During the later part of the 20th century, sociologists began to measure the effect mass media has on personality. They looked at how values had changed and how people had learned these values and they saw that predominantly, people now derive their values from media rather than from parents and traditional social institutions.
Examining the ways personality had been historically described and written about in books, plays and novels and the changing expectations of generations, they looked at the differences between personalities based on how personal values were formed and held: tradition-directed, inner-directed, other-directed.
The tradition-directed personality was typical of times before mass media, when the family was the most important social institution and people acquired values based literally on traditions of their community. Inner-directed describes a personality in which values of a parent or mentor were inculcated at an early age such that the individual’s values are independent of community or peer standards. Autonomous personalities show a measure of logical decision and invention of values independent of tradition, communal or parental values. Like the autonomous personality the other-directed personality chooses values based on information but the other-directed person pays most attention to peer approval and media acts in this regard as a kind of surrogate peer. Studies towards the end of the 20th century showed that personalities of mainstream western culture had become mostly other-directed and their values are predominantly determined by exposure to media: TV, video games, cinema and the Internet.
Although, Americans view their culture as strongly independent and self-willed, mass media has long replaced church as well as family and parents as sources of moral direction and at the same time, has made representative government in the United States into a secular state religion, one in which displayed wealth has the highest value. Since the values of other-directed people are dependent on approval of others, the pursuit of symbols of this approval became a paramount life objective and media is mostly committed to promoting these symbols in a process known as, branding, which establishes the value of all such symbols in a hierarchy of status based on the price paid to obtain it since all brands are associated with well-understood dollar values.
Just as in primitive cultures, in which the predominant personality type is tradition-directed, in the modern urban-industrial culture, in which the predominant personality is other-directed, for most people, economics determines relative social status. That which is valued in urban culture, obtains it’s value from media promotion. In primitive cultures, tradition determines value. In urban cultures, it is Gucci, Lexus, Yale and so on. The contemporary American urban-industrial culture’s predominant personality is affected by it’s middle/working class economic position and even the aristocratic class are guided by peer approval and other-directed as well. All seek approval of peers and media lets them know what they must have to feel that approval.
Economics mainly prevents the vast majority from having, doing and being that which wins approval by regulating opportunity. An individual’s success may be furthered or inhibited by psychological and physical enhancements or impediments resulting from environment and genetic disposition. Unfortunately, the combination of economic stratification and flexible values, with satisfaction and happiness dependent on consuming symbols, produces a surreal quality in experience, an underlying feeling of separation or alienation.
Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors are prescribed to attenuate depression and mood swings arising from separation while businesses are increasingly predatory, localities and neighborhoods increasingly xenophobic and a general feeling that economic stability isn’t reliable and that political stability is waning. In the 21st century, with millions imprisoned, many for victimless infractions and tiers of militarized local, state and federal police, all subject to direction by presidential order, the social order of the community seems to be coming apart at the seams, adding to the atmosphere of fear, alienation and imminent risk.
The last half of the 20th century shows a steady decline in appreciation for artistic expression and the elevation of kitsch in media lore. This decline parallels diminution of quality of life, erosion of relationship and widening of the gap between middleclass and the wealthy. The wealthy, who are no less other-directed in their values, share the growing ignorance of artful expression and rather than patronizing artistic talent in the culture, have made the art of previous generations into high-priced artifacts and they fill their homes and lives with luxury versions of kitsch enjoyed by the middleclass and wished for by the poor. Every class in America sees quality of life diminishing and are as much affected by greenhouse gasses and murderous pseudocommandos.
Novelist, George Orwell, imagined the world we now inhabit but he missed the affect of technological improvements to mass media. He didn’t see the advent of massive multi-player videogames, nor that pornography on the internet, rather than theaters equipped with sexual stimulation would provide virtual relationship. He observed the rise of the police state in totalitarian regimes and didn’t see it would result under representative government simply because policing is ineffective in large populations of other-directed, generally artless personalities that get their values from porno and videogames. Nor could Franz Kafka have imagined the horror suffered by the Mayfield family nor the Waco massacre, nor the surreal litany of daily events described in mainstream media.
With a huge population of other-directed personalities getting their values from media, you’d think that somewhere, someone might be giving some thought to this but since the media is based on priorities of commercial enterprise, in fact, public access to information and to guiding the values of increasingly other-directed personalities is wholly dependent on the priorities of those who own mainstream media. Over the last five decades, ways in which control is exercised has grown more refined such that the political relevance of artistic expression has been emasculated in mass media.
Liberal Americans that mock evangelical creationists for their beliefs, view cinema, videogames, internet porno and TV programs as merely hedonistic distractions. Most people that would mount the barricades about content they feel is politically incorrect ignore the way politically correct content guides their values. The artist is a poet who works in nonverbal media. We grasp the significance of poetry and distinguish the banal from the poetic but have come to view media with a different standard. Banal poetry is considered to be without grace or redeeming value. Banal media, even though it inculcates questionable values is thought to be harmless, while it is dangerous.