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Gerbner, George 1919–2005

Gerbner, George 1919–2005

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born August 8, 1919, in Budapest, Hungary; died of cancer, December 24, 2005, in Philadelphia, PA. Educator and author. An influential scholar of mass communications, Gerbner was a prominent critic of the negative effects of television on American society. He had been studying at the University of Budapest for a year before the increasing threat of fascism in his homeland compelled him to flee the country in 1939. With the help of his film-director brother, Laszlo Benedek, Gerbner found his way to Los Angeles. He continued his education at the University of California at Los Angeles, then completed a B.A. at the Berkeley campus in 1942. When America entered World War II, he quit his job as a reporter and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and joined the U.S. Army's Parachute Infantry, seeing action in Europe as a member of the Office of Strategic Services and earning a Bronze Star. After the war, he remained in Vienna for a year, working as an editor for the U.S. Information Service. He then returned home and completed a master's degree in 1951 and a doctorate in 1955, both from the University of Southern California. While pursuing these degrees, he was a journalism instructor at John Muir College and then El Camino College. In 1956, Gerbner joined the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faculty as a research assistant professor and then associate professor of mass communications at the Institute of Communications Research. He next moved on to the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. It was while at this university that Gerbner did most of his research on television viewing. He also founded the Cultural Indicators Project in 1968, which gathered data on how television audiences' perceptions are influenced by programming. Gerbner was most disturbed by the numerous acts of violence shown in television shows, especially during children's programming, as well as by how much time people spent in front of the television. This was especially significant given that television, which is controlled by corporations motivated by shareholder profits, had supplanted traditional storytelling passed down from the family as a cultural influence in society. Television, Gerbner concluded, portrays the world as a dangerous place. Having grown up in a country that was overrun by the Nazis, the professor understood how powerful the media could be, and he worried that television was turning America's children into citizens who would be easily manipulated by their fears to more readily accept invasive government powers over them. He also explained how television shows routinely portray white males as heroic professionals or in other roles of power, while minorities are shown as people without power and influence, thus drilling a message into audiences' minds that minorities will always remain at the bottom of the social ladder in America. Having served as dean of the Annenberg School from 1964 to 1989, Gerbner retired from teaching in 1989. However, he continued his research in mass communications, founding the Cultural Environment Movement in order to promote more diversity and fairness in television. Gerbner was the author or editor of many books about television and the media, including Violence and Terror in the Mass Media (1988), which he compiled with Nancy Signorielli, the coedited The Global Media Debate: Its Rise, Fall, and Renewal (1993), and the authored The Future of Media: Digital Democracy or More Corporate Control? (1999) and Against the Mainstream: Selected Works of George Gerbner (2002).

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2005, p. B10.

New York Times, January 3, 2006, p. A17.

Washington Post, January 2, 2006, p. B4.

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