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Citizens need crap detectors

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“Media literacy” is one of those pompous terms favored by academic weenies but instinctively suspected by the rest of us. Too bad, because the idea behind it is critically important in all public discourse, in print, on TV, and on the Net; and the great majority of our citizens are functional media illiterates. For example....
Last night at a Portland, OR Obama potluck, a tablemate reported that a friend of hers had studied Fox news, after being warned about it by several people, but still failed to see any bias in its coverage. She opined that her friend’s stubbornness proved yet again that people just won’t see what they don’t want to see. Well, not entirely. Chances are, the friend couldn’t have spotted Fox's bias if she’d wanted to, any more than a toddler could decode the NY Times.
Political discourse has always been sneaky and manipulative – so much so that the Greeks and Romans made a formal study of it, and Shakespeare had it nailed (check out Marc Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countryman...” in Julius Caesar). As long as the medium was words delivered on the stump, the more thoughtful listeners, at least, could spot the rhetorical shenanigans. But movies and now video routinely have a media rhetoric of their own, stocked with such subtle and powerful manipulative techniques that detecting (and discounting) them needs more than just brains and common sense. It requires training. (For a primer on media manipulation check out this article from Videomaker Magazine:)
http://www.videomaker.com/article/7783/ click here /> To see how these manipulations work, a high school video class was divided into two teams and each was given identical footage of a recent school football game. One team edited a video report for the “Home” school and the other prepared one for the “Visitors.” Reveling in the media techniques they were learning, the home team “channel” produced “Underdog Spartans hold powerful Beavers to three-point win,” while the visitor “channel” concocted “Beavers triumph over powerful Spartan foe.” Two completely opposite “truths” from the same raw footage.
The problem is that in that affluent high school full of college-bound future movers and shakers, only 20 of the 1,200 students took the video course. The rest were wizards at calculus, demons at history, junior pundits in government – but babes in the woods at deconstructing media hype, spin, and general crap.
Only one small media course was offered because media was lumped in with drama and pottery and marching band: an elective to fill in a few cracks in schedules of “solid” courses. Now I fiercely believe that the arts should have an honorable place in school curricula; but for purposes of responsible citizenship, media should not be treated as an art but as a social science– as important a subject as history or government. Until we can equip our citizens with a media version of Hemingway’s famous Crap Detector, they will remain at the mercy of unscrupulous noise machines.

 

jimstinson.com

A career writer and media maven, Jim Stinson is the author of four mystery novels and a college textbook, Video: Digital Communication and Production. His newest novel, Tassy Morgan's Bluff, will be out from Penguin Books in June 2011. He lives with (more...)
 
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