Sunday, 18 September 2016

Meeja studies. In need of CPR.

I don't have a qualification in Media Studies. None whatsoever.

I have however read a bit of Chomsky and watched Screenwipe so I've as good as got an A-level. Lol! ROFLCOPTER. LOLOCAUST.

Top banter for the media staff there. Subject denigrated in the first two lines. Dodgy internet joke. This is SURE TO GO VIRAL!

But stay with me. Stay with me in this newly chill freshly minted autumn night as I keep you warm by rekindling the flame of Media Studies. I've actually taught it. A few times, when there's been no one else to do it and I've been struck by the potential of the subject. Really quite taken with what it could be. Let's be honest, teaching sitcoms, soaps and scanning a few newspapers is a bit shit. ('Oh, here he goes again' shout the Meeja staff... yeah, like I did anything different!) but oh my word, what a subject it could be...

Here's why I think the current strategy of sidelining it in favour of hardcore grammar and forced daily sessions at the cemetery gates is wrong.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of studying dead poets. Or even Roger McGough or Russell Brand if you absolutely must but in the 21st century literacy is far more than this. It has an important place. A very important place but c'mon. People. How can kids leave school without being able to read an image? How can they not decode an advert or understand how focus groups work? How can they go through life without a really clear understanding of lifestyle marketing or hegemony? (Hegemony isn't difficult, I've understood it and my head spins at yr6 grammar tests.) How can they avoid exploitation, debt and misery without understanding how basic needs are cynically targeted everyday? 

We need to study Shakespeare because it's our culture, our heritage and says something about our emotions and essential human nature. I'll accept that. I've been to the Globe. I've seen Mark Rylance act conjuring magic from the ether with only his cadence, a tilt of the head, caressing primal meaning from the Bard's ghostly words. I'm not going to argue against it. But if Shakespeare is 'our' culture, so is Brighthouse. So is Britain First. So is an unquestioned torrent of commercialism which drowns out any hope of meaningful discourse. So are so many things which insidiously exploit and manipulate. We write people off for being 'thick' for falling victim to stuff we don't even discuss because we are tied up trying to ensure they have something to say about love sonnets for the examiner. 

Literacy is visual, digital, and often violently capitalistic (and thus often racist, sexist and divisive) and it is crucial to recognise this if we aren't to produce a production line of victims who sit with arms and mouths wide open waiting for the next faux need or moral panic to sweep the nation. 

Children who truly understand how images are produced and consumed might have more of a chance of resisting the bizarre and dangerous tide of eating disorder and general dysmorphic attitude which seems to afflict otherwise sane people.

Children who know how to produce images and communicate might mean a society without a) newsletters printed in comic sans using clip art and b) young people equipped for life in a sector which is growing where others decline.

Children who understand how an advertising agency works can not only work in one, but can form one themselves and put across their own ideas.

Children who know you can communicate an idea without writing a novel could be downright dangerous.

Move on. Quick...

Think of the discussions. (discussion is vital to developing genuine literacy as it happens...)
In the 1960s influential theatre guru Peter Brook wrote engagingly about the way theatre needed to become more visual and visceral in response to the image culture of the everyday world. He said (more or less) that traditional literature, presented in a traditional way was actually less dramatic than the spectacle of the everyday.

This was the 1960s. This was before your average 14 yr old* was sexting, accessing images of beheadings, constantly monitoring and curating their own media image via multiple social networks and viewing 300+ channels of always on TV as 'so yesterday.'

*I have taken some tabloid style liberties with this sentence.

Think of the discussions... Think. We don't teach this shit because we don't understand it. It scare us. It seems too big. It's hard work to get our heads round. It doesn't fit easily onto a worksheet. It changes. Man alive, it changes all the time. How can you teach that?

We box up media as a kind of irrelevancy when really if we were serious about teaching the 21st century we'd be dissecting the very soul of the subject and wondering if there's actually 3 or 4 vital subjects hiding in the elbow patched corpse of someone who was 'quite with it' in the 90s (hello) propped up in the corner of the staff room.

We might find at least some answers (beyond the obvious one of testing the crap out kids and austerity) to the mental health crisis. We might equip kids with the tools they need to deal with the reality of the year 2016 and beyond.

Are we not big enough to do this? Are we not big enough to teach the world around us? Are we forever doomed to founder on the rocks of 'how do you test what the examiner doesn't understand?'

I will return to this subject another time. I'd welcome thoughts.

Meanwhile, here's one for the kids. Liberals will love it.

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