The Fifth Precept, as interpreted by Thich Nhat Hanh, says in part:
“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society.”
The importance of this precept cannot be overstated. You may be working your Buddhist practice very diligently, but if you are constantly consuming things that convey messages which are fundamentally at odds with Buddhist teaching on how to view yourself and the world around you, then you are setting yourself up for even greater challenges to walking the path than are inherent in just living in our culture with your learned experience.
With regards to all those commercials and other pieces which make you want what you don’t have, or more of what you do have, or to be someone who you are not ... whether in a calculated way or not ... they should be avoided. Sometimes you can’t tell at the start what something is about, but as soon as you have this realization, you should stop. There is no redeeming social value from a Buddhist perspective to such communication.
With regards to those publications or movies that are serious, worthwhile efforts to address an important social or psychological issue, but are presented in a way that makes them relentlessly depressing as opposed to uplifting, the question of whether or not to consume such material is more complicated. On the one hand, Buddhism is not about escaping from the real world. It is very important for a Buddhist to be aware of the suffering that occurs throughout the world. From that standpoint, consuming such material has real value.
On the other hand, depending on the stage of your practice, too much of a good thing can be bad. Media pieces about all the “bad” things happening in the world ... whether to people, animals, or the environment ... can be overwhelming. And very demoralizing if not upsetting.
If you are at that point in your practice where you have compassion for all people ... even those who do harmful things ... and you are free of any negative emotions, then you can consume such material without harm to yourself. But if you are not at that advanced stage, then it is best to limit your exposure to such material so that you can continue to develop compassion for all people and free yourself from negative emotions. Why is such a restriction necessary? Because if you overdose on such material, an easy thing to do, it will make it much harder for you to free yourself from anger and see the world through the eyes of your true Buddha nature.
There is one more type of material, regardless how serious and well-intentioned, that can be harmful to you. If you have negative thoughts about yourself and you consume material that triggers those negative thoughts, such material is harmful to you. Likewise, if you are addicted to anything, consuming material that triggers that addiction is harmful. You should refrain from consuming either type of material.
Walking the Buddhist path while living in and interacting with our culture poses challenges daily. Some are obvious, some are less so. But in all cases, being aware of the forces around us and mindfully choosing what we consume will make walking the path a little easier.