What are the impacts of mass media on public opinion?

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Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is a futuristic book that was first published in 1953. The novel depicts the future of American society and how the population would have ignored and banned books. Ray Bradbury, the book's author, explained in a radio interview that the book's intention was to demonstrate how social media reduces people's interest in reading books and other literary materials. This discussion will critically analyze the effects of mass media on public opinion using information from the book Fahrenheit 451 and other literary materials. Has mass media brainwashed people into believing everything they see and hear? Should mass media be under strict supervision to control what information reaches? Such questions shall be answered in the context of this paper. Additionally, the article also reveals whether the benefits of mass media outweigh its adverse effects on people. After studying the works of Ray Bradbury in his book, the Fahrenheit 451, and other materials concerning mass media, this discussion will give the reader an in-depth analysis of the impact of mass media on public opinion.

Public opinion has always been an important aspect in all democratic societies. It represents the voice of the people. Additionally, it helps the policy-makers within a nation comprehend and prioritize what reforms are necessary for the people. However, it is important to note that the information the people receive is quite crucial to determine what they will ask for, how they will understand the emerging situation within the society, and how they will conduct themselves at all times (Boykoff and Jules, 1190). As such, the information that the people receive plays a significant role in shaping the social, economic, and political aspects of that society.
The mainstream media determines what information reaches the people, and therefore, enhances the people's way of thinking by feeding them with knowledge regarding their surroundings. Nevertheless, the media has been criticized of providing false information or inciting the public to make certain changes within the societies. As a result, mass media has both positive and negative impacts on public opinion. In the book, the Fahrenheit 451, the author depicts a scenario where Guy Montag, the fireman who burns books gets an explanation from his boss on how the burning of books came about. The boss explains to Montag that the American people refused the intellectual and cultural challenges that are inherent in substantial reading. He explains how the 'burning of books' was democratic, and there was no censorship or declaration from the government. It all emanated from the will of the people (Bradbury, 98). He continues to explain how in the modern society, through emerging technologies, individuals have become complacent and put little effort to use reading material for information acquisition. This shows how the will of the people determines what reforms should be carried out. The narration of the boss to Montag demonstrates how public opinions shape the culture within a particular society.
This particular excerpt from the book highlights the underlying reason that explains why mass media has led the people into doing away with literature materials since one can easily access information through the television and radio thus, the boss says one can enjoy life without books. Another incident that depicts the impact of mass media is in the character of Guy Montag's wife. Montag's wife locks herself in the house and does not interact with the outside world. She has named all the characters that she watches on her TV screen and claimed that she somehow interacts with them. She is quite anesthetized to her existence and earlier on in the book, she attempts suicide yet she cannot recall that incident. As such, this shows how mass media has mentally damaged people through the programs that come on television which affect the social life of viewers. This is an adverse effect of mass media that is depicted in this scenario, which explains how mass media can influence the ability of a person to express his/her views (Joodaki, 126). However, in the same excerpt, there is a local teenager by the name of Clarisse McClellan who goes out on walks, appreciates the surrounding nature and she can comfortably engage herself in thoughtful interpersonal conversations. This shows how public opinion can be enhanced through limited exposure to mass media platforms.
However, it is important to note that as much as Ray Bradbury focuses on the negative effects of mass media, he still mentions its positive attributes. Some scholars argue that mass media platforms such as the television and the radio are not the problem. The issue is the message conveyed in these platforms. In the book, The Fahrenheit 451, there is a character called Faber. Through this character, the book depicts how mass media cannot be entirely blamed on negatively affecting the public opinions of a nation. Faber explains how it is the things or information in the books that are vital and not the books. He argues that the same messages conveyed through written material can be passed through television and radio media. Books are simply a vessel used to store information for future reference. Nonetheless, there is nothing magical about books apart from the material written in them. This shows that mass media platforms are not the issue. They are not entirely responsible for affecting the public opinion. The above argument shows that the material conveyed in either books or mainstream media is what matters. As such, the public opinion can be positively influenced by ensuring the message transmitted is of value to the people and it enhances their abilities to critically analyze all situations. Faber describes the three-fold provisions that portray a reflective civilized society through its public opinions. The three requirements are quality information, the liberty to assimilate the information at one's convenience, and the freedom to take any actions by the people as per the understanding of the information that was given out. This shows that if the media delivers the right information through its platforms then it will have a positive impact on the public opinions of a country. As such, the issue is not the mass media but the information it transmits which tends to aggravate scattered and narrowed thinking among the masses (Kiousis, Cristian and Michael, 147).
In the book Fahrenheit 451, the author also uses symbolism to explain the effects of mass media may have among the future generation. One of the symbols used is the Phoenix. The Phoenix is known to kill itself and it later on rises from its ashes more powerful and rejuvenated. As such, Bradbury uses the Phoenix to portray how the society is going to damage and destroy itself through mass media and thereafter rise again in future. When raised, the community will no longer suffer from the troubles of mass media for it will have overcome it. This shows that the information transmitted through mass media platforms influences the society and its public opinion. Another example of symbolism is the Mechanical Hound. The mechanical hound represents the absence of natural element within one's life. The hound becomes more hostile towards Guy Montag as he questions his line of duty. The hound also depicts the society, which consistently destroys the people who are not in agreement with not using books (Bradbury, 76). This shows how in real life people have fully accepted that mass media as a reliable means of communication. In addition, people have become ignorant of the fact that technology has some negative impacts on the public opinion of the society. Thirdly, the writer uses the Hearth and the Salamander to represent how people used to rely on books for information acquisition, which they would use in expressing their opinions. The Hearth was initially the central place of a house that warms the house. The salamander represents the fireman and his brigades. Common myths suggest that salamanders used to dwell in fire and they were never consumed. As such, this symbol shows how the people are destroying the very thing that facilitated their existence, which are books. The three symbols discussed above show that the public would eventually realize the importance of books compared to mass media.
The benefits, relevance and other impacts of mass media on public opinion
Mass media educates the people on matters of health, insurance, business and environmental control. Through the television and radio, people get to be educated about all social issues that affect their well-being. As such, mass media is relevant in educating the masses (Felix, 167). Additionally, mass media ensure that news or any informational material reaches the people immediately. In the contemporary society, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have enabled public to remain informed about various emerging occurrences in real time. Therefore, mass media is relevant in providing instant information in real about the latest news. More so, mass media promotes talent exploration among locals in most societies. Through television and radio, people get to showcase their talents. Additionally, mass media is a source of entertainment thus it is relevance to the society. Mass media also increases the sale of products through promotions and advertisements on TV, radio, and social media platforms. This shows how mass media is quite relevant to the economy. The mass media also helps in integrating diverse cultures through showcasing programs that portray different cultural beliefs and practices (Griffins, et al, 230). Additionally, mass media also promotes peace and unity among the various people around the world through globalization. As such, mass media has great of significance to the society, and it carries a lot of benefits that simplify the day-to-day activities of life.
However, that is not to say that mass media does not have its limitations. For instance, mass media has promoted individualism, which tends to affect how people socialize and interact with one another. This is because people spend so much time on television and the internet as compared to physical interaction. Also, there is no viewer discretion while using mass media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, which may expose children to inappropriate and harmful material. Mass media is also selective (Graber, 97). For instance, people with no television may not get to see what is being recently aired, while those with no internet connection may not get informed about what has been posted there. Mass media has both physical and social effects. Television has been known to be quite addictive which lowers the productivity level among people. Additionally, the television physically affects people by causing eye problems, and the use of earphones on the radio can bring about hearing impairment. Through music videos, mass media has glamorized the use of alcohol and drugs. This has brought about numerous negative effects especially among teenagers across the world. It is important to note that technology has had a heavy influence on how mass media functions. As such, mass media is currently the most preferred method of communicating with people.

