After the Media: Culture and Identity in the 21st Century

How the Internet and social media are changing culture

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The Modern Maze of Cultural Identity

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Birmingham City University

Mapping digital literacy policy and practice in the Canadian education landscape. Folk devils and moral panics: The Dream of America from Excitement and nervousness, the longing for neighborhood and the hunt for id: The stimulus for the cultivation of these online relations is the search for solutions to some of the problems confronting life in the offline world. From this perspective, media technology is not something to be shared but is something to be customized, personalized and consumed privately out of the sight of adults. It is encouraging, emancipatory, almost anarchist and challenging at every turn.

YY hbk Main Reading Room. Order a copy Copyright or permission restrictions may apply. We will contact you if necessary. To learn more about Copies Direct watch this short online video. By the early 20th century, in psychology and pedagogy studies, G. Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, and Education Hall, addressed this stage of life as a specific period of development associated with tumult and uncertainty—the sturm and drang of adolescence.

Thinking of adolescence in these terms reflected the worries of legislators, educators, and reformers, but it was not until the early s that the notion of youth culture was coined by the American sociologist Talcott Parsons Parsons used the phrase youth culture to name a specific generational cohort experiencing distinct processes of socialization that set them apart from others.

But more significantly, a series of changes in the social, economic, and cultural lives of adolescents that began prior to World War II and consolidated during the postwar years proved essential to marking out a modern notion of youth culture. Media and consumer markets were integral to these changes. From the start of the 20th century, mass media were among the key developments shaping youth culture and learning.

This was evident in the United Kingdom and the United States, where industrialization and mass consumer markets emerged earlier than in other nations. This reveals something about the characteristics of youth culture; in many ways, youth cultures dance, music, fashion, sports, etc. In this way, youth and modernity are tightly connected. Modernity is linked to experiences of change driven by urbanization and migration, the expansion of mass, factory-based production, and the proliferation of images and consumerism as normative conditions of everyday life.

Since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, youth have been harbingers of these developments and have often been considered the archetypical subject of modernity. The tendency to link youth with the changes characterized by modernity has produced a history of anxieties where the relationships among youth, media culture, and education are concerned. These anxieties first appeared in response to the violence, vulgarity, and sexual desire in early popular culture e. The emergence of the cinema at the turn of the 20th century epitomized these fears by forever changing the nature of the intergenerational transmission of knowledge.

Movies can be understood with little tuition, meaning that they can fix the attention of all age groups on the screen, a development that proved particularly attractive to children. Early cinematographers were able to stage dramas on a scale unheard of in live theater, to command an audience much greater than literature could, and hence to shape the popular imagination as never before. But because movies work through the language of images, they were thought to create highly emotional—and intellectually deceitful—effects.

Images were thought to leave audiences particularly young people in something like a trance, a state of passivity that left adolescents open to forms of manipulation that were morally suspect and politically dangerous.

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Such responses not only reflected the sentiment of early film boosters, but they also were part of a more nuanced sense of how life—including the experience of learning—was changing in the 20th century. These tools allowed people to see and experience distant lands, other times, and new and fantastical experiences in live-action and highly structured narrative formats.

Youth and Media Culture

Far more common were fears that modern media would serve to undermine how young people learn proper culture—meaning good books and the right music and stories thought to foster a vibrant and meaningful cultural life. Drawing from their experiences with the role that media i. They meant that movies, advertisements, and eventually television were signs of the commodification of culture, an indication that culture itself—epitomized by the rich European traditions of classical music, painting, and literature—was being reduced to a sellable thing, a commodity just like any other in capitalist societies.

In this context, Adorno and Horkheimer suggested that culture no longer works to promote critical and autonomous thought; rather, the culture industries promote sameness, a uniformity of experience and a standardization of life that at best serve to distract people from significant issues of the day. Through childish illusion and fantasy, the culture industries produce false consciousness, a form of thinking that misinterprets the real issues that matter in our lives, leaving young people and adults blissfully unaware of key issues of common concern that demand our attention and action.

The concerns of the Frankfurt School found a receptive audience in the second half of the 20th century. The postwar decades mark an especially significant period of expansion in youth markets and youth culture in the West Osgerby, Complicating this were the emergence of television and an intensely organized effort to shape and calibrate the spending power of young people in the service of conspicuous consumer consumption. The small screen represented the promise and possibility of modern times. Not surprisingly, this sentiment was short lived Goldfarb, Most often characterized by exaggerated claims about the impact of popular commercial culture on children and youth, media panics are a special kind of moral frenzy over the influence of media on vulnerable populations Drotner, He reveals how youth are positioned in postwar industrial societies as a source of fear and often misplaced anxiety.

