“The media has influenced politics over the last 45 years.”

More history, courtesy of my students.

First of all, yes, I am so old that I still consider the word “media” plural. All my students think it’s singular. Perhaps acting in collusion the media might seem one mighty and single-minded behemoth; or perhaps it just seems like a singular word, like for instance “petunia.” Students who’ve never studied Latin don’t generally entertain the possibility that -a might be a plural ending; students who have studied Latin seem not to entertain the possibility either, or else they don’t expect a word in an English sentence to have a Latin ending. Who knows?

More amazing are the students who think “the media” refers to a specific thing. “Sex is everywhere—in newspapers and magazines, on the radio, in the movies, and in the media.” The author of that sentence seems to think that “media” is another word for “television.” (The sentence was written before the Internet added a whole new range of possibilities.)

But that’s just a nit-pick. I wouldn’t have copied my headline sentence for the sake of a Latin plural. It’s the history lesson that got me.

I’ve commented before about students’ eagerness, yea compulsion, to offer some profundity about history before getting down to their actual subject. This might be fine enough, if they had a clearer view of history. The past is sort of a cartoon, though (it is for many of us, including me…but a big part of education is learning not to pretend to be knowledgeable where you aren’t!). Some of its features are distinct, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re accurate; other features are blurred, but that shouldn’t invite glib speculation.

The term “media” may not have been with us in a big way before the advent of television, or scholars writing about television; but certainly those things we mean when we say “media” have been with us for longer; and even more certainly, those media have influenced politics. Just take a look at a 19th-century newspaper, or an eighteenth-century pamphlet, or a seventeenth-century broadside…or a Greek satire, for that matter. Probably among the hieroglyphics of the Pharaohs there were a few political cartoons. The individuals or associations that published their messages in these media were frequently doing their best to influence politics, and were often successful.

My student may believe that objective reporting was the only form of mass communication in those blissfully innocent days that ended abruptly 45 years ago, but I’ve seen evidence to the contrary. She could have written a more credible sentence had she taken a moment to consider the possibility that human nature and human society haven’t really changed a whole lot. “The media influence politics” should have been her whole sentence (or, sigh, “the media influenceS politics”). If she’s going to go in for history, she might as well jump in and swim, instead of dabbling around with her big toe.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

4 responses to ““The media has influenced politics over the last 45 years.”

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