Message form. Fundamental media literacy is the ability to see the difference between a one-on-one message and a mass message. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it’s not. Consider a mass mailing with a personal salutation: “Hi, Karla.” It would be considered naïve media illiteracy for Karla to infer from the salutation that she’s getting a personal letter.
Message versus Messenger. Once there was a monarch, as the story goes, who would behead the bearer of bad news. The modern-day media equivalent is faulting a news reporter for reporting on a horrible event or criticizing a movie director for rubbing your face in an unpleasant reality. Media literacy requires distinguishing between messages and messengers. A writer who deals with the drug culture is not necessarily an advocate, nor is the author who writes about a domestic batterer’s perspective, an advocate for abuse.
Motivation Awareness. Intelligent use of the mass media requires assessing the motivation for a message. Is a message intended to convey information? To convince people to change brands? To sour the public on one political candidate in favor of another? The answer usually requires one to think beyond the message and evaluate the message’s source. Is the message from a news reporter who is trying to be objective and neutral about the subject? Or is the message from one of the political parties supporting a particular candidate?
Media Limitations. The different technologies on which media are shaped affect the nature of the messages. MP3 downloads, for example, can deliver music superbly but printed books cannot. Both MP3s and books are mass media, but they have vastly different potentials. Novels can be in print form, audio or e- format, but each version affects the message significantly.
The method through which the message is delivered is both limiting and enhancing, depending on the technology and format used. A 100-minute movie cannot possibly be literally true to a 90,000-word novel. Conversely, Matthew Vaughn’s 2011 movie X-Men: First Class did things visually and audiologically that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby could not have accomplished in their Marvel Comics series X-Men back in the 1960s.
Traditions. The past informs our understanding of the present. A longstanding strain in U.S. journalism, for example, was born in the Constitution’s implication that the news media should serve as a watchdog on behalf of the people against government folly and misdeeds. Another tradition is for artistic expression that is free from government restraint. Media literacy is impossible without an appreciation of the historic traditions that have profoundly shaped the parameters
of media performance and also our reasonable expectations.
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