Mediacology: A Multicultural Approach to Media Literacy in the Twenty-First Century
reviewed by Laura Zlogar - November 24, 2008
Title: Mediacology: A Multicultural Approach to Media Literacy in the Twenty-First Century
Author(s): Antonio Lopez
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 082049707X, Pages: 178, Year: 2008
Search for book at Amazon.com
The 2008 American presidential election was truly 21st century: an unprecedented amount of campaign money raised in small increments from individual donors using the Internet, a vice presidential announcement made to millions by text message, every political speech, gaff, and joke available on You Tube, and bloggers of every stripefrom professional journalists associated with major print media to political party operatives to citizen journalists and college studentscontributing to the collective body of knowledge and judgment on the World Wide Web. Barack Obama is being called the first digital president for whom his preferred method of exchanging information and communication is his Blackberry. In bold and dramatic fashion, we have come face to face with the full impact of the new media. Traditional newspapers and magazines are finding fewer readers willing to wait for the latest edition to arrive at the newsstand. Just recently both The Christian Science Monitor and U.S. News & World Report have ceased all but the occasional print editions and will be available digitally only. The nature and delivery of information is changed forever.
In this increasingly mediated world, however, American teachers seem to have been caught a bit flat-footed. As their students ferret out sources of entertainment and information that most reflect their interests, points of view, and tastes, all available in a variety of formats wherever and whenever they choose, the media skills they are being taught in the classroom, intended to help them navigate the new media, are narrowly conceived and outdated, a condition Antonio Lopez addresses in his new book, Mediacology: A Multicultural Approach to Media Literacy in the Twenty-First Century (2008). Lopez proposes a new pedagogical approach to media literacy based upon ecological design that enables us to gain an authentic sense of place and to transform the alienating thought process that has led to the creation of a mediated world that most of us rail against (p. 3).
By the titles reference to a multicultural approach to media literacy, readers might expect an instructional handbook to aid their teaching media with a multiethnic emphasis. Lopez has not written that book. Instead, he outlines an entirely new way of thinking about media. Lopez begins with the assumption that in a culture marked by separation, alienation, and isolation, media is the solution, not the problem. Media literacy as practiced in most school settings and promoted by organizations such the Center for Media Literacy and Media Awareness reflects a mindset that Lopez describes as GridThink --objectivist, analytical, and linear. Its media presents a constructed reality with commercial and ideological values and points of view. Media literacy based upon this model treats media as information objects to be analyzed in terms of who produced them, when, where, how, and for whom. It intends to create more informed and skeptical consumers of media.
Lopez wants to change the paradigm. He uses the term HoloGrok to describe his approach: holo from holograph and Grok from a Robert Heinlein novel character in Stranger in a Strange Land who perceives the world in a completely different way than fellow humans. Lopezs notion is that New media primarily requires right-brain processing that is spherical, musical, multi-sensory, and nonlinear (p. 8). His media literacy is environmental, ecological, bio-logical; it is holistic, acoustic, and integrative.
Lopezs focus is to fix what is ailing contemporary media literacy. He finds the appropriate symbol in Hopi culture--a cross within a circle, transforming the linear thinking of Western culture into the four cardinal directions and all elements of humanity (emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical) surrounded by the medicine wheel. Lopez maintains that our perceptual wheel is broken (p. 24) because it has been focused too much on the eye (print), on logic, on centralized distribution, power, and message, and too much on selling and consuming. His alternative is a media that encompasses all of the senses, particularly the ear. He references Marshall McLuhans notion of an acoustic space structure. It is even tactile, the importance of the feel of joysticks, cell phones, and Nintendos Wii. The new media is more about telling stories rather than selling something, about sharing in a creative commons rather than owning intellectual property, about the many speaking to the many in a networked environment, about a culture marked by mediaspheric niches.
The notion of a monolithic producer of messages, presenting an illusion or version of reality that is received unchanged by all audiences is simply untenable in the mediasphere in which we currently live. Everything must be interpreted specific to different contexts, cultures, historical periods, and practices. Like geographic regions affected by bioregions, Lopez posits mediaspheric niches affected by the specific region, culture, and values of a particular group of people: This is why the mediacological method of media education is truly multicultural, because it recognizes that any time people interact with media, a number of diverse factors come into play, including cultural frames outside the Western intellectual construct (p. 47). He also stresses that media is reciprocal; we are living in an Age of Feedback, as he notes in the chapter bearing that title. Moreover, he wants to disabuse media teachers of the notion that meaning is a thing that exists independently of people, that cultural memes or units of cultural information move from one person to another without being affected by the perceiver.
Another consequence of the new media that Lopez explores is the experience of splace, a conflation of place and space, that marks the twenty-first century. In a comparison of nineteenth-century magicians use of phantasmagoria -- smoke, mirrors, and technology to confound audiences ability to distinguish between illusion and reality -- Lopez claims that the new media similarly challenges us to discern authentic reality from technological creation: undeniably we have entered into a new technological sphere that alters our sense of place (p. 69). A chapter entitled Lost in Splace explores not only the multiple media platforms on which the television series Lost works, but also how the creators embody this sense of splace in the shows plotline. Feeling at home in the both the physical and mediated world depends upon learning how to make all of the images and stories of all media sources coherent.
Media literacys role, according to Lopez, is to bring together all aspects of media. Rather than equipping students to do battle with media, Lopez wants teachers to help their students make the stories cohere, to help their students participate actively in new media communities, and to aid in the creation of new media. The mediacologist uses the Hopi symbol of the cross within the wheel as a talisman to bring together the logical, linear with the holistic and integrative. Antonio Lopez dares educators to think differently about media literacy. This book provides us with the theoretical foundation to begin the journey.