Break the Election: How to Learn Media Literacy by Remixing Political Advertisements (Part Two)

Many educators may be concerned about the copyright implications of using remix in their classrooms. Some also confused remix and plagiarism. How would you address these concerns?

 

It’s really too bad when these concerns result in chilling innovative education, which includes using remix and technology in the classroom. Remix and plagiarism are of course not the same thing; plagiarism is trying to pass off someone else’s work as your own. Any good remix cites sources and/or uses original ideas to back up an argument, just as students are expected to do when they write a paper. A remix is really just a multimedia essay.

We have a LAMPlit resource guide about fair use, written with K-12 teachers in mind, but there are other resources out there too. I especially like Stanford University’s Copyright & Fair Use Center, American University’s Center for Media and Social Impact and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University also has some great research plus a pro-bono cyberlaw clinic.

Some might argue that young people are being taught through many different channels to be cynical about political institutions. Is there a danger that these remix practices might contribute to cynicism? How do we distinguish between skepticism and cynicism?

For me, cynicism entails apathy. Skepticism entails constant curiosity. It’s easy to feel frustrated and bombarded in a media-saturated environment, and sure, confronting those media can potentially feed cynicism. But we try to focus on remix as an active means of critical expression, which is valuable in a way that sitting around and complaining just is not. If you can create an argument and back it up with facts – and, even better, point to a positive way forward – then your skepticism is healthy and useful. We think remix fosters this.

What have emerged as some of the common themes in student remixes and critiques of existing political advertisements?

One is authenticity. Students are aware that candidates are trying to appeal to the masses, and that in order to do that they need to seem likable in media. You can see those themes in this remix on Hillary Clinton and this one on Marco Rubio.

There’s also an interest in pointing out how emotionally manipulative the ads can be, like this one remix about Ted Cruz.

I should say there are a lot of great remixes we haven’t been able to post publicly because they don’t meet fair use standards. What makes them great is that the students are clearly very passionate. Fair use is really hard, and takes a lot of practice. We don’t always have as much time as we’d like in programs to go back and refine videos, but I’ve been so impressed with our students’ ability in general to call out political ads for not being substantial enough. They see that publicity stunts, like dancing on Ellen or cooking bacon on a machine gun, happen at the expense of talking about the real reasons why people should vote for someone.

This campaign has shaped into one of the most negative in American presidential history. What should we be telling students specifically about the impact of negative advertising in the campaign process?

This is a great time for students to be learning the difference between feelings and facts. Negative ads often make us feel angry, but they don’t usually make us think too hard about facts, or think that we should question those facts in any way. I think it’s less about what we should be telling students about the impact of negative ads, and more about what we should be helping them ask and explore. Such as, what’s the difference between negative advertising and bullying? When it comes to negative ads, do you think the facts matter to people? Why would someone engage in, or specifically avoid, negative advertising?

The rhetoric in this campaign has been extremely negative but I think our job as educators is to not let that poison our young people’s interest in civic engagement. It’s getting harder and harder to convince people they should take part in such an imperfect democratic system, but I would never counsel a young person to sit out of voting, knocking on doors or forming and sharing an informed opinion. We’ve already seen how remix can be used to powerful effect in this campaign, by the candidates themselves and by citizens. What I want to see is how it can be used to powerful effect in civic engagement for the future – no matter who winds up winning this election.

D.C. Vito co-founded The LAMP (Learning About Multimedia Project) in 2007. Since that time, The LAMP has brought media literacy training to over 3,000 youth, parents and educators, transporting equipment and facilitators directly to communities in need of its services. Under Mr. Vito’s leadership as Executive Director, The LAMP’s programming capacity has grown tremendously from serving roughly 75 students in the 2010-2011 school year, to serving over 850 students by the 2011-2012 school year. Mr. Vito worked as a community organizer for many years prior to The LAMP, having served in the Peace Corps in Mali, managing campaigns for City Council, State Senate and Presidential candidates, and spent eight years acting as Chairman of the Youth Services and Education Committee on Brooklyn’s Community Board Six. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the National Association for Media Literacy Educators (NAMLE), is a member of the NationSwell Council and was in the 25th cohort at the Coro New York Leadership Center.

 

Emily Long has been with The LAMP since 2008, managing grant writing, project development, internal and external communications, special events, website and social media, strategic partnerships and The LAMP’s MediaBreaker/Studios video remix platform development project Emily earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy and Script Development from Columbia University in 2006. While at Columbia, she edited and catalogued hundreds of interviews and transcripts for the Oral History Research Office, focusing primarily on their 9/11 Project. She has extensive experience with numerous media through her work with Columbia’s Rare Books and Manuscript LibraryAtlantic Theater CompanySesame Workshop and others.

