“The one country I’m afraid to go to is yours.” A Kenyan friend and I had been talking about some of our cross-cultural experiences when she came out and told me this. I laughed.
Our conversation just previous to this had been on some of our favorite TV shows. Then I told her, “You’ve watched too much 24.” The 24 TV series, with its flawed hero Jack Bauer, always included an attack in the USA from some terrorist organization…from which Jack always saved everyone. It was one of her favorite shows. “I promise you that there are not terrorist attacks in the US every day.”
Not only did 24 impact her perceptions, but with many TV shows set in the US being in the crime genre and CNN regularly pumping out information on crime, violence and terrorism on US soil to its international TV audiences…what would you think?
This wasn’t the only conversation I had like this with friends not from my home country. These conversations went both ways, and my perceptions were often challenged. They continue to be.
Don’t believe everything you see on TV might sound like an obvious caution. But, we’re not always aware of how influential media is on our thoughts, perceptions and beliefs. The messages we get from the news, movies, music, books–in many ways they shape who we are and impact our decisions.
I remember when we began telling friends and family about our intentions to move to Nairobi, Kenya. We would explain that it was a modern city of 3 million people. We would share that because of it’s high elevation, the temperature was moderate and dry. We would tell them about the large Christian community (about 80% of Kenyans call themselves Christians).
However, the strong media influence on perceptions of Africa would often come through. Some believed we’d be living in a mud-hut. Others questioned if we’d have enough to eat. Surely, we must be sweltering in the heat all the time.
I probably had many of these same perceptions before I visited Kenya the first time. My perceptions changed even more when we moved to the continent. My thoughts before my initial exposure were highly shaped by media exposure–I only knew what I’d been taught, mostly from TV and movies. I only knew a sliver of information.
Media exposure is very one-dimensional and can encourage us to believe that what we see represents the entire reality (and not just a portion of it).
One of the most common things you’ll hear us say these days after watching the news is something like, “That’s interesting, but that’s just one part of the story.”
Being aware that our exposure is limited is important. We can go even further to intentionally broaden our exposure by developing friendships with people from countries other than our own, traveling beyond our home town boarders and expanding our reading and viewing materials.
I love this TED talk from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She warns of the dangers of a single story. Take a look.