Let's Expand What Media Literacy Means

Media literacy has gotten a fair amount of press lately. Experts have called for more formal media literacy instruction for youth in China and Britain. There are a slew of non-profit groups that focus on media, marketing and commercialization issues. But what exactly is meant by media literacy? Some define it as having the skills to access, understand and create media in a variety of contexts. Others focus on the messages that media offers, such as a recent CNN article outlining how some parents are dealing with the tween obsession over the New Moon movie and Twilight franchise (Bellaaaaaa!)

Having a good grasp of today's media technologies and being able to understand, synthesize and analyze media messages are both essential parts of media literacy. But, many media literacy programs stop at examining how we ourselves (or our kids or families) are affected by media; those that go beyond often focus on the roles that gender or race or other social constructs play and how that influences our larger society. Few dive deeper, looking at what suffering, exploitation or destruction is hidden from view or consciously promoted in the ad, TV show, movie, or whatever media is on tap.

For example, we can look beyond the typical media literacy questions about an advertised product -- What need/desire is the ad/product appealing to? Who's the intended audience? Who is excluded? How does it affect your desires, esteem, beliefs & choices?, etc. -- to the suffering and exploitation of people and animals, and the destruction to the environment that the product (or service) generates and the ad promotes (or hides). A class analyzing a milk chocolate bar might offer a whole list of responses to the "typical" questions above. But by digging deeper, that class can discover the connection of that chocolate bar to animal cruelty, slavery, child labor, toxic dyes, global warming, consumerism, obesity, waste, and other issues, and synthesize how their own choices play a role and what positive actions they can take to promote a humane world.

Media literacy is an essential skill for everyone to learn. In our goal to create a better world, let's broaden its definition and include as one of its primary goals, looking deeper at the suffering, exploitation and destruction of people, animals and the planet that are so easy to ignore, dismiss, or miss altogether.

~ Marsha

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