References to the power and prevalence of “the media” are commonplace these days. But what are “the media?” How do they work and for whom? As media increasingly pervade the fabric of daily life, and as fewer and fewer entities maintain ownership over the largest media institutions, the urgency of answering these questions only grows in importance.
Yet these questions are incredibly difficult to ask—much less answer—owing to the ways in which the structure and functioning of the media remain, for many of us, either so taken for granted as to seem self-evident, or at the opposite extreme, so opaque as to seem downright mysterious. This course will introduce you to the basic vocabularies of visual and media literacy and will hone your skills at analyzing media texts, institutions, apparatuses, and audiences critically. We will focus on five specific (and ubiquitous) media genres—film, television, digital technologies, radio, and advertising—and our goal will be to explore the relationships among form, content, ownership, history, and meaning with respect to each. The class will help you to appreciate more fully the complex ways in which media inhabit and affect cultural, political, and economic life. More importantly, it will provide you with the analytical and interpretive skills by which to navigate and begin to make sense of the densely mediated landscapes we inhabit.