Media Literacy and Censorship

One of the things I’m seeing lately is an attempt by people to narrow the parameters of what media is “acceptable” to read or consume. This happens in fandom spaces with the “Purity Police” harassing anyone who reads or writes fiction with dark themes such as deviant sex, violence, or mental illness. We are also seeing it with the recent rash of book removals from school and public libraries, with some people even losing their jobs if they refuse to remove queer or otherwise “problematic” material.

Obviously, this is all very bad from a censorship standpoint, of people not having access to the media they need in their lives because other people have deemed it to be “inappropriate”. But there’s another angle this is bad from, which I’ve been thinking of since reading some posts (particularly this one) on tumblr about it. This narrowing of what is “acceptable” to read, also harms our ability to be media literate. Part of media literacy is comparing the media you are consuming to other media you have already consumed and finding the similarities and differences so you can categorize it in your head. This only works if you have a wide variety of media already in your lexicon. (This also plays into why media representation is so important, to avoide Adichie’s famed “Single Story”). If you only have five pieces of media, all with X trope in them, you’re going to assume that all media uses X trope, when in reality X trope may be a tiny tiny percentage of the total media out there. You just happen to have read all five pieces that exist. This will naturally skew your view of the field, and leads to moral panics. But it also leads you to only be able to think in terms of X trope, because you have no examples of Y trope or character to compare to. This narrows your thinking and reduces your ability to accurately analyze a given piece of media.

Media literacy is an important skill to learn, but it cannot be effectively learned without consuming a wide variety of media. Narrowing our media choices only leads to less literate populaces, who are then more prone to believing mis/disinformation because they don’t have the skills to analyze what they are consuming. Not to be too tin-hatty about this, but I suspect for some of the folks leading the charge to reduce what is “allowed” to be consumed in our media landscape, this reduction in media literacy is part of the point. It’s not just about banning “objectionable” content, it’s also about making sure that populations don’t have the tools to properly evaluate the “acceptable” content and make judgments about it on their own. In other words, it’s all about control.

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