely to make a profit being published or produced, access to
television programming is based on an economic exchange that is very subtle.
In return to being provided with television programs, viewers become
commodities that are sold to advertisers for money. Television thus transforms
viewers into units of economic exchange (Allen, 1985:45).
Les Brown, a veteran television journalist described this situation by
saying; “in day to day commerce, television is not so much interested in the
business of communications as in the business of delivering people to
advertisers. People are the merchandise not the shows. The shows are merely
the bait. The consumer, whom the custodians of the medium are pledged to
serve, is in fact served up” (ibid).
This view is supported by Ien Ang who claims that “the very corporate
foundation of commercial television rests on the idea of delivering audiences
to advertisers; that is, economically speaking, television programming is first
and foremost a vehicle to attract audiences for the real messages transmitted

by television: the advertising spots inserted within and between the programs”
(Silverstone, Hirsch, 1992:132).
In other words, television is more of a business delivery service, rather
than a box for providing entertainment and news as most viewers have come
to accept. The consumption of television products takes on a double meaning;
it not only delvers programs but cultivates consumers.
Hence, “the day to day practice of television consumption is
accompanied by the implicit and explicit promotion of ideal or proper forms
of consumer behavior, propelled by either ideological or economic motives
and instigated by the social institutions responsible for television production
and transmission” (Silverstone, Hirsch, 1992: 133).
Television, thus, serves as a national or international market place
where it assists in the distribution of both intellectual and material goods
though advertisements. Hence, families as audiences, are sold to advertisers
by television for profit.



Fears that television may be responsible not only for the alienation of
family members but also for significant changes in the traditional family set
up itself have been voiced by many writers. Writing in the book, “Behind and
in front of the screen, Television’s involvement with family life,” Barrie
Gunter and Michael Svennevig have expressed similar views. They said “It is
certainly true that there have been significant changes in the types of families
and household units over the last 25 years, but whether these can be
reasonably linked to the growth of television during that period is a highly
problematic assumption” (Gunter, Svennevig, 1987:2).
According to these two writers, television is linked to the family at two
levels; both in front off and behind the screen. The relationship that families
have with television in front of the screen is as a result of the domestication of
the medium, which has become a family member in most cases. It may disrupt
bonds between family members by curtailing conversation merely by its
presence. Behind the screen, families form an important part of the plots of
some programs whilst in others they may play peripheral role. However, most
portrayals of the family on television have been criticized as being inadequate
whilst giving the family a negative picture by not showing happy intact
families on the screens (Gunter, Svennevig, 1987:2, 5).

2.1.1 Stages of television use and ownership

Using a review of the research carried out by Bogart (1958) on the
impact of television on American social life, three stages of television use
were identified (Gunter, Svennewig, 1987:7).
 Under the first stage, known as the Tavern stage, television is
viewed as a public spectacle and makes its appearance mainly in
public places such as bars, restaurants and waiting rooms of
several institutions. Private ownership of the set at this stage is
very low.
 The second stage, the pioneer stage, is the initial stage of the
domestication of television which became a status symbol for
families, with families owning television sets being placed on a
higher social scale. At this stage, television-owning families
experience an expansion of their social life since most people
visit their homes specifically for the purpose of viewing
 Under the third stage, the mature phase, television ceases to be a
novelty, as was the case with the second stage and becomes a
taken for granted appliance in the family. It assumes a central
place in family activities, especially in the evenings when
television viewing becomes the dominant activity of most
Since the beginning of the 1980’s, the third phase has become the norm
for most countries, especially industrialized countries such as Western Europe,
Japan and North America which exhibit a high degree of media affluence with
more than 95 percent of all household owning at least one television set.

The Tavern and Pioneer stages of television exist in countries where

private ownership of the medium is very low.

2.1.2 Family communication patterns and television viewing

Gunter and Svennevig also point out that existing communication
patterns between parents and children influence the way television is utilized
by the family. Hence, patterns of parental control and disciplinary practices
socialize children into definitive styles of television viewing. According to
these two writers, research by Chaffee and his colleagues (Chaffee, McLeod
and Atkin, 1971; Chaffee and Tims, 1976) on the relationship between
interpersonal patterns of communication within the family and the
development of media use has revealed two main orientations that affect
media use. These orientations arise not only as a result of the existence of
particular family rules but also as a result of their methods of implementation.
The two orientations developed by these researchers were socio-orientation
and concept –orientation (Chaffee, McLeod and Wackman, 1973).
In a family setting characterized by socio-orientation, the main drive is
to establish a harmonious climate amongst family members. Consequently,
anger, arguments and other forms of dissension are not tolerated. In families
dominated by concept-orientation, self-expression of personal opinion among
children is tolerated, even if they are contrary to the views of others and
established beliefs.
Research also showed family orientations to be correlated to social
class, with socio-orientation being more peculiar to working class families and
concept –orientation being more common to middle class families.
Based on these two orientations, four kinds of families are
distinguishable in relation to media use. These are;

 Laissez –faire families: In these kind of families, peer groups and

friends have a greater impact on children than parents because parent –

child communication is very low. There exists a kind of laxity since
neither socio-orientation nor concept –orientation is emphasized in
family relations and communication.
 Protective families: These kind of families over-emphasize socio-

orientation to the detriment of the development of critical thinking in

their children because they are not encouraged to question but to
meekly accept the status quo. Consequently, the development of a broad
mind is sacrificed in favor of social harmony.
 Consensual families: Within these type of families, the child is

encouraged to question what is going on in the world but at the same

time he is discouraged from taking up issues that disturb familial peace.
 Pluralistic Families: These families tend to emphasize only concept-

orientation. Children in these kinds of families are encouraged to

question, challenge and explore given norms and values in a way that
does no jeopardize harmony in the family.
Gunter and Svennevig also stated that available evidence indicates that,
within high socio-oriented families, children tend to adopt their parents
viewing patterns.
In addition, research carried out by McLeod and Brown in 1976 among
adolescents showed that there was a relationship between the gratifications
that adolescents get from television and the treatment meted out to them by
parents. In families where parents employed restrictive punishment in
controlling their children, there was a positive correlation with the extent of
television viewing. Hence, the more restrictive punishment was meted out to
children, the more they viewed television.

Another study conducted in Sweden showed that low concept and high
socio- orientation was linked with heavy television viewing by adolescents.
Another study conducted by Lull showed that concept –oriented family
members were more likely than socio-oriented family members to have
definite activities and attitudes pertaining to television use.
Gunter and Svennevig also noted that, the use of videocassette recorders
allowed most families to control their use of television by recoding programs
and watching them at their own convenience.
Writing in the book “Family Television: Cultural Power and Domestic
Leisure”, David Morley, was of the view that television does stimulate
conversation in domestic and other settings. Quoting Simon Hoggart in “New
Society”, he wrote, “What television does furnish is a shared experience
which actually increases the amount of conversation. In factories and offices
across the land people earnestly debate what they saw on the screen last
night…Where once they might have discussed the sales manager’s love life,
the weather, or the shortcomings of the head of faculty” (Morley, 1986:20).
He said television, especially situation comedies, has contributed to the art
of conversation. This is because, far from supplanting family functions, the
medium is being adapted to the cultural, psychological and economic needs of
families. “Media and domestic communications exist in all manner of
symbiotic intertwinings” (Morley, 1986:21).
Apart from acting as a catalyst for conversations, Morley also regards
television as an antidote to family conflicts since in higher density families it
may act to reduce tension leading to conflict by creating personal space and
offering privacy to individuals in an overpopulated family environment.
Besides, television is utilized in a wide range of social activities such as
providing companionship, as a reward or punishment, as a battering agent, a

boundary marker in families, a mediator, a scapegoat and as a means of

scheduling activities (Morley, 1986:23).
In a research study involving several families to determine the impact of
television on families, he found out that “Masculine power is evident in a
number of families as the ultimate determinant on occasions of conflict over
viewing choices…” (Morley, 1986:148).
He said male dominance in the choice of programs is more obvious in
families that own a remote control device since none of the women in his
research work used the device regularly. Besides, they usually complain that
their husbands obsessively flick from channel to channel when they want to
watch a particular program. Thus, men and women tend to offer contrasting
versions of their viewing behavior, which is dictated by their differential
power to decide on what to view, how much to view, viewing styles and
choice of programs (Morley, 1986:147).
In a similar study undertaken by James Lull, he found out that “television
is employed as an environmental resource in order to create a flow of constant
background noise which moves to the foreground when individuals or groups
desire (Lull, 1990:35).
Writing in “Inside Family Viewing: Ethnographic Research on Television
Audiences”, he outlined several social uses of television, comprising both
structural and relational uses. Just like Morley, he found out that television
does facilitate conversation under certain circumstances. “Television’s
characters, stories, and themes are employed by viewers as abundant
illustrators which facilitate conversations” (Lull, 1990:37).
He said most often children employ television programs and characters as
referents to clarify issues in a discussion, and to enter into and become part of
adult conversation. Television also reduces discomfort in a conversation when

it is turned on since it lessens the uneasiness of prolonged eye contact by

attracting the attention of viewers during lulls in conversation. Even the
material being televised can become a theme for conversation thus dispelling
the discomfort associated with having nothing to talk about.
According to Lull, television also presents opportunities for viewers to
demonstrate competence through the fulfillment of family roles. For instance,
the undertaking of a gatekeeping function by a parent; the methodical and
authoritative regulation of programs for children confirms his or her role as a
good parent. Besides, “successful enactment of the television regulatory
function directs media experiences of the children into forms which are
consistent with the parents’ moral perspective. Simultaneously, the parent
asserts an expected jurisdictional act which confirms proper performance of a
particular family role” (Lull, 1990:42).

2.1.3 Television’s messages on sex

In the book “Social Learning from Broadcast Television” edited by
Karen Swan, Carla Meskill and Steven DeMaio, several writers have written
on a wide range of issues that they belief is affected by television viewing.
Writing on the topic ‘Television as a Sex Educator’, the author,
Rosemarie Truglio, wrote, “Television, through its ‘realistic’ portrayal of
consistent and often explicit sexual messages, can be a powerful sex educator,
particularly, for viewers with limited experience and countervailing
She attributed television’s power in this area to the fact that
adolescents’ opportunities to observe intimate interpersonal behavior is
limited whilst learning from television allows them to avoid the
embarrassment of asking questions pertaining to sex.

Truglio also noted that the vacuum created by the shallowness of parent
–child discussions on sex, which are infrequent and limited, give television an
edge. In a research on adolescents in 1992, most of them cited the mass media,
especially television, in addition to parents and peers as their primary sources
of information on sex. Other researches conducted by Louis Harris &
Associates, 1987 and E.J. Roberts et al, 1978, indicate that whilst parents may
like to be the primary sources of information on sex to their children, they
experience fierce competition from mass media’s sexual curriculum.
According to Truglio, “The problem of turning to television for sexual
information is that it is a constructed reality comprised of idealized and
distorted images of sexual behavior”.
She noted that on television, sex occurs more often between unmarried
than married couples, without consideration of safe sex practices and with low
portrayals of the consequences of sex.
What is more, young viewers are exposed to approximately 1,400
sexual acts per year, which occur within prime time designed for adult viewers
but nonetheless viewed by children. This was based on studies conducted by
A. C. Nielson and Greenberg et al. in 1993. It is no wonder then that in
American Society where over 98 percent of households own television which
is turned on for 7 hours a day, more than a million teenagers get pregnant
yearly, 85 percent of which are unintended, whilst over 3 million suffer
sexually transmitted diseases every year (Swan, Meskill, Demaio, 1998:9).
In the face of the Aids pandemic and rising teenage pregnancies,
television has come under pressure to portray the consequences of sex as well
as safe sex practices. The only achievement made in this area has been the
freedom to mention the ‘condom’ instead of referring to it as a ‘love glove’ or
‘thingamabob’. Messages on the consequences of sex such as Aids, and the

prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy remain low in

relation to the frequency of sex on televised programs.
Truglio admitted that though research on the effects of television on the
sexual socialization of adolescents remains inadequate while the connections
are weak, one cannot dismiss the role of television in this important area of the
lives of adolescents. Rather, it is necessary to try to establish the conditions
under which adolescents are most vulnerable to incorporating unrealistic
sexual behavior depicted on television into their personal lives.
She noted that, televisions socializing effect on the sexual behavior of
adolescents could be mitigated by parental influence through the provision of
adequate countervailing messages. A research in this regard (Peterson et al)
revealed that adolescents who viewed television in the company of their
parents are less likely to be sexually active. However, solitary viewing of
television, without parental guidance, was directly related to sexual experience
in boys. These results indicate that television could provide opportunities for
sex education by parents if they seize the sex portrayals on televised material
as a chance to explain the underlying messages to their children.
Hence, television could become a springboard for parents to launch on
sex education for their adolescents. They can use positive portrayals of sex to
reinforce acceptable sexual behavior and negative portrayals to express their
disgust and disapproval.

2.1.4 How television undermines persistence

Two other contributors to the same book, Robin Flanagan and John B.
Black, writing under the heading, “Television and Persistence” found the
medium guilty of reducing viewers’ ability to persist in the face of difficulty.
“We are concerned that problems such as persistence may not be a matter of

poor television programming but may have more to do with the television
viewing experience itself” (Swan, Meskill, DeMaio, 1998:45).
According to them, viewing television initiates a learning condition
under which the learner is passive, and his or her actions have no impact,
whatsoever, on the feedback or stimulation that he or she receives. This, they
claim, results in behavioral problems that they identified as ‘learned
helplessness’, as a result of the lack of contingency between the actions of the
viewer and the feedback from television.
The book said a study undertaken by Flanagan and Black in 1994 to
measure the relationship between television viewing and persistence in
children showed that when children begun a session with a passive activity
such as viewing video or listening to a story on mathematics, they were
significantly less persistent in solving difficult problems in mathematics later
on than if they begun their lessons with interactive activities. This finding
seems to correlate with that reported in the book ‘Television and the Quality
of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience’, where the writers report
that, “Spending time with television might make concentration more difficult
afterward”, (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:123).
The writers claim a second study undertaken by Flanagan to determine
whether watching television for as little as 15 minutes could affect persistence
found out that students who were given a difficult tangram puzzle to solve
after a non-mediated session persisted longer with the puzzles than those who
attempted working out the puzzles after viewing a video clip. Hence, they
concluded, “the mere dissociation between the viewers’ actions and the
feedback received may be inducing a form of learned helplessness in the
viewer. Learned helplessness therefore begins as soon as the television set is
switched on (Swan, Meskill, DeMaio, 1998:54,55).

In an effort to explain why television may induce a state of learned

helplessness, the writers identified fast program pace, which is facilitated by
quick action images, sound effects and exciting music, as one of the reasons,
which they claim could result in an “inability to tolerate delay in the non-
television or real world” (Swan, Meskill, DeMaio, 1998:51).
Another reason may be that, apart from car chase scenes and some
detective stories, television narratives normally eliminate those actions that
require effort and persistence. Thus, through omission, television portrays a
world in which nothing is difficult to achieve or requires persistence thus
instilling this perception in the minds of viewers. For instance, in a program
on nature, what has been discovered is shown on television without anything
on the weeks, or even years, of tedious search that led to that discovery. This
is precisely because; television is a medium that has been designed to keep the
messy and boring side of life, such as effort and strain, behind the scenes.
Hence, there exists dissociation between results and actions that led to that
result on the screen.
Flanagan and Black claim that other studies have also established a link
between television viewing and restlessness. A five-year study involving 63
children undertaken by Singer et al (1984) indicated that some television
programs induced restlessness in children (Swan, Meskill, DeMaio, 1998:47,
48). This corresponds with findings reported in the book ‘Television Viewing
and the Quality of life: How viewing Shapes Everyday Experience’ where it
was reported that, research findings indicate that the level of relaxation falls
after viewing television. “There is no evidence in these analyses to suggest
that television viewing offers emotional rewards that extend beyond viewing”
(Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:127). This is important when considering the
long -term effects of Television viewing.

According to Flanagan and Black, learned helplessness associated with

viewing television occurs regardless of its content and “sets up a context in
which the feedback, stimulation, and rewards that accrue to the viewer are not
contingent on what the viewer does, beyond turning the television set on or
off, or turning to a different channel” (Swan, Meskill, DeMaio, 1998:58).
In this regard, they claimed it was dangerous to label any viewing
experience as educational since viewing television programs or videos labeled
as educational are a non-contingent experience just like any other television
program. Hence, they stand the danger of facilitating a learned helplessness
pattern in children, which may continue through other learning experiences.
The writers contend that even though the child may or may not be
aware of the non-contingency, “in either case, the learned helplessness pattern
should emerge, leading to decreased persistence and decreased exertion of
effort.” The child thus forms certain expectations of the future, such as
“learning is easy”, or “learning doesn’t take any effort or participation on my
part”, or “if it is hard, I will just turn it off or switch the channel” associated
with learned helplessness.
Flanagan and Black sum up with the view that, “in short, the viewing of
videos labeled in some way as educational may set up a learned helplessness
disposition regarding one particular class or topic, regarding one kind of
learning, regarding one particular day, or end up feeding a longer term
learning disposition that relies heavily on watching, judging, switching when
bored, and not making any personal effort” (ibid).

2.1.5 Television literacy and education

But Greenfield, writing in her book, “Mind and Media”, has an entirely
different view. “My own opinion is that the damaging effects the electronic

media can have on children are not intrinsic in the media but grow out of the
ways the media are used” (Greenfield, 1984:2).
She contended that, “television watching can become a passive,
deadening activity if adults do not guide their children’s viewing and teach
children to watch critically and to learn from what they watch” (ibid).
According to Greenfield, television can serve as a strong positive tool
for learning and development in children if it is used wisely since they provide
mental skills to children that are different from those developed by reading
and writing. Besides, television conveys certain kinds of information better
than the printed word, overcomes the barrier of illiteracy for adults and
children alike by providing them with information, which they cannot read for
themselves, and provides an alternative to children who do not perform well
under the traditional system of learning (ibid).
She said because television images are imbued with motion, they are
ideal in presenting information about dynamic processes, transformation and
spatial information and also suits the mental capabilities of the young child.
Elementary school children, for instance, remember actions from a narrated
television story better than if the same story were read to them from a picture
book because the actions involved are more explicit on television.
Greenfield recalled the example of how five and seven-year old
Swedish children who watched a film on the process of a tree growing from
seed to maturity learned more information than their counterparts who
watched a narrated version made up of still pictures. Evidently, it was the
movement inherent in the motion film that made the difference to the
children’s ability to grasp information.

She however admits that, without active participation, learning is

impossible, “so the passivity encouraged by television must be overcome if
television is to be a tool for learning” (Greenfield, 1984: 6).
She suggested children should be assisted to know the symbolic code of
television since “learning to decode the symbols of film or television is
something like learning to read” (Greenfield, 1984:10). She said the symbolic
code of television includes visual techniques such as cutting from one shot to
another, panning, zooming and auditory techniques such as the use of faceless
narrators or canned laughter. These techniques, she said, are symbolic
representations that stand for something in the real world. Accordingly,
“When a camera zooms in on a detail it communicates a relationship between
that detail and its larger context. A simple cut usually means a change of
perspective on a given scene. A dissolve (where one shot visually dissolves
into another) signifies a change of scene or a change of time. Split screen
denotes an act of comparison. The use of a faceless narrator implies that the
person narrating has some distance, either physical or psychological, from the
scene being portrayed” (ibid).
Greenfield said because children fail to interpret the relationships
between shots, which carry information about space and time, they fail to
grasp the meaning of films. Two successive shots, for instance, indicate a
change of scene or two points of view on the same scene whilst dissolves or
fades indicate punctuation, providing clues as to how the shots are
She pointed out that the stage of a child’s development makes a
significant impact on his or her ability to read a film. It is only children above
the age of seven who can accurately infer the connections among scenes on
adult television programs whilst younger children normally regard each shot

as independent of the others. The skill required to read the interconnections

between adult films by children is a process that reaches its maturity by age
ten (ibid).
Hence, “an understanding of visual techniques cannot be taken for
granted, and the use of these techniques affects how well a film will be
understood” (Greenfield, 1984:13).
Learning to read the symbolic language of television, which Greenfield
described as television literacy skills, apart from being dependent on the age
and maturity of a child is also greatly influenced by one’s exposure to the
medium. Studies indicate that, the more one watches television, the more one
learns to decode its messages.
Citing an example of a study undertaken by Salomon in Israel, to
investigate the impact of “sesame street”, an educational program for children,
she said the study revealed that seven to nine-year olds who were heavy
viewers of “Sesame Street” did not only excel on tests relating to the program
but also excelled in texts to measure skills related to the programs symbolic
code of representation. This proves that television literacy is facilitated by
exposure to the medium itself.
Besides, studies also revealed that the children with the highest
television literacy skills also had the highest knowledge of the contents of
“Sesame Street”. “Having good literacy skills at one time made it easier for
children to learn the programs content at a later time. The opposite effect did
not occur, however; learning cognitive content did not influence the later
acquisition of television literacy skills” (Greenfield, 1984:17).
In another study, lectures in a high school physics class, which used a
lot of films to disseminate information, benefited those students who had more
experience with films than those with limited experience in film. Apparently,

the level of television literacy that students bring to it determines the value of
film as an instructional tool.
According to Greenfield, these experiments prove that, “television
literacy, developed partly through exposure to television and partly through
development, makes it possible to use television to transmit knowledge and
cognitive skills to the young child. The parallel to print is clear: the acquisition
of basic literacy skills makes it possible to use print to transmit information
and ideas. There is a difference, however: children must be taught to read, but
they learn television literacy on their own by simply watching television”
(Greenfield, 1984: 17).
She said contrary to popular opinion, watching television does present a
mental challenge, which unlike reading, can be acquired without special
tuition. However, the danger that the complex and varied symbolic codes of
television will be processed automatically, without effort, leading to passivity
on the part of the viewer cannot be ruled out.
Greenfield said whether a television program will be viewed actively or
passively depends on the attitudes of viewers towards television or the context
of social interaction in which television is viewed.
But still other writers strongly debunk the fact that television could
become a medium for instruction to children. Writing in the book, “Why
viewers watch”, Jib Fowles, claims, “The instructional aspect of television for
children, which are the focal point for much adult discussion, count for little
with young people. What television means to them is fantasy and more
fantasy” (Fowles, 1992:227).
He said when children are asked what gratifications they derive from
television, they normally point out the fantasy gratifications first which
outnumbers any other gratification. Besides, a research carried out by Wilbur

Schramm also showed that children most often select fantasy programs as
their list of favorite programs, which usually outnumber reality programs at a
ratio of twenty to one (ibid).
Further studies carried out by Schramm and his research team at
Stanford University showed that when learning does occur from television,
which is a very rare incidence, it is most often “casual and inadvertent on the
child’s part. The young person does not think of himself as a student when
viewing, and thus, that is not the mode of learning that goes on; what
commonly happens is that something of interest comes up in the course of a
show and the child will latch onto that one item” (Fowles, 1992: 222).
This indicates that whatever learning takes place from television is
incidental. Besides, other surveys carried out by Schramm showed that
children normally avoid didactic programs and thus virtually never watch
educational, public affairs and news programs, even when such programs have
been tailored to suit their needs (Fowles, 1992:223).
Consequently, for children, television is a means of entertainment, not
instruction. Hence, entertainment, rather than information, and fantasy, rather
than reality is what takes priority.
And as, George Heinemann, Vice president of one of America’s
television network put it, “We’re story tellers, not teachers, Leave the teaching
to the teachers in the classroom” (Fowles, 1992:227).

