Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A New Media Literacy

Media literacy is becoming complex. We've gone from analyzing television and film for stereotyped images, to evaluating internet sources for validity and reliability, to youth media production. Youtube further blurs boundaries between news and information on the one hand, and entertainment on the other by allowing the highly personal, to the highly produced to share meta tags and subsequent placement on search menus.

What about critical analysis of images from surveillance cameras? Televisual images from these cameras are on the rise in public and commercial spaces. We are mostly familiar with cameras at stoplights, in train stations and grocery stores or banks. Casinos across the country have surveillance cameras with digital data banks of faces and face-recognition software. Who programs, positions and analyzes this material? That once-famous camcorder image of Rodney King in Los Angeles, and the other, a bit later of immigrants fleeing beatings in San Diego, have given way to a ruling whereby all LAPD squad cars will be equipped with video cameras. Reports from a recent eSchool News suggests that surveillance cameras under development will include software that interprets images and tips off security to prevent a crime before it happens. Other similar sophistications are planned to keep us safe from mayhem. What are the instructional implications for this changing area of literacy?

The case for media literacy in schools has more than been made. I am always excited when I hear about schools' various media literacy curricula. And I encourage English departments often to develop medial literacy programs that attend to analysis and production, even at the elementary level. Viewer-produced, professionally- produced, security and traditionally-broadcast images are all framed, positioned, lighted etc. Increased opportunities to produce digital video images, and to analyze those images is a necessary first step. But just as we wouldn't have a student produce a portfolio without a reflection on the artifacts collected, we need to not stop at production. Students should be taught to analyze the variety of categories of televisual production, just as we teach analysis of various forms of writing through writing and reading different genres.

And the next step: What kind of specialized training in the construction and interpretation of media images will administrative, security, legal, and policing professionals receive? How we will prevent the transference of racial profiling, sexism, etc. from distorting our interpretation and analysis of images in an effort to convey or consider televised truths?

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