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.

Above is a Vialogues post that I created for the clip with my framing questions. Feel free to add your comments in response to the clip or to my prompts (requires logging in to a free Vialogues account, and then your comments appear publicly alongside my prompts). I'll talk a little more about how to use Vialogues for discussion below. But first, here are some ideas for facilitating the discussion to get us started.

The opening 3 minutes of the segment sets up Wilmore's question, "Are we protesting too many things here?" It's a nice general question for the learning group because it invites both cynical and activist-minded folks into discussion. Asking about the purpose of the jokes in the intro, and who the target audiences are for each, can deepen understanding of how Wilmore frames this discussion, which can help your group frame your own inquiry. As a group, choose a few particular jokes, and ask: What's this joke about? Why is it funny? Who's laughing? At what or at whom? Who's not laughing?" Following up responses with questions like, "How did you get that from the clip?" or "What in the clip made you think/feel that?" allow learners to discuss the techniques Wilmore uses in his monologue and visuals to deliver particular messages. Asking follow up questions like, "What personal experience or knowledge makes you think/feel that?" pushes learners to think about how their social identities inform their meaning making as well as their sense of humor.

The clip will likely spur lots of different responses depending on the mix of political, racial, and class identities in your group. I'd love to hear about how your group responded: which jokes were funny or touched a nerve?; how did you handle the diversity of views and identities in the discussion of this kind of humor/topic? As the teacher, I always try to speak up for views that are under-represented by my group, even if I disagree with them, in order to challenge my students to persuade someone of a different opinion or perspective to see things their way. Just like Willmore does when he jokes, "There's no better way to win the hearts and minds of White people, than to make them miss their train to Connecticut," I want to challenge learners to speak effectively across discourse communities in addition to clarifying their own views.

Another good approach is to first have everyone watch on their own and make their own notes, and then watch with pausing to consider (and respond to) your discussion question prompts. This can get really interesting when you use a tool like Vialogues, where individuals can add their own annotated questions and comments that appear next to the video with the specific time code of their references. I created a Vialogue post (embedded above) for my discussion questions for each part of the video. This great, free tool (from the EdLab at Columbia University's Teachers College) offers a lot of possibilities.

To teach with this tool, I would set up my own blank Vialogue post linking to the Nightly Show clip, maybe with some opening directions; I'd ask my group of learners to view and comment throughout the clip on the Vialogues post, for homework if possible. Then, I'd add my questions (adjusted to incorporate the group's comments/questions) and have the group view and respond again to my questions and to each other, both online and in live discussion (simultaneously if possible). Using the Vialogue tool makes discussion prep quick, easy and effective for me. If you have trouble accessing my post, here is a pdf file saved using the Vialogue print function, which is a great feature for learning spaces with limited technology connections and for assessment. You could adjust my questions to suit your group, and/or use the pdf as a handout to support discussion and commenting, online or off. The site allows you to set up your discussion privately with your learning group, or to open it up to the public (before, during or after). My questions are from "mike_rg", and it's open for comments--so have at it! If you want a clean sheet of my questions, you can download a pdf here.

Participating in a public dialogue, such as a pubic Vialogue post, about civic issues like this is a form of civic action. This is one of the most important lessons to learn and build upon from the activities suggested here. In Media Literacy and the Emerging Citizen (2014),* Paul Mihailidis shows us through his research with college students that young adults often fail to see their own digital participation as civic engagement, even when it involves doing things that leading scholars consider new forms of digital citizenship, like commenting on political videos, sharing news articles, liking tweets, or making values-informed choices about who to buy from. Mihailidis argues that media literacy educators must help students see the value of their own digital contributions that they already make, and reach greater potential for making change through education for more mindful media literate action. Public protests are one form of civic action, but your group can parlay the discussion about such civic engagement started here into an exploration of all the different ways that they can contribute to shaping our public sphere. If you do, let us know where it leads...

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