Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture: Why Media Is Not the Answer

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Is violence on the streets caused by violence in video games? Do hip-hop lyrics increase misogynistic and homophobic behavior? Are teens promiscuous because of what they see in movies? Popular culture is an easy answer for many of society’s problems, but it is almost always the wrong answer. This innovative book goes beyond the news-grabbing headlines claiming that popular culture is public enemy number one to consider what really causes the social problems we are most concerned about. The sobering fact is that the roots of poverty, child abuse, and unequal public education are much more complicated than the media-made-them-do-it explanations. Karen Sternheimer deftly illustrates how welfare “reform,” a two-tiered health care system, and other difficult systemic issues have far more to do with our contemporary social problems than Grand Theft Auto or 50 Cent.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this well researched book, Karen Sternheimer gives lie to a full spectrum of false fears about the effects of popular culture on young people. She provides valuable correctives to innumerable myths promulgated by opportunistic politicians, advocacy groups, and journalists." —Barry Glassner, University of Southern California; author of The Gospel of Food and The Culture of Fear
"Sternheimer unpacks the media's penchant for sensationalizing and misdirecting public discourse about the real causes of poverty, disease, materialism, sexual license and substance abuse. … Revealing how frequently—and perniciously—social research is manipulated, Sternheimer demonstrates how to hold the media accountable while addressing the more entrenched and salient problem of child poverty that she believes is to blame." —Publishers Weekly
"In Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture, Karen Sternheimer delivers a necessary synthesis, with a devastating media analysis, in response to the prevalent cottage industry of exaggeration, myth, and invention about popular culture’s impacts on youth behavior. And in layering a critique of society, class, and race over actual evidence she produces a work of great value to those working with or teaching about youth." —Anthony Bernier, San Jose State University
"Sternheimer delivers a scholarly, highly readable debunking of the enthroned culture-war herd's facile blaming of ‘pop culture’ and ‘the media’ for everything about today’s richly diverse young people the fear-mongers don’t like. Sternheimer articulately challenges those who care about youth to stop letting perpetual panics over fictional bogeys obscure genuine threats like poverty, abuse, inequality, and rising anxiety toward healthy social change." —Mike Males,
"The media and popular culture are routinely blamed for causing all the ills of the modern world. Karen Sternheimer’s book shows how blaming the media distracts attention from the real problems that affect young people today, and prevents us from understanding how they use the media in their everyday lives. Clearly written and powerfully argued, this book deserves a wide readership well beyond the academy." —David Buckingham, Institute of Education, University of London
“The author cautions against focusing on the media as predator and turns readers’ attention to themselves and the society they create around and conceivably ‘for’ their children and families to better grasp how people create and perpetuate social problems. Well researched, with an attention to policy details, this book helpsdebunk the notion that media is the cause of society’s ills. Highly recommended.” —Choice
“Focusing on … children and young adults, [Sternheimer’s] main argument is that the intersection of race, gender, and poverty makes social problems significantly complex, and as a result, we blame popular culture for societal quandaries because it is easier to convince ourselves that television and video games are the cause of social disparities… Sternheimer asks us to take another look. Her book is a well written rationale as to why we should.” –American Sociological Association  


Publishers Weekly

Sternheimer (Kids These Days) unpacks the media's penchant for sensationalizing and misdirecting public discourse about the real causes of poverty, disease, materialism, sexual license and substance abuse. She argues that news coverage engages in misleading "media phobia"-blaming popular culture for entrenched social problems by fingering convenient scapegoats (e.g., movies, video games, rap music) for teen pregnancy, lower educational attainment and violence. Sternheimer illustrates how reports of children's increased violence after video-game use are based almost entirely on spurious or contradictory studies, and how arguments about media phobia deflect attention away from such basic issues as unequal access to skills, education, jobs and resources: the "real culprits" and causal links the media ignores. Revealing how frequently-and perniciously-social research is manipulated, Sternheimer demonstrates how to hold the media accountable while addressing the more entrenched and salient problem of child poverty that she believes is to blame. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813344171
  • Publisher: Westview Press
  • Publication date: 8/11/2009
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Sternheimer teaches in the sociology department at the University of Southern California and is the author of Kids These Days: Facts and Fictions About Today’s Youth (2006) and It’s Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children (2003). She is the lead writer and editor of and has appeared as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, The History Channel, and Fox News. She also serves on the advisory board for

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction Media Phobia: Why Blaming Popular Culture for Causing Social Problems Is a Problem 1

Media Phobia #1 Popular Culture Is Dumbing Down America 21

Media Phobia #2 Popular Culture Is Ruining Childhood 47

Media Phobia #3 Media Violence Causes Real Violence 75

Media Phobia #4 Popular Culture Promotes Teen Sex 123

Media Phobia #5 Popular Culture Promotes Teen Pregnancy and Single Parenthood 157

Media Phobia #6 Popular Culture Makes Kids More Materialistic Than Ever 179

Media Phobia #7 Popular Culture May Be Hazardous to Your Health 211

Media Phobia #8 Popular Culture Promotes Substance Abuse 231

Media Phobia #9 Rap Music Promotes Misogyny, Homophobia, and Racism 257

Conclusion Understanding Social Problems Beyond Popular Culture: Why Inequality Matters 285

Selected Bibliography 301

Index 307

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