What is Media Studies?
My mother had asked me the other day “can you please tell me what is it exactly that you are studying?” It took me some time to think of an appropriate answer. It is a question I am confronted with almost each time I tell someone that I am doing my Phd in Media Studies. In a society where we are mostly concerned with the bottom line, with what immediate tangible benefits we can see from the work that we do, it is hard, and almost impossible to explain critical thought. What is media studies? what can you do with a degree in media studies? These are questions that are tainted with such concerns of profitability, rationality, and efficiency. The simple answer to the first one is: anything you want! The second, requires a more detailed explanation. I will try to give my version of an answer.
The fact that I am using this blog as a medium and this platform (the World Wide Web) to explain such a diverse and (at times) intangible concept is in itself limiting. We expect a straight, out of the box, ready made answer to this question (an expectation that companies such as Google are constantly nurturing). If you are looking for one such answer it would be presumptuous of me to try and give it. The closest thing I can think about that would satisfy such a reductionist approach is: media studies is thinking about thinking. How does our society, the power relations between different classes, the technologies we use, production systems, capitalism, socialism, communism, popular culture, advertising, television,newspapers, radio, the Internet, search engines, ebooks (the list is practically endless) all affect how we live, how we think, and how we see the world and each other.
When I give this answer to the person in front of me, the usual response is: ok, so what? What are you trying to do? What is the point? I must admit that I am struggling with the answer myself. As I am writing these lines, I try and think about how to best explain it not only to my inquirer but also to myself. To motivate me to continue my work in the field. If academic work is only meant for academics, how else would we encourage and bring about change? How else can we work towards making this world a better place to live in? To create a society that respects not only the environment, but also the people and animals that populate it. Yes, media studies is also about environmentalism and the ethical treatment of animals. They are all part of this “Reality Show” that was constructed for us to live in.
And it is a “show”. We live in a society that encourages mass consumption and an endless pursuit after material happiness. I see the task of scholarly work, and media studies as enlightening. As giving students the tools they need to critically look at the world that unfolds before them through technology, and the media. To challenge what seems to be “natural”, to try and break free from a thought prison built systematically by forces whose sole purpose is to make a profit. It is not an easy task.
Change begins with a thought. An idea. This idea then manifests itself in material form. When my students ask me: what is this all for? I tell them that I hope that some day, when they will be in a position to make a change, sitting in a board room somewhere, thinking about their next idea, they will think back on what they have learned. On how to stop and critically look at what lies in front of them, and not blindly follow a path that was laid out for them by others.