Media Literacy Program

Centre for Global & Multicentric Education

Dr. Amir Mirfakhraie has developed the Media Literacy Program at the Centre for Global & Multicentric Education to engage Sociology students in critical analysis of various forms of media and popular culture. The aim of this program is to involve Kwantlen Sociology students in grassroots and community organizations and programs as media researchers and activists.

In this program, students will account for the hegemonic and emancipatory characteristics of the media and popular culture. The aim of this initiative is to engage students in analyzing the role of the media in ideological control. Students explore and analyze how the media and popular press educate people about social, economic, cultural, environmental, and political issues and relations, locally and globally (Macedo, 2007, p. xix).

An important goal of Media Literacy Program is to interrogate the relationship between the state, corporate power, educational institutions, and the media in “manufacturing consent” through the processes of “engineering of consent” that promote the values, norms, laws, and political ideologies of the dominant groups in society (Macedo, 2007, p. xix).

Another important aim of the Media Literacy Program is to involve students in deconstructing media and popular culture images. Students will gain skills and knowledge to analyze texts, drawings, maps, narratives, and images, and to produce emancipatory and anti-hegemonic alternative texts and narratives that reflect the interests, historical memories, and voices of marginalized and subaltern groups across the globe. 

The Media Literacy Program strives to make available to students those intellectual tools, theoretical frameworks, and practical knowledge that will enable them to fully practice their democratic rights and to promote social justice by accounting for the intersections of multiple forms of oppression. This program promotes the ideology of critique and highlights the politics of representation of factors such as gender, sexuality, “race”, ethnicity, language, ability, age and disability. The goal is to produce alternative media production that include the issues of economic, political, cultural and social contexts, control and freedom (Keilner & Share, 2007, p. 4-5).

This program is based on a critical media literacy approach that problematizes apolitical understandings of the media and  leads students to explore how power, popular culture, media, and information technology are interrelated (Keilner & Share, 2007).

Movies and the Media Literacy Program

As part of this program, sociology students analyze films, movies and TV programs for their representations of gender, "race", ethnicity, sexuality, ability, language, nationalism, colonialism, and class relations. Movies and other forms of media, as aspects of popular culture, provide facts, and explanations that are framed within the context of the dominant ideology. They reinforce and emphasize “the dominant canon and paradigms taught in the school and university curriculum” (Banks, 2001, p. 202, Cultural Diversity and Education: Foundations, Curriculum, and Teaching). As Giroux (1988, p. 39, Schooling and the Struggle for Public life) maintains, educators need to understand and counter the ideological and social practices that “further the mechanisms of power and domination”.

As bell hooks (1996, reel to real: race, sex, and class at the movies) argues, movies are magical. They seem to reflect the “real” world but in fact transform it into something else. As Bulman (1985, p. 1) maintains, movies present to us interpretations of reality. They do not depict reality as it is. bell hooks (1996, reel to real: race, sex, and class at the movies) maintains that we often go to movie theatres to escape our ordinary lives and to experience lifestyles, places, and material objects that we do not have access to. We also watch movies to learn things. Although we often claim we watch films for their entertainment values. We cannot deny that movies alter how we imagine and think about the world around us. The media in its various forms is not reflective of diverse histories and values within society. Yet, “the written and electronic media have an important role in guiding, shaping, and transforming the way we look at the world ('perceptions'), how we understand it ('conceptions'), and the manner in which we experience and relate to it ('reality')” (Henry, et al., 1998, p. 296).

hooks (1996, p. 2) argues that movies, intentionally or not, play important pedagogical (pedagogy: theory of teaching) roles in our lives. Even if the directors or producers of these movies and films do not intend to teach us about some historical event, social relation, or aspects of the human psyche, this does not mean that lessons cannot be learned from watching movies. She argues that her students learn more about racial, ethnic, sexual, and class issues from the movies they watch than from theoretical discussions (hooks, 1996, p. 2). It is in this sense that we can employ movies as teaching tools to discuss important issues that are elaborated on by conflict theorists or feminists, to name a few. Films and movies, then, can become pedagogical tools and function as the starting point to discuss complicated issues.

hooks, moreover, reminds us that movies and films can contain contradictory images and messages. They can be both dogmatic and/or emancipatory. They can promote revolutionary ideas and can also be informed by conservative views. She also points out that we are not passive readers of movies. We can choose and pick the messages that are portrayed to us in a film. However, regardless of such proactive readings of movies, there are “certain ‘received’ messages that are rarely mediated by the will of the audience” (hooks, 1996, p. 3). In other words, if a movie is conservative in nature and promotes, for example, a sexist view of women’s roles in society, regardless of the ways in which a critical person understands and mediates the film, the fact remains that the message of the film has not changed. She argues that we need to make a distinction between our ability to interpret movies and the power of the movies to impose a specific “vision on our psyches” (hooks, 1996, p. 3). We cannot deny the power of movies; they seduce us by the images/messages that they contain and disseminate. bell hooks, furthermore, points to another important issue: we can be critical of the movies we watch and at the same time enjoy them.