2.1.6 Televised violence and advertisements

But whether television networks view their programs as instructional or
not, they do carry out certain kinds of education and socialization that most
people find undesirable.

In the book “Children in the Cradle of Television” the writer hinted that
a central concern about the effects of television on children has being in the
area of violence, where questions as to whether children are modeling and
imitating the violence they see on television have been raised. “Does a child’s
viewing of television violence increase the likelihood of that child committing
subsequent aggressive acts?”, he asked (Palmer, 1987:71).
He said research by Psychologist, Albert Bandura in 1963, suggests that
children do imitate what they see on television. Other studies have found out
that, the more children viewed violence on television, the more they became
desensitized to violence in real life (Palmer, 1987: 71,72).
According to the author, “there was virtually no support for the early
suggestion that violence viewing functioned as emotional release (catharsis),
cleansing the viewer of aggressive tendencies. To the contrary, aggressive
tendencies were heightened by viewing” (Palmer, 1987:72).
He said other studies on the long-tern effects of television viewing
painted a still gloomy picture on the effects of violence. Research studies
carried out by Monroe Lefkowitz and his co-workers revealed that heavy
television viewing among eight –year old boys was exceedingly connected to
their likelihood of becoming juvenile delinquents in later years.
George Gerbner and his co-workers also discovered that heavy
television viewers also had a tendency to significantly overestimate
aggression-related dangers in their daily lives and developed expectations of
personalities who would be both perpetrators and victims of violence. This is
because; women the elderly and minority groups are normally always
portrayed as the victims of televised violence (ibid).
The book also identified advertisements as one area that had a profound
effect on young viewers. It said a number of professional groups have

expressed concern about the dental health risks inherent in the advertisement
of sugary food to children. Heavily sugared cereals remain the most advertised
food items on children’s programs, leading to the cultivation of unhealthy
eating habits in children and contributing to the incidence of obesity.
The success of these advertisements lies in the psychological appeals
they make to children, by identifying fun and acceptance with the use of
products. Meanwhile, they normally omit important information about the
product, such as, its ingredients, price, durability whilst subtly conveying
information on male and racial dominance and glorifying leisure (Palmer,
1987: 74).
In a bid to explain the social position occupied by television in the
household, the writer drew an analogy between television and a bottle
containing dangerous pills sitting on the bathroom. He said whilst adults are
aware that the pill is dangerous and know how to use it safely, children lack
both the awareness that the pill is dangerous and the knowledge on how to use
it safely. In order to protect children from the potential danger of the pill, three
choices are open; the manufacturer could label it with a “yuk face” to keep
children away, the company could be required to use a container lid that only
adults can open, or parents should be instructed to lock up all dangerous pills
in a cupboard.
The book said this analogy between television and a dangerous pill
bottle is simplistic in the sense that, while it is easy to identify the pill within
the bottle as dangerous, it is more difficult to identify the dangerous within
television (Palmer, 1987:71).
When it comes to child protection with regards to television as
illustrated by the pill bottle analogy, it is necessary to consider the
responsibilities of those who undertook the creation of the pill bottle and what

it contains, as well as their marketing and positioning on the bathroom

counter. The parties involved in the case of television are the network and the
producer, manufacturers and sellers of television sets, the government and the
consumer, which is the family (Palmer, 1987:74).
Of all the parties, families as consumers are the ones who can readily
take the matter into their own hands by learning effective consumer skills in
relation to the use and viewing of television. Research indicates that by taking
a conscious decision about the role television will play in their lives rather
than leaving it to chance, families are able to use it to their advantage. This
includes deciding on viewing patterns and programs that will promote the
chosen role of television in their lives (Palmer, 1987:77).
After undertaking this first decision, it will be necessary for families to
examine what the different channels of television have on offer and select
those that conform to their first decision. It is also important that parents learn
to view the majority of programs with children since research indicates that
the negative effects of television are greatly mitigated in children who view
with their parents.
In order not to allow television to be the sole family activity, parents
should provide social alternatives to television viewing. They should also
serve as a model for children’s television viewing by putting up a good
example. Families as a whole should also be supportive of individual members
and help each other develop a planned and positive use of television.
Manufacturers of television sets have also contributed their quota to
child protection by the channel lock, which allows parents to lock off channels
deemed potentially dangerous to children (Palmers, 1987:78).

2.1.7 Racial and sexual stereotypes on television.

But in spite of the precautions that may be taken by parents to shield
children from the effects of television such as violence, portrayals of sex and
pornography, still other undesirable messages sieve through some acceptable
programs into the consciousness of children. These normally occur in the
realm of sexual and racial stereotypes. Palmer states that, “Males dominate the
cast of characters, giving them social recognition and status. Sex stereotypes
are both blatantly and subtly reinforced, and they serve to enhance the male
image and diminish the female” (Palmer, 1987:80).
Bradley Greenberg, a researcher, said the roles in which women are cast
on television represent “one of the most sensitive indicators of the distribution
of power and allocation of values that the symbolic world bestows upon its
victors and victims”. In a survey of top educational shows, Rita Dohrmann, a
media researcher, discovered a profound sexual inequity with men repeatedly
role-cast as active and on the masterful side of a relationship while women
were cast as passive and dependent in relationships (Ibid).
According to “Children in the Cradle of Television”, women direct only
10 percent of all television production and write less than 20 percent. In 1984,
only 6 percent of the writers for Paramount Pictures were women while there
was no single female writer for another network that produced major female
character series (ibid).
The book “A Measure of Uncertainty: The Effects of Mass Media” also
beliefs that the media propagates stereotypes of women. It said an analysis of
1600 commercials by Knill et al (1981) showed that over 80 percent of female
product representatives were shown in the home or family setting whilst
almost 70 percent of male product representatives appeared in business and

managerial occupations. Male voices also provided 90 percent of voice overs

or authoritative comments (Cumberbatch, Howit, 1989:14).
Content analysis carried out on dramatic fiction showed parallel
patterns. A research undertaken by Signorielli (1984) revealed that between
1969 and 1981, men outnumbered women on the American television screens
by a ratio of 3 to 1. In Soap Operas, deemed the preserve of women, women
were cast in subordinate positions to men while in adventure and children’s
genres, stereotyped roles of men and women were highly visible. In
educational programs such as “Sesame Street” and “Mister Roger’s
Neighborhood”, men were portrayed as achievers, masterful and exhibited
ingenuity whilst women were portrayed as passive and helpless
(Cumberbatch, Howit, 1989:15).
Blacks and Hispanics are normally cast in situation comedies or as
criminals while less than 5 percent of roles in primetime programs and films
are allocated to blacks. This reflects the belief that “minority themes and
minority leads in television series spell low Nielsen ratings and disaster”. For
instance, LeVar Burton, a black actor (Kunte Kinte in roots) found himself
unemployed and part of the actors that could easily be gotten rid off in the
business (Palmer, 1987: 81).
The writer was of the view that since children cannot be protected from
sex and race related stereotypes on television, the best alternative remains the
production of prosocial programs that are not tied to Nielsen ratings such as
“Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers”.
In the book, “Questioning the Media”, a case study of the United States
on how the media promotes racial stereotypes, entitled ‘Racism and the
American way of Media’, said, “Communicating racism, both in the mass
media and the conversations fed by the mass media, sustains it as an active

cultural and therefore political force’ (Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-

Mohammadi, 1995:354).
The author, Ash Corea, wrote, “In general, as television developed,
either African Americans were portrayed as simple happy uneducable
buffoons or they were ignored” (Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-
Mohammadi, 1995:354). Even the contributions of African Americans to
national achievements went unrecognized by television. According to Ash
Corea, despite the overrepresentation of African Americans compared with
their numbers in the general population in the Vietnam War, documentaries on
the war scarcely included or mentioned them (ibid).
In addition, television, radio and the music industry have seized the
cultural forms produced by African Americans in the development of art,
especially music to which they have been pivotal such as blues, jazz and
swing, without their actual participation.
She noted that whilst the original swing bands were those of African
Americans; Duke Ellington and Count Basie, bands of white Americans;
Glenn Miller and the Dorsey brothers were dubbed ‘king of swing.’
The writer further argues that there has never being an African
American musical star who has owned a musical television series ‘with
national syndication and a national advertising sponsor’. She cited the
example of the Nat “King” Cole show premiered on NBC in 1956, which
never found a national sponsor in spite of its popularity, and the efforts of
NBC. “None of the conglomerates wanted to be identified with a ‘Negro
program” (ibid) she wrote.
Concluding her arguments that television has become a tool for the
entrenchment of racism in the American culture, Ash Corea wrote, “The U.S.
version of apartheid is as evident on TV as it is in the city neighborhoods. . .At

the same time, when African Americans do appear, their presentation

normally fits the racist culture of this society like a glove. It is especially the
case that the absence of African Americans from positions of authority in the
television industry has contributed to their lack of influence over media roles
and portrayals” (Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1995:360).
The writers of “Television and the Socialization of the Minority Child”
also support this view. “Minorities are rarely part of television’s social order”,
they wrote (Berry, Mitchell-Kernan, 1982:23).
For instance, according to a study undertaken by Mendelson &Young in
1972, only 9 percent of characters cast in Saturday morning network
programming in the United States belong to minorities while 61 percent are
whites. The remaining 30 percent are not ethnically identifiable (ibid).
Besides, minority characters, such as blacks, normally appear in
programs that are filled with minority characters such as situation comedies,
which account for 60 percent of black characters appearing in primetime
series. But when minorities are cast in programs other than black series, they
are usually few and play minor characters (Berry, Mitchell Kernan, 1982:24).
Consequently, for children, whites dominate the world of television.
Even though some researchers claim there have significant changes in
the way blacks and other minorities are portrayed on television, the
relationship of power between minorities and whites still remain the same.
According to a 1977 report issued by the United States Commission for Civil
Rights, minorities, especially blacks, were more likely in the past to be
portrayed in negative roles such as incompetent, violent, stupid, victimized,
lazy, servile, and humorous. However, an analysis of some broadcast series in
mid 1974 “showed that blacks more than whites, made reparations for bad
behavior, resisted temptation, delayed gratification or persisted in tasks, and

explained their feelings: they acted aggressively and altruistically less than
whites did” (Donagher, Poulos, Liebert, & Davidson, 1975).
But the power relationships that were once clear in early portrayals,
with subservient roles and negative characters being the preserve of blacks,
are now subtler. Black dominance occurs only in black series whilst in a
production involving whites they are less dominant. Besides, in the few
productions that blacks are allowed to dominate, they do so in collaboration
with white partners. Minority characters are portrayed as victims, rather than
killers and less likely to be authority figures or information sources in
educational shows (Berry, Mitchell Kernan, 1982: 25).
According to “Television and the Socialization of the Minority Child”,
“The personality characteristics given to minority characters and the situations
in which they are demonstrated are generally supportive of the current social
structure. So too are the majority of social roles minorities, as opposed to
whites, fill on television. Minorities normally fit our stereotypes of American
society by being poor (Fernandez-Collado et al., 1978, 1979) and confined to
their own ghetto. When minorities have more powerful roles, they are
generally those that support the current social order (Clark 1969). Blacks are
police officers and teachers. They maintain the current laws of the land and
educate our children into our system. There are only infrequent glimpses of
minorities who are middle or upper class, who live and work in a social order
that is more equitable for all, or who successfully challenge inequities” (ibid).
The writers claim that racial stereotypes on television have implications
for children who look up to television for role models. For minority children,
the choice of role models originating from the same ethnicity as themselves
are few and fall within a small variety of careers, personality characteristics
and social circumstances. The only choice of role models who are powerful

and successful then falls among white characters. The fact that minority
children are presented with two choices makes their social learning from
television unpredictable. If they choose to model themselves after minority
roles, they are more likely to cultivate a less knowledgeable, less assertive,
less wealthy, and less dominant attitude than their white counterparts and in
the process accept white versions of who they are. On the other hand, if they
choose they model themselves after white characters, they might imbibe
white, rather than minority values and imitate their behavior in relation to
family life, money, work, competition, aggression and co-operation (Berry,
Mitchell-Kernan, 1982: 27, 28).
Hence, inevitably, minority children may be forced to abandon
characteristic features of their own culture in order to model themselves after
white role models, or may have to rely heavily on their families and
communities for role models (ibid).
Further more, the long hours spent watching television may undermine
the development of other skills and interests. The development of any skill
requires investment of time, which is spent watching television. It may be
necessary to find out what both minority and white children lose by watching
television. For some children, the alternatives may be negative such as
involvement in fistfights, alcohol and drug use and crime. But for several
others, they might be giving up positive things such as the development of
athletic, intellectual, artistic, interpersonal and mechanical skills (ibid).

2.1.8 Television soap operas in family life

An ethnographic study to investigate the place of soap operas in the
home, a feminist approach to the soap opera genre and how viewers read it as

a text was carried out in Western Oregon in the United States by Seiter et al
(, 2004:5).
Most of the 64 people, who were interviewed in the study, including 15
men, claimed that viewing soap operas served as a source of catharsis and was
therapeutically beneficial.
Writing in the book “Soap Operas and Women’s Talk”, Brown stated
that women find pleasure in soap operas because they see other women
expressing their feelings and feel free to gossip about soap opera characters
because there is no repercussion for doing so (Brown, 1994:18).
In interviews conducted by Dorothy Hobson with women to investigate
why they find soap operas pleasurable, they said it was due to the
undemanding nature of the genre, its interesting story lines and the ability for
viewers to become emotionally involved (Seitel et al, 1991:157).
In her article “Why are Soap Operas so popular?” Helena Robson said
soap operas “appeal to the masses because it allows viewers to put their
knowledge of the world and knowledge of the conventions of television into
play. The close –up shots characteristically used in soaps enables viewers to
focus on the characters’ emotions and to understand most, if not all, of the
actions depicted…In this way, the characters are emotional representatives,
inviting the audience to partake in the arising issues and conflicts, in order that
they may seek temporary solutions to the problems they are experiencing in
real life” (, 2004:2).
However, other research studies have shown that women rarely watch
soap operas in an attempt to seek solutions for their problems but rather the
setting of soap operas as well as the time they are telecast makes women the
majority of viewers. A research undertaken by Modleski showed that soap
operas often reflect the role of women in the home and are mostly aired in the

day. This makes them an automatic choice for women working at home.
Because the genre is undemanding, with more emphasis on talk, rather than
action, women can go about their busy schedules at home whilst catching a
gist of soap opera conversation on television. Besides, soap operas emphasis
on family, public situations and the community instills a sense of belonging in
viewers and offers a surrogate family and social life for the lonely
(, 20042).
Just like Modleski, Kreizenberg, another researcher on soaps, claims
that soaps derive their strength from the family unit. He pointed out that most
often, soaps question family relations while including occasional dramatic
events such as a death or a wedding in their plots in addition to mundane
situations such as family feuds. By so doing, the genre successfully holds the
interest of viewers (Allen, 1992:130).
However, some writers do not view women’s fascination with soaps as
merely because it reflects the home but because most often it shows how male
dominance at home is challenged by women.
Writing in “Women and Soap Operas: A study of Prime –Time Soaps”,
Geraghty observed that “the pleasure for women viewers of patriarchal soaps
is the demonstration that male power, challenged on the one hand by moral
questioning and on the other by the women’s refusal to be controlled, can
never be fully unproblematically asserted” (Geraghty, 1991:74).
Thus, soaps serve as an outlet for feminine anger since they normally
strip the male head of the family of the stereotypical authoritative and
powerful image associated with action thrillers.
Consequently, some writers, such as Brown, view soaps as a source of
feminine strength because “they help women test the waters to see how far
they can go in challenging social norms” (Brown, 1994:12).

This view, is however, a far cry from the views held by some writers
who assert that women’s preoccupation with soap operas is symptomatic of
physical and psychic maladies whilst others see it as playing on the low
intelligence Quotient (I.Q) of women and a refuge for the lazy housewife.
According to the book, “Speaking of soap Operas”, “ Soap Operas serve
as a sort of re-medial ethics and civics lesson for the socially retarded” (Allen,
1985:26). The book quotes a Soap Opera writer as saying; “Women of the
daytime audiences are having physical and psychic problems that they
themselves cannot understand, that they cannot solve. Being physical, they
feel the thrust of these problems. Being poor, they cannot buy remedies in the
form of doctors, new clothes or deciduous coiffures; being unanalytical, they
cannot figure out what is really the matter with them; being inarticulate, they
cannot explain their problem even if they know what it is…Soap opera takes
them into their own problems or into problems worse than their own (which is
the same thing only better). Or it takes them away from their problems. It
gives listeners two constant and frequently simultaneous choices-participation
or escape. Both work.” (ibid).
The book also sees soap operas as functioning to restrict women’s role
in society to the domestic sphere. The author asserted that, a study carried out
on women by Warner and Henry showed that soaps operas work to strengthen
and stabilize the basic social structure of society, the family, by impressing on
the minds of women that the world outside is evil and unfulfilling and their
place is in the home. According to the book, these researchers summed up
their research saying; “…As females in our society they have learned by
rewards and punishment, from birth to sexual maturity, to conform to the rigid
conventions of our middle class culture. They have been trained by their
families to be wives and mothers and, unconsciously, to carry out and

maintain the roles, moral beliefs, and values of their social level. This they do
most effectively. We shall have occasion to say it later, but is well to say it
now, that should they fail in this behavior our society, as we know it, will not
continue” (Allen, 1985:28).
This view of soap operas as an instrument for maintaining the status
quo is also shared by Dolores Hayden in her book “Redesigning the American
Dream: The future of housing, work and family life”. She asserts that soap
operas were designed to fit into a domestic setup that will nurture “a
conservative point of view in the working man” (Hayden, 1984:33). They are
tied to the need to entice women away from the workplace, a place they
virtually invaded during world war one; and the call by unions for a ‘family
wage’ for men so that women and children will not need to work (ibid).
But the book, “Never ending stories, American Soap Operas and the
Cultural Production of Meaning” has a different viewpoint. According to the
book, “Not only women who work outside the home but also those who take
care of a household and children vehemently distance themselves from the
image of the (lazy) housewife associated with the prototypical soap opera
viewer” (Borchers, Kreutzner, Warth, 1994:197).
Citing some interviews that were conducted with women, the book said
some women had the opinion that viewing soap operas was illicit terrain
which had a stigma attached to it. It quoted one of the interviewees, identified
as Jane, as saying, “Only housewives that don’t have anything better to do
watch soap operas” (ibid).
According to the book, this interviewee relates the stigmatized and
culturally discriminated text of soap operas to the image of soap opera viewers
as bored housewives. Another interviewee, a mother of two and a part time
worker said, “For years, I will never watch a soap. To me, that was the worst

thing. Only housewives will sit around all day and watch soap operas. That is
the worst” (ibid).
Most writers also point out that the soap opera genre was born,
developed and maintained out of the need to reach women with
advertisements. “In the soap opera, advertisers have found the ideal vehicle
for the reinforcement of advertising impressions and the best means yet
devised for assuring regular viewing”, says the book, “Speaking of Soap
Operas”(Allen, 1985:47).
The writer goes on to say, “Viewed in this light, the soap opera text is
but a context for the messages of the corporations that ‘sponsor’ the soap
operas’ presentation. Obviously, however, it is that ‘context’ which attracts
the viewer and sustains his or her attention between commercials” (Allen,
Mary Ellen Brown, in her book, “Soap Opera and Women’s Talk”,
traces the history of the genre as arising initially by the need of manufacturing
companies to sell soap to housewives before being used by numerous others to
sell their products to women (Brown, 1994: 44).
Still other writers have tried to establish how soap opera characters
correspond to real life characters.
In the book, “Women and Soap Opera: A study of Prime –Time Soaps”,
Marion Jordan identified three types of women normally portrayed by Soap
Operas. They are the ‘married woman’, the ‘single woman’ and the
‘grandmother’ type. Meanwhile, Buckman recognizes social types such as the
‘good woman’, the ‘bitch’, the ‘villain’ and the ‘decent husband’ (Geraghty,
Various writers have also tried to expound the effects of television on
the cultural, socio economic and even religious lives of viewers. Such

investigations have ranged from the view of television as a tool of cultural

imperialism to the role of religious fetishism.

2.1.9 Television as a tool of imperialism

From the point of view of cultural imperialism, television does not just
inform but carries out the information process clothed within a cultural garb
that promotes and reinforces certain cultures while destroying others. Central
to this perception is the notion that the cultures of third world countries are
being purged out of existence by the overwhelming exportation of western
culture to these countries via television resulting in the imposition of western
ideologies. Research into the current information imbalance between
developed and developing countries suggests that the flow of news from the
developed into the developing countries is a hundred times that of the vice
versa. Studies undertaken by UNESCO showed that African countries
imported 55 per cent of their television programs. This perspective has led to
calls for a new world information and communication order.
In the book ‘Questioning the Media, A Critical Introduction’ Ali
Mohammedi, writing on the topic ‘Cultural Imperialism and National Identity’
said, Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran, as far back as the 1940’s
spoke against the negative impact of the importation of western values
(Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1990:374). He “warned that
the media were propaganda vehicles for western imperialists who were trying
to undermine Iran”. Consequently, some religious authorities condemned
watching television. Others labeled the possession of a television set as sinful.
“The city of Qum, which is the equivalent of the Vatican for Iranian Shi'ite
Muslims actually banned the viewing of television…” (ibid).