 

Break the Election: How to Learn Media Literacy by Remixing Political Advertisements (Part One)

As we start back to school, many of us are going to be looking for new ways to provide our students with the media literacy skills and contextual background needed to make sense of the craziness which is the 2016 Presidential Campaign (“All Bets Are Off”). One of the many groups working to address these needs is LAMP (“Learning About Multimedia Project”) which describes itself as “bringing 21st-century survival skills to all New Yorkers.” They have adopted a hands-on approach where young people are encouraged to develop critical media literacy by breaking down, remixing, and commenting upon campaign commercials released by the various candidates, using their Mediabreaker Critical Remix tool.  I’ve long advocated that appropriation represents a core cultural competency of our times and that schools should be doing more to build critical remixing into their instruction. I was thus delighted to learn of this great example and happy to be sharing it with my readers. What follows is an interview with D.C. Vito and Emily Long, two of the organization’s leaders, as they share a progress report on Break the Election.

Interestingly, we are seeing more and more examples this election cycle where the campaigns or the PACS working on their behalf are actively appropriating and remixing media towards their own ends. Consider, for example, this video which juxtaposes clips of Donald Trump with bullies from 1980s comedies. Or this one which remixes various Republicans talking about Trump’s tax returns.

The first adopts a playful approach to remix, using popular media to comment on real world political concerns, where-as the other raids the media archive, creating a new context for understanding previous statements. But both demonstrate how remix practices are being deployed by the campaign. What do we do now — remix the remixes?

 

Give us some background on Break the Election. How did this project come about and what are you trying to achieve?

 

We first started thinking about Break the Election during the 2012 presidential race. Up until that point, we were using video remix in our programs for the purpose of remixing and talking back to commercials. We knew we wanted to develop our own video remix tool – up until that point, we used iMovie, which was too complicated for a lot of our students and teachers to learn quickly – but couldn’t justify doing it if the only media we were going to remix were commercials. We knew there were other applications for remix, and it was like a light bulb for us as we were iterating the new tool amid an environment saturated with political campaign ads.

The new tool, of course, was what is now MediaBreaker/Studios, a free online teaching platform built around our MediaBreaker video editing tool designed specifically for remixing third-party video. We’ve done programming where students remix not just commercials and political ads, but also movie trailers, TV shows, music videos…you name it.

One of our largest goals was to provide pathways for young people to become engaged in the election in a way that we hoped would be authentic to their interests. Break the Election allows our students who are still too young to vote to have a say about the issues, and with just every moment of the campaign trail being caught on video, they have plenty of material to use to make their point. It also challenges them to look at how public opinions are shaped by media, and ask some uneasy questions about the democratic process. Do we elect the candidate who is most capable, or do we elect the candidate with the strongest, best-funded media machine? How well do we really get to know a candidate, when our perspective is shaped by outlets trying to keep up with a 24-hour news cycle? These are tough questions, but they have to be asked in a media literate democracy.

Why do you think remix is an important strategy for developing critical media literacies?

Remix requires people to flex every muscle in the standard definition of media literacy, which is to “access, analyze, evaluate and create” media. You have to source your material, which means you need to be able to access it, but you also have to analyze and evaluate in the process of making critical statements and transforming the message – which happens to also be legally required, if you’re going to stick to fair use guidelines so you can share your work publicly. If you can’t remix, I don’t think you’re media literate. Remix really is the canary in the coal mine for critical media literacy.

 

Why the focus on political advertisements?

One of the reasons we like remixing commercials in general is because of the form. Commercials are short, tight persuasive messages, and usually they’re entertaining so young people enjoy working with them. Since they’re only about thirty seconds long, they can be unpacked in a relatively short time, which is important for teachers who only have forty or fifty minutes in a class.

Political advertisements are also rich troves of messaging. They’re very challenging from an information literacy perspective, but they’re also designed to solicit really strong emotions about things that matter deeply, like the type of world we want to live in. Part of what we’re doing is teaching young people to not be indifferent to political ads – even though they are too young to cast a vote, they’re still part of a target audience, from now through the rest of their lives. Media literacy is hardly ever more important than when you’re using it to decide who should represent your voice, and you’re never too young to start practicing and applying those skills.
How might educators bring the Break the Election activity into their classrooms?

 

We have a series of free hands-on resource guides called LAMPlit, and we created one especially for Break the Election. It takes educators step-by-step through the process of teaching students to create critical remixes rooted in political advertisements, and includes a brief history of political campaign ads to help educators contextualize their unique form and purpose. The LAMPlit also has links to other resources to help educators find and select political ads to remix, and prompts from which educators can choose. And of course educators should feel free to adapt the activities in whatever way makes sense for their students and classrooms.

 

What advice do you have about creating the right atmosphere in the classroom for political remix?

