Our click is our vote: Alberi talks media, gender, society


Kayla Friedrich

Sawyer Alberi

In this age of pervasive films, Internet, social media and news, we need to understand the place that different media forms have in our lives and how they can affect the way we function as a society. On Sept. 7, Sawyer Alberi spoke to a comfortably full room in Bentley 207 about how we can be more aware of our media consumption.

Alberi is a professor at JSC. She teaches sociology, and one of her courses is titled “Mass Media and Society.” During her talk, she identified her area of expertise as education of media studies.

“They invited me here not knowing what I was going to say and hoping I would say good things. They didn’t vet me very well,” she said during her introduction, adding a dramatized evil laugh at the end.
Alberi’s lighthearted approach drew chuckles from the crowd throughout the hour, creating a sense of community and attention to the subject.

She began with her history in the military, and how she started to notice the connections between film and society.

“First they put in a gym at the base, and then they put in a movie theater at the base. That is exactly how we get entertained,” she said. “When you watch things over and over again, for hundreds and hundreds of hours, the lines begin to blur between reality and fiction.”

Having seen these blurred lines in the way people referenced film, she decided to start her own bit of anecdotal research. Whenever she heard someone quote a movie line, she would ask them a set of questions about military leadership.

“They would know the movie lines by heart,” she said, “but traditionally, on a good day, could only talk about three of the five military leadership styles and didn’t even know what the acronym LDRSHIP was, around their neck, without looking at the dog tag that had the words . . . We have hundreds, thousands, of hours on film and barely a hundred hours in military leadership doctrine. What do you think people are going to remember?”

Although interesting at the time, this trend became even more concerning later on in her career. When things were heating up with Iraq and Afghanistan, she started asking her peers what they thought about women in combat, and found that they would answer her with lines from movies.

“They would quote movie lines, and not doctrine,” she said. “They would quote movie lines to me, and not history. They would quote movie lines to me, and not fact. And the scary part of that is that these would be, very quickly, policy-makers. And if their opinions are based on fiction, we have some problems.”

Although her focus is gender, she made it clear that these things applied to all minorities in the media: “Whether it’s race, whether it’s ethnicity, whether it’s religion, whether it’s socio-economic status . . . it really doesn’t matter.”

While working in Senegal with the country’s first military women, Alberi received all sorts of questions, many based in perceptions from media.

“We would get questions like, ‘If women can cry, are they going to be good soldiers?’” she said. “I was like, ‘Well, you know, I cry and I can still kill you, if I wanted to. Shall I demonstrate?’ And they’re like, ‘No, you don’t have to.’ Okay, great. No problem at all.”

With the main chunk of her history recounted, Alberi continued on to what she had learned, and why it was important.

Media, she said, “is the most continuous, influential social agent that is out there in our society today. It is what we see and what we learn from, and it is so huge and very, very powerful . . . Media can’t tell you what to think. Media tells you what to think about. Media can’t influence your actions, but what it can do is show you what actions you should take.”

As citizens in our society, we have a responsibility to choose the kind of media that we want to see. In the same way that we vote for our president, we must also vote for the content of our media.

“We say that our vote is our voice. Here, your click is your vote,” she said. Gesturing with her index finger as though clicking, she continued, “Your click matters. It is your vote, it is your decision, it is saying to the media world, ‘This is what I want to see’ . . . Every single time, every single click.”

Alberi also talked about the media that is meant to create violence, bringing up ISIS and how they have recruited through propaganda that inflames people to do things they would normally not have done. She encouraged people to become intolerant of such media, to choose not to watch it and to tell the media world that they don’t want that content.

To balance that out, she also encouraged the idea of enjoying media. “You guys need to give yourselves permission to enjoy entertainment,” she said. “And here’s the other thing: You need to give yourselves permission to not enjoy every type of media . . . Be able to say, ‘This isn’t my cup of tea. I can get it, I can respect it, and be okay with that.’ We need to have a better, more healthy relationship with media.”

She said that, as a society, our media is an expression of our values, and those values are what rest of the world sees.

“When every single scene is about beautiful women, what do we value?” Alberi asked. “Beautiful women. Which isn’t such a bad thing to value, but what else should we value? Smart women, strong women, smart men, strong men, beautiful men . . . We should value humans.”

Discussing the poor representation of women and other minorities in film, particularly military film, she brought in the idea that even good, solid, entertaining films can be incredibly shaky on accuracy. “Black Hawk Down,” a movie based on events that took place in Somalia in 1993, contains only two women: a picture of a pin-up girl and a recording of one character’s wife on an answering machine. However, during events the movie was based on, the U.N. base was home to more than a thousand women, none of whom appeared anywhere in the film.

Her final slide was titled with the words, “So what do we do?” and Alberi had a few different answers.

“We need to consume media better,” she said. “We need to shake hands with it, we need to be okay with what we are, we need to be okay with what we watch, we need to get the real world and whatever else we want in there, and we need to watch it well. But then we need to become intolerant of the media that’s not okay. We need to not click on the story that we don’t want to see. If we don’t click on it enough, it’ll go away, and people won’t make that media.”