With the seasons, the new semester, and the changing of the clocks, my thoughts have shifted away from the ghost of Hamlet and Gatsby to the ghosts of media where corporate barons and would-be princes have greater global influence. I’ve decided to post a series of meditations on media. In these mediations, I’ll negotiate my way through contemporary communications.
Teaching Grade 11 Media Studies presents many challenges. Most significant is this; the course is offered at an open level, yet the 8 key concepts are abstract and the implications of these concepts requires some higher order critical thinking. Not many students are emotionally or cognitively developed to meet the expectations.
I often find myself revisiting my thinking about the key concepts. One of the concepts that came crashing down upon me while struggling to write a communication skills textbook for McGraw-Hill is this.
“Form and content are closely related.” (John Pungunte)
Many teachers talk about technology changing the way contemporary culture communicates. And, even though communication modes are changing, it is not always technology that is prompting this change. Take Chris Ware’s new graphic novel, Building Stories.
The form of this graphic novel is print (concrete and static), but the author changes the conventions of the form merging them with those of comic books, game boards, jigsaw puzzles, memory boxes, and possibly more. I read an interesting article, “The Conscious Materiality of Chris Ware’s Building Stories” by Shawn Huston which can be found here: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/166841-the-conscious-materiality-of-chris-wares-building-stories/ and watched this unboxing of the book video.
Changing technology plays no role in Chris Ware’s innovative form of communication. Instead of changing technology being the singular factor changing communication, I see a converging of the conventions within forms. Despite change, the key concept still holds true – form and content are still closely related, because Ware was restricted to the print medium. He took the conventions of multiple print forms to communicate his narrative.
Another example that demonstrates this key concept can be found in Rives TED talk, “A story of mixed emoticons”.
Rives’ narrative is limited to the shape of punctuation and the number of visual symbols that can be made with those marks. This narrative form and its contents are closely related; in deed, the contents and the story itself are entirely restricted by the form and the use of emoticons.
I think that students, now more than ever, need to understand how to read the conventions of form and then to recognize how content is shaped. This is not unlike the traditional methods of identifying similes or metaphors so students can appreciate the reading, and effectively communicate using them. However, the converging of forms has complicated the reading and writing process both for the student and for the teacher. I think that teaching the traditional skills of reading and writing still applies, but recognizing how conventions break out of the controls of genre will help students acquire the skills needed in the revolution of contemporary communication. The key concepts of media studies help with this.
The boundaries of genre once controlled by conventions are being smashed as advertising enters journalism and live voices are replaced by texts or tweets. I believe these changes have made the key concepts more relevant and more important to understanding communication in the revolution of convergence.