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Mean World Syndrome, The

Media Violence & the Cultivation of Fear

Mean World Syndrome, The

Duration: 51 min
ISBN: 1-932869-38-7
Date Produced: 2010
Subtitles: English

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Praise for the Film

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Mean World Syndrome, The
Media Violence & the Cultivation of Fear

Featuring George Gerbner and Michael Morgan

From anxieties about crime and terrorism to trepidation about expanding government power and illegal immigration, large swatches of the American population seem to be living in a state of perpetual fear. Yet across the board, on issue after issue, studies have repeatedly shown that the very things that scare Americans the most have little to no basis in fact.

What accounts for this widening gap between perception and reality?

The Mean World Syndrome, based on the groundbreaking work of the late media scholar George Gerbner, offers a timely and clear-eyed take on the origins of some of our most irrational and unrelenting fears. Taking dead aim at a commercial media system that thrives on violence, stereotypes, and the cultivation of anxiety, the film argues that the more television people watch, the more likely they are to be insecure and afraid of others -- and shows how these media-induced fears and anxieties provide fertile ground for intolerance, extremism, and a paranoid style of politics that threatens basic democratic values. The result is a fascinating and accessible introduction to debates about media violence and media effects, and a powerful classroom tool for helping students make sense of our increasingly intense and fractious political climate. Features commentary from George Gerbner, and narration from University of Massachusetts Communication professor Michael Morgan.

1. Media as Storytellers: "Nothing to Tell but a lot to Sell" -- Explores the significance of commercial media eclipsing religion and art as the great storyteller of our time. (7:32)

2. A Mean World Case Study: Child Abductions -- Provides an in-depth look at how media coverage of child abductions has fed parental anxieties out of proportion with statistical reality. (4:17)

3. Further Effects of the Mean World Syndrome: Desensitization & Acceleration -- Examines how heavy exposure to media violence normalizes violence, numbing some people to real-world violence even as it whets the appetite in others for ever-higher doses. (8:48)

Viewer Discretion Advised: Contains Graphic Violence

George Gerbner

George Gerbner was one of the world's foremost authorities on the effects of media violence. After earning a Bronze Star during World War II, he turned to academe, serving as dean of the Annenberg School for Communication for 25 years, presiding over the influential Cultural Indicators Research Project, and later establishing the Cultural Environment Movement, an international organization dedicated to democratizing media.

Michael Morgan

Michael Morgan, a professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, worked with George Gerbner for more than two decades. He has published widely on Cultivation Theory; the cultural and socializing effects of television; the international and intercultural effects of mass media; and the effects and functions of new media technology. He is the author or co-author of Television and Its Viewers: Cultivation Theory and Research; Democracy Tango: Television, Adolescents, and Authoritarian Tensions in Argentina; and "Television and the Erosion of Regional Diversity."

Filmmaker Info

Written & Directed by Jeremy Earp
Script Consultant: Michael Morgan
Produced by Scott Morris
Edited by Andrew Killoy
Executive Producer: Sut Jhally
Co-Producers: Loretta Alper, Andrew Killoy, and Jason Young
George Gerbner Interviewed by Sut Jhally


Pacific Sociological Association annual meeting | Seattle | March 10 - 13, 2011
AVANCA 2010 | International Meeting of Cinema, TV, Video and Multimedia | Portugal | July 2010

Film Festivals

The George Gerbner Archive
The Man Who Counts the Killings
Reclaiming Our Cultural Mythology
Society's Storyteller: How TV Creates the Myths by Which We Live
TV Violence and the Art of Asking the Wrong Question

Press Reviews

Professor Michael Morgan Interview Highlights on Media Violence
The David Pakman Show | November 18, 2010


Television Special Mention at the AVANCA 2010

Praise for the Film

"I thought I knew all about how come parents today are so much more afraid than a generation ago. Then I watched The Mean World Syndrome and was blown away! Suddenly all the pieces fit together: Media. Money. Parents. Paranoia. I made my husband come sit and watch with me, it so rocked my world. And I'd like everyone else to watch it, too!"
- Lenore Skenazy | Author of Free-Range Kids

"A superb update of MEF's earlier films with George Gerbner. Students in my classes respond very well to The Mean World Syndrome. This film effectively places cultivation analysis into the context of earlier media effects research, addresses television's contribution to our perceptions of race, and emphasizes the crucial political implications of Gerbner's ideas. The Mean World Syndrome is powerful and emotionally moving and I will be using it in my courses."
- Bill Yousman, Ph.D. | Author of Prime Time Prisons on U.S. TV: Representation of Incarceration

"This smart and timely film explores the life and work of media and communications scholar George Gerbner, who linked media violence to the production of a cultural narrative and mythology and of the perception of a mean world in which people think and act in mean ways."
- Jack David Eller | Anthropology Review Database

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