History of Media Lit, part 2: Crash Course Media Literacy #3

History of Media Lit, part 2: Crash Course Media Literacy #3

During our last lesson we went way, way back
to Ancient Greece where people were still a bit
wary of the written word. We looked at how the printing press revolutionized
literacy and later, how the newspaper became the
first mass media. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. At the turn of the 20th century, around the
peak of the penny press wars, another medium
was about to go boom. The first motion pictures were shown in the
1890’s, and popular culture as we know it took
its first steps off the printed page. Just three decades later, it would take another
step forward, and then another. Radio broadcasts soon brought the news, music
and more right into people’s homes. By the 1950’s television sets joined in. Just 40 years after that personal computers and the
internet revolutionized the media landscape again. With each leap forward in technology, new
challenges to media literacy popped up. Before mass media, people were concerned
over access to media – who is literate, what info
can they get, and how do they get it? But in first half of the 20th century, concerns
shifted to analyzing and evaluating media. What messages are being sent, and is the public
able to handle them? If Martin Luther and Gutenberg worried we didn’t
have enough media around, in the 20th century we
start to worry if people have too much. [Theme Music] It’s the 20th century, and everywhere you turn there
are films and radio broadcasts and TV shows. And lawmakers and educators and parents begin
to resist all these new, popular, mass media. Often they insisted that the public (and especially
children) were in grave danger. These organizations and individuals weren’t
the media literacy advocates we think of today, encouraging us to dive into the media deep
end and swim around. They were more like your swim coach covering
you up in floaties before you even reach the pool:
too strict and a little weird. This type of media literacy is called protectionism. As modern media scholar David Buckingham describes
it, protectionism comes different forms. There’s cultural defensiveness, where certain
types of media ares in said to have less cultural
value than others. There’s political defensiveness, where the
people must be protected from false beliefs
and ideologies. Then there’s moral defensiveness, where
the effects of sex, violence, and consumerism
in media are the biggest concern. Cultural defensiveness is maybe best described by
the phrase, “they don’t make ‘em like they used to!” Each generation has a moment where what it loves
loses popularity in exchange for something new. And when that happens, the older generation
often dismisses the newest media product as
less worthwhile. Television was a big target of this type of
protectionism. When TV got really popular in 50’s and 60’s,
a wave of academics and educators thought
it would rot everyone’s brains. If you’ve found yourself complaining about youths
and their Snapchats and their Netflix and their selfies,
you have fallen prey to cultural defensiveness. Political defensiveness is used whenever
someone is worried the media might be secretly
swaying opinion or guiding public action – like propaganda, subliminal messages,
claims that candy corn actually tastes good.
That sort of thing. Whenever a new medium exerted power over
the public, fears of its use by foreign agents
to persuade and confuse followed. By the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, for
instance, there was a lot of hand-wringing
over the power of Hollywood studios. After the First and Second World Wars, government
committees were formed to clear the film industry
of feared communist influence. Luckily we don’t have to worry about foreign
influence in our media today, right people? Right? Moral defensiveness focuses on the content of
media, and their ability to “corrupt young minds.” This version of protectionism remains a popular
hangout for media literacy advocates. When a new media trend comes along that
doesn’t jive with their societal norms – think about violent video games or sexy music
videos or books about boy wizards – moves are
made to “protect the children.” Moral defensiveness can lead to a moral panic. Coined by South African sociologist Stanley Cohen,
a moral panic is the reaction of the public to a perceived
threat to social norms. Legislators, educators, and parents learn about,
get concerned by, then act to neutralize that threat. Those perceived threats are often based on
stereotypes, racism, or sexism. For instance, moral panics have dogged the
history of popular music, especially music
made by Black Americans. In the 1950’s, Rock n Roll became super
popular with teenagers of all colors and its
most popular figures were black. This raised fears among some suburban white
parents that it would promote interracial dating
and sexualized behavior. A similar cycle of moral panic followed the rise
of jazz in the 20’s and rap in the 80’s and 90’s too. Hip hop, for one, is still sometimes referred
to as “not music.” Moral Panics are all about the content of
messages. Will seeing a movie star smoke make kids smoke? Will doin’ the twist on the dance floor
lead to doin’ the twist…elsewhere? Luckily, protectionism isn’t the only version
of media literacy. The modern shift in media literacy began in the 1960s,