 

We’ve found it’s very important to emphasize that remixing a political ad isn’t meant to be an act of partisanship. You can, and should, remix ads based on their content, not based on the candidate you happen to support. The point is to be critical, and there is plenty to critique when it comes to political messaging whether you’re Democratic, Republican, Independent or something else. The focus needs to be on facts, not hyperbole, and healthy, respectful debate. If a teacher thinks the current election is too polarizing for a productive learning experience, we suggest he or she try looking at more historical material.

D.C. Vito co-founded The LAMP (Learning About Multimedia Project) in 2007. Since that time, The LAMP has brought media literacy training to over 3,000 youth, parents and educators, transporting equipment and facilitators directly to communities in need of its services. Under Mr. Vito’s leadership as Executive Director, The LAMP’s programming capacity has grown tremendously from serving roughly 75 students in the 2010-2011 school year, to serving over 850 students by the 2011-2012 school year. Mr. Vito worked as a community organizer for many years prior to The LAMP, having served in the Peace Corps in Mali, managing campaigns for City Council, State Senate and Presidential candidates, and spent eight years acting as Chairman of the Youth Services and Education Committee on Brooklyn’s Community Board Six. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the National Association for Media Literacy Educators (NAMLE), is a member of the NationSwell Council and was in the 25th cohort at the Coro New York Leadership Center.

Emily Long has been with The LAMP since 2008, managing grant writing, project development, internal and external communications, special events, website and social media, strategic partnerships and The LAMP’s MediaBreaker/Studios video remix platform development project Emily earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy and Script Development from Columbia University in 2006. While at Columbia, she edited and catalogued hundreds of interviews and transcripts for the Oral History Research Office, focusing primarily on their 9/11 Project. She has extensive experience with numerous media through her work with Columbia’s Rare Books and Manuscript LibraryAtlantic Theater CompanySesame Workshop and others.

 

Update: Transforming Hollywood 7: Diversifying Entertainment, October 21, USC

Earlier this summer, I posted a hold the date announcement of our upcoming conference, Transforming Hollywood 7: Diversifying Entertainment, which will be held at USC on Oct. 21. I am now able to announce many of the event’s participants, though we still have some outstanding invitations we hope to resolve over the next few weeks and with luck, we will have some exciting new speakers to announce as we get closer to the event. As always, the Transforming Hollywood events bring together industry leaders, creative artists, academics, journalists, fans, and activists for important conversations about the futures of entertainment. Our panels are designed to dig deep and bridge divides. We hope you will join us for this year’s event.

 

Transforming Hollywood 7: Diversifying Entertainment

October 21 Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California

Sustaining Sponsor: AJK Foundation
Event Sponsors: Fusion/Univision, George Foster Peabody Foundation, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism

Sustaining Organizers: Denise Mann, UCLA; Henry Jenkins, USC
Event Organizer: Stacy Smith, USC

9-9:20 Welcome 

Ernest Wilson, Dean, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism

Denise Mann, head of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Producers Program

Henry Jenkins, USC Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Art, and Education

 

9:20- 9:45 State of the Field Report 

Stacy Smith, Director, Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative, USC

 

9:45-11 Panel:  Why Does Inclusion Matter?

Moderator: Robeson Taj Frazier, Director of the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA), University of Southern California

After hearing about the dismal representation of marginalized groups in entertainment, one question remains: what can be done? As the conversation on diversity and inclusion continues to escalate, several voices stand out from the crowd with solutions, strategies, and attempts to address disparities. This session brings together industry members and experts to discuss four essential topics. First, the panel will address why inclusive entertainment matters. Second, individuals will discuss the underlying causes at the heart of why under or skewed representation persists. Third, the group will overview what efforts are underway in Hollywood to effect change. Fourth, panelists will cover the challenges that remain and the work still needed to increase representation on screen and behind the camera.

Bertila Damas— SAG AFTRA National Chair of the Ethnic Employment Opportunities Committee

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni —  Pearl Street Productions

Melissa Goodman – director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California

Danny WoodburnActor, Chair of Screen Actors Guild, Performers with Disabilities group

 

11:10-1 Panel 2  What Alternatives Does Social Media Offer?

