- From the Editorial Board:Free Thought or the Absence of Thought? Critical Media Literacy in the Age of Social Media
In an age when people have access to so many current and historical perspectives on a wide range of topics, many scholars agree that everyone needs to be able to analyze what they take in. Critical literacy scholars have argued for many years for critical analysis of texts that move beneath the surface of the words themselves to consider perspectives and power structures embedded within and around the text. Critical literacy invites a reader first to understand how it is that texts perpetuate systems of oppression and suppression and then move to identify ways of disrupting the status quo through direct or indirect response to text and/or author (Luke, 2000, 2012; Comber, 1993; Knobel & Healey, 1998). Critical media literacy applies the ideals of critical literacy to discussions of popular culture and media.
Many phenomena, including cultural phenomena, political shifts, historical narratives and predictions of the future have been represented and documented in popular culture and media. Media takes a variety of form—film, television, art, books, news, and most recently, social media. Critical media literacy posits that popular media, like all forms of literacy, provides perspectives and ideologies to be accepted or critiqued.
Take school films, for example. Remember when films like Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds warmed our hearts? In these texts, poor, unfortunate Black and Brown students were presented with an educator who finally cared about them and their well-being in their underfunded and overcrowded schools. After critique from scholars and viewers of color, it was not long before even mainstream viewers realized that these films positioned inexperienced White female educators as the sole saviors in the films, removing any opportunity for student agency. Students of color were portrayed as crime ridden, money driven, and overly impressionable. Educators of color were depicted as uninterested in the plight of the students and not invested in students' success. Critical media literacy enabled us to look past the saccharine presentation of the stories to see the problematic nature of such films, and ultimately advocate for equal and adequate representation of people of color in education.
Edward S. Herman's propaganda model suggests that the wealthy elite control the mainstream media, which only exists to serve the interests of the elite (Goss, 2013). In Herman's analysis, the mainstream media is a text that is manipulated and molded by the wealthy elite. Therefore, it is no surprise that White women are portrayed as saviors and Black children as powerless victims in these mainstream films. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other forms of social media, however, provide a viable means for those with less power to critique and speak back to societal norms, politics, and popular culture as reflected in mainstream media (Taibbi, 2015). Further, critical media literacy offers the opportunity for [End Page 213] ongoing dialogue as texts are simultaneously shaped by author and reader. The elite are not the only ones who can shift the narrative.
Many debates have been illuminated through public textual critique. For example, the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite became a movement in response to the lack of representation of people of color in feature films and the lack of representation of people of color in films that are most often recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Ryan, 2016). This social movement has highlighted the struggle for visible, adequate, and equal representation for people of color in popular culture and media both in front of and behind the camera. #OscarsSoWhite critiques the cultural text that is the lack of representation and diversity in the Academy Awards recognition. Ultimately, the movement led to a response and plan of action from the Director of the Academy to increase diversity in the Academy.
#OscarsSoWhite led to progressive social change by critiquing two texts: The lack of representation of people of color in film and the Academy's lack of recognition of the few people of color who do produce work in the film industry. The Academy is made up mostly of White men, and the founder and participants of #OscarsSoWhite...