As the Values in the Media reporter for the Deseret News throughout 2012, an aspect of my work I thoroughly enjoyed was the opportunity to write about movies that not only shined a bright light on vexing social problems, but also offered rays of hope and practical solutions for a better tomorrow.
Three films in particular — two documentaries and a drama — stand out in my mind for their ability to persuasively spur social awareness.
At the Sundance Film Festival in January, I screened a documentary called “Finding North” that magnifies the plight of 49 million Americans — including 17 million children — who are underfed.
“The foundational premise of ‘Finding North’ is that one in six Americans doesn't get enough to eat on a regular basis,” I wrote. “(The film) highlights the herculean work of churches, charities and food banks to ameliorate the effects of hunger in America. However, directors Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson contend food insecurity is a problem so pervasive in the U.S. that the only tenable solution is a grass-roots movement aimed at sparking greater government involvement.”
A couple months later, the documentary “Bully” spurred me to take a long look at the emotionally destructive nature of bullying among adolescents and teens. In that article, Lori Jones, the counseling and guidance coordinator for Canyons School District in Utah, shared with me five practical suggestions parents can employ to curb bully behavior.
Then in September, I interviewed Oscar-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal and Walden Media president Micheal Flaherty for my story about “Won’t Back Down."
The film is an inspired-by-true-events drama in which parents and teachers join forces to improve the performance of a failing public elementary school.
For me, covering “Finding North,” “Bully” and “Won’t Back Down” illustrated how the Deseret News' emphasis on values in the media can broaden discussion, shine a light on difficult issues and provide potential solutions to difficult issues.
Emmy-winning director Lee Hirsch set out in 2009 to tell the story of five young lives that had fallen prey to bullying, three still living, and two who had already succumbed to suicide — including one boy who was just 11 years old.
The result of Hirsh's work is "Bully," a hard-hitting documentary that hits theaters nationwide on April 13. The release of the film comes at a time when the subject of bullying is being re-examined. Long viewed as a harmless rite of passage, bullying is now being redefined as a social problem, and a new movement to address bullying and the long-term problems its victims face is gaining steam across the country.
Read the full report here: 'Bully' fights back: Hard-hitting film looks at impacts of being tormented
Researchers investigating the content of films, especially romantic comedies, are finding that love as depicted has very little to do with real life. Marriage is often portrayed as entirely distinct from romance.
And while movies are not intended or expected to be entirely realistic, scholars of communication theorize that exposure to media like romantic comedies, especially for young people, can shape expectations about both romance and marriage, shifting adolescent perceptions about what love is like, and how to show it.
Read the full report here: Romantic comedies can shape expectations of what love is really like
New research indicates that a growing cadre of reality programming is especially detrimental to girls because of what the Parents Television Council, a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment, calls "a disturbingly unrealistic portrayal of 'reality' with harsh, demeaning, degrading and sexualized dialogue."
For example, according to the Girl Scout Research Institute, girls age 11-17 who regularly watch reality TV are much more inclined than reality TV non-watchers to agree with statements like "Gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls" and "Being mean earns you more respect than being nice."
Read the full report here: Combating the negative impacts of reality TV on girls' sense of self
A movie about a book about a televised event about children killing each other is a tangled knot of conflicting messages and methods, one that introduces a unique opportunity to discuss the way violence and its presentation infiltrate our consciousness.
Read the full report here: Dark, thorny themes make 'The Hunger Games' a case study for children, violence
Studies have shown that references to sex, drugs and alcohol are not only becoming more blatant, they are affecting listeners. Technology has made access to music, lyrics and video easier than ever. At the same time, attempts at "shock value" are pushing boundaries. With experts warning of serious consequences, it is becoming increasingly important for listeners to be aware of the messages coming through their headphones.
Read the full report here: Popular song lyrics contain sex, alcohol and no regrets
With the explosion of smartphones, tablets, iPods and iPads, a growing number of employees find they can't stay away from salacious sites and images, pulling up X-rated pages on their lunch hour, bathroom breaks and even in the middle of monitoring life-saving surgical equipment.
Read the full report here: Pornography problems at work harm companies, coworkers
At a time when it isn't unusual for pre-teens and teens to be seen toting around their own smartphones, iPads and other gadgets, the issue of addiction and serious attachment to smart devices and social media is growing across the entire spectrum of age groups.
Read the full report here: Students feel connection through social media, as well as addiction
Desire for fame is increasingly present in the media landscape. In television, especially television geared toward the coveted pre-teenage demographic, many popular fictional characters are either already famous or actively seeking celebrity.
Researchers studying the phenomenon have noticed a parallel trend: as television shows depict fame as a value with increasing popularity, themes like community engagement are declining in prevalence.
Read the full report: Fame and fortune: the new focus of TV for kids
Radio icons and hosts of NPR's popular science program, 'Radiolab', Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad are proving that in an ever-shifting media landscape that high-quality storytelling and educational content can still succeed.
Read the full report here: 'Radiolab' brings cool back to radio using emerging, traditional platform
Online dating is a modern paradox. Once widely considered a tactic only for the socially inept or the hopelessly creepy, exploring romantic possibilities online has slowly but surely made its way into mainstream American culture.
But while dating online definitely has its advantages, a new sociological study reveals that many dating sites' claims — that their services will improve the likelihood of long-term relationship success — are insupportable.
Read the full report here: Clicking for love: The perks and perils of online dating