What Is Media literacy? This section presents some current viewpoints on how media literacy is defined.
Media literacy • Media literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyse, evaluate and create messages in a variety of forms – from print to video to the Internet. • Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy. • Center for Media Literacy (2006, June 21)
Media literacy • Today's definition of literacy is more than reading and writing. • In order to be functionally literate in our media-saturated world, children and young people – in fact, all of us – have to be able to read the messages that daily inform us, entertain us and sell to us. • As the Internet becomes a fact of life, the critical thinking skills that help young people navigate through traditional media are even more important. • Media Awareness Network, (2006, June 21)
Media literacy • Understanding media now requires far more than traditional media forms such as film, television, radio, and print texts. • It also requires an understanding of how new digital media forms have transformed or "remediated" (Bolter, 1998) these traditional media forms. • And, it requires an understanding of how students can learn to use these new digital media forms as tools for producing their own media and participating in media culture.
Codes and conventions in Media The codes and conventions in media can be separated into 3 distinct groups: - Technical (camera techniques & shots), - Symbolic (ie clothing, colours) - Written and audio (music etc). These give the text meaning and determine the response of the viewer.
What are codes? Codes are systems of signs, which create meaning. Codes can be divided into two categories – technical and symbolic. • Technical codes are all the ways in which equipment is used to tell the story in a media text, for example the camera work in a film. • Symbolic codes show what is beneath the surface of what we see. For example, a character's actions show you how the character is feeling. Some codes fit both categories – music for example, is both technical and symbolic.
What are conventions? Conventions are the generally accepted ways of doing something. There are general conventions in any medium, such as the use of interviewee quotes in a print article, but conventions are also genre specific.
How codes and conventions apply in media studies Codes and conventions are used together in any study of genre – it is not enough to discuss a technical code used such as camera work, without saying how it is conventionally used in a genre. For example, the technical code of lighting is used in some way in all film genres. It is a convention of the horror genre that side and back lighting is used to create mystery and suspense – an integral part of any horror movie.
Media Literacy Key Concepts • Media educators base their teaching on key concepts and principles of media literacy. These concepts provide an effective foundation for examining mass media and popular culture.
Eight Key Concepts for Media Literacy • All media are construction The media do not present simple reflections of external reality. Rather, they present carefully crafted constructions that reflect many decisions and result from many determining factors. Media Literacy works towards deconstructing these constructions, taking them apart to show how they are made.
Eight Key Concepts for Media Literacy 2. The media construct reality The media are responsible for the majority of the observations and experiences from which we build up our personal understandings of the world and how it works. Much of our view of reality is based on media messages that have been pre-constructed and have attitudes, interpretations and conclusions already built in. The media, to a great extent, give us our sense of reality.
Eight Key Concepts for Media Literacy 3. Audiences negotiate meaning in the media The media provide us with much of the material upon which we build our picture of reality, and we all "negotiate" meaning according to individual factors: personal needs and anxieties, the pleasures or troubles of the day, racial and sexual attitudes, family and cultural background, and so forth.
Eight Key Concepts for Media Literacy 4. Media have commercial implications Media Literacy aims to encourage an awareness of how the media are influenced by commercial considerations, and how these affect content, technique and distribution. Most media production is a business, and must therefore make a profit. Questions of ownership and control are central: a relatively small number of individuals control what we watch, read and hear in the media.
Eight Key Concepts for Media Literacy 5. Media contain ideological and value messages All media products are advertising, in some sense, in that they proclaim values and ways of life. Explicitly or implicitly, the mainstream media convey ideological messages about such issues as the nature of the good life, the virtue of consumerism, the role of women, the acceptance of authority, and unquestioning patriotism.
Eight Key Concepts for Media Literacy 6. Media have social and political implications The media have great influence on politics and on forming social change. Television can greatly influence the election of a national leader on the basis of image. The media involve us in concerns such as civil rights issues, famines in Africa, and the AIDS epidemic. They give us an intimate sense of national issues and global concerns, so that we become citizens of Marshall McLuhan's "Global Village."
Eight Key Concepts for Media Literacy 7. Form and content are closely related in the media As Marshall McLuhan noted, each medium has its own grammar and codifies reality in its own particular way. Different media will report the same event, but create different impressions and messages.
Eight Key Concepts for Media Literacy 8. Each medium has a unique aesthetic form Just as we notice the pleasing rhythms of certain pieces of poetry or prose, so we ought to be able to enjoy the pleasing forms and effects of the different media. Source: John Pungente, S.J. From Barry Duncan et al. Media Literacy Resource Guide, Ontario Ministry of Education, Toronto, ON. Canada, 1989.
