Popular Posts

04 March, 2012

Read What You Need, Part II

Part II: Reading Today's Messages

When you're reading something's content, you're only getting half of the story.

To understand something through and through, one has to take an evolutionary/developmental approach: where did this thing come from? When I see a product advertised, where did that material come from, and through whose hands has it passed -- is that reflected in the advertisement? What is reflected in this advertisement: what does it say about the presumed viewer, perhaps in the casting, the style, the music or the choice of words? Who stands to profit from this message, and are those people represented? Who stands to suffer from this message, and are they represented? Who is?

Here's a fun one: what premises do you have to accept to get behind a message? That can be a tricky one for movies, for books, for television. What systems of thought, behavior, or social norms are portrayed as legitimate in the message? As I've written on this blog before, too many television plotlines to count pivot on the premise that one must choose between two romantic partners. (Archie Comics would have folded decades ago if their universe allowed for polyamory.) Is anyone ignored, overlooked, or erased from this message? Is anyone bullied, ridiculed, or villainized, and for what reasons? How does this message influence the situation in which it occurs?

So, read what you need. You could just assess the content of a message, but if your goal is to avoid being manipulated, or to see whether a message is in keeping with the way you want to live, you might learn more by assessing the context.

Reference List:

Adbusters Magazine, a culture jamming hub

Performing a Close Reading

On Critical Reading of Media

Practically a case study in critical reading (and in why it matters) using fantasy as a focus: "Gee, I don't know how to research writing characters of color."

And, for some context, this is the key meme I'm transmitting: Critical Theory


  1. This is spot on :)

    I find the whole 'how does this thing fit into the wider context of our world, which is oppressive in myriad specific ways' approach also very useful when evaluating and responding to comments made by friends and acquaintances, as well as by people with high public profiles - politicians, celebrities, and so on.

    In terms of critiquing/analyzing media, I think "Is anyone ignored, overlooked, or erased from this message?" and "Is anyone bullied, ridiculed, or villainized, and for what reasons?" are the two questions I get the most flack for trying to answer; sometimes people (including me) really just don't want to find out that yet another movie/tv show/whatever they love has problematic elements, especially since it can sometimes just take one less-than-ideal thing to tarnish the 'this is so great' image. But if anyone ever tells me I shouldn't care so much, I just direct them to Moff's Law: http://www.racialicious.com/2009/12/21/and-we-shall-call-this-moffs-law/

    Nothing exists in a vacuum - not the media, not our actions, and not ourselves - so attempting to look at any of those things without considering their various contexts seems unhelpful at best, and disingenuous most of the time. (I'm actually undecided as to whether art can be art without anyone to interpret it, i.e., can it indeed exist in a vacuum, but that's not particularly relevant.)

    One last note: I think I might disagree with your prognosis for alternate-poly-universe Archie Comics; surely if Archie was dating both Betty and Veronica there'd still be some room for interpersonal drama and storytelling :P Plus, there'd still be Jughead and Moose and Midge and Veronica's dad (he might have some interesting ideas about the whole poly thing, come to think of it)!

  2. Why can't you just enjoy my post for what it is, without disagreeing about my analysis of Archie Comics? :p

    But seriously, Moff's Law is the best of laws. I can't believe that the poster managed to be that calm while writing that post. "Why can't you just enjoy it for what it is?" THIS and THIS and THIS are why, anonymous thought-free trolls of the world. [Content warning for SERIOUS bullying, SERIOUS self-harm, SERIOUS punk rock, and Glee.] And remember, unselfaware trolls: whenever you are "just enjoying" something, you aren't not thinking. You're thinking an emotional script that someone else has written for you. Take it from a psychologist: thinking that script will alter you from the inside out.

    And yeah, there would be plenty to write about in polyverse Archie Comics. But would that comic have turned a profit for 70 years?