Moderator: Denise Mann, UCLA

This panel explores social media as a powerful tool for artists, activists, and influencers to express their voices of diversity and dissent outside the Hollywood mainstream. Social influencers are a new breed of online creator whose ability to thrive in the platform economy depends on their facility with social media connectivity as a means to amass a dedicated following of online users. Fans, who become invested in the ideas conveyed by a favorite artist or musician, can help spread these messages of change across an exponentially wider circle of social media communities. However, the life of an online creator or influencer is not for the faint of heart. Hollywood’s writers, directors, and actors are protected by talent guilds and guided through the byzantine Hollywood system by thousands of development and marketing executives, who give dissenting opinions via an endless series of story notes and marketing positioning statements. While guaranteed a paycheck via “work-for-hire” contracts, Hollywood talent lacks essential power and agency because they don’t control the copyright for their artistic work. In contrast, actor-creator-entrepreneurs like Freddie Wong and Issa Rae are running mini-studios of their own making and retaining part or full ownership of their creations. While building their “brand”—themselves—over weeks, months, and even years, they rely on a variety of resources: crowdsourcing, Adsense revenues, merchandising, branded content deals, and cross-promotional guest appearances in order to keep their voices heard above the din of clickbait and app fatigue. Therefore, online creators need powerful advocates—talent managers who know how to use social media to help under-represented artists escape from obscurity to become chart-topping celebrities. They also need tech startup experts capable of shepherding the engineers and coders who tweak streaming content aggregators, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal, so that they serve artists as well as platform founders. Additionally, online artists need powerful insiders— showrunners, producers, and other allies—who understand what it’s like to struggle against the tide of entitlement that prevails in the studio system, and who will help newcomers with alternative voices navigate the gap between the autonomous spaces of the Web and the heavily bureaucratic and hierarchical spaces of mainstream Hollywood.

 

Troy Carter, Founder/CEO, Atom Factory Music +Smash’d Labs, Global Head/Creator Services, Spotify

Bambi Haggins, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, Arizona State University (author of Laughing Mad: The BlackComic Persona in Post-Soul America)


Prentice Penny, Executive Producer/Showrunner, HBO’s Insecure (based on Issa Rae’s webseries, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl)

Freddie Wong, Founder, Rocket Jump Studios, online video pioneer and VFX artist

 

1-2 Lunch

2-3:50 Panel 3: How Do We Change the Script?

Moderator: Henry Jenkins, USC

Within the entertainment industry, genre conventions help to shape what stories get told and how productions get promoted and marketed to particular audiences. As we push for greater inclusion, we need to reconsider the ways that these genres encode old assumptions about race, gender, and sexuality, and the ways these scripts need to be reimagined to reflect more diverse perspectives. Many of today’s creators find themselves pushing against taken-for-granted assumptions and long-standing formulas, and as a consequence, often fall back on old tropes and stereotypes. These particulars look somewhat differently whether we are considering realist or fantastical genres but both offer opportunities for “changing the script” but they also bring with them a  lot of historical baggage. The news media likes to focus on the white male backlash in fandom against some of the shifts taking place within genre entertainment, but we also know that many active fans are embracing these changes and indeed, modeling through their creative responses what an even more diverse form of genre entertainment might look like. And activists are holding producers feet to the fire, asking critical questions about the ways even more diverse and inclusive productions may fall short of our hopes and expectations. So, how do we change the script? How do we embrace new stories? How do we tell the old stories differently? And what role can the fantastical or speculative genres perform in imagining alternatives to current racial realities?

Grace Dillon — Professor in the Indigenous Nations Studies Program, Portland State University; Editor, Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction

Javier Grillo-MarxuachWriter/ProducerLost, The Middleman, The 100, Xena: Warrior Princess

Nakul Dev Mahajan — Dancer/Choreographer, So You Think You Can Dance

Dodai Stewart  — Director of Culture Coverage for FUSION

Ebony Elizabeth ThomasYoung Adult Writer; Assistant Professor,  Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Phil Yu — BloggerAngry Asian Man 

 

4-6:15 Panel 4 How do We Move from Stereotypes to More Complex Characters?

Moderator: Maureen Ryan, Chief Television Critic, Variety

The challenge of creating more diverse representations often centers on the construction of characters. It is not enough to put diverse faces in front of the camera: we need to depict those characters with nuance and complexity, in ways that audiences will recognize from their own lives, in ways that inspire their imaginations. Where does the responsibility rest for generating compelling characters in contemporary popular entertainment? What roles do producers, writers, and actors play in defining who these people are, what they desire, how they react, what goals they pursue, and what relationships they form? And how should we respond when bad things happen to good characters, when subsequent production decisions undercut or marginalize characters whose presence is particular significant for under-represented segments of the population?

Evelyn Alsultany— Associate Professor; Director of the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program, University of Michigan; Author of Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11

Effie Brownproducer, Dear White People  

Kathy Le Backes — Vice President, Research and Development, Wise Entertainment

Melissa Silverstein–Founder and Publisher, Women and Hollywood 

Jeff Yang — Vice President of Cultural Strategy at sparks & honey; Co-editor of Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology

 

6:30-7:15 Keynote Conversation

Moderator: TBA

Melissa Rosenberg —  Series Creator/Showrunner, Marvel’s Jessica Jones

 

7:15-  Reception

Registration for the event is now open on a first come, first serve basis. For more information, visit our website. Tickets are $40 for the general public and $10 for students, faculty, and staff of academic institutions.