All visual texts are constructions. The media construct reality. Audiences negotiate meaning in media. Most visual texts are produced to make money. Visual contain ideological and value messages. Five principles of media literacy
Five principles of media literacy1) All visual texts are constructions. 2) The media construct reality. 3) Audiences negotiate meaning in media. 4) Most visual texts are produced to make money. 5) Visual texts contain ideological and value messages. DEFINITION: A visual text is any document or object that makes its meanings with images or with meaningful patterns. Visual texts include charts, maps, diagrams, photos, illustrations, paintings, animation and motion pictures, to name a few. PHOTO RIGHT: J.R.R. Tolkien used maps and runes he created to make his books come to life. This map is from “The Hobbit.”
All visual texts are constructions, Part IThe media do not present simple reflections of external reality. Media texts are subjected to a broad range of decisions. Even unplanned events allow the media producer considerable control over the final text. PHOTO RIGHT: A firefighter attends a memorial service for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Consider the decisions the photographer made to produce this image: Why this firefighter? Why this angle? Should the flag be in the background? Which frame of many taken should be used? What is the best facial expression? The answers add up to a powerful ideological, political and cultural message.
All visual texts are constructions, Part II1) The events we see in the media as “reality” are more often carefully constructed productions with specific purposes. 2) The goal often is to “fix the meaning” of an event, in the words of cultural studies theorist Stuart Hall. PHOTO RIGHT: Political and business leaders carefully manipulate cultural symbols in what the social critic Daniel Boorstin has dubbed the pseudo event. Boorstin wrote that public life is full of these staged and scripted events that are a type of counterfeit version of actual happenings. The news conference is an example. The organization staging a pseudo event chooses the venue, the backdrop, the symbols on display and increasingly the audience. Members of the media are confined to a specific location, ensuring that their cameras will produce the desired images.
All visual texts are constructions, Part IIIA successful production looks natural. From a technical point of view, they are often superb. Coupled with our familiarity with such productions, their high quality tricks us into seeing them as seamless extensions of reality. Our task is to expose the complexities of media texts and thereby make the seams visible. PHOTO RIGHT: The drive by media to produce a natural look is most evident in the world of advertising. The production itself of advertising images is far from natural. In this photo, the lighting equipment and the intensity of the makeup artist tell us that the “natural look” is carfully contrived. A good thing to remember while viewing media texts is that nothing is left to chance in such productions.
The media construct reality, Part IA “construct,” is the picture we have built up in our heads since birth of what the world is and how it works. It is a model based on the sense we have made of all our observations and experiences. A major part of those observations and experiences come to us preconstructed by the media, with attitudes, interpretations and conclusions already built in. Another way to think of it is that the media “re-presents” reality, as Stuart Hall writes, and that becomes our reality. PHOTO RIGHT:Tami Silico took this photo of flag- draped coffins returning from Iraq and allowed it to be published in the Seattle Times. She was fired from her job with Maytag Aircraft Corp. as a result. Some in the Bush administration did not want Americans to see pictures of coffins coming back from Iraq, ostensibly because the photos would upset to the fallen soldiers’ families and undermined the effort of troops abroad. Culture can be defined as those symbols of expression that individuals, groups and societies use to make sense of daily life and to articulate their values. Powerful symbols such as the flag are used to affix meaning to events, the cultural theorist Stuart Hall writes. Meaning can be fixed by those who control media, but that meaning is difficult to maintain in a free society. Silico’s photo or one like it was bound to be published, causing the patriotic meaning of the war to “fray,” as Hall says.
The media construct reality, Part IITo understand visual texts we must understand the “practices that produce meaning,” in the words of Stuart Hall. Hall says the production of meaning does not just happen; a word or picture is not fixed in its meanings and the meaning can change. The production of meaning is a kind of symbolic work, an activity, a practice, that has to go on in giving meaning to things and in communicating that meaning to someone else. Hall calls these “signifying practices” — practices that are involved in producing meaning. PHOTOS RIGHT: A flag is a purely arbitrary symbol that nevertheless takes on deep cultural meaning — or perhaps it is capable of deep cultural meaning because it is arbitrary and abstract. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans took comfort in the flag, and is often the case, the flag became part of an iconic photo that seemed to sum up the meaning of the event. Of course, the flag soon became part of popular events such as professional sports. Is this manipulation of the symbol for commercial gain? Or a heartfelt gesture?