According to the writer, not only did television serve as a multiplier of

western values, consumptions promoted by advertisements and the depiction
of western lifestyles in films but also sought to undermine age old traditions
such as marriage and courtship systems in Iran since what was depicted in
western films was in contradiction to what pertained in Iran where parents
play a key role in the choice of one’s spouse, courtship and marriage (ibid).
Ali Mohammed said Iranian television programs comprised of only 22
percent of serious local programs and 78 percent of imported western films.
These included: “star trek”, “Days of our loves”, “I love Lucy”, “Bonanza”,
“Marcus Welby”, “M.D” and “Tarzan” among others (Downing, Mohammadi,
Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1995:373).
Ali Mohammed noted that similar sentiments were shared by Ghandi
and leaders of the non/aligned movement of third world countries who at a
meeting of the heads of state of member countries in 1973 made a formal joint
declaration that imperialist activities in the third world were not confined to
only the political and economic spheres but had extended its tentacles to the
social and cultural spheres through the superiority of the communications
technology and communications software of the developed world.
They described this as a threat to their own national cultures and
The writer emphasized that the experience of Iran showed ‘how neo-
colonial subordination and cultural inferiority can be fostered from a distance,
without the elaborate machinery of colonial rule” (Downing, Mohammadi,
Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1995:377).
But the book “Agents of Power” recognizes that Africa and other third
world countries whose cultural heritage may be under threat because of
western dominance over television could use the same medium to promote

their culture. The writer said in spite of the fact that many professional
journalists and professors in Nigeria were educated in Britain and the United
States, they were firmly behind their country’s official broadcasting policy of
preserving their traditional heritage, no matter how primitive it may appear in
modern eyes (Altschull, 1984:157).
Hence, “through out the 19 states of Nigeria, programs feature colorfully
costumed native singers and dancers chanting in local languages and dancing
to the beat of ceremonial drums” (Altschull, 1984:158).
Occasionally, Nigerian television may include foreign programs like
“Starsky and Hutch”. However, in comparison with capitalist countries and
Latin American countries, they telecast very few of the situation comedies and
dramas aired in the United States. While English is the official language of
Nigeria with news programs broadcast in English, local languages dominate
other programs, which center on local themes (ibid).
The writer said, nonetheless, some Nigerians are not content with the
ratio of local to foreign programs. Voicing the opinions of many at a meeting
of broadcasters, Olufolaji Ajibola Fadeyibi, a lecturer of the University of
Lagos, lamented that too many British and American programs were being
presented on Ibadan television. Summing up his speech, he said, “The
conclusion is obvious. There is no need for us to perpetuate a situation as well
as condemn it at the same time. If the western nations won’t talk about us,
play our music and enlighten their audiences about our culture, then we have
no business talking about them, playing their music and showing “kojak”. By
so doing, we will be putting an end to our cultural genocide and
communication neo-colonialism. To expect the western nations to facilitate
the bi-directional flow of information is to expect a river to flow backwards.
Surely, no flow is better than free flow” (ibid).

The writer noted that, even though Nigeria could well stand out as the
most capitalist country in Africa, it shares the contempt exhibited by several
Africa countries for the cultural penetration of the continent by the United
States, Britain and the rest of the capitalist world.
Generally, most writers on television tend to fall into two broad
categories: those who advocate media education as a solution or as a means of
mediating the negative influences of television and those who painstakingly
analyze the effects of television on people, whether negative or positive.
Among those writers who have proposed media education as an urgent
necessity in view of the pervasiveness of television are Bukingham in his
books “Watching media learning: Making sense of media education” and
“Children Talking Television: The making of Television Literacy” and
Bianculli in “Teleliteracy: Taking Television seriously”. Other authors are
Barry in “Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image and manipulation in Visual
Communication; Alvarado, Gutch and Wollen in “Learning the Media: An
introduction to media Education” and Alvarado and Boyd-Barret in Media
Education: An Introduction”.
The second category of authors who have chronicled television effects
include Rosengren in “Media Effects and Beyond: Culture, Socialization and
Lifestyles” and Jameison and Campbell in “The Interplay of Influence: News,
Advertising, Politics and the mass Media”.

Generally, research on the usage of television programs in families has
shown that men are identified with factual programs (news, sports, current
affairs and documentaries) whilst women exhibit a preference for fictional
programs (Lull, 1988:43). In fact sports viewers are twice as likely to be an
adult male instead of a woman or a child (Comstock, 1978:113). Children and
the youth may take an interest in several programs, but children normally
prefer cartoons whilst the youth tend to gravitate around musical programs.

3.1.1 News and Sports for men

If one considers the fact that one of the key functions of the media, and
for that matter television, is to keep surveillance over society, no other genre
realizes this better than the news genre. It is through the gathering and
dissemination of news that television monitors the world for whatever is
threatening or unexpected and also confirms what is expected in the case of
planned events. As mentioned in chapter I, television replaces the primitive
fireplace in our time and serves as the pivot around which the family gathers
to listen to the events of the day.
This role of television in providing information is very crucial to the
well being of mankind. This is because whilst food and sleep are crucial to
survival, they are inadequate for maintaining psychological order in human
societies. People need certain types of information for reality maintenance and
assurance, which needs to be carried out regularly for their mental and
psychological well-being. The news genre provides information, which is
invaluable in the sense that, it helps to integrate and connect people with their

fellow human beings, confirm what they already know, and in the process
reassures them.
The importance of news in maintaining psychological health should not
be underestimated; messages that reassure people that there is order in the
world are indispensable for people to plan their lives and initiate personal
goals, without which disorder may enter the human consciousness as a form of
disabling anxiety.
Television is well equipped to inform because of the richness of its
visual information that enable it to achieve realism and psychological
The end result is that television news has demystified leaders by
reducing the awe that political leaders once enjoyed through ‘distant visibility’
by the excess familiarity given to them by repeated television coverage. This
familiarity brings politicians who were once held in awe to the scrutiny of
ordinary citizens where their human frailties such as stammering, sweating,
stumbling are on stage for every one to see (Downing, Mahammadi, Sreberny-
Mohammadi, 1995 :48, 49).
An example of how television can expose the emotions of leaders,
which in some cases may be detrimental, is the fall of United States President
Nixon. When the U.S public witnessed the gestures of President Nixon on
television during the ‘Watergate’ scandal, the general consensus was that he
behaved as if he had something to hide (Fowles, 1992:199).
Even though the investigations into President Nixon’s affairs was
initiated by two journalists whose reports appeared in one newspaper, the
effect was minimal until it was broadcast on television where it begun to draw
public opinion against the president. In 1973, television gave 37 days of live
coverage to the Watergate hearings, which stirred up the apprehensions of the

American people. Viewing the hearings, and other televised events that
followed, Americans were unanimous that hey did not like what they were
hearing or seeing which finally led to the impeachment of President Nixon.
Television news played a major role in this decision by putting the president
and the people in touch through good pictures (ibid).
Another event in which television news played a central role was the
assassination of U.S President John F. Kennedy in 1963. It was through
television that news of the assassination traveled through a nation of 200
million with much rapidity and accuracy. The American families did not only
experience and share the same emotions by viewing television but were also
able to share in the grief of the wife and children of the president; with the son
copying a salute and the daughter following her mother to kiss the flag on her
mother’s coffin (Fowles, 1992:176).
But in spite of the important role that television news plays in
maintaining the psychological health of individuals, it does not enjoy such a
large audience as the entertainment programs, but rather has become the
preserve of the adult male.
In one survey conducted in the U.S., less than 10 percent of the sample
being studied said they watched television for news and information whilst in
another survey, news programs were at the bottom of the list of program
preferences on television whilst entertainment programs were at the top. One
third of regular viewers of news also said in a survey they would not miss the
news if it were taken off screen for several weeks (Fowles, 1992:180).
One reason is that after a hard days work, most people find the further
imposition of informational material unwelcome. Whilst Television stations in
America devote 15 percent of programs to news, the audience spend only 10
percent of their viewing time on the news (Fowles, 1992:185).

Another research study established that only one third of the main
points of television news are understood by viewers, 40 percent of whom dine
whilst viewing television. Misinterpretation of news events is a common
phenomenon, as indicated by a study by the American Association of
Advertising Agencies in 1980. This phenomenon can be explained using
Gerhardt Wiebe’s (1970) scheme of directive, maintenance and restorative
usage of mass media content (Fowles, 1992:182). According to Wiebe, people
tend to convert directive messages, that is, news with new information content
that demand new responses, to maintenance messages. Maintenance messages
are a review, an embellishment or an elaboration of what people already
know. This conversion of messages from directive to maintenance occurs
when people feel threatened by new information that is likely to lead to an
imbalance, which the conversion helps them to avoid. Because most people
use television as a source of entertainment, there is also the danger of
converting directive information into restorative, escapist, messages. As
observed by Mark Robert Levy, “Many people also find that television news
entertains while it informs and reassures. Like situation comedies and
detective ‘shoot-’em –ups’, the newscast temporary releases some members of
the audience from the pressing cares of daily existence” (Fowles, 1992:183).
Hence, serious political news broadcasts may be taken as restorative
messages and entertainment by the audience, which will only undermine the
purposes for which the news has been telecast. When this conversion of
serious directive political messages into restorative messages occur, people are
likely to elect candidates who suit the fantasy needs of the public and possess
charismatic qualities, rather than what is required of them for good
governance (ibid).
79 Criticisms of television news

Firstly, airtime allocated to television news, which ranges from 15 to 30

minutes, means that only a few stories can be broadcast. These stories are also
more likely to be chosen for their film footage rather than news value (Fowles,
The drive for high audience members may lead to a preference for
material that is shallow and sensationalistic which allows triviality to drive out
more serious issues (ibid).
Because it takes a lot of time to assemble a television crew when news
suddenly breaks out, most news teams are likely to miss actual news events.
This result is the proliferation of pseudo-events where public relations officers
arrange happenings that are staged and filmed by television as news.
Besides, television is a narrative medium that delivers news in simple
story telling frames, which are closed, and limited. It ends up giving partial
truth, not all the truth with simple values. But the reality of life is complicated
truth. There are several angles to a story about a person who murders his
family and then commits suicide. The act involves psychological, cultural,
familial and other factors that cannot be given in the 30 seconds normally
allocated to each news item on television (CO 2036: The Language,
Experience and Genres of Television).
The urgency of television news also reduces the reality and complexity
of events. Television can afford to give only one angle of an event rather than
a global view.
At times, ideological motives, the need for scoops and the desire for
journalists to give different angles to a story end up creating a news story
different from what actually happened in their reportage (ibid).

3.1.2 Televised sports

As stated earlier, television has replaced the primitive fires around
which ancient man used to recount the stories of the day and to play.
Televised sports mimic this play in a way that no other television genre does
and shows how ritual participation takes place in the technological and
commercialized world of the media.
A billon people watch both the World Cup and the Olympic games
worldwide and over a 100 countries purchase television rights to these games
(Real, 1996:52). Televised World Cup games have been known to spark off
jubilations in countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Mexico and Ireland whose
teams were victorious. On the other hand, supporters of teams that lost have
been known to riot, fight and kill by the negative emotions inspired by what
they watched on television.
In the United States, the three major television networks broadcast
sporting events for on an average of 1,200 hours every year in 400 separate
events to a total of five billion viewers every year (Fowles, 1992:149). Televised sports: an advantage or disadvantage?

People watching television from the comfort of their living rooms are
more likely to have a clearer view of what happens during the game than some
less fortunate spectators whose positioning in the stadium may not give them
this advantage. This is because, television normally focuses on action around
the ball, cuts away views on team positioning and thus eliminates for the
viewer overall field strategy. Announcers provide cues for the viewer by
highlighting specific actions and players. Instant replays and slow motion

techniques also detach specific parts of the game for deeper scrutiny. The
screen also provides information on the scores, time and performance details
(Real, 1996:57).
But perhaps, of even greater advantage is the fact that, televised sports
by reducing the potential number of people at a sporting event, also greatly
reduces sports related violence and offers some degree of protection to those
who participate in sporting events via the screen. The history of sports,
especially football, is replete with stories of violence: In Ghana, over a 100
people died in the Accra Sports Stadium in 2000 when the police tried to use
tear gas to control supporters of the Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko,
two archrivals in Ghanaian football.
During the European Cup finals in 1985, 39 people were killed and 437
injured in confrontations between the two finalists, Liverpool and Juventus of
Italy. In 1989, 95 people died at the Heysel Stadium in Hillsborough, and
during the 1994 World Cup, Colombia player, 27-year-old Andres Escobar,
was assassinated by an angry fan because he let his country down (Real,
In addition to the above, others have identified the element of fantasy in
televised sports as the central issue bringing benefits to the adult male, much
like how some fictional genres provide fantasy for their audiences. According
to this school of thought, various forms of assaults are essential in any
sporting event. As television critic, Horace Newcomb put it “The idea of
conflict is central. Legitimate violence is present in varying degrees in athletic
contests” (Newcomb, 1974:192). Hence, in sports, balls and other surrogates
rather than people are hit (Fowles, 1992:148).
Televised sports also bears some structural parallels to fictionalized
genres in the sense that they are all governed by certain conventions, operate

within strict time constraints and revolve around actions that should neither be
boring nor unbelievable at the same time. Besides sports contest also involve
good and bad guys all striving to win a trophy, and produces heroes for
viewers to identify with just like any other fantasy genre (Fowles, 1992:149).
Therefore sports also serve as an antithesis for a day of hard work, and a stress
reliever. This fact was testified by a report in Time magazine in 1978, which
said the number of violent assaults, more than doubled after the end of the
football season in the home of the ‘Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys’
(Fowles, 1992:151).
Others have criticized televised sports for isolating viewers from the
scene of activity, saying, “this arms length involvement in sports eliminates
for spectators the benefits to physical health and reduces the benefits in
general to psychic, emotional and social ones” (Downing, Mohammadi,
Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1995:471).
According to the critics, televised sports encourage fans to dream
themselves into phony self-images of vigor, action and victory whilst leading
passive and unhealthy lifestyles. “Alas, the sports coach potato does exist”,
they claim (ibid).
Another criticism leveled against the televised sport fan is that he does
not experience the “environment of crowds, expressive behavior of cheering
and booing, physical movement to and at the game and other traditional
experiences of the classic sports spectator” (ibid).
Besides television has changed the very nature of sports and seems to
dictate the evolvement of sports to suit its needs, created and spiraled by an
intense commercialization due to advertisements which has brought sports
into the realm of the spectacular.

Before the advent of television, American football had two teams with
15 members each, with four as reserve players. The spectators were local fans
and groups of friends, who identified with each other, the players and the
community or city in which the sporting teams were based (Baugh, CO2036:
Today, television has rendered sports fans impersonal whilst sporting
teams no longer consist of local fans but foreign players because sports has
been rendered spectacular by television and has become a highly
commercialized activity.
The sporting event used to be directly experienced and there was
dialogue between spectators and players and a shared feeling of belonging,
with the sport and the players being the most important thing. Television,
however, has abrogated all this. Instead, it creates a narrator, a kind of bridge
between the sporting events and the viewers who explains what is not
comprehensible to viewers as a result of the inability of television to show the
whole field at once (ibid).
Furthermore, television has turned sporting events that used to be
simple pastimes into something scientific whilst prying into the private lives
of well known sports men and women in its efforts to sensationalize sports;
statistics are given at the beginning and end of televised sports whilst
information is given on the sentimental life of players.
Besides, there is a drastic difference between viewing sports in reality
and viewing them on television. Television does not capture sports on a single
camera but sometimes uses as many as 30 cameras. This creates 30 points of
view. Camera angles change the point of view; zoom in, zoom out, fade out,
pan, cut, all these techniques create for the viewer something different from

what actually takes place on the field. In this regard, it is the television stations
and their directors who determine what the viewer sees (ibid).
Apart from the fact that viewers do not determine what they want to
see, split screen techniques allow television stations to show viewers as much
as four different points of view at the same time coupled with instantaneous
repetitions of peak periods that do not only render sports spectacular but also
convert it into a dense “text”. Televised sports therefore remain a virtual
reality because nobody sees the events as they are represented on television
Further more, television has helped to create sports superstars which in
turn have turned the event into big business that bestows fame and power to
those who succeed in it and even accords them the role of experts in fields in
which they have very little or no knowledge such as politics and morality. But
alas, all is not rosy for even those who succeed in sports. Television fame is
highly precarious and sports men and women held in high esteem and
accorded the mythic role of demigods soon come tumbling down upon making
mistakes in their lives. What happened to O.J. Simpson and Michael Jordan
illustrate this. The Sports- media complex.

The commercialization and commodification of sports events has

resulted in technological payoffs that have benefited television in general. The
impetus for the development of technologies for graphic storage and recall, the
generation of special effects, audiovisual manipulation, as well as electronic
amplified relays was provided by demands of speed, scale and complexity of
sporting events. Thus, stereo transmissions, cordless on field cameras,

mechanically shuttered slow and stop motion cameras and uniform graphic
fonts were first used at the Olympic and World Cup games before spreading to
other spheres of television. The first high definition television (HDTV) was
first provided on 200 public monitors in Tokyo during the 1988 Seoul
Olympic games. This was a follow up to NHK’s ability to compress two
instantaneous video pictures into one frame in Japan that was transmitted to
Los Angeles via satellite in 1984 (Real, 1996:57).
Consequently, the television fan can become deeply immersed in the
sporting event but at what cost?
Televised sports is replete with advertisements on cars, fast foods, beer,
all kinds of consumer goods and in the US appeals for military recruitment
(Real, 1996:58).

3.1.3 Children’s experience with television

Because television programs tend to mute the age stratifications of
society and allows children to view programs with adult content, it has
become a means for leaking out adult secrets to children. The result is that the
innocence of childhood has been diluted whilst parental authority has been
undermined by the way television works against any system of information
control that parents may want to establish.
Unlike books which are subject to adult control, who then decide
whether a child should read it or not by flipping through the pages, television
more or less functions as a door into the household through which rushes
several ‘visitors’ who welcome or unwelcome rush children around the world
before they are even allowed by parents to cross the street.
Such adult programs may have a strong impact on children in the sense
that due to their lack of experience, they do not have preconceived notions of

society to guide them as to how to judge and rate televised material and may
come to accept such programs as depicting the real adult world (Christenson
& Roberts, 1983:79).
However, whilst children may have access to programs with adult
content, the vehicle mostly used by television programmers to target children
is cartoons. Cartoons for children.

A study by Wilbur Schramm on how children utilize television contents

has shown that they have a preference for fantasy, which gratifies them most.
Children’s preference for fantasy out number that for reality by a ratio of
twenty to one.
This may be due to the fact that fantasy meets important psychological
needs of children since it is during childhood that, that energy and
impulsiveness which form the basis of the child’s personality are socialized to
conform to the ideals of society.
In a study on television fantasy and adolescent aggression, Seymour
Feshbach, a psychology professor, said, “the greatest developmental lessons of
childhood is learning how to control retaliatory impulses and direct them into
proper channels” (Fowles, 1979:186).
Also the fact that aggression, which is the most common component of
children’s dreams occurs twice as frequently in adult dreams reveals that
children go through a lot of anger during their formative phase (Hall &
Nordby, 1972:19).
In experiments carried out by Feshbach and Robert Singer, they found
out that exposure to aggressive content on television does not lead to increases

in aggressive behavior. Rather, the aggressive contents of television seem to

lessen or control the expression of aggression in aggressive boys from low
socio-economic backgrounds (Feshbach & Singer, 1971:145).
In the view of Psychologist Jerome Lopiparo, aggression needs to be
part of a child’s life because it helps him cope with his feelings of
powerlessness. Hence, it is for this reason that children are drawn to television
violence since many of the frustrations they feel can be worked out safely on
the screen through which they can experience the illusion of power which
eludes them in real life (Lopiparo, 1977:346)
It is no wonder then that violent cartoons that contain the most gore and
violence are the most sought after programs by children. And in response to
this craving for violence by their young audience, cartoons feature a violent
episode at least every two minutes in order to hold their interest.
Further more, cartoons do not depict the consequences of violence. An
eight year old who was interviewed on the subject of cartoons said, “In
cartoons, they never have the character die. He just gets all black and blown
up –and then they make like it doesn’t hurt” (Winick & Winick, 1979:176).
This strategy has been employed by the creators in order not to destroy the
pleasure of the young audience by depicting consequences since the essence
of cartoons is to give pleasure. Besides, the non–depiction of the
consequences of violence also allow children to momentarily escape from the
real world where the consequences of violence are felt.
But why have cartoons, which consist of animation, rather than actors,
become the most popular television genre for children? This is because of the
special attributes of cartoons, notably their ability to reduce the amount of
information communicated to children to the bare essentials since young

minds lack the skill to sort out relevant information from a scene and discard
what is irrelevant.
Cartoons allow producers to tune their products to the pre-logical
thinking of children since the drawings can be manipulated to do just that
whilst it will be impossible to achieve the same effect with real actors. With
cartoon characters, everything is possible from flying, ripping up mountains,
turning houses into automobiles, animals that have the power of speech and
motorcycles that are alive to shrinking buildings and all that cannot be
achieved with life and blood characters, real things and creatures.
By so doing, cartoons create a world of fantasy within which a
fantasizing child can enjoy with ease and without guilt. Benefits of cartoons to children

Since cartoons create a world of fantasy to which children escape to

find joy and pleasure, is it not likely that this world of fantasy will spill over to
their conception of the real world, thus creating confusion in their young
Research however has proved this to be the opposite since the great gap
between cartoon fantasies and the real world rather equips young children
with the capacity to discriminate between the two (Hodge & Tripp, 1986:9).
Instead, cartoons help to ease out tension and hostility from the minds
of children. In a research on why children view television in 1970, most
children identified relaxation as the prime reason (Lyle & Hoffman,
1972:135). For most of these children, television was well ahead of music,
movies, reading, games, sports, conversation and solitude as a means of
89 Does cartoon violence impact positively or negatively on children?

