Sunday, June 28, 2015

Alpaca Cartoon Satire of Economic Inequality Issues:
Funny, yes, but does this ML Award Winner
promote ML?

Friday night, the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) awarded the collection of short films We the Economy its "Media Literate Media" honor. The award is "designed to interest mainstream media in doing, covering or including media literacy in their work by recognizing outstanding contributions made by mainstream media professionals with national reach." At the awards ceremony, the short film, The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas by Adam McKay, co-founder of the Funny or Die website. I loved the film short, but I was puzzled about its connection to ML. Take a look at the video let us know your thoughts on this question in the comments below:
  • How is this short film "doing, covering or including" media literacy? What makes this "Media Literate Media?"

Just to make sure I wasn't totally crazy and out on my own with being confused about the media literacy connection, I asked the people sitting near me at the NAMLE 2015 awards ceremony what the film short had to do with media literacy, and the answers I got ranged from "I don't know" to "Nothing."
"If media literacy means anything that's critical and media, then yes, it includes media literacy." 
-- Dr. Grazi-Prego
Because I like the video itself so much, I watched it with some other colleagues and friends the next night, after the NAMLE conference concluded, and posed the question above. The first response got a lot of laughs among our group, from future long time ML4ML guest pundit, Dr. Grazi-Prego, "If media literacy means anything that's critical and media, then yes, it includes media literacy. They're only posing one perspective. I almost saw it as the opposite of media literacy. But what do I know, I'm just a doctor [of Media & Communication]." Certainly, the video would make a great text for media literacy analysis because of its clever techniques in delivering a complicated message about important issues, but I had to agree that the video itself seemed to be promoting the transmission of knowledge from a particular perspective with strong appeals to authority ("most economic experts agree").

Maybe we're missing something (we usually are). What's your take? [Share in comments below].

[After the jump, I share a funny exchange with colleagues and friends upon a second viewing after the NAMLE conference, and I consider whether our puzzlement is a troubling symptom for the field]
In my second viewing, I noticed something ML-esque, which I shared with the good doctor, "One moment of possible ML connection was when the Lollipop said, 'I just noticed something! You three represent the crucial economic trends of the last 40 years!' [minute 4] it called attention to the intended message and the representational techniques used to deliver it." However, the group found this a pretty small detail, and Dr. Grazi-Prego wasn't buying it, "That's a stretch. You could also call it a rhetorical device or strategy." The most compelling idea that came up for us, emerged through exploring what might have been omitted from the video and the two minute director's commentary that we watched on YouTube--we wondered if maybe some aspect of the production process or curricula developed around the video series involved media literacy education, like if it was made with the help of a group of high school kids, or if supplementary materials or outreach promoted analysis and discussion of the film's messages or media production responses from learners. We couldn't find anything online to support the theory, though. Then, things got awesome:
--"They're not alpacas," said Some Engineer from Philadelphia, "Has anybody addressed that?"
++"But seriously though, maybe that makes it media literacy, because they're called alpacas but they're really not," retorted Dr. Grazi-Prego, "You should make the whole post about how alpacas are being exploited everyday and how this does not get into that."
Oh, dear. At least we had a laugh, but I wonder whether this puzzlement about the award is a symptom of a troubling undercurrent of this U.S. gathering of media literacy educators. In side conversations throughout the NAMLE 2015 conference, I heard ML scholars and educators wonder whether they had a common understanding of what media literacy is, and whether some of the work featured in the various sessions was even promoting media literacy development in some way. NAMLE has an established definition of ML and a set of core principles, but I heard a lot of doubt about whether members knew/understood them, and whether those that did, and the leadership, felt they were really central, foundational, and relevant to their current practices, research and visions for the future of the field. Having those questions is healthy, if tiresome at times, for keeping the core principles and best practices evolving--what's troubling to me is not the doubts or objections, but their presence as an undercurrent in private asides and back channels rather than as a shared, public conversation with the leadership and membership. That said, I learned a lot from NAMLE 2015, from attendees and presenters and youth media makers alike, and as I have for the past decade, I came away humming with ideas. Thanks for the opportunity to share ML4ML with folks we'd love to interact with on the regular, and special thanks to all those who shared their thoughts with me about the blog--hope to see you soon in the comments thread and in the suggestion box and on twitter!

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