Audiences negotiate meaning in mediaWhen we look at media text, each of us finds meaning through a wide variety of factors: personal needs and anxieties the pleasures or trouble of the day racial and sexual attitudes family and cultural background These “frames of reference” have a bearing on how we process information. PHOTO RIGHT: Muslim women wear the hijabto protect themselves from the lustful gaze of men,” Syed MA Rahman writes on the Web site Islam Today. “She should not attract attention to herself in any way. It is permissible for a man to catch the eye of a woman, however it is [unlawful] for a man to look twice as this encourages lustful thoughts.” Given the cultural imperative described above, how do Muslim women and men negotiate the overtly sexual images used in Western advertisements?
Most visual texts are produced to make money, Part IThe economic basis of mass-media production impinges on content, techniques and distribution. Media production is a business and must make a profit. PHOTO RIGHT: Visual texts are everywhere, thanks in large part to advertising. TNS Media Intelligenceon its Web site estimated that total U.S. advertising spending will come to $152.3 billion in 2007. Advertising permeates every part of our lives. SutJhally of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst writes: “Advertising absorbs and fuses a variety of symbolic practices and discourses, it appropriates and distills from an unbounded range of cultural references. In so doing, goods are knitted into the fabric of social life and cultural significance. As such, advertising is not simple manipulation, but what admakerTony Schwartz calls "partipulation," with the audience participating in its own manipulation.”
Most visual texts are produced to make money, Part IITake for example television: All programs — news, public affairs, or entertainment — are judged by the size of the audience they generate. A prime-time American network show with fewer than 20 million viewers will not generally be kept on the air. Audience sampling and rating services provide advertisers with detailed demographic breakdowns of audiencefor specific media. Program content is designed to target theviewer for advertisersby organizing viewers into marketable groups. Top 10 TV showsFor week ending July 1 SOURCE: zap2it.com/tv AMERICA'S GOT TALENTNBC 11,514,000 CSICBS 9,913,000 CSI: MIAMICBS 8,947,000 SO YOU THINK CAN DANCE-WEDFOX 9,829,000 TWO AND A HALF MENCBS 9,117,000 LAW AND ORDER:SVUNBC 8,648,000 PRINCESS DIANA TRIBUTENBC 8,818,000 SO YOU THINK CAN DANCE-THUFOX 9,393,000 NCISCBS 8,445,000 CSI: NYCBS 8,171,000 SMARTER THAN 5TH GRADERFOX 9,319,00
4. Most media texts are produced to make money, Part IIThe tendency has been towards increased concentration of ownership of the individual media in fewer and fewer hands, with integrated ownership across several media. A relatively small number of people decide what television programs will be broadcast, what issues will be investigated and reported. The few ruleOver the past 25 years, dozens of media companies have been absorbed and recombined so that today eight big corporations have a huge say in what media is and what it produces: Walt Disney Time Warner Viacom + CBS NBC Universal News Corp. Yahoo Microsoft Google Total market value: $1.17 trillion Source: Mother Jones (download PDF)
Visual texts contain ideological and value messages, Part IAll media productions are advertising in some sense,for themselves, but also for values or ways of life. Media texts usually affirm the existing social system. For example, the ideological messages contained in a typical television narrative are almost invisible to North Americans, but they would be apparent to people in developing countries. PHOTO RIGHT: Our culture has become an adjunct to consumerism. Its job is to sell us things. As it does this it changes how we think about the world and ourselves. Take for example the role diamonds play in our rituals surrounding courtship and marriage. The idea that a diamond is connected to engagement is almost universally accepted in the West. Yet this idea emerged from a 1947 DeBeers ad campaign with the slogan Зa diamond is forever.” DeBeers uses its advertising campaigns to link love with the purchase of diamonds — the diamond engagement ring, the diamond anniversary band, the 25th anniversary diamond. Our love relationships are being used as a vehicle to sell diamonds.
Visual texts contain ideological and value messages, Part IMainstream media convey explicit and implicit ideological messages, such as: the nature of “the good life” the role of affluence the virtues of “consumerism,” the proper role of women the acceptance of authority unquestioning patriotism Understanding the codes can uncover these ideological messages and values systems. PHOTO RIGHT:“High School Musical, ” produced by Disney for only $5 million, has been a marketing phenomenon. The DVD sold 1.2 million copies in the first six days it was on the market. Its success is attributed to the connection it makes with “tweens”, kids between childhood and adolescence.HSM reflects the simplistic values that Disney is known for. Newsweek’s Johnnie L. Robertswrote that HSM “is set in a fantasy world, which in its way is no more real than ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Sure, there are cliques and rivalries at East High, but there's no sex, no drugs, no racial or ethnic tensions, no dropouts and no violence. Everyone is good-looking, well-dressed and talented. Classrooms are spacious and clean. In the end, the home team wins, all conflicts are resolved and everybody dances together in the gym. It's not high school; it's high school the way we wish it could be.”