There exist two schools of thought on the impact of cartoon violence on
children. One school of thought views cartoon violence as actually beneficial
and an antidote to overt expression of violence in children.
An experiment often sited to support this view is one in which children
between four to 12 years were shown both violent Vietnam War footage and
violent cartoons. Whilst all the viewers under experimentation found the
Vietnam War footage to be violent, 73 percent of four to eight year olds and
83 percent of nine to 12 year olds said the cartoon fantasies were non-violent.
The explanation being given for this phenomenon is that children find
animated aggression non-violent because the fantasies come and go through
their minds, relieving them of pent-up animosity and aggravation. On the
other hand, real life scenes linger and fester, exasperating the viewer.
The second school of thought views cartoon violence as reproducing
violence in children. However, of the experimental studies that have so far
being conducted, none of them can be used to charge cartoons of instilling
violence in children.
What is disturbing is that research conducted on eight and nine year
olds suggest that children find the depictions on cartoons, in terms of
characters, situations and story lines believable (Beasich, Leinoff & Swan,
Besides, since children are able to understand the story lines depicted
by cartoons better than other programs, is it not possible that they will end up
internalizing the social realities portrayed in them? (Swan, Meskill, DeMaio,

3.1.4 Impact of television on the reading skills of children

Another area of grave concern to both parents and teachers alike is
whether the long hours spent by children in front of the television set do not
lower their reading skills. This may be due to the fact that, information from
images or pictures on television are processed differently from information
taken from words. When taking information from pictures, one takes multiple
pieces of information simultaneously, which is known as parallel processing.
In contrast, information from words is processed one at a time, which is
known as serial processing (Marks, 1984:20).
Based on these differences, Marie Winn, a child psychologist, has
suggested that “the mental differences demanded by the television experience
may cause children who have logged thousands of hours in front of the set to
enter the reading world more superficially, more impatiently, more vaguely”
(Fowles, 1992:234).
Others are of the view that reading and television viewing are not
opposing but harmonizing activities. While television has taken over the
fantasy services formerly performed for children by comic books, radio
serials, movies, and escape magazines, the area of reality media; books,
newspapers and non fantasy magazines, still remain untouched. Research
conducted by Wilbur Schramm in 1960 showed that heavy print users were
also prone to being heavy television users (Fowles, 1992:237).
But still others are of the view that the nature of fantasy provided by
fantasy books such as fairy tales differs a lot from that provided by television,
which makes television fantasy deficient in several ways.
For instance, television fantasies such as cartoons lack a sense of
history whereas classic children’s stories have always alluded to historical
characters and events with some being basically historical stories. Thus,

children’s classics provided an excellent way of teaching history to children in

which the beliefs, mores and values of their cultures were embedded. The
absence of history from cartoons is a serious shortcoming because knowledge
of history is an important part of culture (Swan, Meskill, DeMaio, 1998:102).
Besides, children’s classics, especially fairy tales, address psychological
issues that are of primary importance to a developing child such as “the fear of
being abandoned, the fear of powerful adults, and the fear of their own
negative impulses” (Bruno, 1976:44).
Fairytales, by depicting heroes and heroines who overcome grave
dangers with whom the young readers identify with, send the message home
to children that they can succeed, that the monsters in their lives can be slain,
injustice will be punished for perpetrators and remedied for victims, and life’s
obstacles can be triumphed over (Swan, Meskill, DeMaio, 1998:103).
Cartoons on the other hand fail to address a child’s real fears because
they focus on group action rather than a single protagonist. Furthermore, they
tend to enhance the fears of children by repeatedly portraying individuals who
tried to make it outside the group and failed. But threats to society are adult
fears whilst personal threats are child fears as they struggle to survive in
Another shortcoming is that by promoting the message that individual
actions are bad whilst group actions are good, cartoons may be teaching
children to succumb to group action without examining their personal beliefs
and values. Such an orientation will be tragic for a child who finds himself
under pressure to join an anti-social group such as drug users or robbers.

3.1.5 Soap Operas for Women

The story is told of a woman who gave professional thieves the chase
after they had made off with her furniture, including her television set. Her
anger was appeased when the thieves negotiated with her and offered to give
back her television set which she accepted. Asked by reporters why she had
risked her life and that of her 19-month baby in pursuit of thieves only to
retrieve a television set, she said, “anyone who deprives a woman of her soap
operas is asking for trouble” (Fowles, 1992:157). Soap operas, which make up
43 percent of network daytime broadcasts in the United States, are the
dominant form of entertainment for most women who comprise two-thirds of
the audience.
But why have soap operas become so popular with women? To arrive at
an answer, it will be necessary to consider how soap operas developed in the
first place. The history and economics behind soap operas

Historically, soap operas were borne out of the need to re-condition

society, after the two world wars, on the patriarchal model which was
disturbed by the wars. After World War I, white war veterans returned home
to find out, much to their annoyance, that blacks and women had occupied
their jobs! Trade unions at the time were also demanding a family wage for
white skilled workers which meant women and children did not need to work,
while industrialists also saw the families of workers as markets for their
consumer goods (Brown, 1994:41).
As an adjunct to the pressure on women to get out of the workforce in
order to give men a chance, soap operas were designed to conform to a

domestic setup that imprinted upon the mind of the workingman a

conservative point of view with the home now being depicted as a mini-
patriarchal system. This system was modeled after the Victorian Suburban
patriarchal house (ibid).
Coupled with the pressure on women to vacate the workplace was the
desire by broadcasters in the United States “to reach women in the home
during the otherwise dead hours when there was no other programming”
(Brown, 1994:42). Their European counterparts who operated a non-
commercial broadcasting system did not share this desire.
So how was this desire to reach women converted into reality? This can
be explained by Hegemony theory, which sees the establishment of a
dominant culture as involving a changing coalition of elites who utilize
complex cultural elements to hold on to a power base. In order to achieve
this, the elite coalition begins by integrating aspects of the subordinated
culture into a form of popular culture, which makes the subordinated culture
to recognize these aspects and identify with them. Thereafter, they begin to
utilize and to derive pleasure from the dominant exploitative culture. By so
doing, they contribute to their own exploitation (Brown, 1994:40).
In the development of the soap opera genre under media hegemony, it
needed to fulfill a set of criteria. Firstly it had to attract and maintain a certain
audience within whom it will establish loyalty. This audience turned out to be
women. Capturing the female audience was achieved by harnessing their
interests and desires and by appreciating the context in which women would
use media. Creators of Soap operas also took into consideration the changing
roles of women in society and included characters such as the ‘liberated
woman’ in a bid to reflect all classes of women.

Soap operas also manage to sell the products that engineered their
production as well as a national culture and an ideological system. Thus, even
though soap operas include a resistive discourse, the dominant discourse
always wins out.
Hence, soap operas may include issues such as rape or violence against
women, but instead of concluding that the problem is systematic which will
then constitute a threat to patriarchy or capitalism, it would rather be handled
as an individual problem requiring individual solutions to enable the dominant
discourse to win out.
Besides, as noted by John Fiske, the dominant discourse belittles
structural issues in society such as gender, class, race, age and other class
distinctions and places all responsibility on the individual for being or not
being successful. In so doing, social and structural compositions of society as
definers of meaning are overlooked. The literary heritage of soap operas.

The literary heritage of soap operas, which were first broadcast on radio
in the 1930’s, may have come from women magazines, newspapers or both.
Soap operas share some similarities with woman magazines, which contain
continuing serials, and features to which women can look up to for probable
situations and emotional dilemmas that they may encounter in life.
Magazines contain an ample supply of advertisements as well as
problem pages that offer advise to women which are akin to the provision of
advice on the early radio soap operas, an activity which still continues on
televised soap operas today. Past newspapers and magazines serialized
novels, including The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens in Britain, which

was published in 1836, and in France, Eugene Sue’s feuilletons (Brown,

Also, serialized fiction, such as the ones authored by Mary Jane Holmes
and Augusta Evans Wilson in the nineteenth century are said to have made a
great impact on Anglo-American soap operas. These novels had a domestic
orientation that focused on the problems and suffering of women within the
confines of the home.
The story paper, another serialized form of fiction in the United States
such as ‘The hidden hand’, which featured heroines and magazines such as the
1912 issue of ‘Ladies World’, which featured a young woman on its cover
with the caption, “One hundred dollars if you can tell us what happened to
Mary’ are also some of the ‘ancestors’ of the soap opera genre (Brown,
1994:44) The first soap operas

The first soap opera was modeled after an Ivory campaign to sell soap
in 1923, which utilized a comic strip format depicting the ‘Jolly Family’,
whose life decisions and activities revolved around soap (Brown, 1994:44). A
research study conducted by Proctor & Gamble in the United Studies revealed
that a similar family narrative could be used to successfully conduct a
broadcast campaign. The services of Irna Philips, credited with being the
mother of the genre, was sought to write a serial that featured ‘The Suddses’
in ‘Painted Dreams’, which was run daily for 15 minutes in the 1930’s for a
short while. A second serial from the same author, entiltled, “Today’s
Children”, replaced it. These came to be known as selling dramas because the
soap pitch was written into them. Other soap operas; ‘The Romance of Helen

Trent, Mary Noble, Backstage wife, and ‘Our Gal Sunday’ by Frank and Ann
Hummert focused on the feelings of women. Philips adopted this strategy in
her next serial drama, ‘The Guiding Light’ which saw the entrenchment of the
genre in the world of broadcast (Brown, 1994:45).
Consequently, soap operas were built into the needs of the capitalist
economy that necessitated that women stay at home to meet the emotional
needs of husband and children and concentrate on reviving the collective
energy of the male labor force to sustain capitalism. As a genre, it flowered on
radio in answer to the seclusion of women at home and the desire to cultivate
them as consumers of domestic products. Sixty –four soap operas, lasting 15
minutes, were broadcast on radio in 1940 in the United States each weekday.
These evolved into television productions in the 1950’s that were stretched to
a one-hour format by 1973 in a bid to reach the audience with advertisements
for longer periods of time (Brown, 1994:46). The audience for the genre grew
at an alarming rate, with over a 100 million people watching soap operas in
the United States alone in 1990. The content of soap operas

One aspect of soap operas that make them endearing to a large number
of women is its adoption of a multiple plot system with a large number of
characters who mirror people from all walks of life. Most often, these
characters resolve their problems from a different point of view lending
credence to the idea among viewers that problems in life can be tackled from
different perspectives. This is a far cry from the formula of its literary
heritage, the magazine problem page, which used to provide only a single
hegemonic solution to problems of audiences.

Soap operas also differ from Hollywood productions and other narrative
forms in the sense that, they do not provide one hero with whom the audience
can identify with. Identification with characters in narratives is normally
achieved by providing one or a few main characters from whose point of view
events in the story are understood and with whose feelings the audience
identifies with. Various camera shots collectively called ‘point of view shots’
are used to achieve this: the eye line match depicts the main character staring
off screen to be followed by a shot that brings to the viewer what the character
is looking at, the shot-counter shot technique depicts first one person, then a
second person talking or looking at one another (Brown, 1984:51).
Soap opera viewers are more likely to engage in an implication with
characters, rather than identification. With this kind of reading, the audience
may become involved with a character but retreats whenever events around
that character become unpleasant and bonds with another character with more
pleasant circumstances. With implication reading, there is no loyalty to any
character; it is a reading strategy under the control of the audience who
experiences active pleasure from it.
Another reading strategy associated with soap operas is the adoption
strategy, where the audience literary adopts its characters as a kind of family,
the bad as well as the good, and then relates to the soap together with its
characters along familial lines.
The profile of female characters normally changes over the years to
reflect the changing roles of women in society. Hence, as more women
entered the workforce, more women entered the workforce on stories depicted
by soap operas, which featured businesswomen, research scientist, surgeons
and psychiatrist among others. In a bid to attract younger viewers, some soap

operas, such as general hospital, included younger characters and more daring
Soap operas are also sensitive to the sentiments of viewers and try to
mirror those sentiments in their productions. When 90 percent of the letters
received from the audience expressed disapproval at an interracial marriage on
‘Days of our Lives’ in the 1970’s, the relationship broke up. However, when
in 1988 an interracial relationship was featured on ‘General Hospital’, it
blossomed into marriage because only 65 percent of letters expressed
disapproval. Soap operas in the lives of women.

Soap operas serve psychological needs in women in a way that no other

genre can fulfill. Dramatic time in soap operas mimic reality in the sense that
they depict events dictated by time such as the maturing of soap opera
characters, the relationships that come and go, losing and regaining of health
amongst others. This is in contrast to situation comedies and action /adventure
films where time stands still and relationships are stagnant. Coupled with this
is that most soap operas are screened daily and women come into contact with
the characters more often than they do with friends and other people in real
The result is that some viewers fail to distinguish between characters
and the actor and actresses that perform them. An outraged viewer slapped,
actress Eileen Fulton, who played the evil part of Lisa Shea, on “As the World
Turns”. Another viewer, a parishioner of a Methodist church parish where the
actress’s father is the minister, wrote to the minister on the bad conduct of his

daughter after she acted a part in which she was involved in an obscene affair
with another character (Fowles, 1992:168).
Consequently, networks receive a flood of congratulatory messages
when a favorite actress gets married on soap opera and sympathy cards when a
character dies. Some viewers go even further by writing letters offering pieces
of advice to their heroines and praise for good action or behavior.
Mary Cassata, a researcher, explained this phenomenon to be due to the
intimate knowledge that the audience gain on characters because they have
access to their innermost thoughts and motivations, a privilege that is hardly
found in the closest of relationships (Cassata & Skill, 1983:31).
Hence women experience soap opera characters in a way that is not felt
to be outside reality and thus become attached to the character as if she existed
in real life. Renata Adler, a cinema critic, in spite of her sophistication and
knowledge in the field of cinema did fall prey to bonding to the fictional
characters on soap operas. Explaining her predicament, she said, “I saw the
characters in the soaps more often than my friends. It had a continuity stronger
than the news.” (Fowles, 1992:169).
A soap opera actress explaining why the viewers treat them as if they
were the actual characters they acted on television said “We are in their living
rooms five days a week, leading a continuous life, so we achieve a kind of
reality” (LaGuardia, 1974:126).
This explains one of the psychological functions of soap operas: they
extend the universe of women by peopling it, something that modern life with
its tendency for isolation and anonymity has failed to accomplish. Since
human beings are social in nature and have the ability to participate
emotionally and culturally in larger groups, their desire to widen their private

world, especially if they are unemployed and also deprived of their families
during the day, is very great.
Consequently, soap operas expand the private world of viewers, and
give them something to think about with little emotional investment. Soap Operas, good or bad?

Nathan Katzaman, a researcher in his assessment of soap operas, said,

“Soap opera characters have replaced neighbors as topics of gossip. To some
extent, the program has replaced gossip itself” (Fowles, 1992:170). Soaps
have a tendency to displace reality and hinder the desire of the audience for
straight news, which is important as a tool of societal surveillance.
Surprisingly, when soap opera shows where interrupted to give news
reports that Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan had been shot in
1981, the audience expressed hostility that their program had been interfered
with. The audience harassed television networks with repeated calls with one
of them threatening television workers with bodily harm if the Pope’s story
was not taken off the air! (ibid).
On the other hand, psychotherapists are finding soap operas useful as a
point of entry into the minds of troubled patients, especially those who are
highly defiant to discussions on awful experiences in their lives. Normally,
these patients open up by identifying with the experience of the soap opera
characters that inhabit their minds.
Ann Kilguss, a Psychiatrist, has found this strategy to be helpful,
saying, “from the program, one works back to the individual and her
concerns.” She cited as an example a defiant patient who confessed to having
had an abortion after hearing about a soap opera abortion (Fowles, 1992:172)

In addition, when pap smear tests were repeatedly mentioned on the

soap opera ‘Guiding Light’ over several months, it increased the awareness of
women that it is a test for cervical cancer (Fowles, 1992:173).

3.1.6 Music (MTV) for the Youth.

Music on television is like bringing together two volatile objects; it is
more like pouring petrol on fire. This is because both music and television are
considered agents of socialization in their own right. So what happens when
these two potent agents of socialization are merged together as one medium?
Is it simply a viewing experience with the addition of music or it is a
listening experience with the addition of images?
However, no matter how one experiences music on television, it cannot
be disputed that the visual information viewers gather from the images and the
narratives are more likely to impact strongly on the adoption of attitudes,
values and opinion of reality. Besides, music viewing, unlike listening to
music on radio or a sound system is a foreground rather than a background
activity requiring more concentration. It is impossible to view music and
study, work, socialize or read at the same time.
Research carried out on music videos appear to indicate that, in spite of
the visual information, it is the music, rather than the pictures, around which
pleasure is centered.
This may be due to the fact that the pleasures derived from music can
be realized from audio as well as audiovisual equipment. Besides, ever since
the first musical recordings were made, people have been listening to music
for years and have come to conclude that music is something meant for the
ears rather than the eyes. The advantage of music on television may be its
ability to bring both artist and music to the viewer, which is similar to

watching a live musical performance. This, then, is like going back to ancient
times, when music and artist were always presented together until modern
technology made it possible to record music and thus separate the work of the
artist from himself.
This is much like the difference between television and print. Just as the
discovery of writing made it possible to separate the speaker from his words,
the discovery of audio recording made it possible to separate the musician
from his songs, but television rich in ethos and pathos, reconnects the author
with his material, thus paving the way for secondary orality. Hence, with the
advent of music on television, it is not only the lyrics of a song that are
important but the images accompanying the music tell their own stories as
In 1986, Brown et al. in a study of 12-15 year olds discovered that
above 80 percent of the group under study viewed music on television, whilst
another study by Christenson in 1992 showed that 75 percent of 9 to 12 year
olds also viewed music on television. Other studies indicate that between 35 to
40 percent of adolescents watch music on television daily (Christenson &
Roberts, 1998:39). Why do the youth watch MTV?

The reasons why the youth watch MTV is similar to the reasons why
people use the media in the first place. The gratifications and pleasure derived
from music either creates or contributes to the most intense peak periods of
life, whether they are moments of celebration and joy or moments of sadness
and loss. According to Lull, “music promotes experiences of the extreme for
its makers and listeners, turning the perilous emotional edges, vulnerabilities,

triumphs, celebrations, and antagonisms of life into hypnotic, reflective

tempos that can be experienced privately or shared with others” (Lull,
Music is the salt of the emotions. Just as salt makes a good meal tastier,
and a bad meal tolerable, music makes a good mood better and allows the
youth to tolerate or escape from bad ones.
Music caters for the cognitive needs of the youth, provides diversion,
serves as a social utility and as a means of withdrawal, and fosters personal
identities (Christenson & Roberts, 1998:43).
 Cognitive needs: It is not only television news, soap operas, talk

shows and situation comedies that provide information. Viewers

of MTV normally explain that they use the lyrics to keep abreast
on political and economic issues, and are informed about other
cultures. The lyrics also provide ‘food for thought’ and help the
youth reflect on social issues; for example if racism is the theme
of the music, it enables the youth to reflect on it. Also, since most
musical themes are on love, they help the youth to reflect on their
personal relationships.
 Diversion: Music serves as a tool for relaxation, escape from

boredom and an antidote to tension. Others report getting

energized from music, which is not surprising, since in Africa
war songs are used to energize warriors and to prepare them for
battle. Music also distracts the youth from their troubles,
intensifies their mood and enhances the environment of social
 Social Utility: By providing topics for discussion, music serves

as a social lubricant and gives families, friends and students


something to talk about. The universality of western music serves

as a tool of identification among the youth, giving rise to youth
cultures that then define their class identity by imitating the artist
around whom their culture revolves. Thus youth from different
parts of the world may find it easy to relate to each other because
they belong to the same youth sub-culture inspired by music and
 Just as lonely women who watch soap operas are likely to form
Para social relationships with their characters, youth who are
lonely are also likely to form Para social relationships with artists
as a compensation for their seclusion. In extreme cases, they may
visualize about being involved romantically and sexually with
 Withdrawal: Just as a husband can avoid social contact with his

wife and the rest of the family by burying his face behind the
newspaper, the youth can also employ music as a means of
insulating themselves from their immediate environment and
building emotional walls around themselves.
 Personal Identity: Most youth also try to seek their identity in

musical lyrics and genres. They may identify themselves with a

theme or a cause expressed by the lyrics in a song or they may
identify with the hairstyle, mode of dressing or the artists general
attitude towards life.
However, the use of audio equipment among the youth still outstrips the
use of video equipment as shown by the table below;

Table 2.1 Early adolescents use of music and music videos (Christenson &
Roberts, 1998:40).
(%) (%)
Do you ever listen to music or watch music 98 75
How much do you like listening and watching? 97 60
Do you ever listen or watch in the afternoon? 84 62
How often do you listen and watch in the 72 62
Did you listen or watch last night? 62 15
Did you listen or watch today before school? 51 7

The above table is the results of a research on music listening and

viewing habits among adolescents in public schools in Oregon, United States. Is Music a Form of Communication?

