Television Literacy

In the John Hartley article, the phrase “television literacy” struck me (Hartley, 396). He writes, “Television literacy was gained informally. Especially in relation to television’s most popular forms, there was no school, no tutoring, no orderly progression through levels of difficulty, no homework and no canon of required reading” (Hartley, 396). Media literacy has not been spread throughout schools in the way that Internet awareness has been taught. While many schools give lectures about the dangers of the Internet and how to best use the valuable resource, few will ever discuss the messages of media and how to navigate them. Until college, the concept of studying media is largely discarded.

This lack of formal knowledge about television perhaps causes the disrespect that McGrath mentions at the beginning of his article. Many deny that they watch television because it has such a negative connotation. Yes, there is bad television. But there are plenty of bad novels published each year that do not detract from the masterpieces. Without training to decode television, it is often dismissed as lowly and mind-numbing. Watching a show like Homicide reminds me of just how literary television can be. For example, Detective Crosetti constantly references Lincoln’s assassination during the first two episodes (Homicide, episodes 1 and 2). The historical reference provides humorous banter while also foreshadowing future conflicts on the show. By discussing an old murder that dealt with issues of race and power, Crosetti informs the audience of conspiracies, racially charged murders, and unsolved crimes yet to come.

Television literacy would shed new light on shows that make these sorts of references. It would also likely train students to recognize other types of messages, like a show laden with sexism or racism. I have no idea what a public school media literacy class would look like, but I imagine it would include decoding television, films, advertisement, and every image thrown at us from an early age. To me, decoding media is just as important as protecting yourself from Internet predators and learning the best search engines to use. If students can be taught how to discriminate in books and in the Internet, then they ought to be taught how to navigate media.

2 responses to “Television Literacy