Leistyna and Alper argue that TV has been perceived as just a means of entertainment for too long. The corporations responsible for television programs have created unjust entertainment that does not accurately portray the working class. These programs have consistently impacted the way that most Americans perceive their class roles and it is important that people begin to develop critical media literacy in order to become aware of the falsehoods presented by entertainment television. Leistyna and Alper support their argument by showing how the working class has been inaccurately depicted throughout the history of American television. Currently the working class is depicted more inaccurately than ever: lazy, uneducated, and uncaring, even though many hard facts say the opposite. The authors are calling for a critical media literacy movement to raise consciousness about the incongruent relations of the working class and TV.
Now, what does this imply to an English teacher?
As an ELA teacher, I believe my job is to begin developing the practices of looking at and analyzing depictions of class roles within the media with my students. I should not overwhelm students (I teach 8th Grade) with a history of the working class and television, but begin simply by having students look at several media forms, along with definitions of social, economic, and political class. Then, ask students questions about depictions of people within the form. Leistyna and Alper said, “…it is not surprising that critical media literacy is often discouraged. As people, especially students, are distracted or lured away from critically reading historical and existing social formations…” By laying the foundations for such critical practices, students will be more likely to question what they see on TV so they do not become “the newest wave of exploited labor power and reproducers, whether they are conscious of it or not, of oppressive social practices” (517). It is necessary to show students that it is OK to question the depictions of people within the media. Students can compare their reactions and begin to create their own ideas of class. I started this conversation with my students this year by having students look at the depiction of immigrants in US propaganda and throughout the memoir “Reaching Out” by Francisco Jimenez. It may have not been a TV show, but students were critiquing how a specific group of people were being characterized within a few different forms.
What does this mean for those who do not know how to look at TV critically?
What I also could not help to think about while reading the article was the role television in the lives of my own parents. My father is a mechanic and my mother is a retired Walgreen’s clerk. They both watch TV as entertainment, and would never consider watching television critically: it’s not in their nature. The characters in the sitcoms they like (and I, as well) are easy to identify with, but do portray the stereotypical blue-collar workers as seen in the Leistyna and Alper piece. While it would be nice to see them take a look at TV critically, I believe that they would rather not. It would interrupt the release they have received from TV their whole lives. They have also not been taught the critical thinking skills that so many younger, college educated people have been. So, should we try to interrupt a pattern that has been instilled for over 50 years?
As for the new generations we educate, it would be great for all of them to have a perception of how the media depicts classes. By beginning to show these students steps to critically evaluating media, I think we will create life-long skills that are not just applicable to TV.
Questions to consider:
- What are the problems that may be associated with critically evaluating class in an urban setting?
- What role does TV play in your life? In the lives of your students?
- Have you tried critically evaluating other forms of media in your classroom?
- What about those of us who understand how to critically evaluate TV class roles, but don’t start a movement about it?
- What would you say is the class of the narrator from the following lyrics:
I gotta brand new car that drinks a bunch a gas/ Got a house in a neighborhood thats fading fast / Got a dog and a cat that don’t fight too much / Got a few hundred channels to keep me in touch / Got a beautiful wife and three tow-headed kids / A couple big secrets I’d kill to keep hid / I don’t God but i fear his wrath / I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path – Patterson Hood (of the Drive By Truckers)