and started to argue that empowering students to use
media could help them navigate it in the real world. A good, critical understanding of media could
even make you a better citizen. A big part of this shift was the work of
Marshall McLuhan, arguably the most popular
media theorist of the 20th century. McLuhan was a true public intellectual, sharing his
theories through TV talk-shows and bestselling books. His famous 1967 book “The Medium is the
Massage,” – whose title was a play on The
Medium is the Message – theorized that the way we communicate is more
important than what we communicate. He wanted media scholars to study the methods
of content delivery, in addition to the content itself. McLuhan wrote, “The personal and social
consequences of any medium – that is, any
extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced
into our affairs…by any new technology.” The gist of this theory is that any new medium
changes how we think. The important part of a message isn’t what
it’s saying. It’s how its delivery changes our relationship
to the outside world. Let’s head to the Thought Bubble to break
that down. Take this Facebook post. It’s from an acquaintance of yours. The message of this post? Well, it’s your acquaintance’s mom’s
birthday! Very exciting! Of course, they never straight up say, “My
mom was born on this day many years ago” But you get it from the photo and the cutesy
caption. But let’s look beyond the message. Before Facebook, would you have known the
birthday of a not-so-close friend’s mom? Probably not. So, why’d they post it on Facebook, specifically? Maybe they knew their mom would see it and
it would make her day brighter. Maybe they knew other people would see it
and wish their mom a happy birthday. Maybe, they knew their whole family would
see it, and they’d look like the best child ever. Why the cutesy photo? Well, that’s how everyone is doing it these
days. You can’t just write, “Happy b-day mom.” That sounds a little stale or even robotic. What if all your Facebook friends scroll right
past that tiny text message? The horror! So you pick out a retro photo of you and your
mom looking adorbs. Totally normal. Since Facebook was born, generations have
formed new habits around sharing of info online
with friends and family. Facebook as a medium has influenced not
only what people say, but when and how they
say it, and to whom. As McLuhan would say, we shape our tools and
then our tools shape us. This is a crucial point to modern media literacy:
it’s not just the messages that affect us. It’s the platforms, too. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So as media literacy blossomed, scholars started
to study how media perpetuate stereotypes and
reinforce social inventions like race and gender. As knowledge of these media effects grew,
the focus of the field shifted again. Instead of protecting consumers from media
messages, media literacy now seeks to prepare
them to receive and create them. Advocates are asking: when do consumers become
creators? How do media help audiences make decisions? How can help we empower media users from a
young age? As technology makes media usage ubiquitous
and all-consuming, digital literacy and news
literacy have become critical tools. Digital literacy is the set of skills required to use
digital media; knowing how to access the internet,
how to send an email, or what a meme is. But also, how to avoid getting Catfished,
or avoiding addiction to your mobile apps. News literacy is the set of skills needed
to navigate news media specifically; what sources are trustworthy, how to share
news responsibly, and how news is gathered. But also, in the age of “fake news,” what
truth means and how to avoid the “filter
bubble” of like-minded internet users. Finally, as social media continue to take
up more of our media time, their influence
on democracy has become a hot topic. Right this second, media literacy educators are
teaching future generations of voters how to take
action on the media they consume. And activists and scholars are fighting for
net neutrality and industry regulations to
ensure the free flow of information. Media literacy and its goals have continued
to shift and adapt to changing times. When media is “new,” cycles of concern about its threat
to safety, culture, and well-being repeat across the ages. And with each new medium comes a new need
and a new skill set to learn. But with some critical thinking and the right
combination of historical context and tech savvy,
we’re always prepared to forge ahead into the future. We’ll continue that forge next time on Crash
Course: Media Literacy as we dive into how our brains
react to information – in helpful and hurtful ways. Until then, I’m Jay Smooth. Crash Course Media Literacy is filmed in the
Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT. It’s made with the help of all of these nice people,
and our animation team is Thought Cafe. Crash Course is a Complexly production. If you wanna keep imagining the world complexly
with us check out some of our other channels, like
Sexplanations, How To Adult, and Healthcare Triage. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for everyone,
forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows you
to support the content you love. Thank you to all of our patrons for making
Crash Course possible with their continued


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