Back to US Life Histories

The Media as an Informant

The Media is a great source of information. Where else can one go to learn about current events, what is in fashion, and heck, just what the world is up to. My parent's and I never really discussed things when I was growing up because my Dad worked 24/7 and my step mom didn't understand English that well and I didn't speak Gujurati so, I usually went to different forms of media to find answers to the questions that I had.

Sunday mornings were very important to me when I was growing up. They were the days when my Dad didn't have to go to work till the afternoon. Every Sunday began with my Mom cooking breakfast around 10am and after that was done, the whole family would gather in the living room with the Sunday Tribune, books, and magazines. We all generally gathered together to read. My Dad would take the Business or Sports section, my sister would read the comics, my Mom would clip coupons or look at the sale papers, and I would read a magazine or newspaper.

During the eighties, a young boy named Ryan White contracted Aids. This was a big deal to me. I felt very sad and at the same time frightened about this whole ordeal. What was Aids? Who got it? I remember reading an article not only about him and how he faced a whole lot of discrimination, but I learned what Aids was exactly. In my Elementary/Junior High School, there was also a student who was HIV positive around the same time the Ryan White story came out. His/Her identity, however, wasn't revealed. I was frightened because I didn't know how this disease spread and who could contract it. As ignorant as this may sound, I thought that by touching someone or being in the same area where he/she coughed one could contract it like the flu. I, however, read about this disease and became better informed.

When I entered Junior High, a lot of my classmates tried smoking. I became curious and wanted to know why people wanted to smoke, generally what was so cool about it. When I was in eighth grade, my sister and I would accompany my Dad to his Chicago store every Sunday afternoon. When the weather was nice, I had the pleasant job of pressing down the trash in the garbage can. This was one of those huge dumpster like garbage cans that I had to jump in to press the trash down. I did this because if the trashcan wasn't somewhat neat, the garbage trucks wouldn't pick them up. While pressing down the garbage, I usually would look at one of the many billboard advertisements that surrounded me. These billboard served as an informant. In the eighties, the store catered mainly to truck drivers and to the auto mechanics at the next door auto shop. The billboards generally advertised beer or cigarettes. One ad that sticks out in my head is the Marlboro cigarette ad and the image of the Marlboro Man. He was seen as an individual who was sure of himself and rugged, an outdoors man. The picturesque image of masculinity, only attainable with a pack of Marlboro's. Another ad was a Newport cigarette ad that had a guy and a girl jumping up for joy with a big grin on their face and a cigarette in their hands. The caption on the bottom read "Alive with Pleasure." Both billboard ads seemed to imply health benefits and that it was all right to smoke. At the bottom of both ads, however, there was a warning by the Surgeon General indicating that smoking could cause lung cancer. Talk about conflicting messages, not that I wanted to be an image of masculinity, but it was strongly clear that to be cool and desirable by societies standards one should smoke. This is true because a lot of my friends in eighth grade who smoked in a sense said that it was "cool" to do so. I wanted to smoke too. I didn't try it however because I didn't want to get lung cancer. My uncle was a smoker and had quit when I was younger due to health complications. The Billboard ad served as a source of information either way.

During the eighties, Brooke Shields did an advertisement for Calvin Klein. It was for their jeans. The caption read something along the lines of "Nothing comes between me and my Calvin's." She was super thin and looked good in the jeans. Subconsciously, I began to realize that in order to be beautiful; one needs to be slim. Another ad that reinforced this belief is the other Calvin Klein advertisements with Kate Moss in them. Kate Moss is also super skinny. In the jean advertisements, all of the models, including Kate Moss, are all thin. This didn't directly contribute to my wanting to diet 90% of the time, but it is one of the earlier recollections that I have of the idea that thin is in. Sometime later, though, I had read an article in a health magazine that talked about anorexia and bulimia and how it was detrimental to ones health. It woke me up and I realized that dieting, even though not as extreme as anorexia, isn't all that great and important- at least for me.

It was another Sunday afternoon, and I was reading the Parade magazine in the Chicago Tribune. One of the articles was talking about domestic abuse. During the tenth grade, my best friend had started going out with this guy who was a senior. In the beginning, he was cool, but after a while he would hit my friend for no reason. He would constantly kick her. At first I didn't know if this was serious. I tried talking to my Dad, but he was busy. I didn't really address the issue with her at that time. A couple of months later, I came across the above mentioned article and realized what abuse was. I tried to tell my friend, but she was in denial and now she is engaged to be married to him.

Also around this time O.J. Simpson had just committed the most horrible form of abuse on his wife- death. This is another event that will be firmly etched in my brain. I remember when I first found out about O.J. Simpson. I was disgusted that a husband would kill his wife for no reason. It also allowed me to see and better understand the entirety of abuse and the effects it can have. The day the verdict was read, I was in my Driver's Education class. My teacher had brought in a television and we watched as the verdict was given. This caused a lot of controversy. It was all anyone would talk about for the entire day. My teacher held a vote on how many people agreed with the verdict and only one person raised their hand. I didn't think that life was fair, but this article and scenario better enabled me to better understand abuse even if I can't make others see.

Like I mentioned earlier, when I was growing up I went to different forms of media to find answers to the questions that I had. This allowed me to grow as a person in various ways. The above are just a few events where the media had an influence on my views.

February 1999

Back to US Life Histories