Essay: Media Literacy

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Media Literacy

Thinking about Media Literacy

Media literacy- it hardly seems like a person in this day and age would need to take a course in media literacy. After all, the average person is inundated by almost all types of media. People use the internet, cell phones, text messages, television, radio, and print media to stay in constant communication with the outside world. In fact, in terms of using media, today's people have more media access than people of any prior time. Since, theoretically, I can start a blog that rivals the readership of established news outlets; it may seem like an odd time and place for me to study media literacy. However, media literacy is not about understanding how to physically use the various types of media at one's fingertips. On the contrary, media literacy is about properly utilizing all of the information that one can access in so many different formats. This has become even more important in a day and age when so many consumers of media approach it as a passive process. They sit back and allow the programming directors, or their equivalents, to dictate what media they will consume, heedless of whether such consumption is balanced or biased, harmful or helpful. I have historically been one of those passive consumers, and I am taking a media literacy class in order to become an active media consumer.

I think that learning about media literacy is important because people are constantly inundated with information from a wide variety of media sources. Simply hearing the same piece of information or receiving the same message from a variety of media sources can make it more likely for one to buy-in to a particular theory. Suddenly, something that should have been presented as theory is suddenly equated with fact, simply because of its repetition. For example, less reputable news outlets may report news without verifying it. In addition, news outlets may report news from a biased perspective, but neglect to reveal that bias to their audience. It is important for people to understand that news reports are not objective facts. Of course, media is not only about the news; media involves all types of mass communication, including movies, television, and music. Therefore, in order to understand why media literacy is important, one must look at the messages contained within those various forms of entertainment media. Oftentimes those messages are at odds with the professed values of modern society. For example, movies portray a substantial amount of smoking, often in a positive manner, while television shows do not. Media literacy helps one understand that movies can still accept money for product placement from cigarette companies, while television programming cannot. In fact, media literacy helps one understand that product placement plays a major role in mass media, so that media product use portrayals may not match actual use, but may actually be an advertiser's desired use. Therefore, I believe that learning about media literacy is important because it gives a consumer the appropriate tools to become informed consumers of media information.

Digital information has changed our lives in a dramatic manner. The Western world has, for some period of time, fairly been categorized as an information society. In information societies, the creation and distribution of information is both a significant commodity and an important social activity. The digital age has increased the impact that the creation and distribution of information has on society. Though people have always been free to create information, they have not always had the means of easy distribution. However, in a digital age, almost every person has access to the means of distribution. Practically, most people still turn to major media outlets for most of their information, but the digitization of information means that some non-traditional forms of media receive mass distribution. This distribution can be as inane as a silly YouTube video reaching millions of viewers, to political movements starting through the internet.

What Media Appeals to Me

I am a media-junkie, so I have to acknowledge that all types of media appeal to me. I enjoy reading magazines, books, newspapers, and internet articles. I also like watching stories unfold, and, to that end, I enjoy watching both television and movies. While I would like to think that my consumption of all types of media means that I am well-informed, I am aware that such consumption means that I am very susceptible to the messages found in all varieties of modern media. Therefore, though I had not previously given it much thought, I realize it is very important that I look at the different types of messages contained in the media that I consume. The first thing I found is that I absorb different types of messages from different types of media. I do not know whether these differences are due to my own personal consumption habits, or whether various media sources are actually more likely to be linked to different types of messages.

One of the first things I noticed is that my television viewing habits is that I seem to watch shows that are skewed to the left of the political spectrum. For example, my three favorite television shows are Boston Legal, the Colbert Report, and the Daily Show. All of these shows have a decidedly liberal bent. Furthermore, all three of these shows touch on major topics. Two of them are fake-news shows, which put a humorous spin on actual news stories. The third show is a legal dramedy, which basis its cases on actual news stories and has a hero who is very anti-establishment. I am not certain whether I enjoy these programs because their political views so closely mirror my own, or whether watching programming like this may have helped change my political views. However, I do know that the overt political messages contained in those shows reflect some of my own political beliefs.

In addition, I have noticed that I do not agree with all of the messages contained in those shows. For example, the characters Alan Shore and Denny Crane on Boston Legal are both unrepentant womanizers. They approach women in different ways, but the message sent by both characters is that a woman's primary function is the sexual gratification of men. The show does spend time discussing that message and debating the issue of whether those two characters are sexist. However, such debate does not occur in every episode, or even frequently enough to counter the message that these two characters, one a hopeless buffoon, but the other established as a modern-day Atticus Finch, do not appropriately value women. Until taking this course, I had never really considered the underlying message, but had simply accepted that as a humorous feature of the show.

In contrast to my television consumption, my newspaper and magazine consumption is more middle-of-the-road. I read a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, from the conservative-leaning Readers' Digest to more traditionally liberal magazines, such as Newsweek, and then more entertainment-oriented magazines like Maxim. I actually believe that the sheer breadth of my reading makes my print-media consumption the most balanced area of my consumption. In fact, I tend to take all of my actual news reports from print media sources, and try to verify facts in several sources before assuming the truth of a news story. This is a habit that I have had for as long as I can remember, probably because the different print sources that I read would often put absolutely incompatible spins on the same news story. While I cannot say that I arrive at a neutral conclusion, I do think I gain enough insight into differing points-of-view that I arrive at my own conclusion.

So far, an increased awareness of media literacy has not changed the type of media that I consume. However, what it has done is make me more aware of the underlying messages in society. Obviously, if I am reading an article in Maxim, I expect to be inundated by pictures of scantily-clad women, but media awareness has helped me realize how much sexism continues to appear in modern media. That makes me wonder how many harmful and negative messages I have ignored, simply because I was not paying attention to them and accepted them as part of the status quo. As a result, I think that media literacy will make me a more aware consumer, and make me less susceptible to the underlying messages in today's media.

News and the Campaign

One of the most pervasive rumors in today's presidential campaign is the idea that Barack Obama is a Muslim with terrorist ties. This rumor surfaced at the beginning of Obama's campaign, and has regularly resurfaced since that time. There has never been a single shred of evidence to suggest that the rumor is true. While it is true that Obama went to a Muslim school as a child, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in a Muslim country, there was never any suggestion that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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