In universities in the US, there’s this huge, weird divide between curricula aimed at professional students and curricula created with a more critical slant. Never has this divide seemed more arbitrary and divisive than it does today. On one hand, it’s anti-intellectual, assuming as it does that people who make media don’t think. On the other hand, it’s elitist, insofar as it suggests that people who think don’t need jobs.
Here at Fembot, we are delighted that the current media environment has the potential to break down those walls. Professionals are having to deal with a generation of engaged and savvy media critics, whose willingness to talk back to television producers, advertisers, public relations specialists, game designers, and journalists is sometimes epic. Those on the critical side of things are having to recognize what’s always been the case: their students are by and large going to be entering the messy world of commerce and capitalism and dammit they need some skills to help them go into media industries and make them better places.
So we’re starting a little side-project called Media Fails. What we have in mind is a showcase of all those moments when communications break down because those creating messages (whether they’re political figures, game designers, celebrities) still think about audiences in the homogeneous, un-diverse ways they’ve inherited from old media, Whether it’s Drew Barrymore sporting a native headdress and wearing a Budweiser apron or Vanity Fair’s constant parade of thin white women or J.C. Penney’s t-shirt fiasco, we live in a media environment where everyone’s a critic and your job is going to depend on not pissing off consumers who diverse and internet-savvy. Gone are the days when Aunt Jemima could ignore the protests of black consumers.
These changes should be embraced by all of us. It’s exciting to think about addressing new and different audiences for the media we make. Girls and women love playing videogames and in order to effectively address this growing demographic, those who make and sell videogames are just going to have to wake up and smell the energy drink. The film industry needs to blow the dust off its moldy understanding of chick flix, otherwise clunkers like What’s Your Number? are going to keep costing them money. And our students all need diversity crash courses in order to avoid creating online content for social media that might embarrass them for years to come.
Media Fails is a reminder of what can happen when media producers aren’t also media critics, capable of anticipating how different audiences will understand the content they produce. If you have examples of Media Fails – moments when producers make it clear that they don’t understand the perspective of the audiences they’re addressing — please share them with us.