Media and Youth: For What it's Worth

16 Aug

"There's something happening here,/ What it is ain't exactly clear..." Press play and keep reading.

"Young people speaking their mind/ Getting so much resistance from behind"

"Paranoia strikes deep,/ Into your life it will creep./ It starts when you're always afraid/ Step out of line, the man come and take you away."

The song, written 45 years ago, seems ripped from the headlines of the last year or so. Whether it's a young Canadian woman standing with a sign in parliament or thousands of young men and women in Tehran, there IS something happening here and here is global. The news comes fast and furious. Pundits and columnists scramble to provide an explanation, to point fingers, to spin a moment into a narrative. I have witnessed this phenomenon again and again in the last few years and I can't think of a better place to have this discussion than in the classroom.

These events and the coverage they receive (or the lack of coverage) provide teachers with ideal, cross-curricular "teachable moments" ripe with potential for integrating Media Studies into your curriculum. Teachers can use whatever is available: a clip from a televised news report, an image, the front page of a newspaper, a picture taken off of Twitter or a video from YouTube as a starting point for discussion. 

That media product should then be discussed and analysed (the media triangle is a great way to start for teachers new to media analysis, I tend to start there because it's such a useful lens through which the discussion can be focused). What do we see in the text? What is left out? What colours are used? How is the text presented? What is the perspective? How do these observations help us to make meaning from the text? What do we, as an audience bring to the text? What prior knowledge do we have? Does the text challenge our assumptions? How are youth portrayed in these texts? Would these texts be received differently by groups of different ages? How so? What language is used and how is that language used? Who produced the text? What financial interests are behind that production? Could those interests be influencing the text itself? How?

These questions are by no means exhaustive. They barely scratch the surface of analysis, but they're a good place to begin. When a story breaks, when a moment captures the imagination, anger, passion, hope, fear, joy of a wider audience there is a brief space of time where we can, if we're looking, see what happens when different media are caught off guard. In the past few years, as stories broke on Twitter, network television scrambled to catch up. There have been multiple struggles for control of the narrative. Who will tell the story? How will it be told? In those spaces, we can see the strengths and weaknesses of each individual medium. We can track the story and see how it changes each time it is told. Those changes may be incremental or they may be quite drastic.

The best part of this exercise, and probably the most frightening for some, is that teachers and students can learn together. Teachers can be part of the process and can help model critical thinking and critical literacy skills, but they (we) won't necessarily have the answers. There IS something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear. But here's a question that has been at the forefront of my mind for a while now. What if young people could speak their mind and get support instead of resistance? What if they could get feedback? What if they could be challenged and engaged instead of silenced and dismissed?

 As vote mobs spread across Canada this spring and Tent Cities spring up all over Israel; as young people rise up in Syria (and as more reports come out of those who have died in the struggle), as riots rage and cities burn it seems even more urgent to take the time to think. Are there connections? Are we hearing the stories that should be told? How can we make sense of tragedy and cruelty? Are we doing enough to recognize remarkable courage? A lot of focus and a good deal of money is spent telling students what to think. Our job is to help them to think critically, to question, and being media literate is an essential part of that process.



Update: October 2, 2011: #OccupyWallStreet is in full swing with the movement headed north later this month. It has been fascinating to track the media response to this protest movement. This weekend, 700 were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, see Laurie Penny's article here.