Until fairly recently, I never understood why some of my friends would throw season premiere and season finale parties for TV drama hit series “Sex and the City.” They were very religious about their rituals. Some of them brought the refreshments. Others brought some chips, dips, hot wings, and even salads. Before the show would start, they would have a discussion highlighting the previous season; but the post-show analysis would generate more debates. Looking back, I wonder if buying these snacks were a conscious decision or simply the level of identification my friends felt with the show. After all, they were advertized during the show. Similarly, My friends and I would attempt Super Bowl parties and various other events that would capture our attention; however, I would never put myself in the same category as my party friends. In fact, I always claimed to be independent and not addicted to anything. After reading chapter nine, I don’t feel as confident making that claim anymore.
Potter’s sobering conclusion of “Industry’s Perspective on Audience,” chapter four, compels me to put my media consumption patterns under the microscope and contextualize them. He compares media effects to the weather: they are difficult to predict, constantly changing, and extremely complex. He further argues that individuals need substantiated levels of media literacy and careful monitoring of their media exposures as it relates to their personal loci. Moreover, like the weather, he stressed, media effects are always with us. “They will be altering your tastes and needs to conform to the messages they want you to pay attention to, and then they will condition you into the habits of seeking out those messages. And ultimately, they will condition you to believe that your needs came from you and that you’re simply using the media to satisfy those needs. However, it was the media that guided you to into certain audiences, then repeatedly conditioned you to habitual membership” (Potter, 2008 p. 51). Such statements motivate me to map out my behavioral patterns in the hope of perhaps decoding the complexities of my social conditioning.
Surprisingly, when it comes to particular shows, I realize that I may have been as ritualistic as my religious friends. TV shows such as Countdown with Keith Olberman, CSI Miami, White Collar, and Burn Notice, have grabbed my attention to the point of keeping me on the edge of my seat. I have altered my schedule and/or have stayed up at odd hours of the night to either watch taped shows or reruns. If we follow Potter’s logic about immediate behavioral effects, this is called attraction. That is, the images presented to us by the media attract us and hold our attention. As a result, they sell our attention to advertisers while feeding us similar programming. Further probing into the causal relationships between media messages and my consumption patterns unveils several influential factors. Nonetheless, substantive contents, the shows’ artifacts, and their direct links to my personal locus are the most impactful.
First of all, these TV shows would carry little meaning without real substance. Granted, the cognitive appeal varies from one show to the other, but the structure of the messages and the methods of delivery share some similarities. White Collar illustrates this argument. The main characters in that show portray two individuals with radically different ideologies whose interdependencies of each other generate at unique, intriguing working relationship. Neil is a clever, knowledgeable, and resourceful thief of antique artifacts. His expertise and natural charms uniquely qualifies him to help the FBI catch thieves such as him. Casper, the only agent who has twice caught elusive Neil, becomes his partner after Neil’s conditional release from prison. This dynamic duo, however unlikely, tries to solve very complex cases that require both legal and criminal minds operating conjointly. Their creative approach to crime solving brought them successes beyond any systematic method has; nonetheless, inherent mistrust inevitably plagued their unique relationship. When on the edge of the law, Neil’s skills are vital. On the other hand, situations requiring high-level clearance or extensive knowledge of the law select Casper’s skills.
Not surprisingly, Burn Notice offers similar content, but with a different twist. The main character, Michael, is not a thief. He is rather an ex CIA operative who received a burn notice in the middle of an arms deal. When upper management issues such notices on an operative; it deletes his/her profile completely. Michael barely escaped using elaborate skills and has been trying to find out the source of his burn ever since. Meanwhile, he and his crew became local heroes in Dade county Miami, operating under the radar. They target unruly characters that abuse ordinary, less resourceful citizens. Their cases require the same level of creativity, cleverness, and resourcefulness than that of White Collar. As a member of those particular niches, I find the construct for these shows entertaining. Not only because of these shows often expose hidden realities destroying global societies, but the level of sophistication with which they approach every situation keep me going back to them. For instance, they research their targets thoroughly and identify their strengths and weaknesses; they plan carefully, strategize, know exactly how both the legal and illegal systems work, and know how to provoke particular reactions from their targets. I always want to know how they plan to approach particular situations and how they improvise when their plans derail. The suspense cleverly hidden inside the content arouses my curiosity and captures my interest.
