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?
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.