Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More Journalists Need Media Literacy

CBC Radio 3 points to a study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and picked up by the Canadian Press that says that there is an association between lyrics with degrading sex and early sexual experience.

First of all there are so many flaws with this study that I hardly know where to start. They don't really know what the kids in the study were listening to, they just asked some 9th graders in Pittsburg some questions - so the kids were self reporting. It's a small sample and they apparently didn't ask them about other factors.

Beyond that it is flawed in it's basic logic. If you ask people what artists they like and discover that homosexuals are more likely to like artists who are gay that does not mean that the music made them gay. This is a broader cultural issue. People from cultures where promiscuous sex and violence are a common part of the culture will like music that reflects the culture, often the artists themselves came out of the culture. It's the ultimate chicken and the egg question, it's a loop. Art imitates life which imitates life, which imitates art.

Remember that popular music in the early 20th century had little to no violent or sexual content but those years produced two world wars.

Ultimately studies like this one are attention seeking behavior on the part of organizations. It sounds good, it will grab headlines, it will please parents who don't want to blame themselves and it will please politicians who will find it far easier to blame musicians than to actually seek solutions to social problems. The Canadian Press story also contains the following piece of blather:
"...we can teach what we call media literacy, which is to help kids be more critical media users, or more intelligent media users, so that they know it's not in their best interest to be modelling sexually degrading images."
This quote is from "Jane Brown, a professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill," It seems to me though that it is not kids, or musicians or parents who need an education in "media literacy" it is journalists and editors who have a responsibility to the public, to filter information, to be critical and ask questions and not just try to grab headlines. These stories, based on faulty science and logic, are all too common in social, cultural, psychological and medical studies and the media (for the most part) just seem to gobble it up and send it out (with a catchy headline) as truth.

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