Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Watching The War

My Media Literacy class began this morning. The first day is boring on purpose, so those kids not really invested in the subject can decide to find another class before the end of our veryquick add-drop period, but it seems like a good and animated group, even if one student did try to derail discussion by claiming that deliberate communicative intent wasn't the exclusive province of humans, but could, philosophically speaking, be ascribed to, say, airplanes and flowers and stuff. As an added bonus, the class is more than half female, a real triumph for a study of technology and communications, a field which traditionally has somewhat less trouble than computer science in attracting girls but still doesn't always attract the sexes equally.

Tonight's assignment was to watch 40 minutes of network television and log all major "events" (commercials, station breaks, sitcom or other programmatic bytes). Usually, the most startling thing about this exercise for the students is the relaization of how little of what's on television is actually programming -- most adolescents have no idea that there is only about eighteen minutes of actual program for every half hour of commercial television, and it startles them while setting us up for an engaging discussion about whether there is really any difference, in terms of commercial relevance, between the commercials and the program itself (there is a difference in teqhnique, certainly, most obviously in pacing and narrative structure, but this is more a function of genre than of commercial relevance).

But tonight the war was on tv, and I was on duty. If my class' experience was anything like the kids in the house, what they watched -- voluntarily and silently and seriously, making me proud to be their teacher and mentor -- was war, and in war, all the usual rules of television are suspended. The war footage, Bush's speech and its subsequent commentary, even the somber nature of the commericals themselves don't serve the commercial mindset in the same way, although an argument can be made that they do serve it in some way.

I'm looking forward to class, in a new way, a rejuvenating way, and it feels good. Kinda slimygood, since it's a kind of academic war profiteering to be so pleased to be able to have the war walk us through our study of mass media in the first two weeks of the course, before we turn to more intimate and interpersonal media as speech and academic writing. But if last Fall's course, which had the same coincidence with the 9/11 bombing, is any indication, we'll run out of time before we run out of things to see and say, and the students' personal attachment to their subject will be heightened in ways that teachers only dream about.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:46 PM |

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