“For me the only dangerous media is the unexamined media.” That was the sentiment, expressed by Leah Wilson, behind the Geek Girl Con panel on Media Literacy, Criticism, and Production. I was particularly excited about this panel because it featured the awesome Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency as well as Kelsey Wallace and Kjerstin Johnson, who were my editors when I was writing the Revenge of the Feminerd series for Bitch Magazine blogs. The other panelists were Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, director of The History of the World as Told by Wonder Woman as well as Wilson, editor of Smart Pop Books. The panel was moderated by Maile Martinez, programming director at Reel Grrls.
So what is media literacy?
Kjerstin replied that media literacy helps us see media as more than just entertainment: “It’s not just a comic but something that’s affecting people’s lives.”
Kristy said media literacy for her has been a tool that’s helped her learn from what others have created when creating her own things.
Kelsey pointed out that media literacy is about asking who made the media and why. It involves looking at the financial and social interests behind the media you’re consuming. But Kelsey said she feels media literacy has an “unfortunate bad rap of just about hating on something,” when actually in her view it’s about loving something so much that you’ll get into it to that level.
In a similar vein talking about the bad rap that media literacy can get, Anita added, “I think about it as being a fan from a marginalized community.” Anita continued that media literacy can happen in simple and everyday ways: “I think we are being media literate when we have conversations with our friends.”
Another question that was asked was about the potential for feminists and others discontented with mainstream media to be producers of alternative media. The panelists could all think of examples of great indie comics, webseries, and other positive alternative media, but Kelsey cautioned that we shouldn’t give up trying to change mainstream media: “Taking equipment up and doing it yourself is one way, but it also puts onus on consumers instead of corporations. We also need to demand more from companies to make stuff we like,” she asserted.
After discussing some debatable “strong woman characters”, the panel closed with some recommendations for how to respond to the lack of representation of marginalized bodies (specifically people with disabilities, people of above-average weight, and people of colour) in the media. One panelist pointed out a big problem is that when marginalized bodies are portrayed, the whole focus seems to be on the person’s difference.
“I don’t have an answer. It sucks. And I think it’s important to be angry about it. And to be vocally angry. Tweet about it and write about it,” Anita replied.
“It’s really important to recognize your privilege and position as a consumer and challenge yourself to seek out media from people who come from marginalized experiences,” Kjerstin suggested.
If you want to re-live the whole panel, you’re in luck! Kjerstin Johnson did an audio recording that you can find on Bitch Radio.