In the process, youth and youth culture become scapegoats. Media panics continued to appear throughout the s, s, and s. Related concerns arose in the s regarding video games and violence, the presence of dangerous and disturbing messages buried in the lyrics of popular music, and fears about fantasy board games, including Dungeons and Dragons. We note these fears not to dismiss them outright, but to draw attention to the history of anxieties that have characterized worries about youth and media culture.

Such concerns are often underpinned by the view that young people are vulnerable and highly impressionable persons unable to manage the impact of media in their lives. Indeed, the wariness of public officials, parents, health practitioners, and educators toward media is still today often underpinned by deeper commitments to a sense that youth is a time of innocence and hope.

Whether understood biologically as a period of maturation toward adulthood or as a distinct generational cohort characterized by shared processes of socialization, adolescence has long been a repository for both the greatest hopes and fears of a nation. While youth are often considered a risk to society and the reproduction of social order, they also have long been framed in connection with the future health and well-being of nations.

The result is that youth often occupy a contradictory space in relation to media culture Drotner, On the one hand, popular media culture has been a vital resource through which youth communities, subcultures, and generations have defined themselves, their desires, and their hopes and dreams for decades. This continues to be reflected in the dynamic ways that youth are using and creating digital media to shape their lives and address matters of common concern in societies around the world.

We take up these developments in more detail later in this article. On the other hand, it is evident that consumerism and commercial media culture remain sources of tremendous anxiety. The media content that teenagers access—beyond the watchful eye of guardians and educators—and the way that they learn about gender, race, sexuality, the environment, and other issues continues to raise alarms. The digitization of media and the emergence of more dynamic, participatory media cultures Jenkins, are crucial to this development, as we explain in the final section.

In This Article

But changes in media concentration and the development of vast media conglomerates—including Google, Disney, Time Warner, Viacom, Baidu, and News Corp—that produce media commodities and experiences for various national markets have been instrumental in shaping the tensions and impact of media culture on youth lives. It is just these sorts of developments that have long raised the concerns of educators and others who remain deeply ambivalent about the relationship between consumer media and young people.

The consequence of this ambivalence has led some educators to argue that media, including film, television, and the Internet, can have a broader educational impact, particularly given their ability to reach large audiences. This sentiment crept into educational discourses throughout the s in a way that would shift the thinking about youth, media culture, and education.

After The Media – Culture and Identity in the 21st Century

Using this media system to create successful learning resources has been a delicate business. The idea of using radio and documentary movies as informational and often didactic educational tools to teach kids social studies, geography, and history has a long tradition in national schooling systems. More dynamic forms of educational programming came online in the late s, led by a then-remarkable new program called Sesame Street that came to epitomize these developments.

To do this, the now well-known strategy was to adapt conventions of commercial media—muppets, music, animation, live-action film, special effects, and visits from celebrities—to deliver mass literacy to home audiences. From the s onward, the reach of Sesame Street became global, extending to countries and including many foreign-language adaptations developed with local educators in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Germany, Israel, Palestine, Russia, South Africa, and many other places Spring, Sesame Street is now engaged in raising awareness and understanding about a host of global issues.

A conviction that electronic and digital media can support progressive educational goals has also fueled the development of a learning media industry over the past two decades. We are in fact witnessing a veritable explosion of educational media, including an array of educational learning software Math Blaster , JumpStart , Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego , etc.

Some of this media may be useful, but evidence about the learning value of many of these programs remains scant Barbaro, On the other hand, at least three other forms of educational media have continued to develop, and in ways that can be beneficial to youth learning. They include public service announcements PSAs , entertainment education, and cultural jamming.

Public service announcements PSAs are now ubiquitous. They can be seen in schools, on television, online, and at commercial film screenings. They address issues ranging from the dangers of smoking, alcohol, and drugs, to concerns about youth driving habits, bullying in schools, what children are eating, and a host of other media-related social causes and health crises. PSAs use the language of advertising—quick, emotional, and sometimes funny messages that emphasize hard-hitting lessons—and the practices of branding to alter behavior or encourage youth to get involved with issues shaping their lives.

These successes are important, of course, because they attest to the ways that learning through media can be nurtured in creative, dynamic, and effective ways, even in a time when media saturation is common in youth lives. A cautionary note is nonetheless in order. PSAs have become so common today that companies are using PSA-like formats to promote everything from cars to personal care products. The personal health products company, Unilever Inc. This is an important message, to be sure; however, while this campaign was underway, Unilever launched an equally provocative campaign for AXE body products for men.

