March 11, 2014

Rose Wilson Harrison

I love media. I spend (waste?) hours on Tumblr and consume whole seasons of TV shows in a matter of days while drooling over the cast in between episodes (Teen Wolf, anyone?). I love to read, and listen to music. I have always loved these things, but I haven’t always consumed them critically.

One thing I’ve noticed in the world of fandoms and celebrity worship is that media literacy (otherwise known as critical thinking) is not well received by a lot of people. Pointing out that Steven Moffat’s version of Doctor Who is sexist will provoke defensive responses like, “Nobody cares! It’s not real life! Nobody’s perfect!”

I suppose the reason for this resistance to criticism is that people don’t want the things they love to be ruined. I get it. But here’s the thing: you can still love something (or someone) even if it isn’t perfect. The point of media literacy is not to ruin all the fun, but to be aware of messages that are damaging so that they don’t claw their way into your psyche. If it turns out to be so bad that you can’t enjoy it, well, that’s not really a loss (I’m thinking Blurred Lines here).

Most of the time, it’s possible to be aware of the shitty things while still enjoying the media itself. Try not to absorb everything without thinking, because then you are absorbing those shitty things. An easy way to be aware without ruining your enjoyment is to reflect on it afterwards and listen to other opinions. Get inspired by having a better understanding of what you’re consuming. Unconditional love of celebrities could align you with views that are really damaging – be prepared to admit they have said or done something wrong.

People do care about the messages that media and celebrities promote. They do have real life effects – the values and ideas that they promote are very influential.

And obviously nobody is perfect, but that does not absolve anybody of responsibility – “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Consider Jennifer Lawrence’s enormous fan base: everything she says is held up by her fans as ‘relatable,’ ‘quirky,’ and funny – even when she makes jokes at the expense of transgender people or anorexic colleagues. Unaware that this behavior is gross, fans blindly condone and replicate it, which make the people being laughed at feel horrible.

Basically, what I’m saying is, these people are role models. And beyond the individual level, media shapes the way our society views things. Which means, for example, if we keep letting shows cast all white actors, we won’t make much headway with racism in society. Groups who lack representation in media and are being laughed at by celebrities usually have higher rates of suicide and a higher chance of being assaulted, among other things. What a coincidence.

Sometimes all I want to do is switch off and consume media without thinking about how it is problematic. But if we want to make changes in our society in terms of how we treat oppressed groups, we can’t do that all the time. They say that us ‘digital natives’ are generally better at critical thinking than previous generations – let’s put that to good use! We need to hold our favourite celebrities and TV shows accountable for the messages they promote.

– Rose Wilson-Harrison

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