The discussion above has shown the impacts of mass media on public opinion and the society in general. Albeit mass media has a lot of advantages, it also has some negative aspects to it that critically affects the community. That being the case, it is up to us to ensure that we positively utilize mass media and it will have positive impacts on our public opinion.

Work Cited

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451: A Novel. Simon and Schuster, 2012.
Boykoff, Maxwell T., and Jules M. Boykoff. "Climate change and journalistic norms: A case- study of US mass-media coverage." Geoforum 38.6 (2007): 1190-1204.
Joodaki, Abdol Hossein. "The Ubiquitous Effect of Television and Dominant Surveillance in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451." Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities 7.3 (2015).
Kiousis, Spiro, Cristina Popescu, and Michael Mitrook. "Understanding influence on corporate reputation: An examination of public relations efforts, media coverage, public opinion, and financial performance from an agenda-building and agenda-setting perspective." Journal of Public Relations Research 19.2 (2007): 147-165.
Felix, B. Aspects of cultural decay in Bradbury's" Fahrenheit 451". GRIN Verlag, 2014.
Griffin, Emory A., et al. "A First Look at Communication Theory, Em Griffin." Details: Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. (2010): 230-265.
Graber, Doris A., and Johanna Dunaway. Mass media and American politics. Cq Press, 2014.

July 24, 2021



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