Distinct from the more explicit focus of learning TV and PSA campaigns, this strategy takes advantage of the fact that it has been clear for some time that youth negotiate their identities and values through popular media representations and celebrity identifications.

Because of this, educators and youth activists have turned to network programming e. Similar practices are evident around the world. In India, Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa, for instance, popular television formats like soap operas and youth dramas e. Similarly, series like the Degrassi franchise in Canada and the United States have addressed issues such as family violence, school shootings, mental illness, and questions about sexuality Byers, Other series, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer , have ventured into similar territory, and while many educators are perhaps wary of the close working partnership between commercial broadcasters and producers in entertainment education, others note that the very success of this kind of programming demonstrates that media culture can be more than entertainment; it can be a form of meaningful pedagogy that helps young people engage in real social, cultural, and political debate.

Fomenting social, cultural, and political debate has been the objective of a third strategy used by educators and progressives concerned about youth, media culture, and education. Mark Dery , p. Perhaps the most common and popular form of culture jamming is the sub-vertisement that groups like Adbusters have made popular. Sub-vertisements use popular references and techniques in branding campaigns to turn the meaning of logos, branded characters, and signs like the Absolut Vodka bottle on their heads. Other groups, including the Yes Men , have developed another culture-jamming strategy based around highly elaborate spoofs of websites, media interviews, and public corporate communications.

Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping is yet another example of culture jamming. Reverend Billy and his allies use impromptu, guerrilla theater tactics to raise awareness of the deleterious effects of consumerism i. The idea behind this and similar work is to use fun yet subversive tactics to offer radical commentary about common images, brands, and ideas that circulate in our lives. These learning practices are open to all, of course, but they have been especially relevant among educators eager to address critical issues about youth media culture.

Learning media aims to educate people through various media forms, and while this continues to be a popular strategy, for more than 80 years educators and activists have also turned to more direct interventions to affect how young people learn and engage with media culture. Media literacy education addresses how media operates in and through particular institutions, technologies, texts, and audiences. In its early development, media education tended to position schools and teachers as the defenders of traditional culture and impressionable youths. Early relationships among youths, media cultures, and education were framed around a reactionary stance that implored educators to protect youth from the media.

Leavis and Denys Thompson were the first to champion this protectionist phase of media education in their book Culture and Environment , which is credited as the first set of proposals for systematic teaching about mass media in schools. These sentiments remained strong into the early s, but much as learning media took a new and compelling turn in this decade, so too did media education.

In the United Kingdom, this sentiment led educators to develop a screen education movement based around the critical use of movies in classrooms. A similar desire to help youth see connections between school and everyday life motivated early initiatives in media education in Australia and Canada.

Pedagogically, this led to the development of film analysis and film production courses, which drew inspiration from cultural shifts in the way that movies were understood. No longer seen simply as forms of entertainment, film education focused on the way that popular Hollywood movies e. This meant teaching students to understand the language of cinema and the ways that movies engage and shape prospects for social and political change.

As an outgrowth of this work, the s and s witnessed the first sustained period of institutionalization of media education. Key curricular documents were produced, and media education entered the school curricula in many countries in a formal way for the first time. The Canadian province of Ontario led the way, mandating the teaching of media literacy in the high school English curriculum in Eventually K—12 students across Canada would receive some form of media education by the end of the s.

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, the late s witnessed the integration of media education into the curriculum as an examinable subject for students pursuing university entrance. This helped to fuel the popularity of courses in media studies, film studies, and communication studies in schools, and by the s and s, additional intermediate courses in media studies were added to the curriculum.

Similarly, in various non-English-speaking countries, including Norway, Sweden, and Finland, media literacy developed and expanded throughout the s Tufte, Even when not included in the formal curriculum, media education became a pedagogical practice of teachers aware of the impact of the media in the lives of their students. In particular, in those countries in the global South where the broader educational needs of the society were still focused on getting children to school and teaching basic literacy and numeracy, media education may not have emerged in the mandated curriculum, but teachers were drawing on media education strategies to help youth make sense of and affect their worlds.

In the United States, school-based media education initiatives were slower to get off the ground. Office of Education to launch a research and development initiative on the effects of commercial television on young people. Nonetheless, these early developments proved crucial in establishing the ground from which more recent media education initiatives have grown.

Robert Kubey noted that as of , all 50 states included some education about the media in core curricular areas such as English, social studies, history, civics, health, and consumer education. Beyond schools, a number of key nongovernmental organizations NGOs have developed over the past two decades and have promoted dynamic forms of media education.

