Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Love or Loathe Loose Ties?
Laugh and Learn about Social Media Norms with Garfunkel and Oates

If you connect ML4ML with all your facebook friends, we promise to always wish you a happy birthday with lots of exclamation points, clever punctuation, and emojis, when prompted by an alert message, unless we forget or have something else to do--which you will be totally okay with because we don't really know each other anyway, we just like some of the same things, maybe. Yeah, emerging online behavior norms and interpersonal ethics are pretty tricky. If we are going to have any hope of sorting out the emotional confusion between our close friends and myriad acquaintances that our social media apps refer to as our "friends," we need to activate our digital media literacies. With help from musical parody act, Garfunkel and Oates, let's see how laughing with their song "Happy Birthday to My Loose Acquaintance" can help us consider some key questions about emerging interpersonal ethics.
"We coexist in a mutually unstated /unattached cohesion that facebook created...
to keep our minor affinity with minimal maintenance"
This song has a couple of brilliant moments, like the lyrics in the caption above, that offer tight definitions of what Internet scholars call "loose ties," connections to people that only exist through shared interests or other mutual acquaintances, often supported or created by digital algorithms in social networking apps and maintained with minimal attention and effort. This post offers resources for using the Garfunkel & Oates song to explore the value of loose tie relationships in social media, and how they affect our behavior, beliefs and attitudes towards friendship. First, enjoy a hot minute of crack-up from G&O:

Above is my Vialogues post with the embedded video featuring my annotated discussion questions and comments, and here is a link to a pdf of those notes. I have also uploaded the lyrics text, and my annotated questions/comments to Genius (embedded below), the awesome annotation app that I highly recommend (there is a way to get a free educator account to restrict the annotation/ discussion to your group's work, but my post is public). So, you can 1) focus on the lyrics conversation through Genius if that works best for your group, 2) start a group Vialogue of your own (or add to mine); or 3) do the group analysis analog, without tech, using the annotated printout pdf to support discussion for a group viewing or listening session. I also did a Vialogue post of just the lyrics, and here is a link to a pdf of the lyrics.
Once you've had a good discussion of this song, it can make for a nice model of how parody can be constructive (and instructive). Making funny songs is actually really hard (I'll reflect on my own experience in a musical comedy writing workshop in an upcoming post), but young media makers often strive to make their peers laugh through mocking familiar behaviors in the style of pop culture media they enjoy. It's hard to fine good models of doing parody to spark constructive discussion--so, this sort of video/song and discussion provide an opportunity to link analysis to learner's own production interests. Look for a post soon about some strategies for making musical comedy.

Often the best question to ask is the simplest; so, I recommend asking: Why is it funny? Ask for any given joke, like the line "Happy birthday dear person who I sort of know." The typical response is that it’s funny cuz it’s true. But that’s pretty weak. Push for better articulation. For this song, I think it’s more accurate to say that it’s funny because it seems like a contradiction ["dear person” instead of friend, who I “sort of know”] that many of us use without thinking about it. This makes us conscious of our error, and the inconsistency is funny (partly because it’s safe too, since so many people do it, we’re not feeling like the outcast or feeling like we’re cruelly singling others out). It’s nice to know we are wired to get pleasure from finding out our own mistakes and foibles.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Modern Farce, a Symphony of Screens:
Modern Family Plays on the "New Normal"

Is your screen time out of control? It's tough to judge how our own digital media use is affecting us, but it's easy to judge characters on sitcoms--that's what they're there for! As far as I know, last week's episode of ABC's Modern Family (Season 6, Episode 16, "Connection Lost") was the first major network sitcom broadcast to set its comedy completely within the ubiquitous screens its characters use to communicate with each other.
Last week's Modern Family episode unfolds entirely on Claire's laptop screen, shot on Apple devices, portrayed in "real time"--ripe for media literacy inquiry.
This fantastic farce of misapprehension, misplaced assumptions, and dubious online ethics offers an opportunity for us to reflect on how digital environments have become a new norm as a setting for our daily dramas.

The gags call our attention to the limitations of the media we use to communicate and problem-solve, and to how they may complicate our attempts to understand and represent ourselves and each other. There's a central theme around parental surveillance, or as Haley says to her mom, "It's called privacy--Google it!" The production choices--sliding between frames, opening and closing windows, using natural sound from other media--all heighten the hilarity (IMHO), and it's in real time; so, I think we can look at this as innovative from an artistic perspective. It can also be seen as a relentless informercial for Apple products, which were used to shoot entire the episode and provide the context for show's dramatic action--the ultimate target for some analysis of native advertising techniques (but wait, Apple says they did not pay a penny!...). This is a mess for media literacy inquiry if there ever was one!