In addition to substantive contents, the artifacts provide my favorite shows with particular flares that I find most appealing. They always depict the latest fashion trends, emerging architectural designs, most popular cities, the latest inventions, theories, and technological advances et cetera. For instance, CSI Miami contrasts Miami’s natural beauty and big city lifestyle with its repugnant criminal tendencies. The cutting edge technology, the cast’s glamour, the fabulous lives of the rich and famous, and the elusiveness of the criminals attract me to that show. In White Collar, Neil charms helped him acquire a room in a fabulous Mansion for 700 dollars, the bureau’s rent allowance. That scene opened a window into the life on the rich widower who rented to him as well as Neil’s attractive personality. Everything from the furniture to the paintings on the walls in that suite was extravagant. It is possible that his fashion consciousness and great manners made a captivating first impression on Jeanine, the landlord.
Most importantly, I like the glamour, nice cars, hot sunglasses, and the lifestyle portrayed on these shows. I have even bought an item seem on Burn Notice once. Admittedly, I was not conscious of the direct relationship that existed between my purchase and the show. If Potter is right, I have been conditioned to be in an automated mental state, which in turn, lead me to seek similar types of media to the point of identifying myself with characters on these shows.
Lastly, my recent enlightment concerning the media’s manipulative practices makes me doubt my motivation when seeking new media. Am I really trying to satisfy my personal locus or simply a habitual user on autopilot? I find Keith Olberman very entertaining, stylish, clever, and objective in subjective ways. Every weekday I wait to see what he unearths about the other side and what methods he will use to deliver the messages. In contrast, I rarely listen to his counterparts such as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and “Billo-the-Clown.” When I do, I have a strong urge to change the channel or scream out liar at my TV. All of these show hosts have extreme views and make millions presenting them to particular audience niches. Alas, I yielded defeat when I paid close attention to my liberal superhero, Keith Olberman. Most of the time he only has guest who reinforces his views, and they are essentially the same every time. I have yet to see him invite a guess that argues the opposing views or disagree with him. These realizations forced to conclude that my addiction to the show is subjective in nature and rooted deeply in the seeds of fanaticism. Although the other factors that I deem valuable are present, if the content is biased so are my views. Satisfying my personal locus is nothing more than reinforcing deeply held value systems, rather that a search for objectivity, or even an exposure to wide variety of media to build robust knowledge structures.
Given the calculated efforts and profit-driven motivation of the media, I need a proactive approach to my consumption patterns. It is rather difficult to predict what my consumption patterns will be 5, even 10 years from now. Granted, I will admit that some of my views are purely ideological and may never change. In fact, the bias constructs of certain shows will likely reinforce my views on particular topics. As we have learned in lecture, the media has incredibly smart individuals thinking of new ways to deceive the public while increasing profitability. It only takes one sleeper effect for anyone to eventually fall into undesired routines. As long as the media and its ill-fated accomplices can research audiences to figure out their needs and desires, they will be able to invent new ways to entice them. Potter said it best; “ A medium builds an audience by recognizing where there is a need for entertainment and information, and then provide those products and services to satisfy those needs” (Potter, 2008 p. 127). They will succeed while making it seem like the consumer is in control of his/her choices. However, as I increase my media literacy, I hope to eventually be able to approach media consumption proactively. While exposing myself to a wide variety of media to ultimately build robust knowledge structures, I will try to filter out undesired effects and be constantly mindful of the media’s strategies and economic game. Since I am a player, I can decide who gets my valuable attention and money. To do this, I must avoid what Potter describes as default strategy. Individuals who follow that strategy, he explains, “determine value more by low cost of the exposures then by the high return” (Potter, 2008 p. 129). They settle for routines habits because they are easy and doesn’t require the time and energy that it would take to learn something new. The best way to proportionally distribute my attention and money as a player in the media’s economic game is through the media literacy strategy. Beyond minimal satisfaction from exposures, individuals who use this strategy emphasize the value of their own resources. “They want to negotiate a better exchange for those recourses” (Potter, 2008 p. 130). This process, which is based on the strength of people’s personal locus, will ensure a high return of more interesting experiences and ultimately well balance knowledge structures.