A closeted French philosopher, an immigrant from Jamaica, a Jew who fled the Nazis then killed himself, and a feminist who writes about film.
Does this sound like the foundation for a college communication course?
When my communication class starts in April, students will be mystified: what do these folks have to do with communication?
Taking baby steps, students learn a French philosopher (Michel Foucault) says that communication itself is a form of power—that those who frame public discourse help frame what we think is important.
The immigrant from Jamaica (Stuart Hall) points out in an often-cited article that people decode messages in ways that reflect their cultural knowledge.
Walter Benjamin, who overdosed on morphine to avoid being captured by the Nazis, predicted social media’s impact more than 55 years before the birth of the Internet, noting that technology kills authenticity.
And Laura Mulvey coined a phrase film students mouth in their sleep: the male gaze.
And while it does indeed take baby steps to coax students into reading the texts of philosophers, the students discover that musings about language, gender, communication, news media, artwork and film foreground how we think about modern issues—from Facebook’s use of our personal information to the Twitter rants by politicians.
Digging into history and philosophy helps us understand today’s headlines.
Let me give you a current example.
Two years ago this week, historian Kelly J. Baker noted in The Atlantic that the expression “Make America Great Again” didn’t originate with Donald Trump’s election run.
The phrase “Make America Great Again” arose from the Ku Klux Klan.
In class, we deconstruct the words and meanings of the Klan’s campaign, asking how the writers we study would respond to the real-world example.
In the Atlantic article, Dr. Baker, who has written extensively about the Klan, notes that in 1915, the movement’s founder dedicated his cause to “100 percent Americanism.”
Baker writes that, to make America great again, Klan goals included restricting immigration, increasing law enforcement, and adding “greater allegiance to the flag.”
The Klan identified immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland—from 1890 to 1914—as a “menace” that threatened “true Americanism.”
Ironically folks tagged as immigrants by the Klan were forebears of the current political elite: Trump (Germany), Mike Pence (Ireland), Betsy “Prins” DeVos (The Netherlands) and Alexander Acosta (Cuba).
Baker concludes that the idea of Making America Great Again required a “menace” that threatened “true Americanism.”
Students can readily find examples in the headlines of the “menace” that threatens “Americanism.”
21 March 2018
Image labelled “KKK Sheet Music” from Austin Community College http://sites.austincc.edu/caddis/roaring-20s/