Monday, January 4, 2016

Media Studies, or "Ways of Seeing"

This entry originated as a discussion board post this afternoon--it's Opening Day for a two-week Intersession section of Foundations of Media Studies. I usually say something like this to my new media studies students at the beginning of every semester...

One of the fascinating things about teaching media studies is that, on the one hand, everyone I work with is already an expert! Think about it: each and every one of you can go deeper than me in terms of these online games, or those YouTube vlogger stars, or that television series, or whatever. I'd be an idiot to pretend otherwise! It's this kind of deep knowledge (and passion!) that makes media studies courses instantly vital.

What, then, does a professor like me have to offer You The Students?

To riff on my man John Berger, I would say that a course like this invites you to consider "ways of seeing" media that you might not have fully considered before. Others might call this a set of theoretical "lenses" through which we might look through to understand our media-saturated world.
Example from today's reading: the colors of a stop light. Why does the color red mean "stop"? SPOILER ALERT: It's a social construction. In Chapter 1, we start to think about "meaning" as sets of inter-related, socially constructed sign systems. As goes stoplights, so goes language, visual communication, montage, soundscapes, you name it.

And this week, here's our "ways of seeing" short-list: semiotics, narrative, genre, representation, globalization, ideology, and industry. That's a heck of a week, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Anthropologists describe what they do as "making the familiar strange." And while on the one hand we're all experts, on the other hand we all can benefit from understanding our world through new perspectives. It's part of the reason why I like having my US students reading a UK textbook. One more small way to make the familiar strange...