From my friend, Poet Jonathan Tucker.
From my friend, Poet Jonathan Tucker.
By Nehad Khader
As humans and observers of other humans, we frequently pass judgment based on appearances. However, as a general rule—or perhaps, special exception to the rule—women’s appearances are far more scrutinized than are men’s. As identities and symbols, women’s appearances are also more political and politicized. The reason being stems from authorities of power—actual or self-anointed—and the significance of appearance within a particular power structure.
Exploring media ownership in the media literacy classroom may seem like an intuitive, natural and regular practice. This is not always the case, however. Even I admit that I have avoided this topic in the past.
Why would an advocate for media literacy, a teacher, avoid discussing media ownership in the classroom?
Well, perhaps that’s because media ownership is political, and is therefore somewhat controversial. Particularly for media literacy programs and youth media programs that are funded by media corporations, it may be a conflict of interest to discuss media ownership in any critical way. Remember when Comcast threatened to stop funding Reel Grrls last year?
Other educators might shy away from it because they think the issue is too complicated for young people understand. Or that students will be apathetic. After all this is an argument that big media owners make — that consumers care about content, not who owns it.
But for me, there was a lot about media ownership I did not understand myself. And this is what made me avoid delving into the subject, in a meaningful way (beyond the surface). When I began to learn about media literacy, as a theory and practice, I focused on pedagogy, rationale and issues such as representation. When it came to analyzing media, I often focused on the message. Although considering the author was part of this process, media ownership as a subject was not a priority.
David Buckingham writes about the importance of contextual analysis (as opposed to textual analysis) in his book Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture. He asserts that unpacking the “economic and institutional contexts of media production” allow for a more “sophisticated approach” to media literacy. (p.122)
I read that book in graduate school. But it was not until earlier this year, when one of my mentors (a youth media educator in Rhode Island), encouraged me to integrate media ownership into my curriculum in a more intentional way, that I heeded this advice.
I first integrated this subject in a youth media after-school program. Then I expanded the curriculum and brought it into a media literacy elective course I teach to 11th graders at an African-Centered school in Philadelphia. With the elective I had more time, so I was able to spend about 5 days (45 minute classes) on this subject. We began looking at media ownership early on in the course.
I began by assessing what they already knew about media ownership. I then introduced students to the Big Six, the six media corporations that own the majority of media in the U.S. I used a tagline from Viacom’s website as an entry point for students to discuss the advantages and characteristics of a big media corporation.
“Our brands engage, empower, and connect across every platform.” – Viacom
After presenting the Big Six and identifying exactly what they own, I introduced the concept of cross-media ownership. I used this video about The Fray (band) to highlight the benefits of cross media ownership.
After discussing that clip, we turned to this comic of cross media ownership. What is the message here? I asked.
Many students didn’t know what to make of this at first — and there were several interpretations. But finally students came to a consensus that the comic is indeed a critique of cross media ownership. This comic allowed us to also talk about satire, news worthiness, media concentration and various forms of media (print, tv, radio, etc.) It also connected to a reading they would have that night about media ownership and its effect on diversity.
Another text I used was a montage of news clips about deregulation. This video in particular provides common arguments in support of big media industry.
The unit ended with a class debate about government regulation of media. The debate was lively; it was a mock FCC hearing. One side (Big Media) argued for deregulation and the other side argued for increased government regulation.
From this experience I’ve come to believe that young people need to know about media ownership. If we leave out these conversations, we are sending a message to them loud and clear– media ownership does not matter.
And is this the message we want to send young media makers? That media ownership does not matter? How will this message help or hinder their critical thinking about media?
Teaching media ownership has forced me to step up my game. I still have a lot to learn — but I won’t shy away from this topic anymore. I believe media ownership matters and it is time for me to take responsibility and overcome my own insecurities so that I can better serve my students and better advocate for critical media literacy.
In this talk back, FAAN Mail responds to “It’s Free- Swipe Yo EBT” a controversial music video produced by emerging artist, Chapter. The music video has reached over 400K views and received over 3,000 comments on youtube, including many charged reactions.
In this conversation, we consider key media literacy questions about this piece:
Who is the AUTHOR and TARGET AUDIENCE?
What is the MESSAGE?
How might different audiences INTERPRET this message?
