Media, Popular Culture, and Teaching #Ferguson

By in pedagogy on August 19, 2014

Today was the first day of class for me. I’m teaching Media & Popular Culture. One of my favorite classes to teach. I generally like to start the course with something fun, but things are… complicated right now. I couldn’t imagine starting the class without talking about this thing that is happening right now. At the same time, me being me, I didn’t want to isolate the class before it started. So, I started with a Dizzee Rascal’s “Love this Town”. It is similar enough and other enough to allow for students to recognize their own reactions to the video. And their reactions are a perfect starting point to start discussing what is happening. After we watched the video I asked why I wanted to start with this video in particular. A few students immediately said Ferguson. Only two students didn’t know about it. I asked if a student felt they had a good handle on what was going on. A student raised his hand and I had him share what he knew. Other people in the class what they’ve been hearing and how they’ve been learning about everything that is happening. Naturally some students were more versed than others, but I think together we did a good job of laying the foundation. A funny thing that the student said was he didn’t understand why people were making a big deal about the college thing. We talked through that, the idea of making the scary human, which is what happens in the video above.

The talking points that I went into a bit more were:

  • social media versus mainstream media
  • (western) international media and false censorship in the US (built into the system because of limited number of providers and concentration of sources)
  • cultural and historical factors that complicate this situation
  • police state, and the media ecology of prison (and how as students at UNC they have a direct connection to prison’s in the state)
  • surveillance state
  • the media ecology of tear gas (from US to Gaza, to Egypt, etc)
  • vilification of black males in media (especially when they are killed this way)
  • the problem we have with language

None of these students took the pre-requisite course with me (the first time in years this has happened), so they didn’t get my thing that I always want them to think about. They got that today. We have a language problem. When I think of media, the basic medium we have to communicate our thoughts and feelings to each other culturally is language. I feel like we don’t have the right language to talk about this situation, and that is a problem. I told them, if I had come in screaming racism, supremacy, and black power, we would get no where. But things are more complicated than that, and their experience of the event might not be those things. And I need that to be okay, and I need them to be willing to interrogate that. So, the assignment they have as this goes on is to spend at least 5 minutes before we meet for class either going over twitter or reading 1-2 international press pieces on the situation.

Here is a list of some of the options I remembered of the top of my head:

They asked me if I could name some people they should follow on twitter. I told them to use the hashtags. I told them to do this because each person, including me, is biased, so getting news from a single stream or resources will be biased as well. And this is bigger than that. I’d rather they see both the bad and the good, the protestors, the racist trolls, the people who “need more facts”, etc to understand what it means to see Ferguson for what it is. Complicated. Especially since it is happening right now, something the students noted immediately.

We’ll keep having discussions as long as this thing is going, and I imagine for a while after. No one seemed too put off so if anyone drops, I don’t think that will be the reason. I’m hoping that as we continue our discussions together we can figure out the language that lets us talk about this in a meaningful way.

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