Did you know that news reports leading up to the current Writers Guild strike provided a great moment for media literacy education? Mainstream publications like the Washington Post and USA Today carried stories advising television audiences to prepare for a steady diet of “reality” programming if the writers’ contract negotiations reached an impasse.
Well, in an excellent column at The Huffington Post, Jennifer Pozner argues that this news coverage, while technically accurate, performs a great disservice to the general public by perpetuating the myth of unscripted reality T.V. She writes, “. . . news reports have generally not clarified for readers that these shows do, indeed, involve writers. Non-union writers (and story editors, video editors, and hands-on producers and directors), all of whom collaborate to achieve the networks’, executive producers’, and integrated advertisers’ desired story arcs.”
Noting a general reluctance in the United States to adopt media literacy education, Pozner suggests that regular viewers of reality T.V. simply don’t understand the collaborative process behind television production in which writers and non-writers alike wield tremendous storytelling power.
A project of Canada’s Media Awareness Network, Media Education Week is aimed at promoting media literacy activities in homes, schools, and communities.
The phrase “media awareness” makes me think of the old cliche about fish and water. Meaningful contemplation of media is like a fish trying to understand water: near to impossible. We are all too deeply immersed in it.
My Sunday school class touched on the same challenge in a recent study of Postmodernism. How can we step back and critically evaluate something so pervasive and embedded in our society? Someone in class astutely pointed out that we only see the impurities (think: pond scum). And that’s what we all tend to dwell upon.
It is so true; sometimes the only path to consciousness raising is to show people the “impurities.” For instance, the fact that every parent in the U.S. knows about their child’s MySpace account probably has less to do with meaningful dinner conversation about the benefits of social networking and more to do with Dateline’s outrageously popular To Catch a Predator series.
But here is the rub: the best media education is not about villifying technology and breeding cynicism.
Talking about the impact of media and technology on society is part of the equation to be sure, but in the last several decades the paradigm has shifted from one solely concerned with protection against media’s harmful effects to one focused on preparation for lifelong engagement as critical and ethical consumers and producers of media.
What does media education as preparation look like?
The folks at the Center for Media Literacy have constructed an entire curriculum framework around this question. Part I: Literacy for the 21st Century: An Overview and Orientation Guide to Media Literacy Education presents the theoretical underpinnings, and Part II: Five Key Questions that can Change the World contains a practical collection of lesson plans for cross-curricular implementation. All materials are free and downloadable at the site.
But I think media education as preparation can be as simple as taking Pozner’s column and starting a conversation with students about the different roles people play in television and film production. What does a set designer do? What is a sound editor? What is the job of a producer? Answers to those questions might inspire students to undertake various roles in a video production project in which they experience firsthand how editors’ and producers’ decisions influence the storyline.