May 12, 2016

Disrupting with Media

From advertising to social media, the 24-hour news cycle, video games, and beyond, we live in a media-heavy world where our advocates and supporters are constantly exposed to questionable content. In fact, the average teen now consumes around nine hours of entertainment media per day in the form of online videos, music, podcasts, games, advertising, social media, television, movies, and moreThe messages they receive through these media have become so normalized that they’re often not aware of the subtle ways in which those messages influence thinking and behavior. For example, a 2014 study found that teens’ neural responses to fast food advertising can predict future weight gain; and a more recent study from the U.K. found children increasingly turning to YouTube for “true and accurate” information about the world. Disturbingly, the same study also found that less than half of children between the ages of 12-15 years old knew that video bloggers were sometimes paid to advertise or endorse products.

At the New York City-based media literacy education nonprofit The LAMP, we believe that media producers need to be held accountable for their messages, and that media should reflect the diversity of our lives and stories. We provide opportunities for students to create and engage with media they’re already interested in, and the resulting videos can be used to spread our message and spark dialogue. By remixing music videos, commercials, TV shows, and other media with critical statements, students take control of the largely one-way dialogue between mass media and the public. In talking back to media with media itself, students are demanding more from the industries and producers responsible for the thousands of messages they see every day.

The content which the students proudly create to demonstrate their new skills also supports our mission to help people comprehend, create, and critique media and technology.

The truth, though, is that nonprofits serving just about any cause can use remix to engage supporters. Here’s how to get started.

Pick Your Cause’s Poison

It’s hard to come up with any aspect of life that media don’t shape. From what we eat to the opinions we hold to our attitudes towards other people, media have the power to impact nearly all of our thoughts, feelings and life experiences. As a nonprofit looking to wield the power of remix, your first job is to figure out how media are impacting your cause. This is how you know where to hit.

The Break the Super Bowl campaign is an example of this. Every year, millions of Americans tune in to watch commercials which are both outrageously expensive and (usually) offensive—the better to ensure their dominance over water coolers and social media sites long after the Super Bowl winner has been determined. We feel messages like these show why media literacy education is so important, and so every year we host events in which students ‘break’ (or remix) Super Bowl ads. Here’s one of the most popular breaks from recent years.

If you’re working for the environment, debunk someone’s talking points about how climate change is a hoax. If you’re fighting for women’s rights, challenge media that reinforce harmful stereotypes about women. It may even be that your remix opportunity doesn’t exist today, but in our 24-hour news cycle, you likely won’t need to wait too long until something comes around.

Follow the Rules

Every great remix illuminates instead of fabricates, and backs up its points with credible sources as needed (remember: there will always be people saying your source is bunk. They may even be right sometimes). For example, one student made a remix based on a report in some magazine which relies heavily on sources.

For more on fair use, we’ve made a couple of short and sweet animated video tutorials on fair use and critical commentary, plus a LAMPlit resource guide that goes into more depth. And if you still want more, we recommend checking out the Center for Media and Social Impact.

Choose Your Tools

The free MediaBreaker/Studios platform was designed to be simple to use for students and educators with little or no video editing experience. There’s nothing to download, and it works on Chrome browsers across both Macs and PCs. It also follows a closed environment framework, so the remixes you make aren’t open to the public unless you submit them to us for legal review. This gives you an added safeguard that our pro-bono legal team has looked over your remix for how well it would stand up if challenged for a copyright violation. Otherwise, you can still share the video privately with others in MediaBreaker/Studios.

If you’re confident in your video editing and fair use chops, then a more advanced tool like Final Cut or Adobe Premiere might be right for you. iMovie and Windows Media Maker are also options; they fall somewhere in between MediaBreaker and Final Cut in terms of difficulty, and come free with a desktop Mac or PC.

Remix is powerful. It’s a way to engage your supporters, create shareable media and draw more people to your cause on both an emotional and intellectual level. The amount of material produced by our constantly humming news cycle means endless opportunities for you to use remix videos to mobilize your base, discover new audiences, and get your message out to the world.

DC Vito
D.C. Vito co-founded The LAMP (Learning About Multimedia Project) in 2007. Since that time, The LAMP has brought media literacy training to over 3,000 youth, parents and educators, transporting equipment and facilitators directly to communities in need of its services. Mr. Vito worked as a community organizer for many years prior to The LAMP, having served in the Peace Corps in Mali, managing campaigns for City Council, State Senate and Presidential candidates, and spent eight years acting as Chairman of the Youth Services and Education Committee on Brooklyn’s Community Board Six.