The Merchants of Cool (the dangers of community media in a compromising position)

Here is a clip from the documentary Dr Jared Ball mentioned in his ‘Is Hip Hop Mass Media’ lecture posted in the previous post in this blog.

This documentary realtes to some of the more challenging areas I’m going to touch on in my PhD, asking awkward questions relating to Community Media.  Many community media production companies and community media centres say that some of their funding comes from projects where young people opinions are being consulted, not necessarily for multi-national corporations such as Nike advertising agencies, but by local cultural institutions such as galleries, museums and also city councils.  The topics of these consultations are usually more social or cultural than corporate; ranging from young people attitudes towards climate change, recycling, graffiti, the appeal (or not) of a museum, solutions for social problems such as knife crime and drugs, etc. 

The consultations aren’t as embarressingly crass as the one shown in this clip, but would be creative where the young people get to make films exploring these ideas, to stimulate debate amongst other young people when they are screened.  I have been involved in many of these types of projects over the past 15 years or so.  The uncomfortable questions still remains – is this exploitation of the young people, and if not, where is the line?

My quick answer is that this is where the radar of the of the community media facilitator must come into action, as I have turned down money from projects that I have viewed as blatent exploitation and have suspected were just ‘tick-box’ exercises and or wanting cheap labour from student media crews.  Other times I have seen the educational value of taking on a project to run with young people, whilst also recognising the benefit the funder of the outcome.  Should we apologise for this, or rather run a responsible educational experience with eyes open in the capitalist funding landscape that we operate in, in the UK and USA particularly?

These are thorny issues with no quick answers.  This all needs much more unpicking.  Funded organisations with broad social aims have for decades, which many community media education organisation fall under the unbrella of, have been aware of how much the donor conditionality of the funder affects the project and its outcome.  On the sharper end of community media, such as a radio station operating in an oppressive political climate, any funding at all can comprise their position to criticise certain elements of society in their broadcasts, eventually becoming puppets of the state.  These concerns have largly ignored the other less ‘broadcast based’ areas of community media, such as film clubs and school projects, but the awkward questions need to be asked.  (For more on how these ideas relate to a school context and the Hidden Curriculum – see this previous post here.)

Here is the ‘Merchants of Cool’ clip, and when watching this, if you are a youth worker of some description, ask yourself what these activities would look like in your own working context, and  judge where the line is.  Lots of chin stroking – more to discuss.


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