Review – Media Journal: Reading and Writing About Popular Culture1999 by Marnie Binfield
I love to dance. Old School Funk, Soul and Hip Hop music are my genres of choice. When I get on the dance floor and start to move, the world melts away and I feel as though I am pure music, pure motion. I feel most truly free when I am dancing. I have searched for the words to explain my love for “Booty Clubs” to my feminist friends who see only misogyny and violence in Hip Hop. I want them to understand; I want to explain; I want to share the pleasure I take in Hip Hop music. In order to do so, I must first come to my own understanding of why I love Hip Hop music. Like all music for which I reserve a special place in my heart, Hip Hop came to my rescue at a time when I desperately needed it. My experiences with Hip Hop music are extremely personal, offering me a well of emotion to draw upon as I cast a critical eye towards Hip Hop music as a text and begin to make sense of these experiences and to phrase them so that they make sense to others.
This is the task that Media Journal: Reading and Writing About Popular Culture sets before students. When I first glanced through Media Journaland found readings from a range of writers including Lester Bangs, Umberto Eco, and Gloria Steinem, I thought, “This is a textbook that has the potential to capture students’ imaginations.” The editors have included readings that speak to student’s experiences without sacrificing quality. There are readings on wearing blue jeans, admiring Michael Jordan, the role of Playboy Magazine in defining masculinity, professional wrestling and casual Fridays in the workplace. The selection of readings, as well as the text of the introduction illustrate the editors commitment to understanding issues of race, ethnicity, class, gender and so on. While addressing a broad range of media issues and supporting a broad definition of media, the readings also represent an array of writing styles. Thus, Media Journaloffers students a variety of examples of “good” writing about media.
The editors of Media Journal assume that students are intimately involved with media. They note in the preface that “almost all of us are immersed everyday in a world of texts – of newspapers, magazines, radio, television, movies, videos, billboards, flyers, menus, pop songs, buttons, logos, printed T-shirts and caps, memos, directions, homework assignments, web pages and e-mail postings, and even, on occasion, books…(ix).” Although the editors “believe strongly that good writing stems from experience, [they] are most interested in the students experiences as intellectuals (ix).” Thus, they draw on the media as a way for students to write from their own experience while also writing about texts and ideas.
The editors attempt to help students become critical readers of media by offering an array of challenging and thought provoking readings. In addition, each reading is followed by a series of questions divided into three categories: Coming to Terms, Reading as a Writer, and Writing Criticism. Each set of questions prompts students to “read” the text from a slightly perspective and, finally, to engage the writer in a dialogue of sorts. The readings are geared towards an undergraduate, media literate student. The editors assume that students are intelligent and engaged and that students will shape the class through their own interests and opinions.
The editors of Media Journal view writing as a process. Although they resist imposing formulas on the writer, they explain that they find the following distinctions valuable for developing critical writing skills. According to the editors, writing presents the writer with three problems: fluency, persuasion, and correctness. Thus, the writing process can be described as a process of drafting (which addresses fluency, finding the words to say what the writer wants to say), revising (organizing and phrasing the text persuasively), and editing. Furthermore, the editors recommend soliciting responses from readers to test how effectively the text has achieved its goals. The editors stress that “the activities of drafting, revising and editing often blur into one another” (9). Nonetheless, these distinctions allow the writer to deal with one problem at a time and to avoid the block that is created by trying to deal with all the problems that writing presents at once.
For this reason, Media Journal has an array of assignments that begin with keeping a media journal. There are journal assignments that ask the student to address specific topics. Others ask students to reflect upon their own uses of and exposure to media. The media journal is designed as a space for students to brainstorm, take notes and to begin drafting. The thinking, planning and organizing that take place in the journal will then lead, ideally, to the drafting of longer, more complicated texts.
Media Journal is an exceptional textbook that allows freedom for both students and teachers. The readings are arranged in alphabetical order so that teachers are free to shape the course as they envision it. The book is designed as a framework on which to build a writing class, a “rough draft” that can be “revised” and rearranged to meet the goals of a specific class. The editors of Media Journal have made an effort to avoid imposing formulas and dictates on its readers. They offer an impeccable selection of reading material and questions and leave the “consumers” to make their own meanings from them.