What TECHNIQUES are used to attract audience attention?
In what CONTEXT does this message exist?
What are the EFFECTS? (i.e. who benefits or is harmed by this message?)
We also ask– is this music video an effective attempt at SATIRE?
If you would like to hear artist Chapter’s commentary about her piece, see here:
Chapter’s PR Rep responded to FAAN’s interview request with this message:
“Chapter is an College Educated young woman. I reviewed your FAAN Mail Project -I found it to be misleadng being that you never had any reseach done about Chapter background, nor have you took the time to read the above post- The music video “It’s Free Swipe Yo EBT is Satire Chapter is playing a role in her music video-Keywanda. Please look over her web-site http://www.chaptersworld.tv she has also been on the news NBC ABC – please look under news on her web-site to gather facts about the artist. Please also watch her interview. Chapter is from South Central Ca, her mother was a Welfare Queen, she was abused as a child. Her mission is in her music.”
Last week in my Intro to Media Production class I was compelled to gather all the women students at the end of class for a necessary talk after witnessing a spectacle of self-doubt (aka mini freak out) during a classroom exercise.
I called the meeting with a lighthearted tone to convey that no one was in trouble, nor were the men in the class “missing out.”
“We need to have a talk about confidence,” I ended up blurting out when a few men were lingering behind, clearly suspicious or curious about this exclusive conversation.
Quickly about 15 young women were facing me, with their bags and backpacks, ready to go. Class was over and I needed to speak quickly. It went something like this:
“Okay, I have been teaching this class for seven semesters now and I often hear women in this class say things like “I cant do this.. I don’t know how to do this.. I am so bad at this” particularly when it comes to using video equipment and technology. I don’t hear the men in the class saying these things. Why is it the women who say this?
When I ask for volunteers to help with something in the studio, it’s usually the guys who jump up to help. Well unless, I’m asking for volunteers to go in front of the camera! [I grinned, there was laughter among students here.] But why aren’t the women standing up to volunteer other times?
Now, I have had women students in the past express that men in their production groups are taking over, not listening to them, controlling the projects. We absolutely need to challenge that. But we also need to challenge this self-doubt and have confidence in our abilities as media makers.
We are working and learning in a media industry that is dominated by men. Even in higher education this is an issue. How many women teach production in our department? Certainly, we do need to address that and challenge that as well. But what message do we send about this if we are often opting out and putting ourselves down?
So I’m asking you to pay attention to the next time you hear yourself saying “I can’t do this” and just – try to stop. I’m also asking you to hold each other accountable and encourage each other when we do feel less confident. You are here to learn and it is okay if you mess up, just try because you all are capable and have important media to make.”
Students were looking at each other at this point, nodding. Some looked very serious and pensive, while others were smiling. A couple of them shouted “yeah! that’s right!” In this moment I sensed solidarity. My students left that little powwow with some new energy.
Later that day someone shared an article with me called “How to Talk to Little Girls” where author Lisa Bloom asserts that “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.” Perhaps this is one factor that can help explain why so many of my (college) female students are quick to volunteer as “talent” to be looked at on camera, but consistently doubt their abilities in other aspects of production.
I’m not sure if my meeting after class was the best response (I think a real dialogue about the implications of this behavior would have been more helpful). I do know that some form of interruption was necessary, however. There was a teachable moment there and I didn’t want to let it go. We’ll see what unfolds in the months to come.
Troy Davis is a black man from Georgia who is scheduled to be executed on September 21st. Controversy around his case has galvanized people across the U.S. to demand a new trial.
Davis was convicted in 1991 of murdering a police officer in Georgia. The trial was based all on witness testimony, but since then, seven of nine witnesses have retracted their testimony against him, and two other witnesses have implicated another individual as the murderer.
According to Amnesty International, next week the Georgia Board of Pardons & Paroles “will hold a final clemency hearing – a final chance to prevent Troy Davis from being executed.”
A movement against the execution of Troy Davis is growing and on Friday, September 16, people in cities across the US demonstrated. Above is some footage I shot at yesterday’s rally in Philadelphia.
To get involved, contact:
Gov. Deal of Georgia: 404-656-1776
State Board of Pardons and Paroles: 404-656-5651
Sign Amnesty International’s Online Petition
Rally pictures courtesy of Iresha Picot.