Editorial – Consumer Conspiracy

Have you heard the latest conspiracy theory? I’m referring to the photos and videos that have recently surfaced online, the ones questioning whether the school shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, legitimately occurred or were staged as part of some master plan (or otherwise engineered).

Are these people for real? we say. And It’s easy to brush them off as ?crazy crackpots,? but when we do that we’re glossing over what’s become a very real problem: the relationship between the media and its consumers, and how we define it.

It’s no secret that media in general have morphed into a hybrid of entertainment and sales. The entertainment and engagement factors drive advertisers, increase ratings, and ultimately up the bottom line of the media giants, so the notion of media ?manipulating? us really isn’t much of a stretch. In fact, like all sales departments, the media desks need to create a particular ?spin,? for lack of a better word, to engender the desired set of attitudes from viewers and readers (and therefore, more advertising dollars).

We even refer to ourselves as media consumers?though frequently we miss the whole point of the phrase, the implication that we’re buying (or not) what the media is selling us. don’t like this particular product? Then take your business to a different place. Sometimes we want to stay in our comfort zone and see people’s actions in the light of our preconceived notions. Other times we allow our insecurities to be played upon, and we respond a little more personally to media hype than we might have done were it not calculated to create a reaction.

The media?particularly now, with all the avenues opened up thanks to social media, the web, and instant information via smart phone?is a more powerful force than ever. And yet we still think we’re in control, considering ourselves interpreters when we really just react with our hearts instead of our heads.

Is this good or bad? Like all things, it can be either, depending upon the players; but the key is to be aware.

There will always be far-out conspiracy theories (moon landing, anyone?), but as we dismiss these claims as paranoia, it would do us well to maintain a little skepticism of the media we consume. If nothing else, we need to question our own response to what we see and hear. Are we reacting emotionally or rationally? Why might the media be hoping for a particular response from us? How do they benefit when we tune in to their show or click through their site? What are they trying to sell?

Because make no mistake, like any business, the television, film, radio, social media, and print we come in contact with are all trying to sell us something. Whether It’s a secret plot or a bid for our advertising dollars, one thing is certain: We need to critically evaluate our consumption choices and reclaim the world of media for our own.