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.

I recommend doing a group analysis of the three jokes about context in particular:
  • a) 1:01-1:42; 
  • b) 1:44-3:33 with the last 20 seconds as the kicker; and, 
  • c) 6:33-8:10 with the last 40 seconds as the kicker
Ask how each joke works, what the message is, and what it tells us about the communication of news and of humor (how much context do you need to understand the actual news event; how much context do you need to subtract, or add, to make it funny, etc.). Then, view again, pausing to note what prior knowledge and context is necessary to make each joke work and each news reference intelligible (after a quick demo of one example, this could be done in teams; I also recommend using the Vialogues tool for this activity, which I describe here).

Finally, discuss the closing joke quoted in the title of this post: Is historical context always sad? How/why can it be otherwise? Hopefully this will lead to discussion of how historical context can be inspiring or enlightening, and how it matters for making good decisions today as we look to the future. That's what I hope my own historical research does for the field of media literacy, and I hope you can find ways to inspire your learners to explore the historical context of the issues that you face with them.

As a field, we've been for media literacy education for too long without a sense of our own historical roots and how our practices emerged and developed. If you're interested in learning a bit about the history of media literacy education to help you find or strengthen or transform your place in it, take a look at the latest issue of the Journal of Media Literacy Education (6.2). And by all means, offer the learners that you support a better foundation in historical context for their media literacy driven inquiries than we have had for our own practices.

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