Welcome back to the blog of Zoon Garden author Jordan O’Donnell. This week we want to drop in with a quick discussion on media literacy, which is a central theme in O’Donnell’s book.
In Zoon Garden: The Decline of a Nation, modern media takes the form of howling birds: an owl, eagle, and overwhelming amounts of pigeons, which represent the politically slanted media sources and social media, respectively. Like Americans today, the zoo animals struggle to determine which sources they can trust and how to find “truth” when their culture is oversaturated with information.
The free press has been a symbol of democracy since the founding of the United States, when the colonial fight for free press was entangled with the American struggle against British control. As such, the concept of free press remains central to the American identity, with newspapers representing a democratizing force in our culture. Unfortunately, the capitalistic and polarizing motives of news sources go nearly as far back. The “yellow journalism” of the late 1800’s is a clear example of this; without the sensationalized headlines of the day’s news sources, the Spanish-American War of 1898 may have been avoided.
Because of the cultural value we place on the free press, we often ignore the ultimate motive of news presses in capitalist civilization: profit. Sensational headlines get more readership. Articles that demonize political groups and polarize Americans get more attention because they reinforce beliefs that we already hold, because they don’t challenge our perspectives, because they feed into the emotional convenience of tribalism.
So what can we do? In the age of media overload, it’s easy to nestle into a safe corner of the internet and get your information from an echo chamber of your choosing. To combat this, cultural professionals – and the Zoon Garden Team – recommend sharpening your media literacy skills.
Media literacy is the set of skills needed to access, analyze, and create media, with the intention of promoting awareness of media influence. In other words, what motivates the media you consume? How can you extract the facts from biased sources? There are seven media literacy skills that are generally agreed upon by media literacy experts, and throughout the following weeks Zoon Garden will provide an in-depth lesson on each, right here on our blog.
In the meantime, we encourage you to start questioning the content you surround yourself with. How does your social media feed serve as a reflection of your own ideological beliefs and biases? What does it mean that you’re on this website, reading this article, right now? How might you begin to expand your sources?
Crash Course Video Series on Media Literacy
National Association for Media Literacy Education
Pew Research Center on Political Polarization & Media Habits