Over the years, some intellectuals have criticized popular music as a

form of entertainment and a contributor to culture. Prominent among them is
Theodor Adorno, who criticized the homogeneity and vulgarity of mass taste,
which is produced under standardized conditions and encourages passive
consumption. Propounded in the 1930’s and 1940’s, this view reflects the
views of elitist society at the time (Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-
Mohammadi, 1995:381). Other critics, with populist views influenced by
political economy, despaired that the creative and cultural potentialities of
popular music has been corrupted by the corporate entertainment industry.
Ian Chambers and Lisa Lewis have attempted to explain how the
audience actively use music to suit their own needs. According to Ian
chambers, popular music is employed in the expression of individual

identities, symbolic resistance and leisure pursuits. He sited the examples of

how hippies used music at demonstrations, festivals, and various events in the
1960’s to achieve their own ambitions. The Nelson Mandela concert of 1988
is also another example of how popular music was employed in a political and
racial battle (Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1995:386,
Focusing on viewers of MTV and fans at musical concerts, Lewis
argues that fans participate in creating the meanings assigned to popular
music, which is polysemic and makes available many interpretations. The
interpretations that ultimately dominate are those produced by the audience

3.1.7 The Role of Advertisements in the Family

If the need to reach out to women by manufacturers gave birth to the
soap opera genre on television and televised sports has become over
commercialized because of the need for manufacturers to sell their goods, it
becomes imperative for one to examine the impact of advertisements on the
family. Do these advertisements really achieve what they are created to
accomplish? Are they worth the amount of money spent on their
development? Are they a distraction on viewers’ time or they help viewers to
select what they want to buy?
Children’s commercials seem to be the most successful. About 90
percent of mothers in a study in America said their children sometimes asked
for advertised products. In appealing to the deepest needs and longings of
children, advertisers also appeal to their desire to be the most popular, the best
or the first by purchasing a particular product (Fowles, 1992:223). Because
children are the most vulnerable to advertising messages, even some

companies have tried to use children to influence adult decisions to buy a

certain kind of gas by giving out free toy fire trucks with each gas fill up.
Obviously, children will nudge their parents into those stations where they
will be given free toys (Fowles, 1992:224).
Television plays a part in socializing children as consumers through
advertisements as well as the nature of the medium itself. A research on
British children in the 1950’s where children only viewed the BBC, which
carried no advertisements, found out that children who viewed television had
more materialistic ambitions than those who did not (Greenfield, 1984:51).
Whilst adolescent boys who watched television focused more on what they
will have, those who did not focused more on what they will be doing.
Besides, a child’s materialistic outlook was found to be directly proportional
to his length of experience with television. Obviously, a child’s exposure to
the visual images of television instills in him an emphasis on visible and
tangible objects and thus consumption in defining his identity and lifestyle
(Greenfield, 1984:51). Marshall McLuhan is right, “the medium is the
Children also remember jingles, slogans and brand names from
advertisements, which influences their choice of products. Over the years,
pressure groups, especially in The United States have called for a law
insulating children against advertisements aimed at stimulating their
consumptive desires and turning them into lobbyist for the purchasing of
consumer goods by their families. But such efforts have so far proved in vain
since the annulment of advertisements for children will mean an end to the
half billion dollars that pour in from advertisements yearly to sustain
children’s program. Parents and pressure groups therefore had to choose

between children’s programs with advertisements or none at all and of course

they chose the former.
Others are of the view that children are not as gullible as most adults
think but learn to see advertisements for what they mean at quite a tender age.
A research conducted by Mariann and Charles Winick, Social scientists, in
this area showed that even children as young as two years skip advertisements
when watching a program (Fowles, 1992:226). In addition, 89 percent of three
to 10 year olds could distinguish between advertisements and programs, whilst
65 percent of parents said their three year olds could identity advertisements
from programs.
Furthermore, of the 20,000 advertisements that each child in the United
States is exposed to yearly, only a few push them to nudge their parents to
make the corresponding purchases, the only exception being in homes with a
high level of hostility where children use demands based on commercials to
fuel on-going battles between their parents (ibid).
The general notion is that children become critical of advertising
messages as they mature, with the exited four year old who is thrilled by
advertising messages being replaced by the nine–year old who views them
with contempt. “The waves of commercials, season after season and year after
year do not shape capitalist stooges but rather highly sophisticated
But the child who was bombarded with child commercials soon
becomes a teenager who cannot escape the allure of MTV, which has a
definite economic function. Being skillfully produced to hold the attention of
viewers, they generate revenue through the sale of product advertising, both
overtly and covertly. Apart from selling commercial products, televised music
also functions as a commercial for both music and artist. Music videos have

thus being credited with revamping the stagnant revenues of the recording
industry in the1980’s (Christenson, Robert, 1998:139).
Within the content of televised musical clips, fashion statements and
consumer goods such as nose rings and a million dollar yachts are portrayed
with the result that musical clips have come to be described as a ‘supermarket
of styles’. Thus, most MTV fans after electing to be a member of a musical
subculture, be it rap, funk, punk or heavy metal, depend on music videos to
learn the trade mark for that culture in terms of hairstyles, clothing, other
accessories and the general image of the subculture.
Furthermore, boutiques and clothing sections of many stores in the
United States play clips of MTV on several monitors depicting clothing and
accessories similar to what they are selling (Christenson, Roberts, 1998:140).
Thus, music videos covertly advertise the sales of certain consumer products!
This is because, product images and fantasies of wealth continue to be the
dominant ingredient of images leading to the glorification of luxury and
material wealth.
Another area where advertisements have exerted a strong influence is
the sports genre. When the winter Olympic Games were lengthened from 12
to 16 days to cover three weekends, an additional 43 million dollars was
realized by American National basketball Association through advertisements.
The American National Football League also included five more 30-second
commercials per game, two more teams to the playoffs and extended the week
by two weeks in order to increase television time and consequently boost
income from advertising (Real, 1996:59).
It is estimated that in the United States, companies such as Chrysler,
General Motors, Philip Morris, Ford, AT&T, Sears, Anheuser Busch,
McDonald’s, American Express and the Armed Forces, may spend between

50 to 100 million dollars on advertisements in sports, a phenomenon that has

been dubbed the ‘sports media complex’ (Real, 1996:58). The result is sports
programs are intertwined with a lot of commercials.
One area of sports advertisements that has been of concern to most
Americans is the placement of tobacco signs prominently in American
stadiums whilst the nation continues to suffer 400,000 tobacco related deaths
yearly. Another area of concern is the incessant alcohol advertisements that
plague sports programs (ibid).
There is no doubt that televised games come packaged and endorsed as
products which are sold to the viewer who buys them through his investment
of time and attention, and the producer is paid by the advertiser for access to
the viewer.
The story is no different for Soap Operas since the major incentive
behind their production is profit for production companies and market for the
sponsors. Through soap operas, manufacturers manage to put their products
right under the nose of housewives, who are converted from viewers into
buyers and thus help enrich the coffers of production companies.
Whilst it takes only 400,000 dollars to produce an hour-long soap for
one week in the United States, the cost of the 30-second advertisements they
carry which are sold at 30,000 dollars each can amount to 1,200,000 dollars
(Fowles, 1992:163).
Hence viewing television has been changed from an innocent
information, entertainment and fulfillment seeking experience into a
commodified one where viewers are invited to partake in a wide variety of
consumer goods and lifestyles.


That television forms part and parcel of today’s families cannot be
disputed. It normally occupies a central position, much like a demi-god,
around which family members gravitate from time to time to watch their
favorite programs. Even the arrival of a television set can lead to changes in
traditional family patterns as was observed in an Indian village where women
stopped waiting on men to eat after the arrival of the set because they did not
want to miss watching television (Lull, 1988:148). Even the time for preparing
the evening meal was shifted to a much earlier time by the women who were
found to be in a state of great panic and anxiety by 4:00 p.m. to cook the
evening meal on time to enable them to watch television (Lull, 1988:153).
The fact that the television set is now indispensable to most families has
been proved by their reluctance to abandon television once it has made its
appearance in the home. Of 120 families who were offered 500 dollars by the
Detroit Press to give up watching television for one month, only five families
gave in after much coaxing. The same reluctance on the part of families to
give up television was reported in experiments in Germany and in England.
Members of families that were persuaded to give up the set reported
feeling bored, nervous and depressed. They also experienced a rise in
domestic violence, smoking, and the use of tranquillizers to calm their nerves.
But why did denying these families the opportunity to view television produce
such negative effects in family members?
This is because, modern families have come to rely on television not
only for relaxation but also as a means of structuring a large proportion of
their experiences. These experiences include loneliness, emotional difficulties,
low utilization of time, low incomes, lack of education and negative

The heaviest television viewers are found among lonely people: the
divorced, widowed, retired, unemployed or ill. In the absence of healthy and
meaningful relationships with other people, television serves not only as a
source of information and entertainment but also provides companionship
whilst offering an escape from the unpleasant realities of their situation. This
is because television offers Para social experiences by presenting lonely
people with programs on which they see familiar faces and hear familiar
voices that help to foster the illusion that they are in the company of other
Depressed people and people suffering from debilitating anxieties also
use television as an escape from their painful emotional turmoil. Because
depression and anxiety that have been masked or kept under control by
engaging in other activities suddenly rush to the foe when the victims are
unoccupied, they are more likely to rush to television to occupy their time and
numb these emotions. Besides in a state of depression or anxiety, most victims
lack the willpower and the energy to engage in more active activities and can
only watch television to calm their nerves.
Furthermore, advancements in modern technology that has resulted in
the manufacturing of a lot of time saving gadgets for the home means that
people now have more leisure time than they used to in the past. The sweat
and energy that would have been poured out weeding the garden and which
perhaps could have been more rewarding and relaxing has been taken up by
the mower. The housewife spends less time cleaning, washing and cooking
because she has a vacuum cleaner, a dishwasher, a washing machine, blenders
and a whole lot of gadgets to help her cook without much effort and
expenditure of energy in the shortest time possible. In the absence of more
rewarding activities, most of this free time is spent watching television.

Because television offers one of the cheapest forms of entertainment,

people in low income groups who cannot afford to attend the theatre, go on
holiday tours, buy books and magazines, a VCR and video tapes or participate
in sporting events that require capital investments, come to rely heavily on
television for entertainment.
In addition, people with low education who cannot derive pleasure
from novels and plays or activities that require a bit of training also normally
use television as their source of entertainment. This is because; television
viewing does not require any training or education.
Furthermore, most people who have been through negative experiences
during the day tend to turn to television for distraction from their moods
whilst some youth and children through no fault of their own are sometimes
left with no other activity than television viewing.


One major criticism of television has been the assertion that it is passive
and television viewers will be better off doing something more active. Is
television viewing an active or passive experience?
To examine the passivity or activity of television, a survey was
conducted by comparing television viewing with leisure and sports. The
indicators used to determine the passivity or activity of these three pastimes
were challenge, concentration, activation, affect and relaxation. But why these
3.3.1 Challenge:

For one to experience a sense of achievement after participating in an

event, it is necessary to feel challenged. The more that one feels challenged,

the more the pleasure derived from a sense of accomplishment. The level of
challenge also determines the level of activity or passivity of an event. More
challenge means more involvement and more expenditure of both mental and
physical energy. A low challenge leads to passivity, little involvement in the
event and a low level of expenditure of mental and physical energy.

Figure 2.1 (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:122)

From the above figure, it can be deduced that, from the three activities
being compared, television viewers experience very little challenge whilst
viewing a program as compared to sports and leisure. This means viewers are
less involved when they are viewing television than when they are engaged in
sports and leisure. This may also mean they utilize very little mental and
physical energy.

3.3.2 Concentration:

Anything that demands a lot of concentration also requires more

physical, emotional and mental involvement. Hence, the higher the
concentration that one experiences during an event, the higher the degree of
participation. The lower the concentration, the higher the passivity.

Figure 2.2 (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:123)

From the above figure, television has the lowest level of concentration
during the viewing process as compared to sports and leisure, which have a
higher level of concentration during the event. This indicates that television is
more passive as compared to sports and leisure.

3.3.3 Activation:

Activation is the combination of the measurement of several states of

people, ranging from a positive to a negative state. Hence, the level of
activation incorporates the degree of several states: active-passive, alert-
drowsy, strong-weak, excited–bored. A high level of activation indicates a
higher level of the positive states of being whilst a low activation reveals a
high level of the negative states of being.

Figure 2.3 (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:125)

From the above figure, it can be seen that television has the lowest level of
activation during viewing whilst sports has the highest. This means that
television viewers are more passive, drowsy, bored or week during the
viewing process than before and after viewing.

3.3.4 Affect:

Affects refers to the mood of people, and ranges from happy to sad,
cheerful to irritable, friendly to hostile, and sociable to lonely. The higher the
figure for the measurement of affect, the more positive it is. Hence, happy,
cheerful, friendly, and sociable moods correspond to higher numerical figures
whilst sadness, irritability hostility and loneliness are depicted by lower
numerical figures. The figure below shows the levels of affect for television
viewing, leisure and sports before, during and after the activity.

Figure 2.4 (Kubey, Csitszentmihalyi, 1990:125)

From the figure, it can be seen that both leisure and sports start with much
lower levels of affect but peak up during the activity and drop significantly
after, though not as low as that indicated for television viewing. The affect for

viewing television on the other hand, which is higher than for both sports and
leisure before the viewing experience, drops during the process of viewing and
drops even further after viewing.

3.3.5 Relaxation:

The comparison of these three activities will not be complete without a

comparison for the levels of relaxation, which is the chief reason why people
view television. The figure below indicates that the level of relaxation prior to
leisure is much lower than that of television but peaks up during the process
and remains relatively stable after the activity. The level of relaxation for
sports also starts off at a lower level than that of television, falls during the
activity but peaks up steeply after the activity is over. The level of relaxation
for television on the other hand starts off higher than that of sports and leisure,
rises during the process but falls much lower than that of sports and leisure
after viewing is over. This seems to suggest that the recuperative benefits of
television last only while the activity is going on but there are no emotional
rewards after viewing is over.
This then, perhaps explains why people become addicted to television.
Whilst the viewer stays glued to the screen, he feels relaxed. But once he
leaves the screen, the relaxation wears off. This means he has to stay glued to
the screen to continue to feel relaxed and the loss of relaxation once he leaves
the screen forces him to go back to view television. In this way, television
behaves very much like a drug. Just as the effects of drugs wear off after the
drugs have left the body so the effects of television wears off after the eyes
have been removed from the screen.

Figure 2.5 (Kubey, Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:126)

This chapter has attempted to examine how television impacts on the family
by examining the various genres and the typical family members that respond
to these genres. It has also attempted to compare the benefits derived from
television vis –a-vis sports and leisure in order to examine its specific
emotional benefits.
Generally, whilst an examination of the various genres in relation to the
family seemed to point to several benefits, the examination of television
viewing in relation to other activities painted a rather gloomy picture. How
does one reconcile these divergent findings? Later chapters will address this.

A research of this nature that seeks to address the role of television in
families in relation to its benefits and disadvantages as well as how families
should respond to the contents of television in order not to be shattered by its
messages but to utilize them for their own requirements presupposes that the
audience under consideration is active.
Yet, some of the concerns people have expressed about the impact of
television on viewers, which were elaborated in the introduction to this
research, seem to suggest the audience might not be active gatekeepers to
themselves by sieving out information. So how does one examine and explain
the inner dynamics of television as well as its impact on people and how
people react to this impact? In which ways does television serve the needs of
society that has given it such a central position in the lives of many? Since
television viewing is considered as a passive activity by some and as an active
one by others, it may be necessary to examine the issue from both passive and
active theoretical models.

4.1.1 The passive or linear theoretical models.

The passive or linear models of mass communication tend to give
excessive power to the communicator, whose messages are meant to modify
the state of the receiver by causing certain effects, both desirable and
undesirable. These models revolve around Harold Lasswell’s definition of
news, which he defined as ‘who said what, through what channel, to whom
and with what effects’.

Variations of the linear model include ‘The Magic Bullet Theory’ and
the ‘Hypodermic Needle Theory” (,

4.1.2 The magic bullet theory

This theory is a metaphor, which likens the contents of mass media to a
magic bullet that is fired from media institutions into the audience, paralyzing
them and achieving whatever effect the message is meant to achieve. The
magic bullet theory presupposes the media produces uniform effects among
the audience, who have no defense against its immense power. An example of
this view is the one held by the ‘Frankfurt School of Thought’, who
“pessimistically view popular music as the product of a culture industry
designed to numb the minds and facilitate the domination and manipulation of
the masses” (Downing, Mohammadi, Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1995:379).
The ‘couch potato’ who was mentioned in the introduction of chapter I
also gives credence to this linear model of television. His assertion that
television is meant not to let people think paints television like a magic bullet
that paralyses the viewers with its contents.

4.1.3 The hypodermic needle theory

Just like the ‘Magic Bullet Theory’, the ‘Hypodermic Needle Theory’ is
another metaphor coined to depict the immense power of mass media and the
corresponding helplessness of the audience. Media institutions are conceived
to be giant hypodermic needles that inject their contents into the audience,
modifying their behavior to suit the purposes of their contents. In view of what
a hypodermic needle stands for in real life, this is a metaphor that stresses the

power of the media whilst portraying the audience as a victim who neither
attempts to nor has the capacity to resist the power of the media.
This hypnotic power of the media was alluded to in the novel Don
Quixote before the onset of television or radio or the propounding of media
theories to guide the analysis of media impact. Miguel de Cervantes in
creating the character Don Quixote, a man whose views on life had been
distorted by the influence of the books (and thus media) he read satirized the
capacity of the media to brainwash its users (Real, 1989:20). Cervantes
describes the state of the character ‘Don Quixote’ as a result of his
undisciplined reading of books of romantic chivalry of the past century whose
works of exaggerated fantasy he believed wholeheartedly. The most
unfortunate aspect of this wholesale believing of the books he read was the
fact that they were set in a medieval context that no longer existed but which
Don Quixote had come to accept as reality. Thus, he completely lost his sense
of judgment because his consciousness was dominated by the fantasy of
enchantments, battles, wooing, tempests and other impossible follies.
Through the creation of the character Don Quixote, Cervantes
illustrated how consciousness can be distorted by undisciplined media
saturation in people just like what the hypodermic needle theory strives to
But then it is already happening! The conception that the average
European has of Africa is based on sensational news clips on isolated images
of war, famine and drought sieved out from the more complex reality of life in
Given that television does not only mirror reality in the form of news;
which is most often sensationalized, and factual programs, but also provides a

lot of fantasy in its fictional genres, one stands the danger of becoming a ‘Don
Quixote’ if one does not learn to view television critically.

4.1.4 Lazersfeld’s two step or multiple steps flow theory

This model whilst accepting the immense power of mass mediated
messages goes further to add the role of interpersonal communication in
spreading messages from the mass media. It thus provides a link between
interpersonal communication and mass communication. According to this
model, when opinion leaders receive mass communication messages, they
influence their diffusion and acceptance by the rest of society by the
importance that they attach to these mass mediated messages
(, 2003:1).
In a way, the writers and editors of soap opera magazines fall into this
category. After watching soap operas, what this new breed of opinion leaders
choose to write on and attach importance to in their magazines as well as
highlights in the newspapers will influence what the fans will discuss. The
values these magazines find in soap opera characters and the genre as a whole
are likely to become the values of individual soap opera viewers.
Floating between the linear models of communication and the active
audience theories can be found what this writer will term the ‘transitional
theories’. They include the following:

4.1.5 Festinger and the Consistency Theories

This theory stipulates that people will normally expose themselves to
mass mediated messages that are consistent with their beliefs and values. This
is an attempt to prevent dissonance, which can result from being exposed to
messages that are inconsistent with what one already beliefs, while

strengthening what one beliefs by confirming such beliefs through selective

exposure. This theory therefore views selective perception, selective exposure
and selective retention as one way through which the audience appropriates
media messages to themselves.
If one takes into consideration the fact that the news genre appeals
mostly to the adult male whilst soap operas appeal to women as mentioned in
Chapter III, then this theory offers an explanation. Soap operas, whose setting
is the home, offer values and content familiar to women and experiences on
the screen that are very similar to what they experience in every day life. This
is why women sometimes confuse characters with the real personalities who
staged them. The fact that women were outraged when soap operas were
interfered with to give them the ‘hard news’ that Pope John Paul II and
President Reagan had been shot, shows that they will not normally expose
themselves to such messages but practice selective perception, exposure and

4.1.6 McCoombs and Shaw Agenda Setting Theory

This theory sees the media as being responsible for setting the agenda
for what people think and talk about through the selection and presentation of
news as well as the content of programs that are broadcast. Thus, the media
mentally organizes and structures the world for the audience. The audience,
apart from learning certain facts from the media also depend on the media to
learn the level of importance to attach to each fact; the more the media
hammers on a particular issue, the higher the importance attached to it by the
audience, the less the media coverage on a particular issue, the less importance
attached to it by the audience.

The agenda setting theory was first examined in relation to voter

behavior in the United States. It is based on a research conducted by three
sociologists, Lazersfeld, Berelson and Gaudet of Colombia University in Erie
County, Ohio, to examine the impact of news on voter behavior during the
presidential elections in the United States in 1940 (Bryant, Zillmann, 1986;1).
It was discovered that the mass media offers perspectives and views that
shape the image of candidates as well as their parties, pinpoint to issues
around which the campaigns gyrate and creates the environment and
exceptional areas that define any given campaign.
Similar findings on the ability of the media to set the agenda were made
by Lippmann in 1922 when he postulated that the influence of the media is not
restricted to politics and elections but everything beyond immediate personal
and family issues. Consequently, he distinguished between the world as it
really is which he dubbed the “environment” and the world as we perceive it,
which he dubbed the “pseudo-environment” (Bryant, Zillmann, 1986:2).
However, the Erie Country experiments revealed some level of
resistance on behalf of the individual whose security in what he already
believes inures him from the persuasive powers of the media, a situation that
gave rise to the “Law of minimal consequences”; a scientific statement that
views the media as having limited effects. How News Sets the Agenda

It is impossible to think, talk, discuss or reflect on something one does

not know about because one has not heard of it. The very fact that it is the
media that informs means it tells people what to think about, talk about and
discuss simply by informing. Through the choice of events to cover and report

and those to ignore, television decides the agenda. Furthermore, the airtime
given to each news report as well as its position in the news lineup determines
its importance for television and for its audience as well. Hence what is of
news value to the television reporter becomes of news value to the audience,
which is just like transporting the news agenda from the newsroom to the
social sphere or the audience. In the sphere of politics, the treatment given to
candidates by television sets the agenda of viable candidates and influences
their image, which has an effect on the way voters perceive the campaign, the
candidates and their choices.
Thus, “by focusing coverage on a few frontrunners to the sometimes
almost total exclusion of their rivals (in the United States), the news media
play a major, albeit implicit role in the selection of party nominees for national
office” (Bryant, Zillmann, 1986:10).
However, the level of agenda setting on issues by the press has been
found to depend on the kind of issue. Obtrusive issues; that is issues with
which the audience has personal contacts such as inflation, do not rise on the
agenda of the audience when they do so on the media because the media
serves as a secondary source of information on such matters. People
experience inflation personally in their daily lives. On the other hand,
unobtrusive issues on which the audience relies on television to be informed,
such as issues on foreign affairs, are greatly influenced by how they are
covered and used by television. Here, people have no personal experience
with the issue and are dependent on the media for information.
127 How television sets the agenda in the family

There is no doubt that the agenda setting theory is relevant to the family
so far as television is concerned. A research in India showed that the arrival of
a television set in a farming community changed the “conversation of the boys
from farming culture to world views, political issues, films, girls and such”
(Lull, 1988:149).
Soap operas have been credited with replacing gossip by offering
women what to talk about. This means that soap operas set the agenda for
discussion for its audiences. The fact that soap operas have spawned several
magazines which have a market of 40 million in the United States alone testify
to this fact (Brown, 1994:47). These magazines, which include ‘Soap Opera
Digest’, ‘Soap Opera Update’ and ‘Daytime Confidential’, point to the agenda
setting powers of soap operas. ‘Soap Opera Highlights’ are also published in
about a 100 newspapers to give updates to audiences who might have missed
out on some shows. In addition, a fan club, dubbed ‘Soap Talk” has a
membership of 900 and was buzzed by almost 500 calls from fans within the
first week of its establishment (ibid).
As seen in chapter III, the agenda setting activity of soap operas are not
limited to the social level but have spilled over to the psychological level
where some psychologists have learnt to use soap operas to break into a
patient’s psyche to stimulate discussion on unpleasant experiences when there
is a stalemate in the process of therapy.
The youth culture fueled by music on MTV also sets the agenda for
discussion among the youth. They influence discussions on clothes, hairstyles,
dance steps and ultimately influence what the youth wear and appear like.