The Alliance for a Media Literate America AMLA , a national membership organization chartered in to organize and host the National Media Education Conference every two years and to promote professional development, is of particular note. While often led by educators, parents, and young people, these developments in media education have been enhanced by interest in a broad project of literacy. The role and discussion of literacy discourse in media education go back to at least the early s in the United States Kline et al. As media education has internationalized, however, there has been a tendency to turn to literacy metaphors to conceptualize the kinds of media learning enabled through media education.

As media education has increasingly become part of school curricula, the language of literacies also has been a familiar and useful framework to situate classroom and out-of-school practices. Media production has an impressive history in the field of media literacy education going back to at least the s, when experiments with mm film production in community groups and schools were part of early film education initiatives in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and other countries. By the s and s, media production became a common feature in media education practices because it was thought to enable young people to learn by doing , rather than just by analyzing or reading media texts.

Newly accessible broadcasting or narrowcasting opportunities made available through Web 2. The turn to information training is perhaps not surprising, but while technical skills training can help young people to learn key competencies that may lead to job prospects, technical training on its own misrepresents the critical and civic concerns that have long animated media literacy education.

How the civic and political involvement of youth are emerging inside highly engaging digital media cultures is one of three major issues examined in the next and final section of this article, where we address pressing questions about contemporary relationships among youth, media culture, and learning. The age of mass media was preoccupied with problems of representation, atomization, homogenization, and manipulation, and these problems defined the thinking about youth consumption and commercial culture in much of the 20th century.

Stuart R. Poyntz and Jennesia Pedri

This is reflected in the anxieties and studies noted earlier in this article. As we have come to read and write media differently in a digital era, however, a new set of problems has arisen Chun, Among these is the new role of participation and a participatory turn in media culture that has enabled users or those we used to call audiences to become more active and involved with brands, franchises, celebrities, technologies, and social media networks across everyday life Jenkins, This turn is evidenced by the increasing amount of time that youth spend with screens, but it is also a function of the way that many of us now interact with media culture.

Audiences have always been actively involved with still and moving images, celebrities, sports, and popular music, among other artifacts. Fan cultures exemplify this, as do studies of how real-life audiences talk about and use media Buckingham, ; Williams, ; Silverstone, ; Scannell, ; Radway, But today we are called on to participate in digital media culture in new ways.

As digitalization has changed the nature of media production, we have not only become more involved and active in our media use, but our interaction with digital media has allowed others to interact with us in new and sometimes troubling ways. This is the paradox of the participatory condition, and it shapes how youth media culture and education are connected today.

To begin with, the pointy end of the participatory paradox has to do with the way that digital media cultures allow others, including corporations, governments, and predatory individuals, to monitor, survey, coordinate, and guide our activities as never before. With our data footprint, states, political parties, media, toy, and technology companies as well as health, insurance, and a host of other industries become data aggregation units that map and monitor youth behavior to interact with, brand, and modify this behavior for profitable ends.

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Big data enables the production of complex algorithms that produce what Wendy Chun , p. The American former military contractor and dissident Edward Snowden draws our attention to this universe in the documentary CitizenFour , which tells his story, and makes clear that instead of governments and corporations being accountable to us, we are now, regularly and without knowing it, accountable to them Snowden, Compounding these concerns, strangers can now access youth in ways that magnify the potential damage done by the pointy end of the participatory paradox.

Fears about stranger danger and cyberbullying have been especially acute in recent years, and while these fears are not new Poyntz, a , they have been central to panicked reactions among parents, educators, and others wary of youth media culture. These fears are often connected to worries about online content that young people now access, including vast troves of pornography available at the click of a button, as well as worrying online sites that promote hate, terrorism, and the radicalization of youth.

The actual merits of concerns about who is accessing youth and what content they are accessing are sometimes difficult to gauge; nonetheless, it remains the case that for the foreseeable future, one of the fundamental issues shaping relationships between youth, media culture, and education is how and through what means youth are produced and made ready to participate in contemporary promotional and surveillance cultures—particularly when this happens for the benefit of people and institutions that exercise immense and often dubious power in young lives.

On the other end of the participatory paradox is a second issue shaping youth, media culture, and learning. While network societies produce new risk conditions like those noted previously for teenagers, digital media undoubtedly have enabled new forms of creative participation and media production that are changing how youth agency and activism operate. Mobile phones, cameras, editing platforms, and distribution networks have become more easily accessible for young people across the global North and South in recent years, and as this has happened, youth have gained opportunities to create, circulate, collaborate, and connect with others to address civic issues and matters of broad personal and public concern in ways that simply have not been available in the past.

