Culture’s aesthetic delivers an agenda that says things must be beautiful to be worth our time.
Created by George Gerbner, Cultivation Theory suggests the media cultivates social paranoia through presenting terrorism and violence as commonplace, current, and chaotic. The theory states that viewers who watch copious amounts of television live life in fear of a “mean, scary world.” According to Gerbner, TV gives society “a coherent picture of what exists, what is important, what is related to what, and what is right.”
Cultivation Theory is divided into three prongs:
1. Why media produce the messages they do.
2. What messages are being transmitted through the content?
3. How does the content affect viewers?
In essence, Cultivation Theory attempts to explain how and why media has the power to affect viewers with its messages.
Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw created another theory of communication dubbed “Agenda-Setting Theory.” They argued that “mass media have the ability to transfer the salience of items from their news agendas to the public agenda.” In layman’s terms, “the media cannot tell you what to think, but they can tell you what to think about.”
Because culture spends so much time viewing media, media then has the ability to radically impact culture. Media outlets can frame news stories, social agendas, and more through the inclusion and exclusion of certain elements, but it also relies on selective-exposure hypothesis to connect viewers to their respective preferential news outlets (similar to Uses & Gratifications Theory, selective-exposure hypothesis assumes viewers choose their media to fulfill their personal needs).
Culture’s aesthetic doesn’t necessarily propagate a theme of violence (although it does romanticize domestic violence, but that’s a discussion for another day), but it does set an agenda of aesthetic necessity. Listen to the voices around you- you’ll hear it in your classes, your churches, your communities, and with your coworkers.
“Our kids’ ministry room needs to be repainted to please prospective families…”
“Do our course offerings sound intriguing to future students?”
“Does our restaurant have an appealing ambiance?”
“That’s not on-brand.”
“It’s all about the packaging!”
“We need to modernize our website.”
“Is our church attractive to millennials?”
This aesthetic agenda is set through social media (IG feeds, Twitter threads, etc.), through television (any home design show EVER, virtually any family sitcom, and allllll the food & travel shows), and through the architecture of our buildings and interior design decisions. We’re obsessed with beauty, sometimes even prioritizing aesthetic over the message we share (sounds a lot like Media Ecology, right?).
Does something have to be beautiful to be worth our time? Why does beauty carry more weight than the message? Must content be packaged to be given and received? I believe there’s a joy in making things beautiful, but beauty goes hand-in-hand with the message. Should beauty triumph over content?