Build Media Mind Muscles

Learning to think about media, or media literacy, is both fun and functional.  Sure we live in a media saturated world, straight mainlining image and messages 24.7–but do you think about it?  Do you ask yourself why are there 1000 channels and nothing on?  Why is the news so bad at the news? What is the payoff to tastemakers to work so hard to manufacture our tastes?  Thinking critically about the content we see and the conveyer belt that shoves images our way can help us make meaning out of  the mush.

Media messages shape the way that we think about ourselves, our planet, and each other.  The unreal world created by movies, TV and new media can define for us what is real, what is happening, who deserves the very best, and who deserves what they get.  Big issues, like the definition and redefinition of race class and gender

the state of the planet and our responsibility in it

and even the line of right and wrong

are framed for us but the media that surrounds us.

You can combat the consequences of believing everything you see and hear by thinking about the media that surrounds you. Start to notice what media tells you about who’s who and ask if that lines up with the real wold we inhabit.  Notice the way that music, images and words are combined to create stories–that may or may not be true.  Watch the way one story can stand in for a whole group of people.  Be aware of how media sells you some dangers while helping others hide in plain sight.  Start small, but just think.

Here are a couple of sites that are finding interesting ways to get us to think about the media that we see every day and encourages us to explore that most critical of questions: why?


If we live in a country with nearly 40% people of color, why are the movies like another country?  If you think they aren’t, try out Every Single Word.  Actor and playwright Dylan Marron has edited down Hollywood films to only the words spoken by a person of color.  You can check out some of of your favorite movies and–spoiler alert–it won’t take you long.  Here my favorite, Noah.  As you see the movie cut to include only utterances of people of color, I remind you this story is set in Turkey.

In the middle of summer nothing is more pleasurable than a dip in the deep blue.  Just in time, the discovery channel gives us a one week dose of shark fear in Shark week programming.  These shark horror stories along with sensational news reports of shark attacks highlighted in the news makes it seem like Jaws is hiding behind every wave.

But what if we thought of sharks as beautiful and majestic and mostly uninterested in eating people–which they are.  VW gives you a chance to remix the shark-track and wha-la a kinder friendlier shark is just a few string instruments away.

Keep looking for ways small and big to think about the messages you see.  Media literacy is a practice, and like knitting or running, the more you think about media, the more you’ll build your critical thinking, and free yourself from unnecessary shark nightmares!

Author: Susan X Jane

Susan X Jane is a diversity educator, speaker, and trainer and coach. A former professor and media literacy activist, she now consults with organizations looking to make sense of our current cultural shift. She thinks a lot about media and race…a lot...and writes and speaks about media…and race... and encourages everyone she meets to think about the way our identity shapes our experiences, ideas, and beliefs about the world. If you're reading this, she wants you to think about it too. Want to talk about it? Let's go.

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