Communication with an Agenda – Where’s the Appropriate Line?

I’m so fed up with agenda-based mass communication that I am becoming desensitized, even as a communication professional. Then just this week I was shown something in the first session of a new class that is still disturbing me days later.  It’s an updated version of an old story about the perils of teenagers driving while distracted – predictable, but incredibly visually impactful.  It’s very hard to watch, so be warned if you so choose: http://bit.ly/fQBLhS.  I normally adamantly oppose messages that promote fear, but this video brings up questions for me as a communicator and as the aunt of an 18 year old who lives on her cell phone.  Where is the line in getting a point across? What is too much? Is the shock value of the experience worth the potential saving of lives? Will it just be laughed off, disregarded, and seen as old fashioned, preachy melodrama?  Too gruesome/why would you want anyone to look at something like this…?  Negativity is not a healthy way to reinforce behavior.  Still, having been guilty in the not-that-distant past of sending a text while driving [it was an urgent situation], I will never do so again after seeing this. Would love others’ thoughts on this use of mass communication.

2 Responses to “Communication with an Agenda – Where’s the Appropriate Line?”

  1. 1 Trish Jung
    January 12, 2011 at 9:19 am

    As a parent, there is always this underlying fear that something will happen to your offspring. I think the traditional thought has been to try and “scare them (our children) straight”. There are similar messages regarding wearing helmets for cycling and skate boarding etc. The emphasis is always on danger (and instilling fear) it leaves me wondering how our generation ever made it into adulthood given how many “dangerous risks” we took.

    But do these messages work? I don’t think that they have a lasting impact — at least on children and young adults. A parent’s or respected adult’s continuous example has a more lasting impression. We have to lead by example and provide our youth with the tools to do the right thing.

  2. 2 bunny blumschaefter
    January 14, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I agree with Trish that it’s important for parents/ role models to set a good example, but fear can be a powerful motivator – years ago, when legislating seatbelt use was something new, I was a bit casual about sticking with it, until I read an article (nothing overly sensational – just a little news piece) about a guy who buckled up consistently, every time he got in the car – except for the one time when he undid his seatbelt to reach for his briefcase in the back seat. During that little moment, the car was rearended and he was paralyzed for life. I don’t honestly know what the writer’s intent was for telling that story, but I have never again ridden without a seatbelt.

    To me, intent has a lot to bear on when the “fear factor” goes too far: if somebody is trying to scare us into buying crap, we should know better, be critical consumers of information, and not throw our money away. But in this oversaturated culture, in which young folks are almost desensitized to dangerous behaviour b/c it’s used to sell products and put butts in seats at the movies, maybe somebody with an important message about the consequences of reckless behavior has to shout in order to be heard.

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