Loaded Terms

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Loaded and Overlapping Terms

Reframing Literacy Campaign BFI

Reframing Literacy Campaign BFI 2006

Firstly I wish to define my terms and introduce some of the theoretical arguments permeating my account. The term “fashioning and flow” is taken from Loveless’ 2007 NESTA Futurelab report update (2007:14) focusing on debates about the use of ICTs and creativity. This has an important bearing on my question in that digital media production is conceived as a practice that draws on creativity for the ‘fashioning’ of resources. The creation of media texts can induce ‘flow’, a term coined by Csikszentmihalyi (1996, see 14: 24 mins) defining a sense of focused, sustained, enjoyable immersion that can often be experienced during the processes of combining and re-combining using non-linear digital video editing software.

I have borrowed the 3 C’s from the BFI’s 2006 ‘Reframing Literacy’ campaign, where they advocate a creative, critical and cultural approach to moving image literacy with a special emphasis on film production. I am using this approach and will extend it to assess the ways in which media production processes might impact on learning as well as on pleasure and social engagement.

Looking at the 3 C’s in more detail: I feel there is a pleasing serendipity to the A – Z order in which Raymond Williams’ “Key Words: a vocabulary of culture and society” defines “CREATIVE”, “CRITICISM” and “CULTURE” (1976:82 – 93), that is, they follow on consecutively almost as if the history of language development has conspired to bind them together as interdependent elements in the gradual transformation of culture and society.

Raymond Williams: Key Words (1976)

Raymond Williams: Key Words (1976)

For Williams the inherent complexities of each of these words is explained by their different contexts of use, which is further complicated by a tendency for meanings to overlap within each context. He talks about the unsettling “conventional” use of the word ‘creative’ as applied to “certain general kinds of activity” (1976:84), for example, the ‘creatives’ in a commercial advertising company or ‘creative writing’ as a subset of general writing skills. Such discursive use he sees as obfuscating its original meaning:

“to the extent that creative becomes a cant word, it becomes difficult to think clearly about the emphasis which the word was intended to establish: on human making and innovation.” (1976: 84)

Contemporary critical accounts in relation to creativity continue to circulate and will be referenced later in this commentary.

Given his massive influence in the field of British Cultural Studies and its elevation of the significance of context and lifestyle in the pursuit of meaning, it is not surprising to see Williams wrestling with the term ‘criticism’ and what it means to be ‘critical’. He insists that we kick “the habit” of associating “criticism and ’authoritative’ judgment as [an] apparently general and natural process” (1976:86) and simply stop abstracting our responses to cultural texts:

“when what always needs to be understood is the specificity of the [critical] response, which is not an abstract ‘judgment’ … but a definite practice, in active and complex relations with its whole situation and context.” (1976: 86)

This is a key debate in the field of media education, where critical acumen might be examined less as a question of taste or discrimination nor on one’s capacity to look through the text to ‘hidden’ eternal truths and more as a question of looking at the text, at its historically situated “stylistic surface and rhetorical strategy” (Lanham, 1993:63, 84). Better still, a truly rounded critical understanding would debate all such questions of cultural origin, value, credibility and positioning.

Williams lays emphasis on early uses of the word culture as “ a noun of process” (1976:87) – from agricultural processes through to those of human development including popular culture. He makes explicit culture’s various strands of meaning: as “a particular way of life” (1976:91); as associated with “the works and practices of art and intelligence” (ibid); on cultural anthropology’s focus on a culture’s material production and finally British Cultural Studies’ primary reference to its “signifying or symbolic systems” (ibid, my italics). Thirty years on we still live with these unresolved ambiguities and our tendency is perhaps to isolate these strands or perhaps favour a particular trajectory. The struggle is to relate these seemingly contrasting and multiple claims on culture precisely because the resultant tensions have implications for educational strategies, and in particular those that concern media education.

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