Posted on 16 November 2011.
by: Kendra Emmett (jr)
On Monday night, Oct. 10, 2011, the SGA cabinet hosted an open floor discussion of the IWU Media Policy. As the academic representative for the Division of Communication, I felt a sense of obligation to read the Media Policy beforehand in preparation for the discussion. As I began to read the policy, two different thoughts occurred to me: “Why have I never read the media policy in its entirety before?” and “I can’t believe this.”
Last spring I took “Media and Society,” a required class for every student in the communication division. The class seeks to promote media literacy among those preparing for careers in television, radio, theatre, public relations and journalism. Media literacy is “a set of perspectives that we actively use to expose ourselves to the media and interpret the meaning of the messages we encounter,” according to the required text for the class, “Media Literacy” by W. James Potter. In other words, the class trains students, who will soon be in the world without media consumption rules, to think critically and from a Christian worldview about the messages in the various media. As I read through IWU’s Media Policy, however, the inconsistency between what I learned in “Media and Society” and the policy’s demands alarmed me.
Not only did I disagree with many of the statements in the policy, I was disappointed to find that some of the phrasing seemed vague. My main disagreements, however, are with the section of the policy that discusses “R” rated movies. The policy states, “Although an ‘R’ rated movie rarely provides the educational or redeeming value which would warrant its viewing, we have developed a system for students to request specific movie exceptions to the ‘R’ rated exclusion based on educational, historical or social value.”
The beginning of this statement claims that there are few “R” rated movies with educational or redeeming content. I would contend that this statement is false, as evidenced by the films shown during GlobeFest. Films with deep messages are chosen and screened, and students are asked to think critically, respond and discuss. It is my assumption that those who pick the films for GlobeFest do not set out with the intention of picking only from the pool of “R” rated movies that have recently been released. Rather, I think their objective is to intentionally look for movies with messages that will make students think and that will foster meaningful discussion. The majority, though not all, of the selected movies are rated “R,” suggesting that some of the most relevant and thought-provoking messages in society today are communicated in movies that happen to be rated “R.”
The Media Policy lays out an approval process for “R” rated films. The “Approved” list includes 39 titles, such as “The Book of Eli,” “Dead Man Walking,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “The Matrix” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Students are allowed to possess and view these movies at their own discretion. There are 33 movies on the “Guided Discussion” list. Students may not possess an “R” rated film on this list and, in order to view it, a faculty member must be present, give an adequate introduction to the film, and have discussion questions prepared in advance to lead a talk-back after the film is finished.
The “Denied” list contains 30 titles, including “Crash,” “Fight Club,” “House,” “Munich,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “V for Vendetta.” As stated on the Wildcat website, “Movies that have been reviewed and given a Denied rating continue to be RESTRICTED due to inappropriate content or the movie does not contain enough redeeming value as determined by the Movie Review Committee.” Many students (myself included) do not agree with the placement of most of these movies on the “Denied” list.
I understand that the intent of the Media Policy is not to restrict as much as it is to encourage healthy media consumption, and I fully understand that there are films not worth viewing. I am merely making the suggestion that the policy, as it is now, does not reflect an attitude toward media consistent with what I know I have been taught, and I might go so far as to say that it is currently a stumbling block to students who recognize and want to grapple with the important messages found in some films that happen to have an “R” on the cover.
“Without purposefully building critical thinking skills, especially in a college environment, consciences can be badly damaged and thoughtful selection almost non-existent,” claims the policy, and it concludes, “It is our prayer that with this policy creating a higher level of expectation, students will be challenged to think and converse, and thus make selections above and beyond the pressure of pop culture, or media marketing ploys.”
But if the movies we are allowed to watch and even possess are governed absolutely by lists, what “thoughtful selections” are students to make? What are students to “think and converse” about? Will watching only movies that have been selected for us truly put us “above and beyond” pop culture?
I suggest that the University at-large adopt a true attitude of media discernment, which is already being fostered in classes like UNV-180 and “Media and Society.” If the university wishes to help students develop discernment, one way to begin might be to do away with the “Denied” list entirely, while further encouraging settings for guided discussion of films with difficult subject matter. This community may well be the best environment students will ever have to develop media discernment and wrestle with difficult issues. Is that not done best by helping students make wise choices rather than making the choices for them?