|Media literacy is described in our reading assignments as competency in assessing messages carried by mass media. Our readings suggest that the media literate person understands not only how much the media intrude into our lives but also how their messages can affect our thinking and behaviors. In other words, media literacy is not information literacy; that’s the ability to find, read and use information. It’s not technological literacy either; that’s the ability to use a computer. So, what does t take to know and to assess media content in this era of “fake news”?
First, you have to be aware that you’re encountering the mass media everywhere. The paper placemats at Friendly’s that have advertising around their edges? Mass media. The 8-1/2″-by-11” LCD screens in the elevator that have news headlines on them? Mass media. That muzak in the doctor’s office? Mass media. The ads spray-painted on sidewalks downtown? Mass media. The mugs with Star Trek-The Next Generation emblazoned across them – or even just the logo of a local business? Mass media. The little dog icon on your Internet search page? Mass media. Do you see what I’m driving at? The mass media are ubiquitous. If you’re media literate, you understand this and are aware of the media’s presence in your life consciously and subconsciously. Media literacy requires distinguishing between the media\um and the message.
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Second, you have to understand why the media are ubiquitous. This is very simple: all mass media do one thing, even the Internet. They sell eyes and ears. Literally. They are designed to connect people to products. You can see this in the evolution of U.S. mass media. For example, the hardware for televisions existed before programming; to develop the programming that would sell television sets, manufacturers turned to product sponsors for the dollars to jump start program development. Media literacy means understanding media economics and how those forces shape the content of the media, whether it’s the entertainment media or the news. And in understanding media economics, the media literate will appreciate that the media have different economic masters in other countries that will affect the roles they serve in their societies, some of which raise important issues related to what’s called the digital divide. A media literate person understands the motivations behind the message.
Third, you have to understand functional displacement to understand the role(s) that mass media have come to play in our society, particularly how they have affected the size and cohesion of their audiences in the past and how they are fragmenting those audiences today (Vivian, 2010). Understanding these principles will help you to see how the Internet is affecting audiences and how it is confusing the medium with the message. In coming to understand these principles, the media literate person will come to appreciate how the technological limitations of all earlier media influenced their content. Books could have only so many pages. Magazines could fit only so many ads. Photographs could be squeezed into only so much space. A movie of 120 minutes could capture only the essence of a seven-book saga. A 20-minute broadcast could contain only so much of the world’s news. In coming to understand that traditional media have been finite and that they are dependent upon ad dollars to survive, the media literate person comes to appreciate why an editor’s decision to feature death and destruction on Page 1 means that “good news” stories get squeezed out.
Fourth, you have to appreciate that the mass media can affect human behavior. This means the media literate person must understand there’s a symbiotic relationship between the media and themselves that manifests itself in how, how often and how much we use the media. Our increasing need to use the media is called media dependency theory and how we use the media is reflected in uses and gratifications theory. The impact of all that media use is sized up in cumulative theory.
But the Internet is turning everything on its head.
Many of you have probably heard of Marshall McLuhan’s infamous “the medium is the message” pronouncement. He believed all communication is inseparable from the medium within which the message is communicated. He saw the mass media are extensions of our bodies. Our understanding of the world around us is defined and limited by the mechanism through which we learn about it. In his view, the impact of a given news story about a terrorist bombing is inseparable from the real-time video footage that enables us to experience that story:
Please make sure you have familiarized yourself with Medium Theory. McLuhan’s ideas were decried as pop culture psychology in the 1960s. But are they? As you have learned in your first readings for this course, you can both create and receive interpersonal and mass communications over the Internet. As dry as this post may have seemed, you are about to find out how exciting this discussion can be.
This learning activity asks you to think about the implications of a medium that contains a feedback loop which allows the user to not only interact one-on-one but one-on-many with an interpersonally- or a mass-communicated message.
Participation in this discussion will help you to appreciate the importance of media literacy, a core outcome for this course, by:
recognizing the changing nature of mass communication;
Before you try to give your views on this question, you may want to make sure you understand what a “meme” is. Please also make sure you have read on the types of convergence in Saylor’s Understanding Media and Culture. Then, to help you think through the issues central to this discussion question, please scan through these links (but make sure you do so in the order listed to get the experience I’m intending for you).
n.b. Although I recommend you right-click on each link and open them in new tabs, so that you can return to this forum easily, you may need to copy and paste the urls into your browser for them to work.
1. T-mobile dance
2. “Do-Re-Mi” dance
What’s going on here?
4. Newscast on July 2009 “Do-Re-Mi” Dance at Wellington, NZ, station
Who has inspired what?
1. JK’s Wedding Entrance Dance
but then there’s…
2. The 100 “Single Ladies” Flash-Dance, Piccadilly Circus, London
and there’s also…
3. …Beyonce’s video to consider
So, which do you think comes first these days, the medium or the message?
There’s more to this than art imitating life or life imitating art in contemporary media. There’s also more to this than needs versus wants.
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