Since some youth also claim to derive information from the lyrics, it follows
that this information will set the agenda for discussion.
Even children have not escaped this agenda setting function of
television. Cartoon characters not only provide topics for discussion amongst
children but have exerted a strong influence on the toy manufacturing industry
and now define the kinds of toys that are manufactured for children. Most
toys, especially the stuffed ones, are modeled after cartoon characters which
further goes to strengthen its agenda setting function because as children play
with their toys, they see in them their favorite cartoon characters and talk
about them.
But above all, one aspect of the agenda setting function of television,
which needs to be appreciated, is that different agenda are set for different
categories of people because people tend to respond to specific genres on
Hence, there is a kind of ‘inclusion’ and ‘exclusion’ going on in
contemporary society based on common interest and shared views in the
media. Children are linked together by their common interest in cartoons,
whilst excluding their older adolescent brothers or sisters who are also bound
with other adolescents by their common interest in music stars. Women are
linked together by their common interest in soaps whilst men find company in
each other due to their shared interests in sports and news.
Hence, one consequence of the agenda setting theory as far as the
family is concerned is that it might lead to a fragmentation of interests
amongst family members and if efforts are not made to discover television
programs that are of interest to all family members, they are likely to grow in
divergent ways as far as the television experience is concerned.

Women cannot discuss soap operas with their husbands. They must rely
on other women or soap opera fan clubs for such discussions. The man seeks
the company of other men, usually in a bar, to discuss the latest sports game.
Children live in their own fantasy world created by cartoons, the characters of
which they can now play with, thanks to the toy manufacturing industry, while
the youth build a mythical world around pop stars and rock stars for
themselves. Hence, if television is to promote communication among family
members, they must strive to find a common agenda on television on which all
members of the family can talk about.

4.1.7 Knowledge Gaps Theory

The knowledge gaps theory recognizes the potential for different levels
of media based knowledge to exist between social groups and on diverse
issues handled by the media. Since one must have access to media in order to
derive information from it, it follows that people in a lower social and
economic stratum who cannot afford these media will automatically be denied
some information (McQuail, 2000:457). Besides, even within the same
economic stratum, there may still be knowledge gaps as a result of differential
exposure to contents of media (McQuail, 2000:458). Television, Knowledge Gaps and the Family

With regards to television, the issue of knowledge gaps is more critical

in the sense that people with access to the medium may exhibit sharp
differences in knowledge. This is due to the fact that television programs are
highly diversified and attract different audiences.

In this regard, the differences in knowledge that arise within the family
from viewing television are similar to the differences in agenda between
members of the family that come from television viewing.
It will be unrealistic to expect that children and adults in a family will
posses the same kind of knowledge. Such differences are the natural
consequences of the differences in age and maturity.
The differences that are important in terms of knowledge gaps are the
differences between people within the same age group, such as parents, or
amongst children within the same age group. As already explained in chapter
III, men tend to pay attention to factual information whilst women prefer
fiction, notably, soap operas. Consequently, there will be a gap in television-
based knowledge between husband and wife, and between sons and daughters
as a result of differences in their preferences for television.

4.1.8 Stephenson’s Play Theory

Under this theory, mass communication content is seen as providing a
kind of buffer to the audience against conditions that can result in anxiety. It
does this by providing a step in the existential direction, thus providing play
and pleasure (, 2003:2).
In chapter III, in an attempt to find out the benefits of television,
television viewing was analyzed in relation to leisure and sports, both of
which are play. This gives credence to the fact that television viewing is more
of play than anything else. The ingredients used for this analysis were
challenge, concentration, activation, affect and relaxation which are key
components of play that determine the fulfillment that one can gain from it.
As explained in chapter III, television today replaces the primitive
fireplace around which primitive man used to gather to recount the stories of

the day and to play. Narration and play are therefore intimately bound together
and within every narration there is play (Martinez-De-Toda, 2000:57).
Today’s technology only superficially distinguishes mediated participation in
play from the rites of primitive man.

4.1.9 The Ritual Model of Communication

The major way in which people experience television as play is through

ritual participation. James Carey propounded the Ritual, Expressive or
Articulation Model of Communication in 1975 as an alternative to the Linear
Model of Communication. This model views communication from the point of
view of sharing, participation, association, fellowship and the possession of a
common faith. Thus, the man who shouts at the screen because his football
team has won, the woman who expresses joy whilst viewing a soap opera
because her favorite actress gets married, the teenage boy who copies the
dance steps of Michael Jackson as he watches M.T.V and the child who is
thrilled by the victory of his favorite cartoon characters, all ritually participate
in television texts.
“The social participation of sports fans in mediated sports exhibits a
feeling of involvement and an emotional relationship to the game and its
outcome” (Real, 1996:41). The active participation of the television audience
contradicts the old stereotype of the television audience as ‘couch potatoes’
passively receiving the bullet messages produced by television.
Rather, the audience poaches television texts by accommodating them
to suit their own purposes. This normally encompasses five levels of activity
(Real, 1996: 43).

 At the first level, the audience cultivates a certain mode of

response by paying full attention to televised texts. A particular
text is watched several times, normally within a setting that
allows social involvement with other fans. Thus soap opera fans
know and understand the genre as well as other fans very well.
 The second level involves the development of a set of critical and
interpretive practices that allows the audience to learn the
preferred reading practices of fans. It includes playful,
speculative, and subjective interpretations that parallel
experiences in their personal lives. This results in the
construction of a metatext that supersedes the original text in
terms of complexity, and richness. Thus fans do not take the text
at face value but go beyond it to create their own meanings. This
happens a lot with popular music where listeners appropriate the
words to suit their own situation.
 Thirdly, the consumers of media products become active in the
sense that their activities influence the contents of media. An
example of this is how a mixed marriage on a soap opera ended
in divorce because the audience did not approve of the marriage
(see chapter III)
 Fourthly, there is a spin off of other cultural products from the
contents of media. This can be in the form of T-shirts bearing
certain inscriptions from media contents, the creation of soap
opera magazines and the manufacturing of toys based on cartoon

 The fifth level of ritual participation involves the creation of a

social community that allows like-minded fans to live in their
own world where they can share information and enjoy the
contents of media that they cherish. Examples of this are the
creation of youth cultures around rock stars, the creation of soap
opera fan clubs, or the men who gather together in a bar to
discuss the latest football game.

4.1.10 The Behavioral Theories

The Behavioral Theories, as the name suggests, place a lot of emphasis
on the relationship between media and the behavior of those who use them.
Once again, Cervantes character ‘Don Quixote’, who decided to practice in
person all what he had read epitomizes this view. Don Quixote symbolizes
how the media can change ones perception of time and place; “Our Knight
errant esteemed all which he thought, saw, or imagined, was done or did really
pass in the very same form as he had read in his books” (Real, 1989:21).
As a result of brainwashing from the books he had read, Don Quixote
took to action: “Finally, his wit being wholly extinguished, he fell into one of
the strangest conceits that ever a mad man stumbled on in this world…that he
himself should become a knight errant and go throughout the world, with his
horse and armor, to seek adventures and to practice in person all what he had
read was used by knights of yore” (ibid).
Of course, Don Quixote became a misfit because what he sought to
practice proofed that he had lost touch with reality. His neighbors were quick
to detect the source of his malady: “Those accursed books of knighthood,
which he hath, and is wont to read ordinarily, have turned his judgment …Let
such books be recommended to Satan” they said, and acted accordingly (ibid).

But attempts by his neighbors to exorcise this evil from his life by burning his
library of over a hundred volumes failed to redeem Don Quixote from his
fantasies since his consciousness had been taken over entirely by the books he
Behavioral theories are not confined to violent or criminal behavior but
to various aspects of life. Most often, behaviors that are modeled after a
television experience become habitual if found to be useful.
Behavioral Theory is valuable in understanding why the youth copy
artists, especially musicians that they see on television and even develop youth
cultures around them, as explained in chapter III. First of all, peer pressure
may force the youth to adopt a certain youth culture by imitating an artist’s
mode of dressing, hairstyle and general attitude towards life. If there are
rewards in adopting this youth culture in the sense that the youth feels
accepted by his peers, it reinforces this behavior.
Also, as explained in chapter I, the secularization of the world which
has left most families, and for that matter, the youth with no reference points
for values makes the media more potent as a market place where values are
searched for and assimilated. The youth are more vulnerable in this direction
because they are at point in their lives where they seek to form their identities
and create a niche for themselves in society. One important behavioral theory
that has attempted to explain how television influences behavior is the Social
Learning Theory.

4.1.11 The Social Learning Theory

This theory has been found to be the most relevant to criminology
(, 2004:1). Albert Bandura, who
proposed that behavior modeling is the process through which especially

children learn aggression, propounded it in 1979. According to him, violent

tendencies are not hereditary and hence are not genetically determined.
Rather, they are learned from observing other people in the environment,
people who are encountered in one’s personal life and from the media
(Bandura, 1976:204). These learned aggressive behavior are reinforced if they
reduce tension, build up one’s self-esteem, gain praise, or financial rewards
(Siegel, 1992:171).
Using a Bobo doll experiment, Bandura was able to demonstrate how
children imitated aggression in adults for a rewarded gain. In this experiment,
children were exposed to a video clip in which a model repeatedly hit and
pummeled the head of a Bobo doll with a mallet. The model hurled down the
doll, sat on it punched the nose again and again, flung and kicked it across the
room and bombarded it with balls (Bandura, 1973:72). When the children
were placed in a room with attractive dolls after the video clip, they were cold
and hostile and refused to touch them because a process of retention had
occurred. However, when they were shown to another room containing
identical Bobo dolls, the motivation phase occurred which resulted in 88
percent of the children imitating the aggressive acts they had observed on the
video clip. Eight months after the experiment, 40 percent of the children still
repeated the aggressive acts on the video clip.
Bandura identified four main processes that are triggered off by
exposure to violent or aggressive acts that foster imitation or modeling of such
behavior. These include; attention, retention, motor reproduction, and
136 Attention

For one to learn by observation, one must be attentive to what is being

observed. Perceiving and attending to the significant features of the modeled
behavior achieve this (Allen & Santrock, 1993:139) In the Bobo doll
experiment, the children were keen witnesses to the assaults carried out on the
Bobo doll which enabled them to reproduce what they observed. In addition,
televised violence attracts attention because it is simple, distinctive, prevalent,
useful and depicted positively (, 2004:3).
 Simple: A quick punch to the face is simpler and easier to accomplish

than drawn out negotiations and efforts at reconciliation in a conflict

situation. Aggressive acts drives home the message that one is angry
more quickly than words.
 Distinctive: Violent acts on television are characteristic in the sense

that they do not fit into the everyday life of viewers. Pro-social behavior
such as delayed gratification, control of anger, sympathy, and sharing
appear mundane in contrast to violent sequences, which are exciting.
 Prevalent: The prevalence of violence on television makes it

impossible for one to miss them. More than 80 percent of prime-time

programs and 90 percent of weekend cartoon programs in the United
States contain violent acts.
 Useful: Television programs normally present violence as a preferred

choice in solving problems and a handy strategy for life. On the

average, half of the major characters experience 5 to 6 acts of overt
physical violence within an hour. These violent acts are rarely followed
by pain, medical help and suffering which makes them symbolic.
“Symbolic violence demonstrates power, not therapy; it shows who can

get away with what against whom. The dominant white men in the
prime of life are more likely to be victimizers rather than victims.
Conversely, old, young and minority women, and young boys are more
likely to be victims rather than victimizers in violent conflicts” (Bryant,
Zillmann, 1986:26).
 Positive: On television, the hero who carries out an aggressive act to

save a beautiful woman gives a positive cast to violence. Both heroes

and those they save through aggressive acts are normally physically
attractive and are portrayed as good people that justify the aggressive
act. Hence, the end justifies the means no matter how many
‘nonentities’ die in an effort to save those whose lives matter on
television programs. Retention

It will be difficult to reproduce any behavior if what has been observed

is not stored in one’s memory. Hence, before modeled behavior can be
reproduced, children normally code the information into long-term memory
from where this information can be retrieved when needed
A simple verbal description of the behavior that was modeled
constitutes retention (Allen & Santrock, 1993:139). Hence, memory is a
cognitive process that allows an observer to code and retrieve information.
The children who witnessed the Bobo doll experiment were able to reproduce
the aggressive acts because they had coded and stored it in their memory.
138 Motor Reproduction

This refers to the ability of the observer of modeled behavior to

physically reproduce the violent behavior he or she has retained. This is based
on the physical capabilities of the observer to learn the modeled behavior and
thus possess the physical capabilities of the modeled behavior. The ability to
learn how to ski, ride a bike or swim is an example of motor reproduction. In
the Bobo doll experiment, the children had the physical ability to carry out the
violent acts that they had witnessed on the video clip. Motivation and Reinforcement

A learned behavior will be useful to the practitioner if only the practice

of such behavior is linked with positive results. The children in the Bobo doll
experiment saw the adults being rewarded for their aggressive acts so they
carried out similar aggressive acts in the hope of receiving positive
Bandura was of the view that if an early diagnoses of aggression was
found in children, it would be possible to teach them to refrain from becoming
adult criminals. In addition, family members, the media and the environment
sometimes reinforce aggressive behavior in children (Bandura, 1976:206-
208). Of these three sources of reinforcement, the family was found to be the
most prominent since children tend to use the same aggressive acts that they
observe their parents using when dealing with other people. Thus, the boy
whose father repeatedly beat up his mother is likely to become an abusive
parent and husband (Siegel, 1992:170).
Environmental experiences are another source of social learning of
violence in children. Consequently, people who live in high crime

environments are more likely to respond violently than people residing in

environments characterized by a low crime wave (Bandura, 1976:207). A
similar correlation between the environment and crime in individuals was also
observed by Shaw and McKay’s theory of Social Disorganization. This theory
propounded that a neighborhood characterized by cultural conflict, decay and
insufficient social organizations contributed significantly to criminality
(Bartollas, 1990:145).


Television has a tendency to reward violence and thus provide
reinforcement for violent behavior in children. Television also graphically
illustrates violence, which is expressed as acceptable behavior for heroes who
never get punished for it. Since many televised material exhibit aggression as
a prominent feature, children who are highly exposed to television are likely
to show a comparatively high incidence of hostility by imitating televised
aggression (Berkowitz, 1962: 247).
For example, a report in Cloward & Ohlin in 1960 said homicide cases
tended to increase significantly after a heavy weight championship fight. A
number of deaths and aggressive acts have also been linked to violence on
television. John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate President Ronald
Reagan, made his attempt after watching the movie ‘Taxi Driver’ fifteen
times. In 1974, a group of girls in California, United States, raped a girl with a
bottle. They modeled their behavior after the film, ‘Born Innocent’ in which
four girls raped another girl with a bottle. Giving their testimony in court, the
girls claimed they had watched ‘Born Innocent’.
One social learning theorist, William Benson, found out that
adolescents who watched excessive television during their childhood had a 47

percent higher rate than those who watched below average televised material
to become adult criminals (Centerwall, 1993:70-71).
In addition, even a single exposure to violent acts on television can be
remembered by a child for up to 6 months whilst rehearsal of these acts
through daydreaming, imaginative play and other aggressive fantasies
increases the possibility of the child memorizing the aggressive act (Bryant,
Zillmann, 1986:48).
Besides, studies to determine whether children understand the meaning
of televised aggression in the context of the narrative in which it occurs have
revealed that viewers aged 8 years and below are not able to “infer
implications and linkages between scenes in television programs”(Bryant,
Zillmann, 1986:49). Therefore, most youngsters do not understand the reasons
and outcomes of aggressive acts within the narrative structure in which they
occur which increases their chances of modeling after such acts.
Televised violence also promotes symbolic modeling, where viewers
make a generalization of one violent behavior to similar behaviors and
circumstances. An aggressive act used by a character on television to resolve
interpersonal problems is seen symbolically as the most effective and
preferred way of resolving general problems. Studies of televised aggression
indicate symbolic modeling to be the most common outcome of viewing
violence on television (ibid)

4.2.1 Interactions Between Televised Violence, the Family and Society

Social Learning Theory teaches that people need to be motivated to
model aggressive behavior that they have observed. Motivation is provided by
gains or rewards which tone down inhibitions to enacting the aggressive act in
real life.

External regulators such as social norms, punishment, reprisals,

possibility of retaliation, guilt feelings and anxiety associated with aggressive
behavior serve as inhibitions to aggressive behavior. Their absence increases
the chances of modeling of aggressive behavior in people. Generally,
reinforcements for aggressive behavior include pre-observation, vicarious,
post -observation and self generated reinforcements (Bryant, Zillmann,
1986:50). Pre-observation Reinforcement

The degree to which one’s social environment rewards aggression is a
key determinant to its enactment. Children who are already predisposed to
aggression are more likely to model televised aggression. This predisposition
is based on sex and family attitudes. Studies carried out by Bandura have
shown that boys are more predisposed to performing televised aggressive acts
than girls. Other research studies by Chaffee and McLeod showed that the
positive relationship between viewing televised violence and aggressive
behavior in children is weaker among those whose parents disapproved of or
punished aggressive behavior (ibid). Vicarious Reinforcement

Studies have also revealed that television violence which is portrayed as
justified, acted out in self- defense, rewarded and not punished is more likely
to elicit post-viewing aggression than one that is punished, not rewarded or
seen to be unjustified. Other studies have shown that viewers who belief
television violence is capable of achieving the goals for which it is performed
are more like to use aggression as a means of achieving their own goals.

Ultimately, the more televised violence is portrayed as an effective means of

achieving one’s goals, the greater the reinforcement for modeling by viewers. Post-observation Reinforcement

Rewards or promise of rewards promote copying of aggressive
behavior on television by children. Studies have shown that rewards on their
own could promote aggression even without any prior observation of
aggression. Self-generated Reinforcements

People tend to order their own behavior around self-created
regulations. They normally develop their own standards of behavior by which
they experience a sense of self worth when they operate in accordance with
these standards. Actions contrary to these standards may produce feelings of
self-devaluation. Actions that can produce feelings of self-devaluation include
intentionally inflicting pain on people. The guilt arising from such actions can
however be dispelled through cognitive restructuring to justify what would
normally lead to feelings of self-devaluation.
Examples of cognitive restructuring are euphemistic labeling, palliative
comparisons, and displacement or diffusion of responsibility.
 By employing euphemistic labeling, the aggressive act is
converted from a self-devaluation experience to one of self-
satisfaction and self worth by conferring a respectable status to it
by labeling it as an act of high moral principle. An example of
this is how some men justify wife battering by labeling it as an
act destined for the well being of their wives by disciplining them
and leading them away from the path of waywardness.

 When palliative comparisons are made, the violent act is

compared with more deplorable acts committed by other people.
Thus, the man who batters his wife because he suspects her of
being unfaithful will compare his actions with another man who
murdered his wife for committing adultery.
 By displacing and diffusing responsibility for their violent acts,
people can also escape its self-devaluation consequences. Hence
during the North Atlantic Slave Trade, slave traders justified their
actions because they claimed it was divinely ordained since
somewhere in the Bible God had cursed Africans to be “drawers
of water and hewers of wood”.
 Another strategy is to shift blame from the perpetrator of violence
to the victim. Thus, the man who batters his wife shifts
responsibility from himself to his wife by claiming “she made me
do it by making me jealous”.
 By dehumanizing the victim, perpetrators of aggression can
experience self worth. This is normally achieved by labeling the
victim as animalistic or sub-human. The North Atlantic Slave
Trade during which millions of Africans were shipped to North
America as slaves is an example of this. Those who indulged in
the act perceived Africans to be less human than their European
and North American counterparts.


One major criticism of the Social Learning Theory is that it completely
ignores a person’s biological state, which can predispose one to violence.

Biological Theorists claim that existing biological differences in individuals

due to brain, genetic and learning differences are not accounted for by the
Social Learning Theory (Jeffery, 1985:239). Hence, the biological
preparedness for people to learn and the ability of the brain to process
information that are critical to the social learning theory has been largely
Biological Theorists say if different individuals should witness a
hanging or a violent murder, for example, the responses that will come from
the autonomic nervous system will be normal. These include increases in heart
rate and blood pressure, nausea and fainting. These symptoms are not learned
but are partially inherited.
Some critics have also argued that the children used in the Bobo doll
experiment were manipulated to respond aggressively to the video clip. Other
critics find the experiment unethical and morally wrong because it trained the
children involved to be aggressive.
Besides, many studies have also shown no correlation between televised
violence and aggressive behavior in children whilst others believe that
violence on television actually decreases aggression in children and has a
cathartic effect.
In a comparative six-week study of teenage boys who were exposed to
violence on television and another group of teenage boys who watched only
non-violent shows, Feshback and Singer, social researchers found out that
those involved in violent acts were less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior.
According to them, the study demonstrated how viewers relate to characters
involved in violent acts and by so doing, they are able to purge themselves of
all aggressive thoughts and feelings which makes them less aggressive than

they would have been if they had not viewed the violent acts (Feshback &
Singer, 1971:247).
Cooke, another researcher, believes television is being made a
scapegoat by the Social Learning Theory because the public needs to justify
the violence they see in others. He is of the view that far from being a
promoter of violence, television offers positive education and role models. “If
violence on television causes people to be more aggressive, than shouldn’t the
good hearted qualities on television cause its audience to be kinder to others
(Cooke, 1993:19)?”Cooke is of the view that television can become a
deterrence rather than a promoter of violence if equal attention is paid to its
positive aspects.


The Stalagmite theories point to a cumulative effect of television on
viewers (, 2003:2). Hence, each television-
viewing episode produces a tiny effect that builds up gradually over time into
a significant effect, much like the way tiny drops of calcium carbonate build
up over time to form stalagmites. The Cultivation Theory is an important
stalagmite theory because they examine the effects of television in relation to
the length of the relationship between viewers and television.

4.4.1 Cultivation theory

According to the Cultivation theory, exposure to television over time
leads to common conceptions of reality among heterogeneous groups of
people. This happens amongst heavy television viewers. Thus, television
nurtures certain predispositions and preferences, which before its advent were
derived from other primary sources of socialization. Television in this regard,

has become analogous to religion in the sense that the two share a similarity in
social function as a result of their continual replication of patterns, which
comprise of myths, ideologies, facts, relationships, etc in an attempt to define
the world and grant legitimacy to the social order.
Story telling seeks to illuminate the concealed relationships of life and
society and that function has been taken over by television today which tells
most of the stories to most of the people most of the time (Bryant, Zillmann,
1986:18). In doing so, television imposes a homogenous process through the
coherent use of images and messages, which leads to the cultivation of
common perceptions of reality among a heterogeneous public.
In other words, “massive long term and common exposure of large and
heterogeneous publics to centrally produced, mass-distributed, and repetitive
system of stories” (Bryant, Zillmann, 1986:20) homogenizes their outlook on
life thus dissolving authentic publics.
Heavy television viewing, among other things, shapes the outlook of
viewers on sex, stereotypes on gender and race, the family, religion, health,
science, politics, and educational achievement.
Thus, “Cultivation is the teaching of a common world view, common
roles and common values”(, 2003:3) The multi directional process of cultivation

The process of cultivation is not monolithic but a subtle and complex

process that intermingles with other social pressures, resulting in an
interaction between television and its publics. These social pressures, which
may be demographic, social, personal or cultural, influence the cultivation
process that arises from viewing television.