Since the mids, online media worlds have emerged as counterenvironments that afford teenagers a rich and inviting sphere of digitally mediated experiences to explore their imaginations, hopes, and desires Giroux, But the skills and networks that teens nurture online can be publicly relevant Boyd, ; Ito et al. These practices extend a history of youth actions wherein culture and cultural texts have been drawn on to contest politics and power including issues of gender, class, race, sexuality, and ability and matters of public concern including climate change and the rights of indigenous communities.

More generally, across a range of youth communities, peer networks, and affinity associations, participatory media cultures are enabling levels of engagement, circulation, and cultural production by young people that are altering relationships between youth creative acts and political life. Examples include consumer activism e. In addition to politically mobilized youth and youth drawn into mediated politics through cultural pastimes, there is evidence that youth connections to politics are being nurtured further by a diverse range of community youth media initiatives and groups that have emerged in cities across the global North and South over the past 20 years Poyntz, b , ; Asthana, ; Tufte et al.

Such community groups are part of a response to the risk conditions that shape contemporary life. They are crucial to negotiating citizenship in highly mediated cultures and for addressing digital divides to equip young people with the resources and networks necessary to manage and respond to experiences of change, injustice, violence, and possibility. Community youth media production groups are part of an informal cultural learning sector that is an increasingly significant part of the work of provision for socially excluded youth.

These groups are of many types, but they are symptomatic of a participatory media culture in which new possibilities and new opportunities have arisen to nurture youth creativity and political action. How to foster these developments through media education and the challenges confronting these efforts represents the third major issue shaping connections between youth, media culture, and learning today. At the same time, the challenges facing media literacy education are significant. For instance, the massive and relentless turn to instrumental forms of technical and creative learning in the service of job markets and competitive global positioning in formal schooling has mitigated the impact of critical media education.

Over the past two decades, a broad set of changes in schooling environments around the world have increasingly put a premium on preparing teenagers to be globally competitive, employable subjects McDougal, In this context, the lure of media training in the service of work initiatives and labor market preparation is strong; thus, there has been a tendency in school and community-based media projects and organizations to focus on questions of culture and industry know-how i. These developments have led to efforts to redefine media education in the English curriculum in the United Kingdom, in ways that discourage critical media analysis and production Buckingham, Poyntz has indicated elsewhere how this orientation shapes the projects of some community media groups working with young people, but the upshot is that instrumental media learning has come to complicate and sometimes frustrate how media literacy education is used to intervene in relationships among youth, media culture, and learning Livingstone, ; Sefton-Screen, This situation has been complicated further as the field of media literacy education has evolved to become a global discourse composed of a range of sometimes contradictory practices, modalities, objectives, and traditions McDougall, The globalization of media literacy education has been a welcome development and is no doubt a consequence of the globalization of communication systems and the intensification of consumerism among young people around the world.

This has happened as efforts have emerged to weave media literacy education into disparate education systems and media institutions Poyntz, These and similar developments have ensured that media literacy education remains a contested field of objectives and meanings. While this can be interesting for academics, it may be less than encouraging for young people, educators, and others eager to draw on media education to affect contemporary relationships between youth, media culture, and learning.

And let it be noted that the impact of these developments is not only relevant to the ways that youth negotiate media culture, but also to the future of democracy itself. Media cultures have come to play a significant role in the way that young people go about making meaning in the world; this is especially true of how knowledge is shared and acquired. As a result, media are part of the continual shaping and reshaping of what learning resources look like.

Both inside and outside the classroom, young people are increasingly able, even expected, to utilize the vast number of resources now available to them. Yet, many of these resources now foster worry rather than learning. The project of media education is not without its own set of challenges and contradictions, including those highlighted in this article.

But it remains indispensable if educators, parents, and researchers are to support young people in navigating learning environments and imagining democratic futures. Parts of this article have been adapted from Hoechsmann et al. Childhood, mobile technologies, and everyday experiences. The making of television literacy. London and New York: Cambridge and Malden, MA: Moral panics and the media. The cute and the cool: Oxford and New York: Identities and education in global perspective.

Current perspectives in media education: Beyond a manifesto for media education. New York University Press. Where old and new media collide. Children and the Internet. Translocality, imagination, and the political: A hermeneutic exploration of youth media initiatives from India and Palestine. How big business targets children. The Internet and subactivism: Cultivating young citizenship in everyday life. Theories, policies, identities, and websites pp.