I think this whole episode is worth a group viewing, and can be used to connect with a wide range of media literacy issues for high school, college and adult learners in English or media studies classes. It's a great way to start an exploration of new literacies, multimodality, new media literacies, or critical media literacy in teacher education classes. Youth media groups and media arts classes can also benefit from studying the production techniques used in this episode to represent online experience in a televisual medium (in this regard, it's also great for comparison to this Portlandia clip discussed in a prior post). My (bad) instinct is to try to do it all, to milk a text with such rich possibilities for all its worth, and to offer multiple paths for diverse interests that we jigsaw together. So, after the jump, I'll set up a series of interest groups with particular things to look for and discuss in this episode, and you pick and choose to focus on what will work for you and yours. Deal? Deal.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Historical Context, It's Why Old People are Sad" (and why ML4ML is Back!)

Where have you been? Well, as you can see from yesterday's new post, ML4ML is back! Our beloved blog has been on hiatus while I finished my dissertation contributing to the history of media literacy--here's a clip of my defense:
Whoops! That was just an approximation of the process brought to you by the funny folks at BYUtv's Studio C, but dissertation defenses do get a bit medieval, and literally reach back to medieval times. My advisor literally told me to "Bring a sword," and that she loves "the ritual," which many describe in terms of brutality and torture. Speaking of which, I won't get it into what my historical research is about here--it's not funny enough, yet. But I will offer the following clip from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to emphasize the importance of context, and in particular historical context.
Obama: I'm a single mom, and at the end of the month, 
              it's really hard for me to pay the bills.
Stewart: That's not why you lost. Actually, that joke was brought to you by Context.
              Context, look at how silly the world would be without Context. 
In this post (after the jump), I recommend using the Daily Show clip below to remind us how much knowledge it takes for jokes about current events in the news to make sense (this clip is from just last November, the day after the GOP won back the U.S. Congress in overwhelming fashion in the midterm elections), and how accurate representation is not just about showing real images and quoting accurately.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Wilmore asks, "Doth we protest too much?":
Media Literacy and the State of the Black Protest OR "Trying not to get shot on our way to work"

With the Department of Justice report on the Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department released this week, media literacy educators everywhere should be supporting learners in analyzing how news producers and audiences are responding and representing the findings in relation to media representation of race and social justice. Beyond analysis, it is vitally important for students to see how their work and participation matters.
On the Harry Potter Alliance's successful protest of Warner Bros. to ensure all chocolate with Harry Potter's likeness was fair trade, Wilmore quipped:
"After Ferguson and Garner, it bugs me a little bit that in 2014 this is the only chocolate that got justice... But my point is, they succeeded. Okay, so they can work. There is hope."
Without a connection to civic engagement, media literacy analysis can lead students to feel cynical about their own power to make change. But often, learners are already cynical about politics and have little awareness of how their own participation, online and off, can and does have an impact. In this post, we'll look closely at some comedy about anti-racism protests to start discussion of our own feelings about civic engagement. On his debut show on MLK day, Nightly host Larry Wilmore posed questions about the "State of the Black protest." Just as Wilmore used his jokes about protests to set up the topic for his panel, the segment offers media literacy educators a compelling way to engage learners in media analysis of Wilmore's comedy to launch subsequent discussion of how students feel about protests, which are media events themselves, and about other forms of engagement for emerging digital citizens.

Wilmore's humor considers both cynicism and hope for effective civic action while provocatively connecting to issues of social justice and race representation in media. Through analyzing the following segment (posted with suggestions after the jump), your group will be primed to discuss a range of questions linking their media literacy with civic engagement: What issues are worth public protest? What can/do/should protests achieve (expression of outrage, articulation of demands, public awareness, tangible change, an outlet to diffuse violent uprising)? What methods should protests take (including in the digital sphere)? What level of disruption of daily life do protests merit? How/when should news media cover public protests (and when should you spread the word or participate)? Can protests today address race issues effectively? What other sorts of civic action can make change in response to public issues, particularly issues involving Black men and law enforcement? How does your digital participation matter when you represent yourself and your views, and when you pay attention, comment, share or otherwise engage with these issues? Suggestions and examples for connecting media analysis of the clip to these larger questions about civic action, social justice, race and media representation--all appear after the jump below the embedded clip.