Hence, cultivation is not unidirectional but multidirectional as a result

of the impact of socio-economic, religious, cultural, educational, racial and
many other factors that determine how a particular viewer is affected by the
cultivation process.
In today’s media saturated world, most children are born into a home
dominated by television, which sometimes functions as a baby sitter with the
result that children make their first contact with television even before they
begin to talk and several years before they begin to read! Television thus, can
become for most children, their major source of cultural participation.
When viewing molds and encourages their continued attention, the
messages are likely to reiterate, confirm, nourish and thus cultivate their
values and perspectives in life (Bryant, Zillmann, 1986:24). Hence, television,
independently can contribute to the generation and maintenance of certain
outlooks or beliefs as a result of cumulative exposure in heavy viewers. A
research study on adolescents by several research scientists showed that their
attitudes were influenced independently by television over time whilst
subsequent viewing was influenced by their belief structure (ibid).
An important consequence of cultivation is that, because the perception
of the audience on reality is based on what is screened on television, these
perceptions normally have no bearing on real life situations.
For example, on a week’s program of prime time episodes, viewers are
exposed to the apparently realistic but normally phony representation of 30
police officers, 7 lawyers, 3 judges, a single engineer or scientist and a few
blue-collar workers. These episodes are normally dominated by threats and a
crime wave 10 times as widespread as what pertains to real life (ibid).
Hence, when heavy viewers and light viewers of television are asked
identical questions, heavy viewers normally provide answers that reflect the

world of television; heavy viewers will put the chances of being involved in
some kind of violence in a week at 10 percent, whereas the real life answer is
Consequently, due to their misconception of reality as a result of the
brainwashing they have received from television, heavy viewers sometimes
become paranoid, and develop a mean/scary world syndrome as a result of the
violence they see on television. They come to believe that people cannot be
trusted and that most people are just looking out for themselves (Bryant,
Zillmann, 1986:28)
The violence saturated world of television, which presents differential
ratios of symbolic victimization of women and minorities results in a
corresponding cultivation of different levels of insecurity in them. This
hierarchy of fears produced in women and minorities through televised
violence confirms and perpetuates their dependent status (ibid).
Another misconception of reality occurs when heavy viewers transform
message system data from television into general hypotheses about issues.
Television facts are made the basis of a wider worldview thus turning
television into an authoritative source of values, ideologies, perspective,
beliefs and images (ibid).
Heavy viewers also tend to score high on sexism than light viewers
because heavy viewers make extrapolated assumptions based on how women
are represented on television. They absorb the implicit messages that women
possess more limited capabilities and interest than men.
149 Cultivation and mainstreaming

As explained above, the process of cultivation is a multidirectional

ongoing dynamic process that occurs between the messages that heavy
viewers receive from television about the world and their own backgrounds.
Consequently, it is the impact of the diverse backgrounds of viewers on how
they receive televised messages, which accounts for differential modes of
However, there are instances when the process of cultivation becomes
homogenous and people of diverse backgrounds exhibit the same mode of
cultivation. The homogenization of the cultivation process amongst heavy
viewers of different backgrounds is known as mainstreaming
(, 2003:8). Mainstreaming

When heavy viewers from different demographic groups exhibit a

certain commonality of outlooks in contrast to light viewers in those groups,
mainstreaming is said to have occurred. Thus, differences, linked to cultural,
political and social distinctions of different groups reduce or become deficient
amongst heavy viewers (Bryant, Zillmann, 1986:31)
This phenomenon lends credit to the belief that television does cultivate
common perspectives. Like cotton wool dipped into water, television absorbs
the differences amongst groups of people that arise from social, cultural and
demographic factors. It is thus a melting pot where people lose their
differences and become homogenized.

Television’s mainstreaming potential lies in the consistency of its

messages which in turn are informed by ideology, underlying values,
demography and power relationships (Bryant, Zillmann, 1986:26).


Research on the Cultivation Theory has shown that personal interaction
greatly reduces the tendency for individuals to cultivate what is presented on
television as reality. For instance, adolescents whose parents watched
television with them exhibited small relationships between amount of viewing
and seeing the world from the point of view of how it is depicted on television
(Bryant, Zillmann, 1986:30)
Research also established that children who are more integrated into
cohesive peer groups were more resistant to cultivation than their counterparts
who were not.
Therefore, cultivation in individuals is the outcome of how mediated
imagery monopolizes the viewer’s source of information. More sources of
information prevent dependency on television and undermines cultivation.
Consequently, affiliation on the part of the viewer, personal interaction and
intervention by parents all reduce cultivation (ibid).


Blumler and Katz propounded this theory in the 1970’s. This theory
springs from the functionalist paradigm of the social sciences. It focuses on
why people use the media and what they do with the media rather than on
what the media does to people. It is therefore in contrast to the ‘Media

Effects” tradition which assumes that the audience is homogenous and is

helpless in the face of the power of the media.
The Uses and Gratification Theory views the use of the media in terms
of how it satisfies the social and psychological needs of the audience. The
satisfaction of these needs can be acquired from a medium’s content by
watching a specific program, from experience with a genre within the medium
such as soap operas, from general exposure to the medium such as watching
television or from the social context within which the medium is used such as
watching television with one’s family.
Most often, the social and psychological needs of people influence how
they use the media. Even one’s mood can determine the programs that one
will watch. A person who is bored will prefer a program that is exciting in
order to shake off his boredom whilst a person who is stressed will prefer a
program that will help him to relax. (McQuail, 1987: 236).
People may also derive different gratifications from the same television
program. Most often, the needs of viewers are determined by their personality
makeup, stages of maturation, their political, economic, religious and social
background and their roles in society. The developmental stage of children
may make television the preferred medium because children can watch
television at any stage of their development but need to acquire the ability to
read in order to read newspapers. Thus, children are more susceptible to the
influence of television.
The needs of the audience that push them to watch television can be
grouped into informational needs, the need for identity, the need for social
integration and interaction, and entertainment (McQuail, 1987:73).

4.6.1 Informational needs

Most often, the audience try to find out about events in their localities,
their countries and the world at large by watching news on television. Other
programs, such as soap operas and talk shows may provide them with advice
on practical matters by offering them opinions and decision choices.
The audience may also seek information as a way of satisfying their
curiosity, a means to self-education and the sense of security that arises from
acquiring knowledge.
People can organize their days based on information from television.
They can decide to go out with an umbrella if the weather forecast warns of
impending rains or stay at home and play indoor games. They may decide to
go to the beach or even organize a beach party if the weather promises to be
bright and sunny. It may determine whether one will invest in the stock market
or not based on news on the stock market.

4.6.2 Need for personal identity

Due to the vacuum created by the lack of an authentic system against

which personal values can be evaluated, television serves as the source for the
reinforcement of personal values for the audience. In achieving this, the
audience normally identify themselves with ‘a valued other’ on television.
Thus, the audience seek models after whom to mold their own behavior on

4.6.3 Need for social integration and interaction

Television programs, whether news or soaps, normally enable the
audience to enter into the lives of others. This enables them to gain an insight

into the circumstances of others and to empathize with them if they are in a
deplorable condition. By identifying with the circumstances of others through
television, the audience gain a sense of belonging. Knowledge about the
circumstances of others also provides the agenda for conversation and social
Through the relationships that the audience may establish with
television characters and personalities, they find substitutes for real life
companionship. By copying the attitude of characters that have the same
social roles as they do, the audience can use television as help in performing
their own social roles. Since television is a cultural vehicle, being part of it
allows one to connect with family and friends.
Television may be the only window through which many old and sick
people, isolated from the rest of the world and denied active participation in
society by old age and ill health, may see what is going on in the world and
even in the towns and countries that they live.
As a result, they experience a feeling of participation that creates an
atmosphere of being in touch with the rest of the world, which makes them to
feel they are not alone, and hence makes their loneliness more tolerable.

4.6.4 Entertainment

Television offers diversion from the daily battles of life for its audience.
It helps them to relax and to escape momentarily from the cares of the world.
The audience also derives intrinsic cultural and aesthetic enjoyment from
television, which they use to fill up time. Entertainments such as football
matches, Olympics, are expensive. People save money from cost of air tickets,
time to drive or take a bus as well as transportation costs when they watch

entertainment on television. These are the inconveniences of entertainment

that television allows viewers to overcome by bringing entertainment into
their homes.
In addition, television allows people to watch entertainment that can
have potentially violent consequences such as football and boxing in the
comfort and security of their homes. Thus they are protected from the violence
that normally characterizes some entertainment activities. Viewing television
can also become a source of emotional release and sexual arousal.


James Lull, after undertaking an ethnographic research on television
was able to identify several uses to which television and its contents are put.
He classified them as the structural and relational uses of television (Lull,
1990: 35-36).

4.7.1 Structural Uses

Structural uses of television are made up of environmental and
regulative uses. Environmental

Television creates a conducive environment for most households,

especially for people living alone, by providing background noise, which
diffuses the discomfort associated with silence. The characters and
personalities on television provide companionship and a pseudo-social world
for most viewers whilst entertaining them.
155 Regulative

Television contents punctuate time and activity for viewers. Hence

activities can be organized before or after the evening news or whilst viewing
a soap opera. Mothers can decide to take their kids out for shopping after they
have watched the Saturday morning cartoons. Television contents also shape
the nature of conversations by providing something to talk about. Relational

Relational uses of television include communication facilitation,

affiliation and avoidance, social learning and competence seeking. Communication Facilitation

Television facilitates conversation by providing a common agenda for

talk. This provides a common ground for conversation as well as an easy entry
into conversation. By equipping people with the ability to communicate and
keeping them informed, television helps clarify values and reduces anxiety. Affiliation / Avoidance

Viewers can use television as a source of affiliation in the family by

watching and sharing views on its programs. This can improve both physical
and verbal contact within the family by bringing the family together to watch
and discuss programs. By so doing, television can help ease tension in the
family and serve as a family relaxant, reduce conflict, help to maintain family
relationships and strengthen family solidarity. This is because certain
programs on television may provide the only opportunity for some children to

relate to their parents in a relaxed atmosphere. It may be the only occasion

during which very active and outgoing people stay at home with wife and
children. For instance in Ghana, most married women claim that their
husbands spend more time at home with the family during the telecast of
national and international football games.
But the same programs can also be used by the family to avoid and to
neglect each other. The man can continuously bury himself in news and
football programs and avoid talking to his wife and children whilst the woman
can also bury herself in her soap operas and refrain from any meaningful
conversation with her husband. Social Learning

Viewers take a cue from television programs as to whether a particular

behavior or conduct is legitimate. Thus, by casting a lot of single men and
women as happy and independent, television legitimizes the single household
and the era of individualism. By using violence as a solution to problems in its
plots, television legitimizes violence as an option in the solution of daily
problems. Hence people model their behavior after television characters and
may take decisions based on the decisions of certain characters that are going
through similar problems in the plots in which they have been cast. Television
thus becomes a substitute school for learning and information dissemination. Competence /Dominance

Television markets several roles in life from which members of the

audience may appropriate some to themselves or derive reinforcement for
shared or similar roles.


Soap operas have been a major focus of research in relation to the Uses
and Gratification Theory. These researches have unearthed a number of uses
and gratifications that people derive from soap operas. According to the
perspective of Richard Kilborn, (Kilborn, 1992: 75-84) most viewers of soap
operas use it as a launch pad for social and personal interaction. They serve as
a source of companionship were viewers choose to be alone or are forced to
endure loneliness. Viewers may experience a cathartic effect through
identification and involvement with the characters. Soap operas also offer an
escape from the routine of everyday life and serve as a focus of debate on
topical issues. In addition, soap operas have also become a regular part of the
daily routine of most women and an entertaining reward for domestic work.

4.8.1 Uses and Gratifications from Television Quiz Programs

A research carried out by McQuail, Blumler and Brown on the kind of
uses and gratifications that people derive from television quiz shows indicated
that they gratified needs in the area of self-rating appeal, social interaction,
excitement and educational appeal.
 Self-Rating Appeal: Normally, the audience of a quiz program

try to rate themselves by comparing themselves with the experts.

They like to imagine that they are on the program and are
enthralled when the side that they are supporting outshines its
opponent. Quiz programs also remind many in the audience how
their school going years were.
 Basis of Social Interaction: Most often, members of the

audience of a quiz program like to compete among themselves as


they watch the program and participate very actively in it. Some
families also work on the answers together which provides a
basis for social interaction. Most often, quiz programs provide a
common agenda for all family members by providing them with
the same interest. Children also benefit intellectually from quiz
programs, which also serve as a common topic for discussion
with neighbors.
 Excitement Appeal: The competitive nature of quiz programs

provides differing excitements for members of the audience and

gratifies certain needs. Some audience members enjoy the
excitement of a close finish, others try to guess the answers and
derive good feelings when these answers are right. Others
mentally get involved in the program, which allows them to
forget their problems momentarily.
 Educational Appeal: The educational value of quiz programs in

itself appeals strongly to its audience. Others are gratified to find

out that they know more than they thought when they score
higher marks than they thought possible while some use it as a
learning process to improve upon their knowledge. Quiz
programs also stimulate the intellect because the questions serve
as food for thought for the audience. Faithful audience members
of quiz programs normally develop an attitude of respect and
admiration for those on the program.

4.8.2 Criticisms of Uses and Gratification Theory

Critics of the Uses and Gratification Theory claim that, since research
on it was based on retrospective accounts of people as to why they watch

television, the answers are likely to be flawed. This is because viewers may
not know why they watched certain programs and may not be able to offer
adequate explanation. Hence, they are more likely to mention reasons they
have heard others mention. This discrepancy can be remedied by studying
people whilst they are engaged in the act of watching.
Critics also point out that television viewing can be an end in itself
rather than predetermined attempts to gratify certain needs from viewing
particular programs. They point out that whilst the audience may exhibit some
degree of selectivity, television use is most often habitual, ritualistic and
unselective. Viewing television may be an aesthetic experience fueled by
intrinsic motivation.
Some critics also claim the functionalist stance of the “Uses and
Gratification theory” is politically conservative. They assert that, the
assumption that people do derive some gratifications from any kind of media
may lead to a complacent and uncritical attitude towards current media
contents. This position also exaggerates the openness of interpretation of
television texts and creates the impression that the audience can derive
gratification from any program irrespective of its content or preferred reading.
Others find the theory to be individualistic and psychological since it
does not take into account the socio-cultural context of viewers. It tends to
foreground individual psychological and personality factors and backgrounds
sociological factors. But as Research Scientist, David Morley pointed out,
even though individual differences in media interpretation do exist, sub-
cultural and socio-economic differences do play a role in shaping how people
interpret the contents of television.
Besides, the theory exaggerates active and conscious choice without
taking into consideration that some programs may be forced on some people.

An example is a woman who is forced to watch a sports program along with

her husband even though she would have preferred watching a soap opera.

Based on what has been presented in the preceding chapters of this
research, it is essential to draw inferences on the interactions between
television and the family. Most of what has been presented point to the fact
that viewing television does have an impact on family members. In trying to
relate television viewing and effects on the family, it may be necessary to do a
specific analysis based on what programs each family member is drawn to.

5.1.1 How do Soap Operas Affect Women?

The fact that men and women are drawn to different genres, whilst the
youth and children are attracted to other genres points to an underlying uses
and gratifications approach inherent in the use of mass media. These need not
be determined by only the felt needs of the individual, based on which he
selects a particular genre but may arise from certain inherent factors around
which the media user has no control or knowledge of.
Women have no control over their genetic composition and socio-
economic factors that draw them to seek out soap operas as a means of
extending their social environment, creating a pseudo-social climate and using

them as topics for conversation. After all, the female species has been
classified as being more emotional than the male species. It is therefore logical
that if the female finds herself in an emotionally sterile environment where she
has little opportunity to express her emotions, whether hostile or non hostile,
she will welcome any avenue that will pave the way for her to express these
emotions. Being locked in the house with, perhaps only furniture for company,
soap operas provide what exactly meets the emotional needs of women. But
women’s preference for soap operas should not only be viewed from the social
point of view but also from their biological make up. Being more emotional
means they have a tendency to cry more, shout more and scream more.
Besides, women are credited with talking more than their male counterparts.
Soap operas, therefore, give them the opportunity to talk and cry, especially
when a favorite character has died thus providing some emotional release.
Hence, the observation that soap operas have replaced neighbors as
topics for gossip rings true. But herein lays the danger of soap operas. Gossip
about neighbors is gossip about reality and whether the outcome is positive or
negative, what matters is that one is dealing with concrete issues that concern
living beings. The problem with replacing gossip with soap operas is that
women have moved from reality into fictional constructions by the media,
much like the case of “Alice in Wonderland” who moved from the world of
reality into a fictional world. Whereas a little indulgence in the world of soap
operas may offer healthy distraction and prove to be relaxing, overindulgence
in the fictional world would have dire consequences not only for women but
also for society at large.
This is because, talking that is based on reality serves as a bridge for
people to connect to each other: wives to husbands and vice versa, children to
parents and amongst themselves, and families to their neighbors. It is through

talking that people make themselves known to each other, make their
problems known and in turn find solutions and sympathy. Now, if what
women talk about are only about soap opera characters, this displaces the
conversation on concrete issues that would have helped them to learn more
about each others personalities, the problems their children are going through
and what is going on in the neighborhood. Closeness amongst neighbors and
friends that is based on discussions on soap operas gives them a false feeling
of closeness and knowing each other when in actual fact such knowledge is
based on fiction rather than reality.
This then gives rise to pseudo-relationships based on soap opera
characters. The relationships that exist amongst soap opera fans in fan clubs is
nothing short of pseudo-relationships since these women do not have an in-
depth knowledge or true relationship to each other but only that which is
based on their common interest in soap opera characters, who in turn are
nothing but fictional constructs of the media. This also serves another
gratification of women since it enables them to hide who they are and to
indulge in relationships with other women without the risk of exposing
themselves to criticism, ridicule or harm.
Soap opera fan clubs therefore spear women to waste valuable time and
resources on issues that are unproductive and short of providing entertainment
and diversion do not contribute to their personal, social, academic or
economic development. Soap operas have thus become a drug for women
much like alcohol, which they use as an escape from reality but which do not
provide permanent solutions to their problems.
For one to get an insight into the economic cost of viewing soap operas,
one should consider the case of soap opera magazines and columns in
newspapers. The columns in newspapers could heave been used to provide

valuable information on real issues that affect people who have been ignored
because they fall into an economic category that cannot be packaged and sold
to advertisers. Soap opera magazines could cover real social problems
afflicting people in the world rather than concentrating on analyzing the
activities of fictional characters.
Besides, there is more joy to be derived from being involved in the lives
of real people, than getting caught up in the lives of fictional characters.
Furthermore, if an involvement with soap opera characters is a reaction
to an unsatisfactory social condition, this involvement only goes to mask the
symptoms without providing permanent solutions.
The feeling that all is not well is the first symptom that something is
wrong and sets the ball rolling for a solution. If several people experience
these symptoms then it calls for a change in the social environment which can
be achieved by renegotiating with one’s spouse or family or setting up new
challenges and goals that would make life more meaningful. If people have to
rely on soap operas to ‘people’ their lives, it is an indication that there is
something wrong with the social system since it is not meeting the innate
needs of people.
Robert C. Allen articulated this view that soap opera addiction may be
an indicator of deeper problems of women. In his book “Speaking of Soap
Operas” he wrote, “Women of the daytime audiences are having physical and
psychic problems that they themselves cannot understand, that they cannot
solve. Being physical, they feel the thrust of these problems. Being poor, they
cannot buy remedies in the form of doctors, new clothes, or deciduous
coiffures; being unanalytical, they cannot figure out what is really the matter
with them; and being inarticulate they cannot explain their problem even if

they know what it is…Soap Operas takes them into their own problems or into
problems worse than their own”
It means the reasons for which people live in a society, which is to
connect with other human beings, has been lost somewhere as society
concentrates on scientific, technological and economic development. This
emphasis on the physical has led to an abandonment of activities that nurture
the emotional and spiritual aspects of people. These have been sacrificed in
the name of economic advancement, which has promoted the rise of
individualism and the death of a community spirit.
It is not by chance that the character “Don Quixote” in the novel by the
same title by Cervantes was the one to attempt to live in a fictional world out
of the various characters portrayed in the novel. Don Quixote was unmarried,
lived alone and probably did not have any social life. So like today’s women
who rely on soap operas to people their lives, Don Quixote relied on the
characters in his books to people his life until he lost touch with reality and
begun to “live in the middle ages”, the time setting for his books.
Even though the plight of Don Quixote represents an extreme case of
media effects, it has been documented in this research that some viewers get
so involved with the lives of fictional characters that they write letters of
congratulations to television networks when a character on a soap opera series
get married. What is more, some even write letters offering advice to their
favorite actresses on what steps to take in a soap opera plot in which they have
been cast in an unfavorable situation, as if the outcome of soap operas do not
depend exclusively on the writers but on the interventions of the audience and
the planning of the characters.
This indicates a mix-up of the fictional world with the world of reality.
There have been instances when some viewers have assaulted soap opera

characters because they did awful things to their favorite characters while a
viewer wrote a note to his Church Minister on the bad conduct of his daughter
after his daughter had played a “bad” role in a soap opera cast.
Some researchers have attributed the pleasure that women derive from
soap operas to the fact that the plots, which try to undermine male dominance,
give women pleasure because they can temporarily identify with the female
characters that rebel against masculine control. But is it not better that women
seek concrete ways of fighting this age-old problem instead of living in a
world of fiction in a bid to escape from this world of frustration? Fleeing into
a world of fiction is not a solution and does not constitute strength but a
weakness. If women use these escapades to temporarily calm their nerves and
nurture themselves to confront the situation in more realistic ways, then
viewing soap operas could yield positive results. For as the old saying goes,
“he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”. However, if women
become paralyzed by realities on the ground and choose to remain in the
world of soap operas for all eternity, forever using them as ways of escape,
then viewing soap operas could become a disservice to women.
This has even greater implications for women living in developing
countries such as Ghana where societal inequalities between men and women
are great and where women still have to fight against traditional cultural
systems that discriminate against them and subject them to all kinds of
hardship, torture, and humiliation. It will be suicidal for the Ghanaian woman
to fold her arms and immerse herself in the fictional world of soap operas
without taking the necessary steps to redeem herself from male subjugation.
Besides, economic power is one area where men wield authority and
control. Today, thanks to the availability of educational opportunities, some
women have been able to penetrate this kingdom of men. Hence, women will

be better off doing other things like pursuing a higher education or availing
themselves of business opportunities while using the rebellion against male
dominance in soap operas as an inspiration that things can change in their
favor if they act in the right direction and persist to spear them on.

