On a given day, who is responsible for educating the most people in the United States? I would argue that the answer is a toss-up between Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and Tom Brokaw. They each "teach" a class in current events for twenty minutes every day. What they say has a powerful impact on how we view our nation and our world. In Channel Surfing: Race Talk and the Destruction of Today's Youth
, Henry Giroux initiates a critical analysis of the mass media's role in how children in the United States form their self-image and the image of the world at large in terms of the often mentioned but, I would argue, rarely deeply discussed issue of race relations.
Giroux begins by delving into his own experience with race and racism as a youth. While growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, as a working-class White male, he confronted the type of in-your-face racism that pervades society outside the polite middle and upper-middle classes. After giving the reader a sense of who he is and where he comes from with regard to his view of youth and race, Giroux moves on to establish an image of American youth in terms of the mass media. He argues that television ads, movies, billboards, and the like perpetuate an image that encourages followers and discourages critical analysis of the forces of mass marketing. American youth are told what to wear, what to eat, and, in many ways, what to think. Giroux contends that these messages exploit not only youth as an image, but the youths that manifest the reality behind this image.
Beyond the mass marketing of and to youth, Giroux discusses the demonization of youth through the creation and perpetuation of a racialized image of "youth as a problem." He develops his ideas with examples of film images that include those in Larry Clark's controversial feature film Kids
. Giroux exposes the lack of social responsibility on the part of filmmakers as they perpetuate images that stereotype American youth, perpetuate racial stereotypes, and support the continued dominance of White, middle-class social mores, lifting these mores above social critique. However, his discourse is not purely of what's wrong with Hollywood. For example, he praises Jonathan Stack's Harlem Diaries
Stack's film moves beyond the simplistic call for positive images of black youth; instead, it captures the complexities of how such youth are produced within certain social, economic, and political circumstances while simultaneously working to transform such conditions. (p. 62)
Through these feature films, exemplars of mass media images, Giroux lays a foundation for the development of a critical approach to race that provides an opening for White youth to struggle against racism. Giroux takes the position that many White youth would like to play an active role in confronting and struggling against racism, but often the rhetoric of multiculturalism leaves them in an emotional flood of guilt, confusion, and anger. He provides a framework for open dialogue among youth and those who seek to teach them based on a critical analysis of the mass media images that permeate U.S. society.
From the images of film and television, Giroux moves on to discuss the role of public intellectuals in the race and youth debate. He reviews the various schools of thought regarding the role of public intellectuals and, in particular, Black public intellectuals. My initial reaction to this discussion of public intellectuals was to question its continuity with the preceding text. What does this have to do with race, youth, and the mass media? But then I took a closer look. Public intellectuals serve as the foci for much thoughtful and intelligent debate in a forum larger than a classroom of thirty students. The fact is that these intellectuals can, and, Giroux would argue, should, play important roles in catalyzing thoughtful public debates. President Clinton has attempted to initiate a public debate on race relations in the United States, but his approach has come under criticism for being too much of a soft touch on a hard issue. In a recent public forum at the University of Akron, Ohio, a carefully selected audience watched as President Clinton attempted to broach the issue of race relations to the nation. But in reality, race and racism are not issues that can be so carefully and cleanly managed. Indeed, these issues have historically been unmanageable. Giroux begins to set up a theoretical framework for an intelligent and thoughtful debate about race within the group that will build the future of this country, the youth. They will have to deal with our mistakes and attempt to heal old wounds, as we adults have in some small way made fitful starts toward remedying the transgressions of our predecessors.
may in a sense serve as a catalyst for social change in terms of race relations, but this is only possible if we take the initiative to critically address the media images that bombard us on a daily basis. We must realize that these images do more than just stir emotion; these images teach -- and what they teach is up to us to determine as educators, parents, and members of society.
Giroux takes important steps toward establishing a critical pedagogy that begins to address the racialized images projected by mass media through film. We live in a segregated society dominated by Whites, where often the only experience many White youth have with Black youth is through the mass media, films, videos, and television. Critically appropriating and analyzing these forms of communication opens a channel through which to disrupt mass media images.