Values Portrayed in Popular Media


Background of the study

There is no doubt that the means of communication and information flow have changed over the years. For instance, in the past, one could expect church sermons, political oratory, and the life-time knowledge of community elders to be the major sources of information in many cultural set-ups.

However, as time goes by, the influence of such information sources is diminishing with the increasing popularity and confidence in different forms of popular media such as television, books, magazines, social networks, and news networks among others.

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Thus, besides education and religion, popular media forms such as television, books, magazines, and social networks provide mechanisms for the distribution of images and messages, which in the long run form a symbolic environment for certain beliefs and behaviors (Dana, 2009, p. 3; Striphas, 2003).

Accordingly, studies document that the images, messages, and values portrayed through different forms of popular media permeate and shape the cultural attitudes, expectations, beliefs, and perceptions in the contemporary society (Allchin, 2009; Dana, 2009, p. 4). Considering that one’s beliefs affect behavior in different ways, there is evidence to suggest that popular media forms the basis of the positive and negative behaviors noticeable among the youth, women, and other groups in the present day society.

Here, it is apparent that if popular media forms are used to deliver falsehoods, myths, indoctrinations, and propaganda, then the repercussions are bound to be catastrophic. Besides, there is evidence to show that the spread of negative or harmful messages through popular media forms has been the major cause of world wars, mass genocides, and increased criminal activities, and thus, placing the future of human civilization at stake.

A rich literature, which identifies and describes different values in the society by analyzing various forms of popular media such as advertisements and television programming, has been presented in many research studies.

However, most studies tend to be biased towards the description and identification of values, and very few studies have been published that investigate the influence of the values portrayed in the popular media on their target audiences. Therefore, the objectives of this paper are aimed at reviewing the available peer-reviewed literature to show that the values portrayed in popular media can be implicated in the emergence of negative behaviors and beliefs in the contemporary society.

Given the limited literature on this topic, this paper is timely, and therefore it will contribute to the available literature. As a result, it is hypothesized that the values portrayed through popular media will directly influence the values, beliefs, and behaviors of the target audience when there are inconsistencies in their own cultural/social values.



Using the Ashford Online Library and other search engines such as Google Scholar, six academic and peer-reviewed articles were selected on the basis of their relevance to the topic, the credibility of the authors, and their contribution to the current research. Subsequently, empirical scientific evidence, quotes from renowned scientists and newsmakers, and critically analyzed research findings were used to support the hypothesis and build on the preceding discussions.

Analysis of the Research Findings

According to Dana (2009, p. 62), the Television is the most preferred source of information used to cultivate the predispositions that in the past were obtained from education and religion. For example, Oprah Winfrey’s talk-show has done extra-ordinary things for women who form the largest audience for the show all over the world. The talk-show promotes the Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, which focuses on women with the aim of creating an economically-oriented cultural value surrounding books and reading (Striphas, 2003, p. 295).

It is apparent that the success of the Book Club in part has over the years used a crafty communication strategy whereby Oprah, participants, and other promoters communicate the value of their selection of books to a specific group of their target audience, women.

Here, the literary considerations surrounding the books are de-emphasized to ensure that women engage in reading volumes of books to distance themselves from the demands and worries of the socioeconomic environment whose stratification is claimed to favor more men than women (Striphas, 2003, p. 297).

It then follows that the Book Club encourages the consumption of media genres and popular media forms targeting women such as romance and gothic novels, girl’s magazines, popular music and dance, soap operas, and other television programming. To this end one is left wondering why so many women draw comfort from such popular media texts. Accordingly, many feminist scholars may claim that such texts give women pleasures that they cannot get anywhere or maybe they reflect their everyday lives (Striphas, 2003, p. 299).

Equally, many feminist scholars will avoid shedding some light on any political possibilities and implications, which may arise from the negative messages and propagandas, reflected in contemporary novels on women issues including protest, resistance, and the social construction of a woman as a needy and oppressed human being who needs to free herself from her oppressors. In most of her television broadcasts, Oprah is famous with using abstract comments such as, “a walapalooza of a book…

It is 500 and some pages…Actually, it is 546, which is wonderful for the summer, because I did not want you to, like, just breeze through it and then have to complain to me…” when describing some of her book selections (Striphas, 2003, p. 300). These and many more absurd comments tend to avoid the contentious issues surrounding the criteria for book selection, the book content, and the implications of reading too much of such books.

Another array of absurd, irrelevant, and superficial content is very much evident in most science textbooks used in most schools and colleges. Science is a subject that encompasses different disciplines ranging from mathematics, chemistry, biology, zoology, psychology, and geology among others. The fundamental feature that brings all these subsections of science together is the claim made by most scientists that science entails factual evidence but not values (Allchin, 2009, p. 1; Heilmann, 2001).

This claim is misleading considering that science is very much reliant on epistemic and cultural values in practice, and thus it is normal that these values are bound to be redistributed from the society to science and vice versa. For instance, individual scientists borrow from their cultural beliefs and values in their scientific practice while the value of science itself including technological advancements and innovations in medicine are absorbed into the society.

However, when considering some of the materials and content presented in some science books used by students in schools and colleges, one is left wondering whether these content forms any valuable basis for human civilization or advancement. For example, right from pre-school to college stage, people have been told about the “age of the world”, which by estimation is millions of years old.

Since no one has had the opportunity to know except the person who came up with the idea, people have come to subconsciously accept the claim without further consideration of empirical evidence, which is also lacking. Furthermore, the idea that science is based on knowledge drawn from empirical research and conclusive evidence seems inapplicable in some cases where the beliefs of some scientists are considered to hold as much as no alternative explanation is available.

