On Media Literacy

Like many of my generation, you likely take for granted the many advances that have been made in the field of mass communication. For millenia, humankind has ruled upon the Earth with an iron fist, subjugating species upon species that once were free to flourish and bloom in their own lands, their own waters, in nature’s own terms. It seemed unattainable in our infancy, scribbling on the walls of dank caverns lit by flames of our own making. But we had a rather inconspicuous kind of weaponry in our arsenal, embedded within our throats, our lungs, and our remarkable brains. This is our innate ability to communicate and coordinate with one another in creative and innovative ways, of which other forms of known life are not capable of. And like all things in the natural world, this has evolved beyond comprehension, in a period of tens of thousands of years. Now we are in the digital age, and complex communication is accessible with but a tap of our fingers. I will not elaborate on how we have gotten here, for countless others have already done so more concisely than I shall ever be able to. Instead, I shall argue that it is your obligation as a human being to take advantage of the recent advancements in communication as your forefathers have taken advantage of theirs.

Before I move on, I must first clarify two crucial things. Communication is the act of transmitting information from one entity to another, while media is the means through which communication happens. Therefore. to communicate effectively, we must be literate in all forms of media, digital or physical or otherwise. By being media literate, we are essentially bestowing upon ourselves the ability to decide for ourselves and influence others, whether or not we realize it. It gives even the most powerless individuals the opportunity to be heard and be visible.

In Medieval Europe, media was held beneath the forceful clutch of the Catholic Church, and by extension, the many states that it controlled. Most of the sacred texts were written in Latin, which at the time only nobles and clergymen could understand. The peasantry had little incentive to question any of the sermons that were being fed to them, and thus, the power of the Church remained unopposed. It wasn’t until the advent of the printing press in the Holy Roman Empire at around 1440 that the Bible became available in languages that the common people of Europe could understand and analyze. This led to the Protestant reformation, in which Christianity in the west was split into several different denominations, each with their own interpretations of the sacred texts that differed from that of the Roman Catholic Church. The course of history had shifted, all because of a single invention.

Yet to say that advancement in media technology brought only good would be naive and rather hasty, as a historian might tell you. During the hegemony of the Third Reich, which lasted from the collapse of the Weimar Republic in 1933, and until their final defeat at the hands of the Allied Forces in 1945, the latest advancements in mass media, such as the television and the radio, were utilized by a totalitarian regime to brainwash and entire generation into supporting the exterminations of around 18 million so-called undesirables, most notably the Jews, the Gypsies, the Poles, the Serbs, and people with disabilities. The German people were demoralized, their pride wounded, in the aftermath of the first World War. The Nazis found the perfect scapegoat, which they then propagated to the public using whatever form of media they could get their hands on, may it be paintings, sculpture, film, music, or radio. Media is like fire. It sustains us with its warmth and its light, but it is also a volatile substance, capable of turning into cinder and ash everything within its path.

Media literacy does not merely benefit an individual but society as a whole. It could empower oppressed individuals to form their own views and be heard, though it could also be used to further the nefarious agendas of genocidal regimes. As a member of human society, you are obligated to take part in this, to bear the torch so never again can the fire be used for death and destruction.