I was recently asked by Jane Tallim to write a guest blog and seriously wondered what suggestions I could offer that would appeal to high school English and Media Studies teachers. We all know that teaching media is like trying to hit a moving target, and education lags behind revolutionary changes in new media forms. However, over the past decade of teaching both Media Studies and high school English, I have spent much time considering the intersection of new media forms with traditional English forms and have tried to build a bridge of understanding across time for my students regardless of the target. By focusing on the skills of deconstruction and construction, I believe the form of the text, or the new medium, becomes less relevant to comprehension.
Why is a movie about a young boy learning kung fu called The Karate Kid? For most of the film’s young audience, Jaden Smith’s break-out movie doesn’t explain the confusion. Their parents and older siblings, however, may recall the earlier installments in this series which started with a young Ralph Macchio learning karate from Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, a movie which started as the hero’s quest to learn karate to overcome his tormentors and evolved by film’s end into a coming-of-age story about the bond between mentor and student. The first Karate Kid struck a chord with audiences, becoming the fifth-highest grossing film of 1984.
People who make their living producing images, such as photographers, stylists, publicists, directors and pop idols, learn how to use those signs to convey the impression they want to make. Although teen girls who are trying to send a signal to their circle of friends and pop music producers who are trying to send a signal to an audience of millions are working on different scales, the principle is very much the same. Depending on your audience, you need to tailor the signals you send out very carefully. Even your age can have a certain amount of wiggle room when dressed in the right signs.
If anyone still doubts that youth need to learn how to evaluate online information, those doubts should have been dispelled by a recent hoax perpetrated by the group called the Yes Men. This group, which has a history of staging fake press conferences, decided to draw attention to Canada’s position at the Copenhagen conference on climate change by creating a number of fake Web sites purporting to be, among others, the Copenhagen summit site, the Wall Street Journal, and Environment Canada’s site. While it didn’t take long for Environment Canada to make a statement exposing the hoax, by that time many journalists had reported the story as fact and the story had been widely distributed by wire services.
Larry Gonick is a pioneer of non-fiction cartooning; starting with Blood From A Stone: A Cartoon Guide to Tax Reform in 1971, he has made a career out of explaining complicated topics in comic format. In 1978 he published the first issue of The Cartoon History of the Universe as a comic book, starting with the Big Bang and ending with the evolution of humanity. Issues of that series were collected first in 1982 and again in 1990; later two sequels appeared, The Cartoon History of the Universe II and III, and in 2007 the series continued as The Cartoon History of the Modern World. With the second volume of that series, published this fall, Gonick brings his history up to late 2008. Throughout the series Gonick has consistently made history entertaining and approachable as well as accurate (each volume ends with an annotated bibliography) and has shed light on the history of often-neglected parts of the world such as China, India and pre-Columbian America. Among his other works are The Cartoon History of the United States and the Cartoon Guide series, which provide grounding in topics ranging from physics to communication theory to sex; his works have been among the most influential in bringing comics into the classroom.