December 8, 2006
What Is a Media Educator?

Jason Mittell presents a strong case for an exploration of common ground, indeed for a more direct level of communication of any sort, among those of us involved in the Consortium through the newsletter and blog. Fair use strikes me as just the kind of issue that should generate a productive exchange.

However I wonder to what extent the lack of conversation on this and other topics (at least through this format--I have not yet been able to attend conferences where interaction seems much stronger) can be traced back to some misunderstanding or uncertainty about media education and scholarship itself.

I am thinking here of students who come into my film history class (which I teach at the college level but also to middle school students in a summer program) and express fear that this class will somehow "ruin" their enjoyment of movies by making them think too much--taking a source of entertainment and turning it into one more topic in which they have to apply a grinding, deadly, formulaic analysis and critique. Like all of us, I thrill to the experience of students seeing that the study of this material actually increases their enjoyment and potential interaction with it (though one evaluation I received last semester simply asked, "Why can't we just watch movies and not have to talk them to death??"). But why do they start with that suspicion? Even if they have never heard of the Frankfort School or Newton Minnow, have they not absorbed along the way that notion that the educator/scholar is really there to demean and ultimately ask them to reject the moral and intellectual wasteland of popular culture and feel guilty or complicit for interacting with it? To ask this question to my colleagues in media education seems absurd, like I've missed the last 20-30 years of research and thinking. But how far has this notion penetrated into the larger perception of what we do?

An electronic newsletter and a blog allows us, as media educators, to use a forum of communication in which our partners and our students have full and equal access--and in many cases a level of comfort, familiarity, and creativity that exceeds our own. Quite a refreshing change from, say, scholarly journals in which just a few educators/scholars exchange ideas only among themselves--and in a rather slow and passive manner at that.

However, even if the medium has changed, has the disconnect between scholars and those in other fields or arenas (producers, students, etc.) remained in place? However much we as scholars and educators have tried to challenge or at least complicate old ideas about what we do, do they still exist on some level? Are those of us who are educators and scholars simply using this medium to talk among ourselves through a kind of style and rhetoric that is comfortable to us but alien to others?

So my question to is this: what is media education? What, for that matter, is media scholarship? What exactly are we are doing, and what insights can be gleaned from this forum to those outside the academy? Can we be doing it differently or explaining what we do differently?



Ted - great points. I agree that this forum should be a good one to explore what it means to be a media scholar/educator, and how such an academic might interact with the industry. As Henry can attest to directly, the act of working with (or even talking to!) media corporations is seen by many media scholars as inherently corrupt. For me that's ridiculous - it's as if a political scientist claimed that consulting with governments or a literature professor talking with authors was damaging to professional goals. But for many media scholars, television and other media are objects only to be critiqued and condemned, not debated, analyzed, and even enjoyed. Thankfully any academic working with C3 inherently sees the potential in collaboration rather than in opposition to the industry - but how do industry folks see us? Is there a stigma in talking to (or listening to) academics?

As for your other point about students' assumptions that we study media in order to ruin it, I highly recommend Greg Smith's about pedagogical strategies to counter these assumptions.

On December 8, 2006 at 7:18 PM, Sam Ford said:

Ted, great points. Having sat in some of those film classes of yours over the years, I have heard students file some of those very complaints you are referring to.

The question here is one for scholarship in general--what is the point of the academy? Insular conversations have their place in debating certain issues about pedagogy, methodology, and anything else that ends in "-ogy," but is the point of scholarship not to engage with a wider audience? Why have publishing and conferences become vita-builders and tenure preparation instead of the point of the academy (along with lecturing and teaching, of course)?

And, Jason, you are right that it sets C3 apart to want to engage with corporations, on the one hand, and viewers/readers/listeners/players on hte other. We aren't merely studying these people--we are engaging with them to learn from each other. For all these people who decry the baseness of pop culture, who seem to be the very people most upset by engaging with the media producers, shouldn't they be excited that those people that they see as greedy purveyors of filth are asking the academy for advice?

