Stuart Poyntz, Department of Curriculum Studies
The central problem affecting the future of media education is the expansive logic and power of our current media system. "It is a system" Manuel Castells argues, "in which reality itself (that is, people's material/symbolic existence) is entirely captured, fully immersed in a virtual image setting, in the world of make believe, in which appearances are not just on the screen through which experience is communicated, but they become the experience" . Of course the expansive logic of any system is of concern to the field of critical practice meant to investigate, challenge and question that system, but this is not what I mean. Rather, Castells' argument about the changing nature of digital culture, the fact that today, "all messages of all kinds" seem enclosed in and encircled by a world of digital culture, a "medium [that] has become so comprehensive, so diversified, so malleable, that it absorbs in the same multimedia text the whole of human experience, past, present, and future" points to inadequacies in the key mode of operation anchoring much of media education. The mode of operation I refer to is deconstruction .
In his seminal work, Teaching the Media, Len Masterman has well clarified the three key principles underlying media education . First, media education begins from the premise that "the media are symbolic (or sign) systems which need to be actively read" . They are not unproblematic reflections of external reality but a series of constructions that provide a lens through which we make sense of the world. Second, the ideological power of the media is roughly proportional to the media's ability to convey a sense of "naturalness" in its representations. And third, in keeping with the work of Stuart Hall, Masterman argues that within the current capitalist system of production, the role of the media is essentially reproductive. That is, the media is one of the central institutions charged with maintaining the system of production, circulation and control central to our society, and to this end, the media produces particular kinds of audiences so as to sustain an audience consciousness amenable to our system of economic production. None of this will of course be new to those familiar with the media analysis generated from the tradition of British Cultural Studies. Nor are these principles that my doctoral research will aim to discount in any substantial way. Rather, what concerns me is the fact that all of these principles tend to produce a media education practice largely anchored around deconstruction, whether this deconstruction is understood in terms of an analysis of the determinants of media messages, an analysis of the rhetorical functions of the language of media images and text, a critique of the role of ideology in the media, or an analysis of the ways audiences are positioned by the media. And it is just this kind of practice that seems inadequate in an age when our experience is captured in a "virtual image setting." Not wrong, let me be clear, just inadequate.
Why? In large part, because, while deconstruction provides media education with a critical scaffolding helpful to educators and students eager to distance themselves from the full impact, logic, and power of the media system, this mode of operation is an inherently defensive posture, an act of negation to media imagery that can just as easily be turned on its head and used to sell new running shoes, soda pop, or any other commodity typically targeted at a youth audience . Deconstruction encourages youth to engage with contemporary media by questioning the coherence of media messages through the search for fissures, breaks, or gaps in the logic of the media's representational landscape, but if Castells is correct and the current state of the popular media is such that it creates a "virtual image setting" than youth don't need to simply deconstruct images or design their own culture jamming in response to the mainstream media. What's needed is an investigation of different modes of operating and working with the language of images that arises from the complex relationship contemporary youth already have with the popular commercial media. As my PhD research develops, I intend to continue mapping some of these modes of operation in the hopes of generating new directions for media education.
Professionally, I have spent the past eight years working as the Director of Education Programs at Pacific Cinémathèque, a film institute mandated to explore, promote and engage with the changing nature of media culture. In order to fulfil this mandate, we have developed and implemented a number of media education and video production programs and projects that are now recognized throughout the public education system, provincially and nationally.
Building on my academic and professional experience, in September 2003, I will continue research that attempts to map new modes of operation for media education. This research will start with an investigation of Manuel Castells' claims about the nature of contemporary digital culture. In particular, I propose to look at the status of his argument and assess its impact on youth and their relationship with the media. Following this investigation, I propose to begin examining two fields of research that seem to hold out promise for mapping new modes of operation for media education.
First, I intend to examine recent developments in narrative studies. The work of education theorist Kieran Egan will form part of this investigation, particularly as his work on the role of storytelling in the articulation of learning experiences in the classroom can be applied to the analysis of media images. To help build on Egan's work, I also propose to examine Janet Murray's analysis of computer-mediated communication to assess how these forms of communication affect the development of new types of narrative.
Second, in conjunction with Dr. Peter Seixas, I will teach a graduate course on the relationship between historical investigation and film as part of an investigating into how the relationship of youth to history changes with the proliferation of images characteristic of our contemporary culture.