Tag Archives: Media Studies

Media Melting Pot

file8181298830552I  have been thinking about Media Studies, I have been thinking about the name, the content and the style. I have been planning lessons, trying to introduce students to the value of understanding their media and trying reassure parents that Media Studies is a valid and rigorous subject to study, now that’s tough. The reputation of Media Studies is that it is, not to put it mildly, a joy ride. It’s the bread and circuses of education, it’s the easy subject, the one to offer as a sop to the students who, from now on, will have to stay on until their eighteenth birthday. ‘Give them something easy to do’, is the message that comes from any number of enrollment interviews and the clever students, the ones who are rigorous, the ones headed for the Russell Group universities with the A stars, it’s not for them, they should not waste their time on such a subject, watching the TV, studying film, what nonsense! No one could possibly take this subject seriously – and yet, and yet we study narrative theory, cultural theory, semiotics and all the associated terminology is applied. In six months my students learn to analyse images, moving and still, using denote and connote, they identify camera angles, chiaroscuro, mise-en-scene and they learn the connotations of the language. They begin to understand how they are being positioned constantly by media to interpret meanings in a way that it is intended by the producer, and they begin to understand that they have the right to challenge that. They discuss narrative construction from binary to Bettelheim, they investigate character colour and culture. They begin to read the insidiousness of stereotyping, they begin to understand the implications of power and propaganda in media, in short they develop a critique for survival in the modern media dominated environment and yet this is counted as easy and irrelevant.

However, this is not a narrow minded polemic in defense of Media Studies, I have given this some thought, if only as a puzzled teacher who cannot quite understand why a subject that seems to be so important to every aspect of our lives should be treated with such contempt, and as a result fail to attract the most able minds to its critique.

Media Studies does differ in its approach to its subject and maybe that’s where we could start. The syllabus I follow and have followed with two exam boards allows a wide range of choice of texts, it is topic driven. Thus when you teach semiotics – choose what you like to teach it; teach an event – choose what you like to teach it, audience effects, stereotyping, industry issues, choose whatever text you like to teach. As a result the choice of texts is driven by the desire of the course and its leaders to attract students and the desire of the individual teachers to teach what they fancy and thus the level of rigour in critique can vary.

file5581281481565Don’t get me wrong, I think you can teach any text to a serious level of academic understanding, witness my early research on Buffy for a festival lecture, only to find reams of academic discussion on the relationship between Sumerian mythology and the teen vampire slayer, in America they are much less limited, Bryan Singer studied film at the University of Southern California, School of Visual Arts, Scorsese studied film at New York University’s School of Film, to do it you study it, you take it seriously and then it rewards you. That may speak to the vocational element, but since not every student of film since 1966 and before (when Scorsese went} has become an award winning director like Scorsese, safe to assume a fair few are working in other careers and doing very nicely thank you. Behind the industrial aspect is the unrecognised (in this country) plethora of subjects that lend themselves to important cultural research. However perhaps allowing teachers to choose their favourite texts is a mistake. Students are subjected either to Tartovsky and Bunuel too soon, to challenge their perceptions of film making, or treated to the vagaries of fandom as teachers head for the favourite star or film and treat the students to an admiration of Harry Potter or George Clooney.

Would it not be better if the exam boards set the texts?

Nothing too restrictive, just like English – pairings or triplings of text – a choice of ten maybe and once you had chosen your triple you stuck to it examining those texts in detail and guiding students to detailed, rigorous answers in an exam – so for instance:

Newsnight Winter’s Bone coverage of US Presidential inauguration
Louis Theroux documentary Tsotsi coverage of 2011 riots
Panorama Blood Diamond Broadsheet and Red Top news
Local documentary strand Eastenders coverage of the Olympics
Wildlife documentary Submarine Jersey Shore
Side by Side Restrepo coverage of the Oscars
Cosmopolitan/Vanity Fair Little Miss Sunshine Coronation Street

You get my drift, none of the above may be at all appropriate but my suggestion is that the topics of semiotics, culture, audience theory, narrative theory, technical evaluation, representation, ideology and industry are applied to specific pre-selected texts, that allows the subject the respectability of rigour and reigns in some of the eccentricities of choice that pander to personal preferences or marketing.

If Media Studies (and personally I think should be renamed Media Criticism) is to survive at all it needs to challenge the assumption that it is easy to do and that means not just challenging the students but challenging the teachers.

Game On: The Hunger Games

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In 2003, allies led by the US and the UK invaded Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction, the invasion was televised… live. We watched it, we watched it in our home, the television in the corner, the kids (then aged eleven and thirteen) on the sofa. We watched for a while as truck after truck, tank after tank rolled down the empty highways of Baghdad, conducting what appeared to be a bloodless liberation. Accompanying them were embedded journalists who described the “action” and in the studios of television channels, anchor men and women connected images and commentary via the wonders of live satellite broadcasts. It was, for the most part, a boring curiosity: soldiers smiling and waving at the cameras, apparently encountering no resistance. It looked like it would be a walkover, a genuinely popular liberation from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, until one jeep, the camera was embedded with, came across a car containing unidentifiable local passengers who, seeing the tank column, attempted to turn round and get away. I think someone got out, I think that someone was armed, the jeep drew closer, weapons were levelled and the excitement amongst the US soldiers grew so we switched over. I have no idea what happened that day to those people or those soldiers: whether there was a peaceful surrender or a bloody shoot out; nor do I know how much of what followed was broadcast. It could be that they switched back to the studio when the executive producer sensed oncoming violence, or maybe they followed through in the name of public interest and ratings. The truth is I did not want to know, more to the point I did not want our children to witness live, the first slaughters of the Iraq war. On that day in 2003, at some point in the viewing of that event, we all grew uncomfortable. It was beginning to look like shooting fish in a barrel, it was beginning to look like watching live warfare for entertainment.

Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, (Dir: Gary Ross, 2012) and writer of the film’s screenplay, had much the same experience. She too was channel surfing on that day and switched from a TV reality game show to live coverage of the invasion “I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way”  She told Publishers’ Weekly⁠1. It was that blurring of the lines between serious reportage and entertainment that gave her the idea for The Hunger Games.

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