C3 has been declared "the exact opposite" of what the academy should achieve, by Juan at the Global Culture blog writes:

I started to realize that Corporations have found ways to leverage the power of academy to arm themselves with tools to better mine their markets. As explained by Convergence Culture Consortium their main interest is to disect the inner workings of how culture spreads by means of new media so they can advise Corporations on how to better market to the global community.

Yikes! Our project should be the exact opposite. I want us to become a tool for people to stop pursuing brands and start looking inwards, where the real value is. A tool to uncover marketing campaigns and discover authentic local cultures. A tool for these cultures to spread.

Since we're ruffling those kinds of feathers, I can't help but think we must be doing something right...

On December 8, 2006 at 7:50 PM, Ted Hovet said:

Jason and Sam--thanks for the feedback, and let's hear it for ruffling feathers!

The most important reason to begin some conversation and create some exchanges in this forum is to help dispell the preposterous notion that the academy speaks with one voice or, for that matter, that corporations do.

This is why the kind of questions Jason posed are so important. Despite lawsuits and rules that create the illusion of speaking for all and covering everything, I suspect there is great disagreement about fair use among both corporate and academic agents. A diaologue can take us beyond any "us v. them" binary to a genuine understanding of differences within our fields and to the possibility of finding common ground--and thus to progress and change.

On December 9, 2006 at 1:55 PM, Sam Ford said:

Well put, Ted. I know that academia and corporations are structured much differently, but there are some similiarties in that it's hard to lump people together in that way. That's why I've always had the trouble with claiming that a media conglomerate is run completely according to the vision of whoever the CEO is. There are so many people who put their fingerprints on those media products that it's hard to say who is "the author," as we all know. And the same goes with academia. There is no streamlined academic "voice," and I'm very thankful for that.

I guess a difference may be that there are some who see academia as a bastion, a refuge to hide away in, rather than an agent of change. For conservatives in the academic world (and I don't mean conservatives politically), there is a fear that engaging with corporations may not only change corporations but may also change the academy. All I can say is that I hope scholarship remains dynamic and that, while academics should always protect the integrity of their work, I don't think fearing conversation is one of the ways to do that...


The questions raised by Ted and others about the relationships between media educators and media professionals are important ones. The academy has developed a set of reward structures that encourage communicating among narrow audiences with particular disciplinary specializations. In our field, this contributes to people genuflecting over certain key ideas about media, corporations, creativity, audiences, technology, power, freedom, etc. These are the ideas that are mostly agreed-upon and rarely challenged: the ideas that are foundational concepts for a lot of people within a discourse community.

Those of who who have collaborated with media professionals --thus challenging one of the key tenets of media scholarship that we (scholars) be appropriately oppositional in relation to media power -- have discovered that the "mutter brigade" can be activated by colleagues who see media as the enemy to be fought against. Remember how Marshall McLuhan was pilloried by his colleagues for talking to people in the advertising industry?

Because membership in academic communities is "invitation-only," there are real (career) consequences to challenging dominant paradigms.

That's why it's so refreshing to see Ted's post and new ventures like this website. I advocate a "big tent" approach to media education; we should make room for (and celebrate)the plenitude of different stances and positions used to explore the complex functions and roles of media in the lives of individuals and for society as a whole.


Renee, thanks for the great points. This reminds me of a conversation I was having last week with a class I was taking at Harvard in the anthropology department about publishing. We were talking about how, in some ways, there is more need than ever for anthropologists and other academics to speak to journalists and in other popular forums about events, but there is nothing in the current structure of tenure, etc., that encourages this type of engagement, including a blog.

Most people don't waste their time talking to newspapers or radio or TV or running a blog because it does nothing to build your career as an academic...rather it only has the potential to hurt you.

And, if you are lucky enough to reach a lot of people with your message, you run the risk of being considered a "poser" or inauthentic. All many institutions seem to reward are insular conversations in juried academic journals. Yet, in my class at the Kennedy School this semester, I found out that the average law review was read by five people.

The question is, in part, what the job of a media educator really is, as Ted asks here. And I'm glad that you joined in on this conversation as well. I think it's one that needs to be taking place, and I like the fact that the conversation can take place in a public forum like this as well.