– Mark Twain
The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment.– George Orwell
Just the facts, m’am…just the facts.– Sergeant Joe Friday
We never saw it coming, we, being the citizenry, the participants, the consumers. We were warned, without subtlety, without nuance. We were told in stories, those silly Sci Fi black & white films, and in a fairy tale where an old mare, a boar, a raven, and other creatures spelled it out. We saw it in films, heard it in speeches, found it in philosophy. Deaf ears, that’s what we had, like Baudrillard’s hyperreality; it existed, but the idea of it was impossible, and the reality was ignored, indeed, there was no reality, only that which was created to be real, but not real.
McLuhan vociferated it, noting in the 60s that individualism would be replaced by a collective identity brought on by “electronic interdependence.” Alarmed by his assertion that media had no conscience, no ideology, the irony struck that this didn’t preclude morals being media-created. Baudrillard objected to McLuhan’s medium being the message, indeed, seeing the message as cannibalistic, devouring the medium itself, to the point that the medium is unrecognizable. Neil Postman took this up, he wanted to address education, consider the fact that technology, while moral-less, had become superior to the humans who created it, that, indeed, technology was the expert, the answers could be found in technology.
It’s not that we didn’t worry about media. Legislation was created to make sure that decency would not be sacrificed for the sake of media, the Hays Code proudly assured viewers profanity, licentious or suggestive nudity, sex perversion, miscegenation, childbirth, and ridicule of clergy would be detected and deleted… citizens would be safe.
We’ve never had a Hays Code for perversions of the soul, licentiousness of the populace, or ridicule of the ethical, yet, for decades, media has been both the poison and the toxin, the channel for conversation and the conversation itself. And while politicians, parents, and educators both abhor and champion media, there has not been an interrogation into exactly what this leviathan is capable of being/doing/achieving. Always teaching the ‘what’ and ‘how’, schools have missed out on the ‘why’ and ‘who’ in media. Technically obsessed, education has rallied around every advance, creating labs, replicating instructions, making stuff. But the obvious has remained, well, not so obvious. We teach device, skill, and outcome…missing the points made by all those guys warning us to be aware. And so, over a hundred years later, electronic technology/media has us by the proverbials. Our citizenry is ignorant, we are uninformed.
It’s not for lack of trying…the authors in this book, they’ve been trying. Henry Giroux, Doug Kellner, Rhonda Hammer, Jeff Share, they’ve been trying…messages have been sent out, but education hasn’t gotten the memo. Media literacy isn’t taught, and critical media literacy is only a figment of those who continue to try, you and me…continually rolling that stone uphill, both ways. Parents rant about screen time, late hours, and the appropriateness of media content; but we hear no rants about how to use media, how to consume media, and how to make sense of media. And here we are, wondering how close to the Doomsday clock we are, and when the next human-made disaster will unfold: powerless and ignorant, we consume without fear…unless, of course, the fear is that media and information dissemination might end. It’s our dope, our addiction, and like a junkie too stoned to remove the dirty needle from her arm, we are powerless.
In her book, What Happened, Hillary Clinton noted that “attempting to define reality is a core feature of authoritarianism. This is what the Soviets did when they erased political dissidents from historical photos. This is what happens in George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, when a torturer holds up four fingers and delivers electric shocks until his prisoner sees five fingers as ordered,” (Clinton, 2017). The Guardian’s Nick Enfield noted that “we’re in a post-truth world with eroding trust and accountability. It can’t end well” (16 November 2017). How do we retrieve and redistribute power? How do we surface and awaken with determination and the pedagogical means to create a critical awareness, a media literacy, which can serve and encourage active and informed decision-making? How do we demand a responsible and democratic media?
The chapters in this book engage us in an international discussion on ways in which we can retrieve democracy through an informed and criticalized media, and, therefore, political literacy. Like Sisyphus, the authors engage in a mammoth task, and, like Sisyphus, they will endure and see it through. It is up to us, dear reader, to take up the call and advocate for action in the form of media literacy, to insist that we, as educators, re-introduce our students, who are the ultimate media consumers, to media: to learn to interrogate media, and to demand that content-by-sender and comprehension-by-receiver be responsible, participatory, and democratic.