The Importance of Media Literacy

Two nights ago, I was doing laundry when I heard the news about Osama bin Laden’s death. I was relieved, ready to tell everyone the news and check out the witty Facebook statuses. Several of my friends were watching TV, waiting to hear the President speak. They told me to “like” the Facebook page “Osama Bin Laden is DEAD” and that his death would mean the end of terrorism. On the other hand, some friends told me to embrace the fact that justice had been served but not the death of a life. On Reddit, I came across this quote:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was tempted to post a Facebook status about my opinion, but then I realized something: I’m not informed enough to say what I think about the death, and I don’t think any of us are.

In a broader sense, we Americans are pretty terrible at understanding a situation before boldly stating our opinions.

Had I said, “It’s good to know that I can bring a large bottle of shampoo on an airplane again!”, I would have been ignoring the fact that bin Laden’s death will have no immediate changes to the strict guidelines. Terrorism is not dead nor will it be anytime soon. Also, many of us have forgotten that Al Qaeda has been operating for years without the leadership of bin Laden. Instead, he had become more of a symbolic leader. Yes, his death is significant to Al-Qaeda, but the terrorist group has already been declining. His death seems to ring stronger in the U.S. where college students have held rallies and people are jumping at the opportunity to chant “USA! USA!” because Obama was behind the planning of the fatal attack. Sure, it’s great to be patriotic, but we shouldn’t get cocky and forget the efforts of other country leaders throughout the almost 10 years of fighting.

In addition, we can’t just take a quote out of the blue in protest of everyone else. It turns out that the MLK quote was fake, spread by a misquoted Facebook status.  It was a nice quote, but I was ignorant: I ignored the correctness of it because it suited my belief.

So how does this apply to women’s issues? Recently, officials have debated Planned Parenthood and its future. Facts about abortions have been thrown around without regard to their accuracy or the bias from the person saying them. In light of bin Laden’s death, I thought it would be good to point out how we need to be more careful about which information to pick and choose in support of our cause. Fox News is notorious for this and the effects can be detrimental—the viewers become misled and they lash out their opinions at others without realizing the consequences.

There’s a lot more I can say about this topic, but due to upcoming papers and finals, I’ll stop here. The basic point is that we need to be more aware and critical of what sources tell us. We need to understand the benefits of media literacy and not buy into American Exceptionalism. What we all can do to fix this problem is by double- and triple-checking our facts. This isn’t to say that you are unaware, readers, because you most certainly aren’t. I apologize if this is just a review for you, but we all make slipups from time to time and it’s always a good idea to remember sites such as this.

I hope your finals and final projects go well, and remember what Abraham Lincoln wisely said:

Don’t believe everything you hear on the internet.

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5 thoughts on “The Importance of Media Literacy

  1. It’s like you took the words from my brain – I’ve been bothered by the wide range of posts on Facebook from friends across the political spectrum, but it was hard for me to pinpoint why. The ease with which we can share our thoughts via social media is dangerous, as it allows us to speak with immediacy but often without critical thought. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it does allow fallacies and half truths to spread like wildfire.

    I haven’t responded “publicly” (aka on Facebook) about bin Laden, but I think sharing a link to your post will finally give me way to share how I actually feel – after 3 days of thinking, talking, and reflecting.

  2. On the subject of media literacy, I recommend viewing “The Tough Guise” by Jackson Katz. It’s feminism from a male perspective, I suppose, trying to get men to look more closely at the media given to them and to not take movies with graphic sexual violence as an indication that all women enjoy certain sexual acts.

    Anyway, I feel like media literacy is a very important and interesting topic that is not taught enough in schools.

    • Tough Guise is an excellent film surrounding the view of gender stereotypes and how masculinity is formed in the media. Especially since the male perspective is often overlooked in feminism and social equity, I think it’s absolutely awesome you brought that up! Have you seen Straight Laced? It’s more of a youth perspective on gender roles, but it’s also an excellent documentary on identity- though not necessarily through the media, but it’s impacted by it (what isn’t!?) Have you seen any of the “Killing Us Softly” films? Again, it’s from the female identified perspective, but another great film.

      • Killing Us Softly sounds familiar. I believe we watched parts of it once or twice during Junior High, as part of an effort to raise media awareness.
        I seem to remember it being somewhat more impacting to me than most films, but it was likely brushed off by the class like all opposing ideas are at that age. Heck, even in our senior year, when we were shown Tough Guise, half the class joked about certain clips without absorbing the point of the film.

      • Jackson,
        It is unfortunate that the content of these films are not necessarily taken as they are intended to be; I participated in a film festival and we showed Killing Us Softly to a group of students interested in the topic, but was met with nothing but criticism. Because the earlier films (1, 2, 3) are older, and obviously outdated, I found that the viewers picked at the advertisements and their “age” as opposed to discussing the actual topic – how media can influence gender violence and body image over all. I’m not really sure why it seems to be a “thing” for audiences to pick at these films, even if the message is very prevalent while viewing the films. I feel like maybe it has to do with our society in general and how challenging social norms can be difficult for many – especially in a setting where other viewers may not necessarily offer supporting opinions or even the classrooms may still seem unsafe.

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