Elle Butler

Mr. Keating

Computer Applications for Mass Communications

February 27, 2008

Media Literacy: A Necessity in Our Lives

            There is no doubt that the media has a growing impact on almost every aspect of our lives. It acts as our source of entertainment and information, and connects us with the world around us in ways that weren’t possible several decades ago. Unfortunately, not all media messages are positive or beneficial to our well-being. Television shows involving mass crimes and intensely graphic violence can spark aggressive behaviors, while commercials glamorizing fast food and other calorie-dense products encourage unhealthy lifestyles. The abundance of sex scenes in movies sends mixed messages about what is acceptable sexual behavior, especially among young adults. And the use of alcohol and drugs by television characters normalizes the abuse of these substances.

            With all these negative messages, how can we protect ourselves without cutting off our use of media in its entirety? The answer to this question lies in media literacy, the critical analysis and evaluation of messages in the media in order to identify propaganda, biases, and manipulation of the audience (Dunlop & Kymes). Because media messages often promote deceptive, stereotypical or harmful perceptions, it is imperative that people in our society become media-literate.

            Unfortunately, media literacy is not something we are simply born with. Just like the ability to read, the ability to analyze and evaluate messages in the media requires education and knowledge. This education is most beneficial to media consumers when its beginnings take root in the formative years of childhood. Especially imperative to this education are media-literate teachers to impart this knowledge. Jessica Simpson, a sixth grade language-arts teacher in Cincinnati, does just that. “Just as we teach students to analyze and think critically about texts, we should do the same thing with media,” she says in an interview with Instructor Magazine. She doesn’t urge her students to cut back on watching TV or surfing the web. “To me, that’s the equivalent of burning books.” Instead, Simpson takes advantage of the media, and uses magazines, TV ads, and the Internet as often as possible in her lessons. Her students identify persuasive and manipulative techniques in commercials, analyze news reports, and contribute to the classroom website (Lundstrom).

            Studies prove media literacy has several advantages for those who have the opportunity to learn it. Students trained in media literacy spend less time watching television and playing video games. They may also become less aggressive, and gain an increased skepticism of smoking and alcohol in the media. Recent study results confirm the hypothesis that media literacy training changes the way individuals think about the desirability of portrayals in the media (Austin et al). Being media-savvy even leads to improved reading and listening comprehension, and increased scores on standardized tests. Media literacy instruction is a way to use real-world topics in the classroom while giving students skills that will remain with them for an entire lifetime (Bielich 79).

Even before children attend school, parents can set their sons and daughters on the right path by monitoring and limiting their media consumption. When parents are aware of what their children are watching or playing, they can recognize the negative media messages and deflect them through simple conversation. Also, by limiting the amount of time children spend with media, parents protect their children from overexposure to these negative messages in the first place.

Through all this, we come to realize a fundamental truth in our lives: media is a dynamic and necessary part of our fast-paced society. While the risks to viewers are evident, we cannot shut out media completely in our lives. Rather, through proper education and preparation, media consumers can make informed decisions and critically analyze what they see and hear. The result of widespread media-literacy education will be a society that is better informed to make positive choices concerning media consumption.


Works Cited

Austin, Erica Weintraub; Pinkleton, Bruce E.; Funabiki, Ruth Patterson “The Desirability Paradox in the Effects of Media Literacy Training” Communication Research Vol. 34 Issue 5 (October 2007): p483-506

 

Bielich, Paul “How-to-do-it” Library Media Connection, Vol. 26 Issue 5 (February 2008): p79-79.

 

Dunlop, Janet & Kymes, Angel “Analysis of Media Literacy Curriculum: The Center for Media Literacy's Media Lit Kit” Simile Vol. 7 Issue 3 (August 2007): p1-13

 

Lundstrom, Meg “Media-Savvy Kids” Scholastic.com Librarians, 9 Dec 2007

            <http://www.scholastic.com/librarians/tech/mediasavvy.htm>