Modern-day anthropology: What happens when culture is shaped by profit-making entities?

Here, an absolutely fascinating article in the New Yorker about anthropologists who studied both a small tribe that hunts and farms in Peruvian Amazon, and what must be their absolute modern-day polar opposite; middle-class families in Southern California.

But for my purposes, I will highlight one paragraph:

The Matsigenka prize hard work and self-sufficiency. Their daily rituals, their child-rearing practices, and even their folktales reinforce these values, which have an obvious utility for subsistence farmers. Matsigenka stories often feature characters undone by laziness; kids who still don’t get the message are rubbed with an itch-inducing plant.

Stories are critical to culture. Throughout the history of humanity, stories or folktales –  are what societies have used to pass along their values to their children.

Now, I direct you to minute 5:05 of this video, in which Kendra Hodgson of the Media Education Foundation testifies at a hearing on the Massachusetts Media Literacy bill on the importance of stories in culture:


From her testimony:
“The late media scholar George Gerbner, who served as dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania for 25 years, argued that storytelling is a central aspect of the human species, and dedicated his life to understanding what it means that we have ceded this most basic of human activities to privately owned, commercial media companies. The work we do at MEF grows out of Professor Gerbner’s work. In the simplest terms, we examine how mainstream media — from television and movies to video games and music — now exercise a virtual monopoly over this basic storytelling function, and in the process shape the dominant cultural narratives through which we make sense of the world.” 

The evidence is quite strong that media messages, from sexualization to violence to consumerism, change our culture. By failing to provide our children with media literacy skills that teach them to analyze messages, create their own, and guide their own children when they become parents, we allow mega-corporations, whose primary goal is to make a profit, to shape the values of our society. Is that OK with you?

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