Since at least the days of Birth of a Nation (1915), Hollywood has turned to history for material. A quick survey of this year’s Academy Award nominations shows that this is as true now as ever, with five out of the nine nominees for Best Picture – Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty and odds-on favourite Lincoln – based in history in some way. Their approaches vary, of course, with the history-as-backdrop approach of Les Miserables, the revenge fantasy of Django Unchained, the academic character study of Lincoln, the docudrama of Zero Dark Thirty and the history-as-thriller of Argo.
This winter the Olympics return to Canada for the first time since the Calgary games of 1988. For many people, the most vivid memories of that Olympiad are the colourful stories of some of the less accomplished athletes, such as British ski jumper Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards and the members of the Jamaican bobsled team. It’s unlikely, though, that there will be any charming underdogs in this year’s Olympiad, as the games become more and more the province of professionals. As audiences and advertising revenues drop, however, will the professionalization of the Games spell their downfall?
The hottest media story in the past week has been the instantly infamous New Yorker cover portraying Barack Obama and his wife Michelle as terrorists. Though the Obama campaign has been measured in its response, media outlets – and particularly bloggers – have been vocal in their disapproval. Some have suggested that the cover crosses the line from satire into hate speech, while others accuse TheNew Yorker of giving ‘aid and comfort to the enemy’ by visually depicting the smears and misconceptions that have been aimed at the candidate.
Teachers who include media literacy in their classrooms often face issues that don’t arise in other subjects. Nothing illustrates this better than the issue of diversity in media. It’s not unreasonable for teachers to see the topic as a can of worms and be concerned about offending students and their parents – not to mention worrying about what the students themselves might say. At the same time, it’s a topic that is simply too important to be ignored: what we see in media hugely influences how we see others, ourselves and the world. As a result, an ability to analyze media depictions of diversity is not only a key element of being media literate, it’s essential to understanding many of the social issues and concerns that we face as citizens. That’s why Media Awareness Network has developed That’s Not Me – a new online tutorial for professional development to help educators and community leaders approach this issue through key concepts of media literacy.
In ancient times the Olympics were a time when all nations – all Greek nations, anyway – would put away their differences and compete in almost every human activity, from poetry to the ferocious, no-holds barred combat sport called pankration. Being the very best that humans could be was seen as the best way to honour the gods of Olympus.
The last year has been an unusually busy one for watchers of gender representation in the news media, with not one but two high-profile women involved in the U.S. presidential race. The way in which these two politicians were covered provides a view of how gender in politics is portrayed in the media, and how this can help to explain just how unusual those two women are.
It’s ironic that as computers and other communications technology have become more accessible to the general public over the last thirty years, they have actually become less accessible to a segment of the population, one to whom access is everything: people with disabilities. More ironic still is that the history of communications technology is intimately tied to the drive to integrate people with disabilities more fully into society.
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.
On November 5, 2009, MNet Media Education Specialist Matthew Johnson participated in the Association of Canadian Studies’ conference Knowing Ourselves: The Challenge of Teaching History of Canadian Official Minority Language Communities, speaking on the topic Media, Diversity and Our History. What follows is an expanded version of his remarks.
The most anticipated movie of the year, at least in some circles, is opening on March 6th: Watchmen, the adaptation of the 1986 comic book of the same name. The original, which won a Hugo Award for science fiction and was named one of Time’s top 100 novels of the twentieth century, tells the story of a group of retired superheroes investigating the death of one of their colleagues; the mystery leads the reader through the alternate world their existence has created, in which heroes with cosmic superpowers overawed the Soviet Union and in which Richard Nixon is still president in 1985. Though time will tell how successful the film will turn out to be, the buzz around its launch gives an opportunity to look at comics and how they’re adapted into other media.