A semester ends, and here’s what I learned…

…from JOMC 240, that is.

The question:  What’s the most important thing you learned about media this semester?

The answer: Disruption.

In the world of mass media, I learned that disruption is always going to happen, and it’s actually exciting. Unsurprisingly (given my  general worldview), I embrace the idea of disruption in communication as a downward power shift.

It’s true that a very small number of companies control the bulk of media companies, but the actual voices that are being heard are expanding, and that is all thanks to a more recently crowdsourced media landscape.

Newspapers were disrupted by radio, which was disrupted by TV, which was disrupted by Internet streaming. Books were disrupted by radio, which was disrupted by film, which has been disrupted by Netflix and the Internet. The lists go on, and we’re nowhere near the end of the lists of media disruptions.

But that’s OK. We don’t know what is coming next, which leaves us with a remarkable amount of power over where communication goes and who gets a say in it.

The most exciting part of all of this? We have the ability to be the next disruptors.


Hogwarts is here.

This is, by and large, the best thing I discovered online this month. Someone has created an actual online schooling experience based on the world of Harry Potter. The site is not affiliated with J.K. Rowling or with the film series, but has instead been created by fans of the books. And they’re making every Potter-obsessed kid’s greatest dream come true.

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My own clear excitement is the only thing I have to add to add to the general positive freakout that the Internet is having over this site. That, and my astonishment at the dedication of the people running it. To the people who are writing textbooks on divination, those preparing syllabi for transfiguration courses, and those who programmed this whole magical world: The Biggest of Thank Yous.

I now know how I’ll be spending all of my free time once exams are over: I’ll still be doing homework in coffee shops everyday—but I’ll be studying potions, y’all.

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24 hour news networks, a disservice to us all

A discussion about “disaster porn” in class last week, as it relates to the 24-hour news cycle, reminded me of one of my ALL TIME favorite interviews: Rachel Maddow interviewing Jon Stewart in 2010. (Skip ahead to the 4:02 mark to hear what Stewart has to say about the 24-hour news cycle.) He says:

“The problem with the 24-hour news cycle is it’s built for a very particular thing: 9/11. Other than that, there really isn’t 24 hours of stuff to talk about in the same way. Now, the problem is, how do you keep people watching it? O.J.’s not going to kill someone every day. So that’s gone. So, what do you have to do? You have to elevate the passion of everything else that happens that might even be somewhat mundane and elevate it to the extent that this is breaking news. ‘This is developing news. This is breaking, developing news.’ The aggregate effect of that is that you begin to lose the lexicon…The language then has to become sharper—louder—to cut through more of the noise.”

I tend to agree with his take on the sensationalization we’re seeing more and more of—especially in TV news, but also in online news media.

The general public tuned in to watch every news network in record numbers during 9/11 and the aftermath, and they will still tune in to stay updated on major events, natural disasters, and other major events that have threatened the safety of innocent people in a major way. So many of us will do this because we care about the outcome of a disaster, about those who survived, about knowing the whole story.

However, this sense of urgency is not something that can be replicated everyday if you still want to call what you produce “honest journalism.” The heightened sense of imminence news producers cultivate is damaging because we lose an understanding of what “urgent” really means. The minute CNN interrupted programming to announce “breaking news” about Justin Bieber, I realized how little those two words have come to mean when they come from the mouths of reporters. And it’s not one station that does this; it’s just about all of them.

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The content of a story is what gets people to turn on TV news in record numbers. An important story should be developing for that to happen. It’s not something that should be conjured if truth-telling remains the goal.

If there is some kind of immediate danger, the public should be informed about how government services and individuals are reacting. This accountability of people in power to the general public is part of what makes media so necessary. All of the sensationalizing is clouding that.

I propose treating sensationalized storytelling and news entertainment the same way reporters and audiences treat lying by omission. If and when news media omit important information, they are held accountable and criticized. To prevent poorly telling stories, good journalists double and triple check themselves to be sure they are including all important viewpoints and not leaving anything out.

Potentially dramaticized stories should be treated the same way: with judicious forethought. Its viewers will respect its creators far more if they don’t feel like they are being manipulated.


Online Sex Ed: A Saving Grace

The U.S. cannot seem to come to an agreement about how to reasonably educate kids about sex, with many states and districts opting for “abstinence only” sex education time and again, (which I find both a remarkably funny concept and remarkably sad for the kids and teens affected.)

As the product of a K-8 Catholic school, where my “sex ed” units were taught in religion classes with anything that sex actually involves (like, I don’t know, physical contact with another person?!?) rarely even alluded to, I’ve somehow emerged on the other side relatively unscathed. (“Relatively” is operative.) Many teens and young adults in other surroundings, however, do not. This is some serious injustice, y’all.

Back in middle school, many chapters of my “Fully Alive” (lol) books were all about the holiness and purity of your body that would be vanquished if you had sex the wrong way at the wrong time and the guilt that one should feel about having sex too young.

Then, there were the days when we watched the video of the Abstinence Super Couple: two young, plucky, and attractive professional public speakers who said they were happily married because they had “waited.” One was a virgin, and the other had re-virginized when she found Jesus. They told us that’s how they were getting to heaven. Our teachers nodded. That was that.

At the time, I accepted what I was presented with. I was in an insulated environment and had no resources with which to intelligently question it. Now I look back and wonder (well, YELL is more accurate): Why was nothing about sex actually discussed in these hours of sex and body education? Would it have killed them to say the word “vagina”? “penis”? “STI”? birth control”? “pleasure”???

