Title

If a Tree Falls - A Media Literacy Lesson in the Power of Omission: The Unfinished Business of Agent Orange in Vietnam and US "Mediamnesia"

Biographical Sketch

Tom Gardner has been a professor of Communication at Westfield State University in Massachusetts since 2001. He holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Virginia, a master's in journalism from the University of Georgia, a master in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a PhD in communication from UMass Amherst. He is the author of The Media Rhetoric of Law and Order: How ABC Framed the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case. In the 1960s, he was a leading activist in the civil rights and anti-war movements, serving as chairman of the Southern Student Organizing Committee and Southern field director of Vietnam Summer.

Type of Presentation

Panel submission

Brief Description of Presentation

The presentation will outline the process undertaken by a group of college and high school students to examine the US media coverage of Agent Orange in Vietnam (which included a trip to Vietnam to see the effects firsthand). It will include power point slides and photos from the trip. Respondents will be two leaders in the critical media literacy movement: Prof. Bill Yousman, Sacred Heart University and Prof. Julie Frechette, Worcester State University

Abstract of Proposal

The presentation, with visuals, is based on a course conducted in the spring of 2012 involving research on US media coverage of the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam and a trip to Vietnam with US college and high school students to examine those effects firsthand.

Conceptually, the purpose of the course was to deepen understanding of the role of omission in shaping common wisdom, or common ignorance. It is standard practice in media literacy education to pose a media clip in front of a class and ask for deconstruction of the messages embedded in that media sample. But what if the media sample is thin air, a void, an absence? How is our learning shaped by what doesn't appear before us? Or, as one of my students put it, "Our country committed one of the worse war crimes of the last century. How can nobody know about it?"

The absence of information in the mainstream media (and very little in alternative media) presents a special challenge for those teaching media literacy. It is not hard to list numerous other omissions from popular media, such as other US exploits abroad, or the development of mass incarceration during the decades that prison populations exploded.

There are no easy solutions to this challenge, but I argue that grappling with the challenge is critical to interrogating the hegemonic worldview of neoliberalism and fostering critical consumers of media.

The case of the ongoing effects of Agent Orange, both for US vets and for Vietnamese, is one startling example of what I refer to as "mediamnesia" - intentional forgetting driven by both commercial and ideological factors that frame news coverage in the mainstream media. There are plenty of other examples, and I would hope that a discussion with participants in this session would generate both case studies and ideas for how to incorporate the notion of omission into critical media literacy pedagogy.

Start Date

2-24-2018 1:10 PM

End Date

2-24-2018 2:40 PM

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Feb 24th, 1:10 PM Feb 24th, 2:40 PM

If a Tree Falls - A Media Literacy Lesson in the Power of Omission: The Unfinished Business of Agent Orange in Vietnam and US "Mediamnesia"

The presentation, with visuals, is based on a course conducted in the spring of 2012 involving research on US media coverage of the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam and a trip to Vietnam with US college and high school students to examine those effects firsthand.

Conceptually, the purpose of the course was to deepen understanding of the role of omission in shaping common wisdom, or common ignorance. It is standard practice in media literacy education to pose a media clip in front of a class and ask for deconstruction of the messages embedded in that media sample. But what if the media sample is thin air, a void, an absence? How is our learning shaped by what doesn't appear before us? Or, as one of my students put it, "Our country committed one of the worse war crimes of the last century. How can nobody know about it?"

The absence of information in the mainstream media (and very little in alternative media) presents a special challenge for those teaching media literacy. It is not hard to list numerous other omissions from popular media, such as other US exploits abroad, or the development of mass incarceration during the decades that prison populations exploded.

There are no easy solutions to this challenge, but I argue that grappling with the challenge is critical to interrogating the hegemonic worldview of neoliberalism and fostering critical consumers of media.

The case of the ongoing effects of Agent Orange, both for US vets and for Vietnamese, is one startling example of what I refer to as "mediamnesia" - intentional forgetting driven by both commercial and ideological factors that frame news coverage in the mainstream media. There are plenty of other examples, and I would hope that a discussion with participants in this session would generate both case studies and ideas for how to incorporate the notion of omission into critical media literacy pedagogy.