Giroux, for example, in his book Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life (1988, p. 25), argues that in movies such as Rambo and Rocky IV anti-communism is a central ideological message. In these movies, the protagonists promote freedom and democracy and the antagonists hate freedom. The complexities of historical facts are ignored and eliminated. The perfect citizen that is portrayed in such movies is a man who is willing to fight communism and promote American style democracy.

In the movie Pocahontas, furthermore, our conceptions about historical facts are altered as “Whites and Indians” are depicted in ways that “reinforce their status in society today” (Banks, 2001, p. 202). John Smith is depicted as a hero who wants to tame the land and its people. He symbolizes the heroic White settlers. Pocahontas is depicted as a sexy adult who “falls in love with Smith”. Cornel Pewewardy (1998, p. 61, Rethinking Columbus, Elementary School Issues) points out that historians argue that Smith and Pocahontas “had no romantic contact”.

The image of First Nations is one of “noble savages”, a once pride group of people who were gentle and good (Pewewardy, 1998, p. 61, Rethinking Columbus, Elementary School Issues). In this movie, First Nations are also referred to as “savages”, “heathens”, “pagans” and “primitive”. As June Sark Henrich (1998, p. 32, Rethinking Columbus, Elementary School Issues) argues, those who teach or work with children should refrain from talking about the First Nations as “though they belong to the past” when discussing or representing First Nations histories and cultures. In such representations, it is often ignored that the First Nations of various cultural backgrounds were simply defending their land against “invaders” who were originally welcomed by the “Natives” (Henrich, 1998, p. 33). Such images of First Nations and Whites are “fantasies of the master race” and a justification for colonialism and the genocide of the First Nations of North America (Banks, 2001, p. 202).

Summer 2012 Media Literacy Program, Sociology of Families (SOCI 2250)
Violence, Media Representations, and Families

Sociology of Families students analyzed various forms of media for their representations of gender relations, sexuality, families, violence, masculinity, and femininity. Sociology students were introduced to the non conscious effects of undetected sexism in print ads by Dr. Arleigh Reichl, Psychology Department. Dr. Fiona Whittington-Walsh, Sociology Department, discussed the History of disability in motion pictures and how disability has been constructed in the media. Students explored how various forms of families are constructed in movies, situation-comedies, advertisements, children's books, school textbooks, popular music, and magazines.  

Students were also introduced to the women-centred framework of Battered Women's Support Services and their initiatives to end violence against girls and women. They read the Empowering Non-Status, Refugee, and Immigrant Women Who Experience Violence manual, published by BWSS (to download this manual, click here: as one of the required readings for SOCI 2250. Sociology of Families students had a choice of volunteering for BWSS as research assistants. A number of students chose this option, and a selection of their analysis of various elements of popular culture were published on the Website of BWSS. Students also wrote self-reflexive papers, exploring their experiences and their involvement in the Literacy Media Program at KPU. 

To read students' blogs, click on the titles of the blogs:

Commercials Aimed Towards Children Reinforcing Gendered Stereotypes and Roles by Laura Denomy 

MALE POWER by Aliya Rahiman 

The New Voice Source by Ashley Palmarchetty, Andrew Owusu & Adrianna Spyker 

Alcohol advertisements degrading and dehumanizing women by Laura Denomy

Who’s responsible for sexism in the society? by Sonia Toor 

Implicit Sexism in Children’s Ads by Preet Mondair 

Old women and the Media by Sim Badesha  

SEXY SPORTS by Adrianna Spyker

Male Feminists and The Media by Sim Badesha

The Single Mom Battle by Marissa Hicks

The relationship between food and woman in the ads by Jaskaran Sangha

Nude or Naked Advertisements by Andrews Owusu

Sexy Athletes or Sex Objects? Effects of female athletes’ sexy images by Sim Badesha

Sexy Athletes or Sex Objects? by Sim Badesha