Mass media and its influence on youth
The mass media has created a ‘global village’ and the manifestation of homogeneity explains the identity crises facing youths in Zimbabwe and other African countries.
Since 1980 when Zimbabwe attained its independence, the country joined other nations to for the ‘global village’ and mass media such as television, newspapers, film, radio, magazines, books and the Internet have contributed positively and negatively towards the formation of youth identities in Zimbabwe.
This article demonstrates that globalisation which is formed as a result of the dissemination of information through the mass media has contributed to Zimbabwean youths losing their identities in the 28 years through the assimilation of the western culture.
To a greater degree, what is Zimbabwean has been discarded and diluted by western culture leaving Zimbabwean youths in a state of ‘confusion’. The intention of this article is therefore to explore Westernisation versus Africanisation so as to analyse how ideologies presented in the mass media influence the identities of youths in Zimbabwe and other African countries.
It is imperative to note that the dominant process of globalisation has an intimate connection with the process of Westernisation. This relationship has brought about complexity and diversity in the country.
Scholars argue that there is no clear break between globalisation and Westernisation thus the mass media in the first decade of post-independent Zimbabwe disseminated western ideas and values. For instance, soaps such as Santa Barbara, Dallas and Dynasty promoted western ideas and values that clashed with the Zimbabwean way of life. Such ideas include dressing, life style and in particular the theme of love contradicted with the traditional way of courting among youths. While cohabiting is shunned in the local cultures, unmarried adults lived together in the soaps and dramas shown. In addition, sexual matters in Zimbabwe are not discussed publicly as presented in the soap operas and dramas. Life in the soap operas and dramas is presented as a bed of roses and this has caused most Zimbabwean youths to discard reality and failing to face challenges that reality presents.
Research on the content of programmes shown by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZB) during the first decade after independence revealed that more than 80 percent of the content of programmes promoted western values while the Zimbabwean local cultures were undermined through drama such as “TIKI” which mimicked the local people’s way of like.
The young minds were therefore fed with a constant and nutritious diet of western ideologies spread through the mass media in the disguise of entertainment resulting in Zimbabwean youths changing their dressing, language and world views. The youths became more Eurocentric rather than Afrocentric. They shunned Africa ideas such as collectiveness and worshipped individualism.
Marx argue that the superstructure which includes the mass media performs an ideological function in any society because it ‘conceals’ and ‘masks’ the class conflict which capitalists system rests; of fragmenting the collective, social nature of production and or binding individuals into such ideological totalities as ‘the nation’, the ‘general interest’ or ‘ordinary consumers’. (cited in Sinclair, 1987). Thus through binding individual into ideological totalities, youths including the upcoming Zimbabwean musician, Maskiri, belong to a certain group of ‘radical’ musicians whose songs are a mixture of obscene phrases and rebellion.
The mass media are conceptualised carriers of dominant ideologies. Loius Althusser (1971) defines ideology more precisely when he says: “Ideologies are perceived - accepted - suffered cultural objects, which work fundamentally on men by a process they do not understand. What men express in their ideologies is not their true relation to their conditions of existence, but how they react to their conditions of existence which presupposes a real relationship and an imaginary relationship,” (cited in Easthope, 1993)
Thus by consuming media products such as advertisements, the identies of youths in Zimbabwe is distorted. The Fanta advertisement, for instance, makes Zimbabwean youths feel as if they belong to the “Fanta generation”, which is associated with freedom.
The mass media promotes the system of capitalism. Marx (1967) argues that capitalism “superimposed” “false needs” on individuals by leading members of the subordinate class to understand their social experience, their social relationship and therefore themselves by means of a set of ideas that are not theirs.
For instance, in the late 1990 there was an increase in the use of the Internet as a source of information in Africa. From the Internet, the youths got ideas on movies, music, dressing, hair styles etc. These ideas infiltrated into many African countries despite measures put forward by the governments to curb imperialism.
From year 2000 to 2005 the then Minister of Information, Professor Jonathan Moyo, took drastic measures to ‘promote’ local musicians through the 75 percent local content as stipulated by the Broadcasting Services Act (2000).
The local content in the music industry now comprises of Zimbabwean versions of R. Kelly, Maria Cary, Britney Spears and Boys to Men etc. Thus Zimbabwean musicians such as Betty Makaya, Roy and Royce, Davis Chipfunye, Pastor G. and Excel can be said to be nothing but young Zimbabweans in a state of false consciousness and experiencing life using western ideas that are not theirs.
In his argument for promoting local content, Professor Jonathan Moyo argued that western cultural parts are part of the “otherness” which has a homogenising effect on the identities of youths in Zimbabwe and other African countries.
However, one can argue that what Zimbabweans refer to as local has global characteristics. For instance, some local soap operas and dramas such as Amakorokoza (drama) and Studio 263 (soap opera) are performed in Western style. Moreover, their themes are western.
Marxist critics note that the mass media created artificial wants in people. For example, advertisements are produced to create desires so as to bring into people wants that previously did not exist. The effect on consumers is commodity consumption, which is the ideological indoctrination of the people by powerful interests. The process of consumerism is covered with illusion. The mass media therefore keeps youths in a state of psychological terror as they are under constant ‘attack’ by the print media, television, the Internet and radio to conform to the advertising ‘norm’ because advertising does not sell products to people but a lifestyle associated with it.
Thus ideas and values carried in the mass media encourage youths to purchase the ‘right’ product assume (or hope) that the products will signify a certain social class, status or lifestyle - what Marx rightly points out as a state of false consciousness. False consciousness conceals the real inequalities in the purchasing power which is based on the class system and is the one that determines the choice of consumers. Thus when youths buy branded commodities they are less consumers of the commodity that they are of the promises attached to the product.
The semiotic approach to the study of the media and communication notes that the mass media is populated by young, slim, mostly white and handsome men and women. There is an endless repetition of the same illusion. By watching these illusions youths in Zimbabwe are made to feel that they are lacking. As a result, they believe that they are inferior and this shakes their confidence.
Althusser notes that the mass media are institutional state apparatus deliberately developed by a number of “captains of consciousness” engaged in the imperalisation of the psyche” (Debord, 1977). The western ideologies are thus deeply inscribed in the ways of thinking and ways of living of youths in Zimbabwe and this influences the youths in Zimbabwe and other countries.
By Gertrude Pswarayi
1. Easthope Antony (ed.), Contemporary Film Theory, Longman, London, 1993
2. Sinclair John, Images Incorporated: Advertising as Industry and Ideology, Routledge, London, 1987
3. Williamson Judith, Decoding Advertisements. Ideology and Meaning in Advertising, Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd, London, 1978