Canadian book on television useful
despite omitting Quebec, sexuality
Television and Society: An Investigative Approach,
Charles Ungerleider and Ernest Krieger,
Irwin Publishing Co., 1985, 243 pages, $15.00.
Book Reviewed by Derek Boles
There is little doubt in anyone's mind about the tremendous influence
of the mass media on children and adolescents, not to mention the
rest of us. The most powerful of these media on children are television
and popular music. Their recent marriage in the form of rock videos
has finally galvanized the educational establishment into addressing
the issue of helping students to become media literate. Canadian
curriculum guidelines are slowly being revised across the country
in varying degrees to reflect this new awareness.
Individual teachers, many of them influenced by Marshall McLuhan
in the late '60's, have been addressing the issue of media literacy
for years but have been forced to rely on American textbooks and
teaching materials. Recently the Irwin Publishing Company of Toronto
published a high-school text Television and Society. It's
by Charles Ungerleider, a U.B.C. college professor, and Ernest Krieger,
a high school teacher from the Vancouver area. Irwin claims that
"the main purpose of the book is to take readers beyond the
improvement of their own viewing habits to a critical consciousness
about the use and influence of television in Canadian society."
The book is of interest beyond the classroom.
The book is intended as an introductory overview of television.
Its 10 chapters cover such areas as history, production, news, politics,
commercials, technical procedures, and various social issues such
as stereotyping and violence. This material is available elsewhere
but I can attest to the convenience of having it all in one place.
One unique chapter, which I've not seen elsewhere, is "The
English-language Media and Canadian Identity." In it, the authors
argue that Canada's cultural mosaic is simply not represented on
Canadian TV with any kind of fair balance. They provide many statistics
to support that claim.
The authors are also careful to point out that their book reflects
the experience of Anglophones; it makes no attempt to document the
Francophone experience. That's too bad. There's much to learn from
even a superficial overview of the Quebec media. There simply isn't
the massive American domination of popular culture in Quebec that
one finds elsewhere in Canada and the reasons are not simply explained
by differences in language.
A modern high school text has to do more than simply dispense facts
and information in an attractive package. Assignments must engage
students in a variety of communications skills: reading, writing,
listening, speaking and viewing. This is one of the most important
mandates of a media literacy program. Students must be encouraged
to think about what they are watching within some kind of critical
framework. However, teachers must be careful about imposing their own
value judgements on their students particularly regarding specific
programs. The recent spate of shrill anti-media diatribes directed
towards teachers and parents can be a real turn-off to most kids.
They care about their media and resent it when adults try to change
their viewing habits. Television and Society's authors recognize
this and the chapters devoted to social problems such as violence
and stereotyping are arranged so that students learn about these
problems through a discovery process.
If the book has one major failing, it is the lack of a bibliography.
Two important issues ignored in this book are rock videos and the
impact of the home video-cassette recorder. The gestation, development
and publication of a school text can often span several years and
these are relatively recent phenomena so the omission is understandable.
While a number of the student investigations broach the area of
sexual stereotyping, the book virtually ignores the topic of sexuality
itself. I can understand the apprehensions of a publisher trying
to market a textbook for use in classrooms across Canada. There
are many forces at large that would ban the book simply for raising
the issue. Most kids, however, learn more about sexuality from television
than they do any other single source. The omission is regrettable.
Some of the authors' statistics suggest Canadians watch 20%
less television than Americans. Any evidence that I've seen suggests
that our consumption is in fact higher. Our harsher climate encourages
people to stay indoors more than do Americans. The installation
of satellite dishes in remote northern communities has had a significant
effect on their social life.
The book devotes an entire chapter to politics and television, yet
ignores what I consider to be one of the most pernicious effects
of American domination of our media. We live in a Parliamentary
democracy which is being increasingly subverted by U.S.-style presidential
television campaigns which focus on the media image of the leaders
rather than on policies. Despite its flaws, Television and Society
is useful. We need more such books.
Derek Boles teaches media studies at Thornlea Secondary School,
Published in Sources, Summer 1986
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