Incorporate article and film in these question

  • What alternatives are there to media constructed ideas of relationship in the context of violence and domination?
  • What media content patterns are identified with the presentation of violence as the common problem solution? If Violence gets our attention and attention is the media marketed commodity, what can we do to change the violence patterns in media content?
  • What research methods did Gerbner and other researchers use in the Cultural Indicators research Project to identify the Mean World Syndrome? What theory developed from the research results?

Article 1

Television and The Cultural Indicator Reading Notes

The Cultural Indicators Project is an ongoing research since 1967 that relates recurrent features of the television world to media policy and to viewer conceptions of reality. Results provide argument for public attention and participation in the cultural production process 

Three primary methods of analysis are used in the Cultural Indicators Project.

  • Message System Analysis—Content analysis and annual monitoring of TV program content.
  • Institutional Policy Analysis—Economic and political economic analysis examines the economic and political basis of media decision making. 
  • Cultivation Analysis—Media effects research conducted since 1967 produced an assessment of the long range consequences of exposure to television’s systems of messages called cultivation analysis. 

Results affirm television images, as a pervasive influence on thoughts and action and that TV “cultivates and confirms stable conceptions about life” that reflect the TV reality. 

Stories animate our cultural environment and serve these three distinct functions.

  • Reveal how things work
  • Describe what things are
  • Tell us what to do about it

Stories are the basis for almost all human communication in all media formats.

Violence is a structural basis for formula driven “assembly line” produced programs that dominate the airwaves. Violence produces predictable outcomes. Now, TV, film, and videogames use this formula regularly to produce predictable popularity and profits. Violent media is “the product of a complex manufacturing and marketing machine. “Mergers, consolidation, conglomeratization & globalization speed the machine” (Gerbner 2003, 344)

Heavy TV viewers show greater apprehension and vulnerability, fear of crime, assume crime is rising, purchase locks, watchdogs and guns for protection. Ownership concentration within the media industry impedes access to new entries and alternative perspectives. Violence is a media ingredient that requires no translation and fits any culture in the global multilingual media market. 

Mean World Syndrome is the term for world perceptions in heavy TV viewers that reflect the common, repeated patterns of the television world as a violent, mean and scary place. Gerbner suggest that a liberating alternative to the violence formula would be public participation and citizen involvement in decision making about cultural investments, policy, and creative freedom. Gerbner says our children have a right to be born into a “free fair diverse and non-threatening cultural environment.” We now have a way to go to achieve that world.


Gerbner, G. (2005) Cultural Indicators Ch13. in On the highway of mass communications studies. New York City, NY: Hampton Press.

Gerbner, G. (2013) Television: The new state religion, 462-467. ETC: A Review of General Semantics. Reprint (1977) ETC 34(2).

Flim 2

The Mean World Syndrome Film Notes

Watch The Mean World Syndrome (51 minutes)

Mean World Syndrome


Watch the film for this lesson.

Filmmaker Info and Transcript are available online.


“Debate has raged about the effect of violence on our behavior.” Does media violence make us violent? Decades of research has affirmed media violence is not likely to cause us to imitate violence but “likely to make us more scared of violence being done to us.” 

“As a citizen, I would consider a matter of grave concern that a society in which most or many people expect a high degree of victimization, sooner or later they are going to get it violence” stated Gerbner in testimony to Congress. George Gerbner fled facism in Hungary, worked in OS, US Army in WWII. After, he spent his life studying how media violence affected our consciousness and behavior in the real world.

As Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Gerbner and others conducted extensive longitudinal research since 1967, the Cultural Indicators Research Project. Gerbner researched media violence and how it functions in society with the premise that  â€œCommercial media have eclipsed religion, art, oral traditions and the family as the great story telling engine of our time”   

A Tidal Wave of Violence

Global media “conglomerates own and control he telling of all the stories over the world” … “have global marketing formulas that are imposed on the creative people in Hollywood … get told every day ‘put in more action, cut out complicated solutions’ …apply this formula because it travels well in the global market, need no translation, image driven, speak action in any language…leading element of that formula is violence …Tidal wave of images of violence, inundating every home with expertly choreographed brutality such as the world has never seen…mass production and introduction to every home… a relentless pervasive exposure to violence and brutality many times every day.”  

The formulaic, cultural difference transcendent language of violence draws on the powerful persuasive power of fear to appeal to global audiences. “American children see 8000 murders by elementary school and over 200, 000 violent acts by age of 18.”

“Violence is a legitimate artistic and journalistic feature…and it is necessary to show sometimes…Most of violence is … ‘happy violence’… Violence is thrilling, glamorous, spectacular …and they always lead to a happy ending…sugar coated with humor. 

“Humor makes the pill (of power) easier to swallow…who can get away with what against who?” What matters most about media violence “is not simply the quantity of violence that saturates the media landscape, but how it all adds up to tell a story…that reinforces and normalizes a certain view of the world… the meaning has the greatest effect.”

Does it create more violence? Research says “contribution of TV violence into the actual committing of violence is practically negligible compared to poverty and other factors.

Payne Fund Studies 1929-1932 found media effect of violence, raised interesting questions. Most interesting example is “War of the Worlds” October 30, 1938 drama radio broadcast. The vast majority of listeners did not respond in panic but understood the fictional nature of the radio program.

Magic Bullet Theory explained media effects as direct and powerful, and viewers as passive, but it was wrong!  These cause and effect arguments were wrong and not scientifically verified. “Its like fish in water, a pervasive environment is always beyond perception.”

Gerbner’s Cultural Indicators Research Project (CIP) research found very limited effects of TV violence on increasing violent behavior effects. The primary effect was increase of fear in heavy viewers. This longitudinal research project affirmed what Gerbner (2010) called, “Cultivation – a stable system of messages and images that shapes our conception of the world and of ourselves, life society and power.”

CIP used survey methodology and response analysis to measure what TV violence and other content elements would cultivate in audiences. Response analysis would take age, gender, ethnicity, and light or heavy viewing characteristics into account. This methodology has become known as cultivation analysis.

The Mean World Syndrome

Television media content ranges between banality and extreme violence. News sensationalism is constant and intense. Cultivation analysis shows anxiety and fear of victimization increase with heavy TV viewing. In 2010, violent crime continued to drop but arms sales continued to increase. CIP scientific research showed a causal relationship between the rising fear and anxiety in audiences and their heavy viewing of TV content inundated with violence.

Mean People

Research also found that fear and anxiety, were disproportionally attributed to those represented in TV as violent. Content analysis research affirms that TV still over-represents people of color in criminal or violent action or as deserving of violent response in TV content. These representation patterns dehumanize and contrast the actual crime and violence statistics. These meanest representations reinforce a siege mentality, and cultivate irrational, fear and anger.

The Fallout

What lies ahead in the world of increasingly violent media? Can we look forward to a media landscape where more respect for human diversity and dignity can coexist with images of conflict?


Morris, S. (Producer), & Earp, J. (Director). (2010). The mean world syndrome: Media violence and the cultivation of fear [Motion Picture]. United States: MEF

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