Friday, June 19, 2015

McTucky Fried High: Cartoons Create Unique Opportunities to Discuss LBGTQ Issues in MLE

Much like puppets, cartoons can offer opportunities to examine complicated and controversial issues through comedy and allegory that offer critical distance from the embodied engagement with human actors in video. McTucky Fried High is a compelling, often funny, new animated web series that uses fast food characters to portray LBGTQ issues among teens at school. Viewing this series may not fly in socially conservative educational communities, but in moderate or progressive communities, the series offers media literacy educators of teens and young adults an opportunity to laugh about and discuss the trials and tribulations around sexual identity in high school. The following Vialogue post invites discussion while modeling prompts for media literacy inquiry useful for exploring gay identity representation and for discussing how the McTucky Fried High culture relates to your learners' reality, with the following key questions:
  • How do students assume gay people are oppressed at McTucky High? How are they actually oppressed? 
  • How does it seem they are supported? 
  • How is gay identity exploited by students? 
  • How do these representations of oppression, support and exploitation compare to the reality at your school?

I was especially excited to see these cartoons after reading parts of Lauren Berliner's dissertation, Making It Better: LGBT Youth and New Pedagogies of Media Production (2013), where she critiques identity-based youth media production projects like the It Gets Better Campaign for "interpellating queer youth into fixed, homogenous, subject positions" and "conflating video visibility with action, expression, and power" (p. 230). Part of her critique called my attention to the power of remaining unseen or unnamed (as gay, or what have you), which well-meaning youth media production activities may disrupt by making learners perform or embody their beliefs on video. The McTucky Fried High web series offers not only a rich media text for analysis of LGBTQ issues from a variety of points of view, which students may or may not take up at their own discretion, but it also suggests animation as a medium for youth production activities addressing identity issues.

[More after the jump on how cartoons allow learners to confront identity issues with distance from embodiment in media literacy analysis and production; and a bit on the tension in MLE around educators taking up particular political positions]

Again, using cartoons (or puppets, as discussed in the prior two posts), may allow learners to confront, explore, and examine complicated identity issues without the full force of constraints that embodied performance demands [this could be done through online animation tools or through making digital comics]. Likewise, I think using a tool like Vialogues can be especially interesting for discussion of these difficult identity topics, particularly if you allow anonymous online comments from learners, so that people may say things in public without risking public scrutiny. Of course, this anonymity is also the breeding ground of trolls and may open the flood gates for expressions of hate; so, you must lobby your community to engage in respectful discussion and depend upon interest overriding the will to subvert or derail the conversation, which I would let everyone know that I would have to shut down if things got ugly.

Finally, this post, and many others here at ML4ML, point to an important tension in the media literacy field. The key concepts and questions of media literacy on authors & audiences, messages & meanings, and representation & reality, are great for engaging in general inquiry about LGBTQ media representations and issues. However, they will not ensure prosocial learning, tolerance, curiosity, acceptance or appreciation. All of the latter require taking up a political position that shapes the possible classroom discourse, as some proponents of a socially liberal-progressive critical media literacy say that we must embrace as educators and as a field. Taking up such a political position is a major risk for individual educators if it is not supported by your greater learning community (administration, teachers unions, professional associations, parents, etc.). I believe that whether or not the community supports the politics that inform how you shape inquiry and discussion of identity issues in media representation, it is best practice to talk about the power dynamics, to at least admit your approach in choice of text and questions, to give voice to multiple viewpoints (including those you disagree with), to discuss the community constraints, and to consider how your teaching choices impact all students of all different identity positions--oppressed, privileged, and aloof. It's a lot to take on, but I think it's some of the best work we can do towards learning how to talk about ourselves and each other productively.

Thanks to Huff Po for pointing us to the series and go learn more about the project at the McTucky Fried High site.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, points and questions posed! I will definitely have to check out Lauren Berliner's dissertation. I also appreciate the time you took to review McTucky! It's a burden of love and a lot of thought, energy and time goes in to each episode!