Mean World Syndrome is a phenomenon where the violence-related content of mass media convinces viewers that the world is more dangerous than it actually is, and prompts a desire for more protection than is warranted by any actual threat. Mean World Syndrome is one of the main conclusions of cultivation theory. The term “Mean World Syndrome” was coined by George Gerbner, a pioneer researcher on the effects of television on society, when he noted that people who watched a lot of TV tended to think of the world as an unforgiving and scary place.
Individuals who watch television infrequently and adolescents who talk to their parents about reality are said to have a more accurate view of the real world than those who do not, and they are able to more accurately assess their vulnerability to violence and tend to have a wider variety of beliefs and attitudes.
Technological advancements have burgeoned as we stride millennia. Therein lies a solid piece of standardized property: the television.This effectual tool of the mass media takes the form of commercials, films, movie blockbusters, soap operas, drama serials and documentaries. From amusing new-born infants to engaging the decrepit senescence, fanaticizing about Japanese anime such as Naruto to thrill-seeking American television serial dramas like Prison Break, intellectually educating nature-bound National Geographic to the mindless E! Entertainment gossip about Hollywood celebrities, it is incontrovertible that the existence of the TV has impacted our lives in a multitude of ways.
Insinuating by nature, television programs exerts its influence on the audience subtly and cumulatively. In this, theCultivation Theory (George Gerbner, 1976) is highlighted, referring to the social theory which examines the long term effects,of television on the audience. As with this theory, scientific studies have thus far concluded that people who spent more time watching television were more likely to perceive the world in ways that reflect the most common,of the world of television, as compared to the people who were less of a TV addict.
Due to the filmmakers’ need to boost viewership, many a time, television productions are an exaggeration of reality. Such distortions indubitably give rise to not only the Mean World Syndrome, but also to the far opposite of it as well.
Sex, for instance, is a highly repetitive motif in the movies these days, especially in Western productions, because of the producers’ notion that sex “sells”. As such, adolescents targeted as the majority audience have become manipulated into perceiving sexual intercourse lightly; that pre-marital sex is a social norm. Moreover, as youths of the MTV generation predominantly grew up with the TV, the effects of the TV are more significant than people of other ages. Yet, although television influence is a strong determinant in this case study, it is not the only source of influence.
Another parallel to the Mean World Syndrome would be the overly romanticized ideals portrayed by the mass media, through television. While romance is mostly screened with antagonists attaining their true love and ergo a happily ever after, reality reflects otherwise. Due to this disparity between illusive television and reality, a mismatch of expectations occurs. This results in the dissolution of interpersonal relationships, and for married couples – divorce. Undoubtedly, the symbol of marriage, relationships, love and romance has changed over time; however, through the television (and hence also the mass media)’s influence, issues are unwittingly brought forth and henceforth aggravated.
Violence is yet another theme that the mass media portrays, more often than not. Catering to the pernicious, sadistic characteristic of mankind, violent films depicting gore and bloodshed are increasingly popular amongst the television viewers nowadays, in spite of censorships in place. For instance, the thriller-gore movie ‘Saw’ was so enthralling that five sequels succeeded it, all of them as grotesque and as bloody as the premiere. In this case, two mindsets may develop from violent television consumerism: the first being the Mean World Syndrome, where the individual perceives violence in reality as ubiquitous and unavoidable because the mass media depicts that is so. Secondly, individuals may become desensitized to the concept of violence, whereby an act that may have once been regarded as appallingly undesirable will be morphed into an acceptable norm.
In summary, the television, as one of the many forms of mass media, is an effectual medium in underscoring themes of war, terrorism, poverty and on a more personal level – relationships. However, insidiously, television consumption has the potential to vastly alter our perceptions and lives. Be it a once-a-week TV patronage or a 24/7 TV addict, we are required to be discerning at all times. Only then can we differentiate the TV world from our grounded reality and ergo maximize the benefits of this ingenious (yet insidious) invention.