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Values and the Media

February 18, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

One of the many parts of culture that both reflects and reinforces values is the media.  This happens on all levels of the media, from the lowly commercial to the high-budget action movie, from Ke$ha to opera.  But like so much of culture, often we are so immersed in it that we don’t even notice the subtle ways in which our culture is influencing our behavior.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a fan of Grey’s Anatomy.  Yeah, it’s a trashy medical soap opera, but it’s also entertaining.  There’s no doubt, either, that Grey’s both reflects and reinforces our values.  As I watched this year’s Valentine’s Day episode, entitled “Valentine’s Massacre”, I thought about how values were illustrated within the show.  And yes, there are spoilers below the jump.Since this was a Valentine’s Day episode, of course much of the plot revolved around love.  Especially around this time of year, we are bombarded with messages about romantic love as an ideal, as something for which we should strive and upon which we should base our marriages, throughout our culture, and this episode of Grey’s Anatomy was no exception.  But this is a value that is not without negotiation or conflict.  In this episode, a number of the characters grapple with the value of romantic love and its related values of marriage and family.  These values come into conflict with the values of achievement, career, and individualism.  Meredith Grey struggles to sort out what it means to be both a surgical resident (achievement, career) and the wife of the newly-appointed Chief of Surgery (marriage).  Mark Sloan refuses to accept that his recently-found daughter is going to give her baby up for adoption and says that he will adopt the baby himself (family, if not the traditional configuration thereof).  Lexie Grey attempts to make a fresh start by bleaching her hair only to be told by one of her fellow residents that a surface change isn’t the same thing as becoming a more assertive person (individualism and career).

Sure, it’s overdramatized.  But these are the same value conflicts that play out in the everyday lives of all kinds of people.  As the viewer, what can we learn from the ways in which values are depicted in the media?  Will we only remember the parts that reinforce our values, or can a simple television drama challenge us to reassess our values?

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