When radio personality Don Imus voiced his highly demeaning remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team last April, some defended his actions as protected by the First Amendment. Others called them racist. To discuss the issues surrounding stereotypes and degrading images in the music industry, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection held a Sept. 25 hearing.
Psychologist Karen Dill, PhD, testified that media messages shape our cultural perceptions.
"Since we are social creatures, it is natural for us to learn who we are, how we should act, feel, think and believe through the stories of our common culture," said Dill, a professor at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, N.C., who has studied media's effects for 13 years. She told the senators that even when people don't believe they are being affected by media messages, they are internalizing them, according to her research and others'. In particular, she pointed to the 2007 report from APA's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls that showed when girls are exposed to images that uphold females as sex objects, they experience reduced cognitive and emotional functioning, an increase in depression and eating disorders, and unhealthy sexual development.
Rap artist David Banner defended his lyrics and others' by saying that hip-hop doesn't contribute to negative images; it only reflects what already exists.
"If, by some stroke of the pen, hip-hop was silenced, the issues would still be present in our communities," Banner said. "Drugs, violence and the criminal element were around long before hip-hop existed....The responsibility for our choices does not rest on the shoulders of hip-hop."
Dill argued that media messages do matter, though, inasmuch as children often look to the media for behavioral cues. She suggested that one way the government could help would be to regulate media content that carries degrading messages--much in the same way that the Federal Communications Commission regulates obscenity.
Also, she advised Congress to emphasize the importance of media literacy training in school curricula so that children can learn to appreciate its power.
"If you want peace, plant peace," said Dill. "If you want justice, grow justice. If we plant the seeds of violence and hate, we, as a culture, will reap what we have sown."