Therefore, it is time teachers stopped pumping information based on assumptive metaphysical data into the innocent minds of young people, and turned into equipping them with technical skills in telecommunication, medicine, and infrastructural innovations. Failure to do this, the inherent consequence is that many nations especially the United States will continue lagging behind in terms of technology and innovation because students are forced to study irrelevant information in books.

Perhaps, one of the most irrelevant and probably one of the theories that downplay the importance of scientific evidence is the evolution theory. Dr. T.N. Tahmisian (U.S. Atomic Energy Commission) quotes that, “Scientists who go around teaching that evolution is a fact of life are great con-men, and the story they are telling may be the greatest hoax ever”. Conversely, Sir Arthur Keith notes that, “Evolution is unproved and improvable.

We believe it only because the only alternative is special creation, and that is unthinkable.” It then follows from contemporary scientific practice that when a scientific theory lacks enough evidence to support any hypotheses drawn from it, it is discarded or reformulated. This implies that the evolution theory and others like the theory of Uniformitarian’s in geology should be scratched off the school curricular if no one scientist has been able to provide empirical evidence to support them (Heilmann, 2001).

Accordingly, Tiger L. (an anthropologist at Rutgers University) notes that, “Darwinian science inevitably will, and should have legal, political and moral consequences.” Therefore, consider a case where evolution and other aspects of Darwinian science are being taught to young scholars.

Chances are high that societies whose people are followers of these theories with little consideration for religion and evidence-based scientific studies are bound to experience many negative socio-political implications. For instance, reflect on the notion of survival for the fittest, does it reflect the conditions in the contemporary societies in the same way it is explained in science books. No, because the poor and disadvantaged many who are supposed to have an added advantage of numbers are overshadowed by the few rich in most societies.

Furthermore, war and intergroup violence can also be partly advanced by the evolutionary theory with claims like it is human nature for those individuals in power to ensure that they remain in power by stirring the peace among the ruled (Heilmann, 2001). Overall, negative cultural values such as deception, selfishness, self-deception, mistrust, coercion, ethnic aggression, and overconfidence in the contemporary society are partly attributable to evolutionary science.

Besides evolutionary science, historical evidence, atrocities, and events presented through history books and the print media form the most popular information sources in the contemporary societies. The risk of teaching the young scholars about the atrocities committed against their forefathers during the world wars, tribal crashes, and other forms of intergroup violence forms the basis for present day terrorist activities and mistrust between communities, ethnic groups, and countries.

Here, Somit & Peterson (2010, p. 3) note that besides culture, genetically-transmitted behavioral orientations, which also affect one’s behavior, arise from literally evolution. For example, many cases related to the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of one’s religion adorn the news media quite often, and as historical evidence notes, cultural predispositions, which promote ethnic, religious, and ideological atrocities can only be fuelled by passing the culture from one generation to another.

Therefore, what good is the history that the youth are taught in colleges today if it can only serve to open healing wounds about the past events? Further studies note that the gap between the moral values championed by a certain culture and what the people practice in real life is very wide (Somit & Peterson, 2010, p. 5). As a result, whether one is taught about all the moral behaviors in his or her culture, there are still some genetic proclivities, which determine the behavior of an individual to a greater extent.

Therefore, instead of using historical evidence to remind someone about the past, these evidence should be used in such a way that it presents the good virtues in human history including the notion that history follows a predetermined path with a well defined end as envisioned in various religious teachings, supporting prosperous political theories, and advancing ethical or moral standards in the society (Corrigan, Dillon, & Gunstone, 2007, 118).


This research paper presents an in-depth discussion on the influence of the values portrayed in popular media on their target audiences. In the foregoing discussions, it was hypothesized that the values portrayed through popular media will directly influence the values, beliefs, and behaviors of the target audience when there are inconsistencies in their own cultural/social values.

Further, the analysis of research findings supports the hypothesis by providing examples in which the negative or irrelevant information portrayed through all forms of popular media serve to influence the cultural and social values of an individual. From the discussions, it is apparent that many forms of the popular media are primary socializing forces, and thus when one is exposed to these forces, stakes are high that his or her perception of reality tends to fit into the content portrayed in the media.

Therefore, considering that most forms of media reviewed in this research paper are targeted at young scholars, there is the risk that if these audiences are fed with the wrong information from infancy upwards, the future of human civilization and advancement is at stake. Furthermore, the fact that all forms of popular media including college books, news networks, social networks, the print media, and television programs play a pivotal role in guiding the society towards the ultimate good on one hand cannot be overlooked.

On the other hand, these forms of popular media are known to advance harmful content, misconceptions, poor political theories/agendas, and propagandas to their target audiences as it can be noted from the foregoing discussions. Therefore, there is the need for these sources of information to embrace the culture of giving information from the two sides of the coin so that the whole truth comes to light.

In so doing, chances are high that the target audience will benefit from the information by first knowing what one is dealing with before putting it into use. For instance, there is no doubt that science plays a major role in human advancement and civilization, and thus, there is the paramount need for teachers, lecturers, scientists, and other stakeholders to ensure that whatever they pass from one generation to another is evidence-based (Corrigan, Dillon, & Gunstone, 2007, 118).


Allchin, D. (2009). Values in science: An introduction. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Corrigan, D., Dillon, J., & Gunstone, R.F. (2007). The re-emergence of values in science education. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Dana, T.E. (2009). Determining values depicted in advertisements: A study of prime time television in New Zealand. USA: University of Canterbury.

Heilmann, M. F. (2001). Social evolution and social influence: Selfishness, deception, and self-deception. Los Angeles, LA: University of California.

Somit, A., & Peterson, S.A. (2010). Human nature and public: An evolutionary approach. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Striphas, T. (2003). A dialectic with the everyday: Communication and cultural politics on Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 20 (3), 295-316.


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