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.
The famous comedian Bill Cosby once said, “Nothing separates the generations more than music. By the time a child is eight or nine, he has developed a passion for his own music that is even stronger than his passions for procrastination and weird clothes.” Cosby was certainly correct about the power of music, but he may have failed to recognize that characteristics youth become ‘passionate’ about may not actually be separate from their musical affiliations.
I feel like such an old lady when I’m listening to the radio sometimes. When I’m in the car with my husband we often find ourselves having the I Can’t Believe What Kids Are Listening to These Days conversation, one that often ends with me hitting the OFF button in disgust.
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.
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.
Someone encountering the Internet for the first time might be forgiven for assuming it was created specifically for teenagers. Indeed, the Internet could reasonably be said to have been aging backwards since its birth – the domain first of scientists and the military, then of university students in the 1990s and now children and teenagers.
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.
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.
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.