Apparently, in their eyes, the answer is yes. They may have thought they would be hell-bound for actually educating about healthy sexual practices rather than teaching kids to fear their bodies. So adults give incomplete and often incorrect information, and kids don’t get the full picture and lose some of their agency.

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But, wait…the Internet is here to help! Picking up slack, as it so often does. There are websites and all manner of videos dedicated to helping preteens and teens understand sex, sexuality, and bodies beyond “DON’T TOUCH YOURSELF OR ANYONE ELSE TILL MARRIAGE, M’KAY?”

The creators of these sex ed resources give me a little hope where legislators, school administrators, and parents sometimes don’t. The Internet is a vast resource for educating oneself, and anyone who wants to find this info can easily access it. Cyber space offers us an equal opportunity resource, and I only hope that kids and parents are finding, using, and sharing this information like lives depend on it. Because they really, really do.

The Privilege Checklist

BuzzFeed recently created the “How Privileged Are You?” quiz, and it looked like one of the most hard-hitting BuzzFeed quizzes I’ve seen yet. So I took it.

My result:

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I didn’t really like the end result, and I talked to a few friends about the ways the well-intentioned quiz falls short.

Privilege isn’t something that can be calculated on a list, but I don’t think that’s reason enough not to make one. The process of reflecting on each point was pretty enlightening, and I think the idea of a viral quiz that get’s people to reflect on their perspectives is great! I’m a fan.

My issue is with the ultimate conclusion that—because I have less than 50 points of privilege—I’m “Not Privileged.” Of course, because I checked off 48 of the aspects of privilege on the list (I’m white, I went to an elite college, etc.), I am privileged in those regards. It’s important to recognize the ways you have an inherent societal advantage alongside the ways that you don’t.

Also, some of the questions didn’t quite measure accurately the points they were aiming for. For instance: I did not check the box that said “I have traveled internationally” because I haven’t. But at one point, that was surely a financial option for my family that they had but did not take because of preference, not lack of financial ability.

Ultimately, I found the quiz worthwhile and definitely worth taking, for the experience of checking each box more than for the end result.

Media Literacy: Why We Should Be Teaching It to Kids

It’s that thing that’s super necessary if you want to understand the cultural landscape around you, and also that thing that’s annoying to have when you’re trying to enjoy an old movie or a reality TV show or a tabloid…

YouTuber and media literacy educator Melissa Fabello made a “Media Literacy 101” video, in which she outlines the super basic questions to be thinking about when consuming media:

1) What is the content of this product?

2) Is it really selling what it’s advertising?

3) Who made this?

4) Why do they want me to consume it?

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I feel pretty confident saying that I’ve become a pro at asking myself these questions without consciously thinking about it, but I certainly was not always that way.

I really only became remotely media literate late in high school, and after coming to college, I became a bonafide media skeptic. But until I was about 16 or 17 years old, I don’t remember many people talking to me about how to interrogate the images I saw, so for the most part, I didn’t.

I read magazines that marketed unattainable standards and scripts for how to be and how to act that were unrealistic, shallow, and ultimately ingenuine for me. In retrospect, had I understood and had the language to talk about the disconnect I saw between media representations of normalcy and the reality I was surrounded by IRL, the media would have been more dumbfounding, but I ultimately would have been happier.

A lot of misplaced energy spent on trying to attain the unattainable could have been spared, and I could have been satisfied with a more complex—and interesting!—reality than the one in magazines, on TV, in ads, in films, etc.

Meeting and becoming friends with intelligent and critical people who exposed me to new ideas and provided spaces for discussion empowered me. The women’s studies class and sociology class I took during my first semester of college empowered me. I’m glad I eventually found my way to these settings, but these environments need to be more available and more accessible to kids, long before their self esteems have time to be squelched by media images.

The profit-driven perspectives of those at the top of media food chains still confound me, but I’m more satisfied in knowing that I don’t have to be a sponge, absorbing every image I’m presented with. I can observe, I can be entertained, and I can ultimately choose to internalize only the bits of media I desire. And best of all: I can choose to mute all commercials.

Hannah Price’s “City of Brotherly Love”

I studied Price’s brilliant photo series for a class and wrote about its merits as an activist art piece. Here are some of my thoughts about this photographer’s response to street harassment:

Every Day After Work

Every Day After Work

Price’s individual, daily experience of catcalling and street harassment sparked her interest in creating “Every Day After Work” and the entire “City of Brotherly Love” series. After moving to Philadelphia, where she lived for three years, she began to experience attention from men as she walked down her block daily for the first time in her life. She felt uncomfortable with how common this occurrence became, having never dealt with such persistent, straightforward and unwarranted sexual attention on her own street, and she decided to respond to the discomfort she and so many women worldwide experience daily.

“It’s an inappropriate moment,” Price said of the experience of being catcalled. She flipped the inappropriate action of catcalling around through her photographs. Rather than suppressing the anger, discomfort, and other negative emotions often associated with the experience of being catcalled, Price turned around and spoke to the men who were harassing her. She began conversations with these men, and worked with them on the process of creating a photograph.

Activism is generally defined as some sort of action taken in order to shift power dynamics. Price’s work does exactly that. She flips the focus of the gaze and the focus on the female body. In order to do so, she turns these portraits of each man who catcalled her into studies of each of their personas and bodies, instead.