Creating Space for Humor in Critical Media Literacy
Digital media are an important tool for expanding access to knowledge and skills. Yet digital content and platforms can also reproduce power structures. From white supremacist Tweets to capable TikTok algorithms, oppressive ideologies are popping up everywhere online. Young people need critical media literacy practices to learn to identify and challenge the oppressive ideologies that underpin digital media and technologies.
That said, young people are already using digital media to organize for justice and respond to power. How can educators use what students learn on social media to support and refine critical media skills? To answer this question, we first need to know more about how students use digital media for justice. I took to LGBTQ + YouTube to examine how young people resist the intersecting oppressions of race, gender, and sexuality.
Critical social media education is serious work, but it can be fun too. Humor is almost ubiquitous on LGBTQ + YouTube, with reaction videos modeling a common form of critical humor. LGBTQ + reaction videos respond, often comically, to discriminatory media like right-wing political ads. I started to wonder: How do YouTubers who watch and react comically to anti-LGBTQ + and anti-black media achieve critical media literacies? And how does the humor work in reaction videos?
Humor as a political possibility in digital culture
Through multimodal analysis, I discovered that humor nurtures political possibility and supports critical media skills. I approach the political possibility as the feeling that a social change towards a more just world is possible. This opportunity for transformation is vital for marginalized youth who may face injustice on a daily basis.
Humor also plays a central role in the critical media literacy practices of YouTubers. The moments of humor defuse hatred and amplify the agency to resist social injustice. The satire and parody in these videos challenge the ideologies that underpin oppressive digital media, doing important intellectual and political work. Viewers can learn movements for anti-racist, anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic action. Humor as a performance of joy, exuberance, and caring also lays the foundation for a better world.
While humor can saturate new media, the use of humor to respond to injustice is not new. Queer and queer activists and artists of color have long used humor to disrupt hatred and build community. As scholar Danielle Fuentes Morgan argued, satire in black communities subversively uncovers the unethical violence of white supremacy and anti-darkness. Reaction videos extend these practices of satire and parody to subvert phobic ideologies, build power, and cultivate joy.
Using humor in justice-oriented teaching
From YouTube to the classroom, humor has a place in learning about social justice. Here are some ways educators can make humor a political possibility:
Develop a vision to enhance humor. Develop a broad vision of how you can value the practices of humor as a political possibility. Build on the experiences, identities and knowledge of your students and take into account the socio-political context of learning. Consider making a point to better understand how meaningful fun digital media like TikTok videos are to students as learning sites.
View and support student digital activism. Marginalized students use social media to engage in social justice activism in their communities and online. Take note and find ways to support the daily work of students to resist and transform oppressive ideologies towards a more just future. First, reflect on the knowledge students have about social injustice and their shared desires for a better world.
Critically analyze everyday digital texts. To teach critical media skills, bring in the digital media texts that students encounter on social media. Incorporate analysis of comedic multimedia texts such as reaction videos, memes, multimedia collages or other forms of anti-oppressive remix. You can ask students to submit digital texts (videos, memes, images, etc.) of their daily activities on social media.
Incorporate satire and parody into critical pedagogy. Educators engaged in critical pedagogy might incorporate parody and satire as forms of critical resistance in the pursuit of educational freedom. Through this approach, you can better understand the role of humor in the critical literacies that young people learn online and refine these practices compassionately with educational assistance.
Design media production with digital mentoring texts. Involve students in digital media production that engages media they may encounter online, such as reaction videos. I tend to approach media production as an iterative cycle to engage ➝ explore ➝ think create. Engage with mentor text, in this case a reaction video like this by YouTuber Mac Kahey aka MacDoesIt. Check out other similar videos or posts on social media. Consider together what the students noticed, thought, felt, liked, and would have done differently. Try it out by making a video that captures and transforms the practices they’ve seen.
Every educator should incorporate important social justice work and critical media literacy work practices into their teaching. By examining these principles through the prism of humor, students connect with valuable lessons on how they can counter hate, build community, and speak out against potentially heavy topics in a way that keeps the spotlight on. moral.
Addie shrodes is a doctoral candidate in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Her thesis work examines the roles of humor, play, and protest in the critical digital literacies of trans and queer adolescents. You can follow her on Twitter @AddieShrodes.