5.1.2 How do Media Models Impact on the Youth?

Personal identity is cultivated through a sustained and steady reflection
on values and ideas followed by a deliberate adoption of some values and
rejection of others with a keen of sense of ‘what kind of man or woman I want
to be in future’. However, today, thanks to the media and television, ‘who I
want to be in future’ is on sale on the screen and one only has to copy and buy
the clothing and accessories after one has made a choice from the wide variety
of personalities on sale on television.
Hence, instead of striving to be their authentic selves, the youth are
struggling to be photocopies of media personalities, some of whom are of
questionable character. In so doing, they sacrifice their God –given uniqueness
and instead become pseudo-personalities of media constructs.
The danger with the youth continually running to the media for identity
is that they may never discover their true selves but will continue to model
themselves after whatever artists their peer groups approve of at any point in
This endless searching for whom to be by the youth also points to an
emptiness in them, which is a normal phenomenon during the adolescent years
that can push the youth to achieve and gain a sense of fulfillment from
achievement if used in the right direction. Hence, it is during this time that the
youth should be encouraged to develop their academic, artistic, athletic and
other talents in their search to fill the emptiness in them. By so doing, they

discover and develop the latent talents lying untapped within them. However,
when time and energy is wasted in trying to become the latest musical star that
takes to one’s fancy, the youth are likely to lose focus on themselves and lose
their sense of identity.
This is not to say that television models should be a “no go” area for the
youth. Some television stars can be a big source of inspiration for the youth,
especially if such stars worked hard to overcome unfavorable conditions to
accomplish what they have achieved.
What is important is a sense of balance, which can be achieved under
parental guidance so that the youth learn to discover their own strengths and
weaknesses. When they have a clear sense of what they are capable of
achieving and what may be out of their reach, they can then work hard on their
abilities and use them to their maximum potential instead of chasing after
empty dreams.

5.1.3 Children and cartoons

Whilst cartoons do serve as a source of entertainment for children and
may contribute positively to reducing aggression, as some researchers have
suggested, the main criticism of cartoons is that, most often, they do not teach
any moral lesson. Time that would have been invested by children in listening
to stories from their cultural background or reading children’s books such as
fairy tales is now spent watching cartoons. Thus, cartoons have replaced these
traditional modes of entertainment and instruction for children. But the
problem with cartoons is that whilst they entertain, they do very little
In fairy tales, such as ‘Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’
among others, vices such as wickedness and envy are punished whilst long

suffering and victims of wicked persons are normally rescued at the end and
rewarded. Hence, these texts instill certain qualities in children and play a
socializing role by helping them to distinguish between virtues and vices and
assuring then that virtue will always be rewarded whilst vices are always
punished. Such moral lessons when imbibed by children remain with them for
the rest of their lives.
Cartoons on the other hand, go on and on with one violent act after the
other, and most often, with no distinguishable story line. A cartoon series such
as “Tom and Jerry” whilst depicting beautiful episodes, appropriately spiced
with violence on how a mouse always outwits a cat do not teach any virtues
such as honesty, truthfulness, and longsuffering among the whole list of
virtues that are normally addressed by fairy tales and folk stories.
Hence, the kind of socialization accomplished in children by traditional
folk tales is not the same as that accomplished by cartoons. Further more,
cartoons come laced with advertisement that begin their work of instilling
consumerism in the young child, something that was unknown when
traditional tales were the dominant means of socializing the young child.
Besides, traditional folk tales normally center on human characters with
problems, trials, ambitions, and frailties that children can identify with. Since
cartoon characters consist of caricatures, which children know do not exist,
they may fail to identify with the characters and learn any moral lesson in
cartoons even if the story were to be woven around a plot that aims at
imparting virtues.
Furthermore, cartoons have been designed mainly to entertain, to
provide pleasure and excitement. By not showing the consequences of
violence and by using caricatures that children know do not exist anyway,
cartoons convert violence into something that children can experience as

pleasurable. But we live in a world of cause and effect, of pain and pleasure,
where both evil and good produce results. Thus, cartons prevent children from
relating cause to effect.
Another point worth noting is the fact that as children gradually give up
books in return for television as a main source of entertainment, they may
miss out on valuable lessons about life that they can learn from novels as they
grow into their teenage years and into adulthood.
One important area is the socializing role provided by romantic novels
for orientating the youth for love and marriage. Most often, romantic novels
with a plot woven around love and marriage normally depict a young person’s
search for love amidst challenges until he or she finds the woman and man of
his or her heart’s desire with whom he or she pledges to live with forever. Sex
is always portrayed within a context of love and relationship. These little steps
that lead to love and romance are normally absent from televised material,
which normally depict sex as occurring between people with no strong
commitment or the intention of an enduring relationship.
Nonetheless, cartoons, and other genres in the era of television have
come to stay. What then remains is for parents to select a wise blend of
cartoons and other television programs for children whilst ensuring that they
do not displace the much needed exposure to books and other forms of
recreation. This situation brings to the mind of the writer the old nursery song
that runs this way; “make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver but the
other gold”. Folk stories, fairy tales and novels remain our old friends while
cartoons are our new friends. Cartoons are silver but folk stories, fairy tales
and novels are gold by comparison.


From the broad picture painted in the preceding pages on the effects of
television on viewers, it is necessary to do a case study of a particular country
and come out with specific recommendations on how to convert television
viewing into a more positive activity.
The country chosen for this study is Ghana. It is a former British colony
and the first country south of the Sahara to gain its independence from Britain
in 1957. It has a population of 18 million people comprising of diverse ethnic
and cultural backgrounds. The various ethnic groups speak over 50 different
local languages. English is the national language and it is used for instruction
in schools and at offices (,2005:1)

5.2.1 Broadcasting in Ghana

The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation was established in July 1935 by
the British colonial government to broadcast radio programs. The television
component was added to the Corporation in 1965 after the country had gained
independence. Since then, the sphere of television was dominated by the
Ghana Broadcasting corporation until a few years ago when private
businessmen where given licenses to set up television stations. A number of
private stations were set up, including Metropolitan T.V., TV3 Network,
Crystal Television, TV Africa, TV Agoro and Frontomfrom TV
For the purposes of this discussion, Ghana Television of the Ghana
Boradcasting Corporation has been selected. The Ghana Broadcasting
Corporation covers 90 percent of the population of Ghana and is the oldest
broadcasting house in the country (ibid).

5.2.2 Why Ghana Television was established

Ghana Television was established to provide information, cultural, civic

and social education and entertainment. Since its establishment, it has been
supported by government subvention and advertisements until the television
license fee was introduced in the 1990’s to provide additional support.

5.2.3 Programs on Ghana television

Programs of Ghana Television consist of news programs, adult
education programs, drama, talk shows, sports, political and civic education
programs, children’s programs and local and foreign films and soap operas.
The news bulletin is telecast twice a day, one at 7 p.m. and a later
version at between 10p.m to 11p.m. The news is always telecast in English
and then translated into two local languages. The local languages used are
Akan, Ga, Ewe, Nzema, Hausa and Dagbani and any two of them can be used
each day for the local news translation.
A bulk of the news consists of political news, which ranges from 40
percent on a normal day to as high as 70 percent during the period of election
when coverage of political campaigns dominates the news. On a normal day,
economic news may take up 20 percent whilst social news takes up 30 percent
but during an election year, they are eclipsed by the large amount of political
news that is telecast.
Of the ten political regions, about 40 percent of the news comes from
only one region, the Greater Accra Region in which is found Accra, the capital
of Ghana.

Adult education programs are carried out in the six local languages
mentioned above. Talk shows are carried out in two main languages, English
and Akan, which is the most widely spoken local language.
Entertainment programs consist of local dramas in the six local
languages that are used for broadcasting. Local untrained actors and actresses
who rely on their ingenuity and the knowledge of their culture to act their
plays normally perform these. Trained local actors and actresses, notably those
from the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI) and the School of
Performing Arts at the University of Ghana also stage dramas that are telecast
on television. But these local productions are normally few and foreign films
and soap operas rather dominate.
The soap operas that have been telecast in the past include “Days of our
lives”, “Neighbours”, “The bold and the beautiful”, “Dynasty”, “Izaura”,
“Soul food”, “Savage heart”, “Oshien”, “Igola”, and “Journey to the west”
among several others. Those currently running on the screen include
“Tentacles”, “The woman of my life”, “My three sisters”, “Home sweet
home” and “Kejetia”.
In addition, several situation comedies have been screened on Ghana
Television including “Different Strokes”, “Cosby Show”, “227” and
Hollywood films are normally telecast as late night movies and Sunday
family movies, which are interspersed by a few Nigerian and Ghanaian films.
Foreign cartoons dominate programs for children on Ghana Television.
Cartoons are telecast every day from between 3p.m to 5p.m when children are
expected to have closed from school and on Saturday mornings. Unlike what
pertains in western countries, cartoons in Ghana carry very few
advertisements since Ghana does not have the economic base that sustains

those kinds of advertisements. Thus, cartoon programs in Ghana do not have

the potential of turning children into consumers like they do in the west.
Sunday mornings are reserved for religious programs. These include
transmissions of Sunday Services from various Christian dominations and
gospel singers. In the afternoons, feature films are normally screened under
the program family movie. Since the family is supposed to be home on
Sunday afternoon watching television together, these films are chosen with
caution to allow all members of the family to view them together.
Just like other television channels, sports programs form a large chunk
of the programs screened on Ghana television. These include football, hockey,
tennis, athletics and golf. Sports programs are normally telecast on Mondays,
Saturdays and Sundays when no sporting activities are taking place. During
special seasons such as league matches and athletics, the programs are
changed to accommodate them.


How Families in Ghana experience television varies tremendously and
it is linked to the economic base of the family. In many Ghanaian cities,
television has ceased to be something novel and has been taken for granted.
Television ownership is thus at the Mature phase. In such families, television
viewing has patterns that are very similar to that of the west, even though the
impact is not the same because community life is the norm rather than the
exception in Ghana. Hence, social mitigation on the effects of television is
very strong.
However, in the rural areas of Ghana where 70 percent of the
population lives, television is still something very novel and is at the Tavern

or Pioneer stage. In some cases, the only television set in the village may be
one donated by a politician to the village chief to buy votes from the
community. Apart from the fact that most rural people cannot afford to buy a
television set, they may lack electricity or be situated at a place where
reception of television signals is very poor.
For the few families that have access to television, it becomes a symbol
of social status. That family will be the proud receiver of several visitors who
flood the house to view television. Television viewing thus becomes a group,
or even community activity rather than a family activity. Whilst television at
this stage can provide entertainment, information and relaxation, other effects
such as providing companionship or stimulating conversation are very
minimal since the cohesiveness of community life experienced in rural areas
makes these needs unnecessary. In fact television viewing at this stage is not a
need, like what pertains in western countries or even in urban Ghana where
life is more westernized but an addition to the social life of the people.
Television does not take over their shared social activities because the nature
of rural life makes this impossible.
Thus, in Ghana, two patterns of television viewing exist side by side.

5.3.1 How Do Television Programs Impact on Ghanaians

Having examined the patterns of television viewing which is linked to
the type of ownership in Ghana, it may be necessary to analyze how individual
programs affect viewers. Since it has been established that in rural Ghana
where television ownership is at the tavern stage, the impact is very minimal,
the analysis will be carried out with respect to urban dwellers that exhibit
viewing patterns similar to what pertains in the west.
175 Television Impact in Respect of Language

It will be recalled that there exists over 50 different languages in
Ghana, the largest group being the Akan group. So naturally, most local
programs are telecast in Akan. The five remaining local languages that are
used do not command as many programs as the Akan language. So what is the
implication of this for the numerous Ghanaians who cannot speak English and
do not speak any of the six languages used by Ghana Television?
It means they are cut off from a cultural process and denied access and
participation in the communication process. The dominance of Akan on
Ghana Television reflects their dominance in Ghanaian society. Thus,
television has become a tool for confirming, strengthening and propagating
this dominance to the neglect of the languages and cultures of minority ethnic
In addition, the fact that the news is always read in English in a country
where a high percentage of the population is illiterate means that most
Ghanaians do not benefit from news and current affairs programs. This
undermines democracy because knowledge in the day-to-day affairs of the
country is necessary for people to assess the political and economic landscape
of the country and make informed decisions when it comes to electing
political leaders.
Since a lot of Ghanaians are ignorant in this regard because they lack
adequate information, political leaders who buy their votes during elections
normally manipulate them. Thus, these ignorant people who have been denied
cultural access easily sell off their power to institute changes in their country
and their personal lives. Because they lack the ability to analyze issues, they
do not realize that by selling their votes they are perpetuating poverty.
176 Television Impact in Terms of Program Content


In terms of program contents, Ghanaian children are spared the

commercials that plague cartoons in the west because they do not constitute
the market for them. This is an advantage to them because they have access to
entertainment without paying the price for that entertainment; namely being
converted into a commodity to be sold to advertisers by the producers.
What then remains to be analyzed are the violence portrayed in cartoons
as well as the opportunity cost of cartoons.
Does cartoon violence impart negatively on children? Even though no
scientific study has been carried out in this regard, Ghanaian parents are not
complaining about these cartoons. For most parents, cartoons serve as an
opportunity to keep overactive children indoors and away from potential
trouble. But no one knows the long-term effects of continuous viewing of
cartoons on Ghanaian children. This calls for research in this area.
With regards to the opportunity cost of viewing cartoons, those urban
families that own these sets also tend to place a high premium on education.
Hence, apart from regular school attendance, it is customary for
children from these homes to attend extra classes and enroll at the local
library. The only academic aspect of these children’s lives that television can
interfere with is in the area of reading for leisure or pleasure, where children
learn a lot of things informally from fairy tales to novels. As suggested by
some studies quoted in this research, television has merely replaced these
areas of children’s life. But as explained earlier on in this chapter, these books
do not only entertain but they also instruct. Hence, to allow television to blight
them out of a child’s life constitutes a disservice to the child.
177 News

On Ghana Television, the news genre is perhaps the most deceitful in

the sense that it pretends to give coverage of the entire country whilst in actual
fact very little of what goes on is reported. Even what is usually reported lacks
depth and analysis to enable the viewer to get a true picture of the issues being
reported on. In the first place, political news dominates and policy statements
and activities undertaken by politicians such as cutting the sod for a new
building, opening a new clinic or school or inspecting projects dominate the
headlines. Very little is heard about issues that affect the life of the ordinary
Besides, there also exists an imbalance in the news coverage with
respect to the 10 political regions of the country. Most often, about 50 percent
of the news originates from the Greater Accra Region whilst very little is
heard of the other nine regions. Dramas, Soap operas, Situation Comedies and Films

The problem with locally produced Ghanaian dramas is that the plots
are too simple. These dramas which are performed in both English and local
languages attract a wide audience, especially women. But their simple nature
makes viewing them a passive activity since most of the audience can readily
predict the outcome of successive scenes.
In addition, most films that are made are amateurish and unrealistic
because film directors neglect certain important parts of the plots. An example
is a film in which the plot revolved around a young woman purported to be the
only daughter of a wealthy man. However, in the film, this so-called rich girl

wore only one dress throughout the production. How does this correspond
with her status as an heiress? Similarly, in another film, the plot revolved
around a man who went oversees for five years. Before he left, his only sister
saw him off at the airport. When he returned after five years, this same only
sister went again to meet him at the airport. What rendered the film unrealistic
was the fact that she was still wearing the same hairstyle she wore five years
before to see her brother off at the airport. These are but just two of some of
the numerous blunders that make locally produced Ghanaian films
substandard and uninteresting to the educated elite.
Soap Operas and situation comedies also command a big audience, with
the dominant audience being women. Over 90 percent of Soap Operas that are
screened on Ghanaian television screens are from the United States and
Western Europe, with a few from Asia, Latin America and South Africa. In
spite of the fact that these have a wide audience, the possibility that viewers
do not read and understand the texts from the producer’s point of view is high.
Apart from existing cultural differences between the cultures from which such
programs are produced and Ghanaian culture, the use of slang and English
words that have local connotations may not be understood in the Ghanaian
context and viewers may carry away a different meaning of the message.
Foreign films remain the preserve of the educated elite, both men and
women, who normally find local productions unchallenging and amateurish
and hence prefer foreign films. Sports Programs

In Ghana sports programs are used as a supplement to the activities of

sports fans. Most sports fans will prefer to be at the stadium and watch their

team playing if the match or tournament is taking place in their own locality.
They rely on television to view events that are out of their reach, such as
sports programs in other towns or cities and international games taking place
in other countries. Apart from big games such as the Olympic Games, the
World Cup, the African Cup, amongst others, which attract a wide audience,
other games such as Football made in Germany and British soccer attract a
loyal audience.


First of all, the problems posed by the use of the English language for a
bulk of the programs that cut off the majority of the population from
benefiting from these programs in participating in the national debate should
be addressed. Even though strides have been made in this area by the
introduction and use of six Ghanaian languages on television in addition to the
production of local programs in these languages, a lot still needs to be done.
The dominance of the Akan language on television, which reflects their
dominance in the Ghanaian society, should be addressed. After all,
communication is meant to change society for the better and not replicate what
is undesirable in society. In this regard, it would be necessary to develop more
programs in the five other languages to enable them to catch up with the Akan
language in terms of programs.
Apart from this, one way Ghana Television can diversify the languages
used on television is to travel to those communities whose languages are not
currently in use on their programs and film their own local theatre
productions, entertainment programs and festivals and telecast them on
television. It will be difficult and expensive for Ghana television to train and
sponsor local artists for many languages but this can be overcome if they rely

on local productions from those communities, which they can simply film and
By doing this, they will be breaking the myth of ethnic dominance in
Ghanaian society and pave the way for a more unified Ghana. Such a bold
step would also help cultivate the spirit of belonging and patriotism in all
Ghanaians by proving to them that they matter to society.
It will also be a mighty step towards the fight against cultural
imperialism since all Ghanaians will be exposed to their rich cultural diversity
and heritage which when blended carefully would stimulate their interest in
local productions and curb their over reliance on foreign programs which
undermine their cultural values and replaces them with ‘Hollywood produced’
Secondly, by developing and increasing the output of trained Ghanaian
actors, Ghana Television can rely less on foreign films, situation comedies and
soap operas and screen more local productions. Such a step will provide more
job opportunities for actors and actresses and earn revenue for the country if
the films are good enough to be exported.
In the development of these films, care should be taken not to produce
gender and ethnic stereotypes since in the long run these do not augur well for
It will also be necessary to produce local films with more complex plots
since one of the reasons why most Ghanaians prefer watching western films is
because they find the plots of local films too simplistic which makes them
boring. There is therefore the need for local films to be approached with more
professionalism to make them more realistic.


A Media Education Program can be developed for Ghana under the
auspices of the Ghana Catholic Education Unit. This would help mitigate the
potential negative effects of television on viewers. As the old saying goes, “a
stitch in time saves nine”. It will be better for media education to take off right
now than at the time when the effects of television are too overwhelming. The
following will serve as the points of reference for any media education
The Media Education program will try to sensitize Ghanaians, especially
media practitioners and policy makers on the need to revamp the television
landscape in Ghana. This is because, it is through social communication that
cultures change and mutate. Hence, in order to ensure that the changes
wrought by Ghana television are in the interest of Ghanaians, it is necessary to
monitor its contents to bring about the right changes. It will not serve the
interest of the country in the long run if those in authority pretend what goes
on on television does not affect the country. Efforts should be made to make
television a participatory medium on which the various ethnic groups of
Ghana express themselves in their own language and contribute to the
evolvement of an authentic Ghanaian culture. Television should not perpetuate
dominance and stereotypes.
The Media Education Program will also sensitize schools, parents and
opinion leaders on the need for a critical analysis of media content, especially,
foreign programs. News especially should not be taken at face value but
viewers should supplement what they hear on television with newspapers and
interpersonal communication.

Parents, especially, will be sensitized on the need to scrutinize the

programs watched by their children, to guide them in the selection of their
programs and to accompany them when viewing television. This is because;
accompaniment reduces the negative effects of television on children.
The program will emphasize on how viewers can integrate television into
their social and academic lives. In the case of children, television should not
take over the reading of children literature, since as has already been
emphasized, the socialization accomplished by these books are different from
that accomplished by television.
Parents will be encouraged to seek out reference points and role models
other than television personalities on whom their children can model their
lives. Models can be found within the family or in the community.
In order that the steps outlined above are achieved, it may be necessary to
develop literature on media education around these themes. The Catholic
Education Unit can also serve as a pressure group in respect of television by
pushing for changes that favor the viewers rather than advertisers. Journalists
often describe themselves as “watchdogs of Society” but who watches over
the watchdog to ensure that the right thing is done. The unit can thus serve as
a watchdog on the performance of television by drawing their attention to
lapses while encouraging them when they initiate desirable innovations.


This research work is by no means exhaustive. What the writer has
merely done is to gather material on the impact of television on family life,
which has been analyzed with regards to specific family members.

During the gathering of materials, one issue that stood out starkly was the
lack of ethnographic research material on how television impacts on African
Hence, it may necessary to carry out an ethnographic research in African
countries in this regard. Such a research should not be limited to just viewers
but should also try to identify the power brokers who control the media in
African countries, determine whose interest is served by the media and the
role of advertisements on media content.
It is hoped that an ethnographic research on television’s impact on
families will be carried out on Ghana in the near future to fill up the existing

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Course Lectures
Baugh, Lloyd P. (SJ). CP2036: Il Linguaggio, l’esperienza e i genre della
televisione, June 2005.
Savarimuthu, Augustine. CP2032: Storia Sociale della Communicazione, June
Savarimuthu, Augustine. CO2A87: Introduzione alla Pre-produzione del
Video, February 2004.
Srampickal, Jacob. CS2062: Educazione ai Media, June, 2004.