Kellner and Share situate media literacy education in a
multicultural, media-saturated, information-dense context, in which media
consumers are influenced by dominant ideologies that promote injustice. Thus,
it is critical that media literacy education exceed traditional concepts of media
literacy (comprehension, access, and creation) to develop media consumers who confront
social injustice, inaccuracy, and cultural dominance with alternative forms of
Cultural studies, critical pedagogy, and feminist theories
contribute heavily to critical media literacy, as these theories emphasize
critical thinking, scrutiny of dominant, mainstream ideologies, and personal
empowerment as a way to cope with correct wrong narratives. Mainstream media
perpetuates inequalities through production choices that benefit advantaged
groups and further marginalize other groups. Worse, these messages become
“naturalized” (p. 370) through repetition, meaning that viewers tend to
passively accept the message.
Luke (1994) believes that teachers must help their students
deconstruct such messages, question the power structure, and realize the extent
to which messages promote racism, homophobia, sexism, oppression, and
subordination. Students must also learn the larger paradigm that drives
production, profit, and consumer choices, and their implications on political
power and personal choice.
Standpoint theory suggests that media literacy should teach
people to see the perspectives of the marginalized individual or group
(Harding, 2004). Although critical analysis can promote self-expression of
marginalized or oppressed people, there is also a need for spaces for the
Even though “the media themselves are a form of pedagogy,”
media education lags in the United States (p. 371). Today’s technologies create
new possibilities, but also new spaces, new forms of cultural dissemination,
and pedagogy that drastically influence us. Inoculation theory and traditional
media literacy practices are a starting point for developing critical media
literacy skills, which emphasize media culture, criticism, self-expression, and
activism. Critical media literacy therefore promotes multicultural literacy,
positive civic activism, and improved use of materials and resources—”the
project of radical democracy” (Kellner and Share, 2005, p. 372). A major
challenge is the lack of established traditions for critical media literacy.
The Center for Media Literacy has developed
core concepts for critical media literacy, as follows:
Concept #1: “Principle of Non-Transparency: All media
messages are constructed” recognizes that mediums distort reality through
symbolism and decision-making in production, and that deliberate education is
needed to reveal the meaning ingrained in media messages. The work of Barthes
(1998), Masterman (1994), and Giroux (1997) contribute to this principle.
Concept #2: “Codes and Conventions: Media messages are
constructed using a creative language with its own rules” expands on how signs
and symbols influence the subtleties of the message, through the merging of
connotation and denotation. This is especially important for younger students,
who can benefit from learning to separate what they see and hear from what it
makes them think and feel.
Concept #3: “Audience Decoding: Different people experience
the same media message differently” was developed from two advancements in the
understanding of how people perceive messages. The Birmingham Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies in the U.K. conceptualized the audience as
active, and Hall established the 1980 theory of encoding and decoding texts.
Together these advanced the understanding of literacy, and established
theoretical evidence for the concept, especially when combined with critical
theory and audience theory. Using inquiry methods in media literacy education
thus embraces multiple viewpoints and can enhance democratic practices.
Concept #4: “Content and Message: Media have embedded values
and points of view” relates to the explicit and implicit messages, values,
beliefs, and knowledge basis transferred by texts. Some messages are presented
as factual, although facts themselves can be subjective, depending on the
omission of contextual information, manipulation to justify other goals, and
selection and production criteria. Thus, an uncritical audience can be led to a
certain belief, value set, or inaccurate knowledge.
Concept #5: “Motivation: Media are organized to gain profit
and/or power” reveals the misunderstanding that the purpose of media is simple
entertainment. Structures of economy, and especially consolidation of media,
influence information’s availability, independence, cultural hegemony, and
politics. Bagdikian (2004) lists five corporations that dominate the media
landscape: Time Warner; Disney; Murdoch; Viacom; and Bertelsmann. Media
literacy education should thus entail exploration of the funding, political
leanings, and corporate interests of the conglomerates, who control much
Corporate agendas are of special interest to schooling.
Citing Robins and Webster (2001), Kellner and Share specify that testing,
surveillance, and the loss of content knowledge diminishes critical thinking
and thus political potential. As a result, students are merely taught to be
workers in a market economy.
In conclusion, Kellner and Share issue a persuasive call to
action for critical solidarity (Ferguson, 2001) and critical autonomy
(Masterman, 1994) which would develop “independent and interdependent critical
thinkers, no longer dependent on the media” (Kellner and Share, 2005, p. 381).
This also embodies transformative, socially constructed education that mirrors
the ideals of John Dewey.