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Media can teach about empathy, good and evil | Deseret News National
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Media can teach about empathy, good and evil

Knowing the ins and outs of popular culture has never been my strong suit. As I often do when I need to understand something in a broader context, I turned to my wife for insight while editing a story on a growing trend in movies and TV shows of showing sympathy toward villains.

The piece, "What happens when the bad guys are the good guys," examined popular characters like Don Draper in “Mad Men,” Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” and the protagonist of an impending Disney movie, “Maleficent,” which will tell the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the evil queen.

As we talked about the pros and cons of this trend, my wife and I traced it back to the 2003 Broadway hit show “Wicked,” which gave voice to the wicked witch in “The Wizard of Oz.”

The upside of the device is that it teaches empathy by trying to understand a person whose actions may be harmful. The downside is that the line between analyzing or understanding evil and accepting or embracing it is very fine.

The article focused strongly on the way our culture tells stories to children, young adults and grown-ups. It pointed out that at each stage of our lives, different aspects of art have different meanings for us. It’s important to grow, gradually, into our appreciation for multi-dimensional characters.

The Deseret News’ coverage of values in the media permeates many of the subjects that resonate most deeply in our technology-laden society. With so much access to Internet technology today, our culture faces increased strain from easier access to pornography. Our in-depth, three-part series on the personal and societal costs of pornography broke new ground, calling on others to wake up to the impacts of pornography consumption.

The turmoil faced by teenagers conjures images of a gripping young adult novel or movie derivation such as “The Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game” or the Harry Potter series. In each of these works, the adults have disappointed the children of the world. It falls on the younger generation to right the wrongs that have been done to them and make the word anew — just as it does to our youth today. Undoubtedly, media will play a crucial role in the world they construct, and the importance of understanding the values fostered by that media cannot be underestimated.

Drew Clark is senior contributing editor at the Deseret News. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter.