I often write and speak openly about the need to engage in a deep and critical conversation of media studies. Undeniably we all engage with media within a rapid and evolving milieu. Although this is truly the case as evident with the continued demand and growth of mobile streaming, gaming and social media, there seems to be a lack of focus on critical studies and more a flavour for “creation” and digital skills. On the surface, I can appreciate the appeal of digital technology from this “hands on” perspective. Students love to “do” and as teachers the exercise of integrating technology to “engage” students if fruitful.
Importantly, within the media literacy conversation and when looking at a tech- integration framework that is sparking and overly simplistic App culture, the focus on digital skills is displacing the need for authentic media literacy as critical study. Twitter is littered with this evidence; tools being used but for what meaning? Our shared focus needs to recognize that media literacy, like all other forms of literacy, must be engaged with in deep ways. As an entity that defines and shapes our collective experience more than any other mode of value sharing, why aren’t we actively talking more about all things media? Why as the most urgent mode of communication is broad-based media literacy not given its due? Simple: because its so accessible on the surface – its meaning is devalued.
The conversation must go deeper!
Just last night as the culmination of student learning, over 300 people attended a showcase of student original short films, movie trailers, commercials, animations and print media at a Cineplex theatre. The event titled Ignite, an end goal that all students work towards throughout the course of the year, spoke to and celebrated the true convergence between media and digital literacy. The two differ but must become aligned. As illustrated last night within a dynamic and shared experience, the students learned not only technical skills that are transferable but more pressing the ability to shape meaning and narrative through a critical understanding and application of media pillars that include; race, gender, identity, class, ethnicity etc.
The conversation must begin with literacy!
Making film and other media products in an active and meaningful way is to be well-read. This was proclaimed last night by Canadian director Jerry Ciccoritti – the event’s keynote. In his address to students and members of the audience, Jerry spoke of the need to be a “film buff” before being a filmmaker. Like him, the students must be well versed in form, genre, language and style etc. This begins with an active and intentional conversation around, not just media artifacts like film and television, but recognizing that our shared experience is all based in narrative. Our daily interactions are opportunities to be critical participants and extract meaning. In many ways, life is very much a mediated canvas; it’s constructed. It comes together in different pieces, within diverse perspectives, is shaped and experienced.
Conversations must be had!
Today in my Gr. 10 Communications Technology class we had a rich conversation about horror cinema through the lens of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996). Excitingly, the film was a completely new experience for the students as its grounded in the everyday and not a fantastical narrative as evident with films such as Insidious and The Conjuring. Something like Scream, grounded in the tradition of Halloween (1978) and Nightmare of Elm Street (1984) speaks to a domestic (as in nationhood) conversation around horror as a genre exploitive and reflective of lived anxieties and fears. As such, in speaking to students about Scream, their reactions to Wes Craven’s meta lens spoke to their keen interest in wanting broader conversation.
Not just a horror film for fun, we looked at the text as Craven’s interruption and reflection of the genres preoccupation with male driven violence; violence that is an extension of archetypical American values of manhood. This is to say that maleness as murderer in a slasher film like Halloween is indicative of the displacing nature of the American social space.
Within this thinking, Craven openly critiques the violent nature of maleness in multiple scenes in the film and empowers the females to take control of the narrative. This is especially evident in the characterization of Gale Weathers (portrayed by Courtney Cox), who as a reporter covering the story of murder in a small American town, has mediated power. She constructs meaning as a reporter – the story is told through her lens. This is significant, as Hollywood narrative is typically driven through a male gaze. Within the meta (self-aware) text of Scream, the media voice is female. Equally, unlike other horror films where the female victim is saved be a male hero, two woman stand as heroes at the end. Both victimized but not passive or defeated. This is only one reading of the film, but speaks to gender within contextualized in narrative but lends to a greater conversation about female equality and gender displacement. This is media literacy.
As with this example of Scream, we have to shift the conversation back to media literacy. Yes, my students have grown in their technical skill (as evident in the examples below), but they are thinkers first.