It’s a challenging time to be a man or a boy. Looking at how we’re presented in the media, are we supposed to be superheroes with unbelievable biceps, gigolos or buffoons? Are we supposed to be sports superstars, rock stars or business moguls?
It’s no easier to be a woman or a girl. Is today’s Hollywood standard of feminine beauty really one’s most valuable attribute?
Never before have we been so surrounded by media, from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep, confusing us with conflicting messages about right and wrong.
Part of the problem is that we’re comparing ourselves to images that just aren’t real. As comedian Joan Rivers said, “I wish I had a twin, so I could know what I’d look like without plastic surgery.”
If they existed, the tough guy superheroes of movies and video games who shoot now and ask questions later would most likely be dead or wake up every night screaming.
The people who sleep with multiple partners would probably find themselves with several sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) and difficulty sustaining meaningful relationships.
If we add to this the disillusionment we feel when our media heroes fall, we can understand why we’re so lost.
Perhaps the problem is that we’re focusing on things that really don’t matter. Maybe it’s not all about domination, money and having a particular body type.
What is it, then, that brings true satisfaction and happiness to our existence? This has been pondered by sages for thousands of years, and it’s fascinating how similar the answers have been.
Essentially, they’ve concluded that we need to focus on becoming our best selves and in doing so, bring good to all of humanity. Many things happen outside of us that are beyond our control. But we always control whether we will live with integrity, respect our neighbours, admit our mistakes and seek truth.
When examining the media today, perhaps we need to ask meaningful questions about what we’re allowing into our minds. When we see a character, real or fictional, we can ask ourselves, “Is that the kind of person I want to be?” When we hear a song, we can ask, “Are those the values that I want to believe in?” When we take in any media, we can ask, “Is this worth my time? Is it helping me to get to where I want to go?”
The reason for the prevalence of media that conflicts with essential human truths is because we accept it. We watch it and we spend money on it.
Media can, however, be very powerful in bringing about positive change. Gandhi, for example, understood the influence of modern journalism and used it to his advantage. There’s no way that he could have garnered the international support for his movement that he did without it.
Media also improves when we demand it. We need only look at the racism, sexism and substance abuse that passed as humour in old films to see how things can change.
Amelioration comes about when we hold ourselves to a higher standard and are careful about what we consume. Just as we become what we eat, we become what we watch and listen to.
It’s a challenging time to live, wading through a media soup of conflicting messages daily.
As we grow clear on what’s meaningful to us, mindful about what we consume, and also demand better media, it becomes easier and easier to create a world we’re proud to pass on to our children.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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