The Importance of Responsible Media Consumption
The past decade or so has seen an increased awareness in consumers. More and more, packages have labels such as ‘fair trade’, ‘organic’, and ‘non-GMO.’ The double-edged-sword of capitalism is that it is very unlikely for a company to do the “right thing” unless there is consumer pressure to do so. This increased awareness, and consequent increased pressure on companies, has brought some positive changes. I don’t think that it matters if a company is behaving ethically to increase profits and improve PR—the outcome is the same. We’re seeing fast food places ethically sourcing their meat, stores doing away with plastic bags entirely, and cafes serving fair trade coffee, just to list a few. This goes to show that the voice of the consumer is important and can create change. So, how does this come into play with regards to our consumption of media?
In this article, when I talk about media, I’m focusing on artistic media as there is a tendency to treat movies, TV, books, and music differently than other types of media such as news broadcasting and advertisements. What I mean by this is that even if you’re not a serious news reader, it’s still likely that you care where your information is coming from. If it’s a newspaper, the political preference of that paper matters, and will have an influence on your choice to read articles from that particular source. If you’re more serious about reading the news, you might have particular journalists that you tend to trust more than others. It’s not only the media that matters and where it’s coming from is equally important. Artistic media tends to have a separation between the piece of media and its creators. Consumers direct pressure towards the piece of media itself, rather than its creators. This is the equivalent of being indifferent to human rights violations in the production of fast fashion clothing because you enjoy the final product.
This raises the debate of whether an artist and their work should be considered independent of each other. This is referred to as “death of the author,” which stipulates that once an artist releases their work, they are no longer in control of it or have any authority over it, meaning that their work stands as its own entity. There are arguments for and against this, with both sides claiming some validity. The problem I have with this notion is that it takes the responsibility away from the artist, and it effectively undermines responsible consumption of media. A common question that comes up when discussing being a conscious consumer of media is whether it is the job of the consumer to be aware of the potentially problematic source of the art they enjoy. The answer to this is no, it’s not the consumer’s job to be conscientious. However, as outlined by an artilce that appeared in Stanford Business in 2009: Social Pressures Affect Corporate Strategy and Performance, social pressure plays a huge part in defining corporate performance, causing corporations to be more socially responsible. This means that when consumers are indifferent to issues associated with a particular product, the issues remain unsolved.
This conscientiousness is important because it is so often the case that an artist’s harmful actions and views have little to no consequence over the success of their work, which is especially problematic when the money they make from their work empowers them and their capacity for problematic behaviour. For example, Orson Scott Card’s harmful political views did not have a significant impact on his work. Although there was an increased awareness by the time the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game came out in 2013, and there was a threat to boycott it, Card had already made his money when he sold the film rights for $1.5 million in 1996. And while this can be largely attributed to the time in which his books were published in—LGBT rights have come a long way since the 80’s and 90’s—his works continue to be sold in bookstores today. In no way am I insinuating that his books should be discontinued from circulation or banned, rather, I am illustrating why I personally choose not to purchase or consume these particular pieces of media, despite enjoying his writing when I was younger.
This brings us to what I consider one of the main reasons people want to make this separation: good old nostalgia. When we’re young, there isn’t the same pressure to be responsible for our media consumption. We’re free to read a book and not consider whether the purchase of that book is giving money to someone who holds harmful ideologies, or think about what the author is doing with their platform. In the case of Card, this involved speaking out against the legalization of same sex marriage, and funding anti-gay groups. Again, I’m not saying that people should stop reading Card’s books—simply be conscious about how you consume media. For example, you might decide to the book second-hand or get it from the library, rather than purchasing a new copy, so that the profits don’t go to the author.
I can’t dictate to people how they should consume their favourite types of media. I can’t force anyone to be aware and conscious of these types of things. I just think that it is important to recognize that whenever you spend money, your dollar acts essentially as a vote. When we go out and buy fair trade coffee, we are voting for fair trade. We are indicating to that company that this is important to us, and it encourages the continuation of this global consciousness. To not have this same mentality with our consumption of media is to relinquish the power we have to hold those who profit from this media accountable.