Mixed messages and media literacy

On my trip home from New York, I read some, napped some, looked out the window some. Actually, before I got on the bus, this billboard on the west side of Manhattan caught my eye:


Turns out this is advertising for RT.com, a Russian-language news media source. The billboard is bold and controversial, and I found it intriguing…until I went online and saw Putin’s face front and center, with a linked page with the heading, “‘Economic isolation breach of intl law’: Top 5 takeaways from Putin ahead of G20.” Now, I’m not going to argue that the way Putin is portrayed in the West is completely accurate and lacks any geopolitical strategy, but I’m not a fan of the man and his politics, not to mention his government’s influence on the Russian media.

Moving along…

My bus ride, as uneventful as it normally is (someone had thrown up in the bathroom on the bus, the bus driver and the woman sitting next to me were arguing loudly in Haitain Creole the whole way — pretty standard stuff), was capped by a visual coming in to Boston:


Now I saw this at night, but the message rang clear enough: “Guns have stopping power. Fortunately, so does your vote” said the sign (this image was taken from the Boston Globe) as it advocates gun control and “counts” the number of deaths since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost two years ago. Certainly intriguing, powerful. But just prior to seeing the sign, I read an article in Truthout called “Rich People Rule: Struggles Lie Ahead,” which argued that the American political system, where we prize the right to vote as citizens, has moved dangerously far away from democracy (perhaps, instead, into a new phase of pseudo-democracy):

Unless the moneyed interests happen to align with the public, politicians always voted against the interests of the citizens.

Interpreted through that lens (which is grounded in academic research, by the way, as it was based on a study published in the American Political Science Association earlier this year), I found the sign sad and ironic. Does the public want to get rid of guns? Perhaps, depending on where you live and how you see the right to own, carry, purchase, and fire a gun. However, this is hardly the point. Those who influence government action, increasingly, are the wealthy and powerfully connected special interest groups like the NRA and other conservative right-wing voices that favor small government over other considerations; my vote, according to the study cited in Truthout, actually counts less than a rich person’s does in the democratic machinations of the U.S. legislative process. I don’t mean to say, then, that the sign was misleading; rather, the conviction of its creators was founded on a notion of our government’s actions being tempered and supported by the majoritarian voice…which is simply not true.

Media literacy is always good to hone as a critical skill, yet it’s so tempting just to go with the colors, the simplicity, the impact. I guess it’s good to remember that we’re not newborns in a crib, reaching up to the baubles around us with dazzled eyes, but to pull back and review, read, and look for the reveal.


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