In my opinion, the media has a strong influence on society, both negatively and positively. How could it not have an influence, even if it's to provoke thought? The media is all around us and what surrounds us, will have an effect in some manner.
I feel the negative effects are stronger because of the "consistency" used to pound this negativity into society's mind. It isn't necessary to use a hot babe in skimpy attire to sell a hamburger, but I've seen it done and in commercials for "family" restaurants. Sex is used to sell anything and everything and in that respect, it sends a negative message all around. Gone are the days when it was a shock to see an undergarment in a commercial. Now it's nothing to see the undergarments attached to live models. How many people do you think are actually looking at the undergarments instead of the body parts?
How often do you see overweight women on tv, music videos or in any scene that represents a desirable woman? It's rare and it sends a message that women have to be a certain weight, have a certain look in order to be seen as desirable, to be "somebody". That is a negative message. The media, in the form of tv and movies, doesn't represent the world as a whole. It often focuses on a single sector that influences what is to be accepted. Some are influenced so strongly that they will do anything to live up to the expectations, from developing eating disorders to multiple plastic surgeries.
I've witnessed the influence music videos have on teens. I've heard the young boys talk about the female artists and how hot they are and what they'd like to do to them. I've seen the young girls striving to look like them so the boys will give them the same attention. I've seen teens totally change their conservative attire to freaky after finding out it's cool to look like certain music artists. Many change their actions and language to mimic these influences.
Casual sex is seen as very normal in movies and tv. It's cool..."everybody's doing it" - not much different than in society. Sex has become recreational for many and the media's influence doesn't help to think otherwise. The message that is being sent can have dire consequences such as STD's and unplanned pregnancy.
On the flip side...there are good influences via the media. When a catastrophe strikes such as hurricane Katrina, people are seen reaching out to help others. The tv show "Extreme Home Makeover" is a great example of how strangers pull to together to help those less fortunate. Influences such as these can provoke the thought for people to help more in their community before catastrophe strikes, to be more giving all around.
The media may be an influence, but each person has free will. They can follow the influence of the media or create their own path. Parents have the choice in teaching their children appropriateness and steering them away from harmful influences. If children don't have good role models, they may lean more towards the media for influence. Parents have to set healthy examples early on and be involved in their children's lives enough to know what is influencing them both negatively or positively. As for adults...it's pretty lame to follow a path just because the media tells you that's the way to go. Think for yourself, define yourself as somebody, regardless of the influences around you.
The media will always be an influence, but it can't control us unless we hand it over control. In essence, there's a vast difference between influence and control. The media can be a good thing - it's your choice in how you use it.