Critically examining new media

Image via Lindsey Ellis on YouTube

By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief


One of my favourite media critics on YouTube, Lindsay Ellis, has an entire ongoing series discussing the basics theories of film study and theory… by using Michael Bay’s Transformers series. So far, she has examined the movies in painstaking detail through the lens of auteur theory, feminist theory, queer theory—even Marxist theory. The videos are amazing, and I highly recommend checking them out if you’re into short and long form video essays, like I am.

I bring this up because there’s a sense in certain circles—even some academic circles—that modern media and popular media is not worth examining with the same critical eye we might use to analyze the so-called “classics.” Don’t get me wrong, I want to sit down and hash through Homer’s The Iliad like any good media history nerd. However, there’s an elitist element to what is considered appropriate fodder for critical thought, and what is not. Popular media, the bread and butter of a public media diet and easily the most accessible fare, is often seen as temporary filler without larger context or meaning.

How often have you been told that your favourite show is trash, or that your favourite music is mass-produced garbage? During my brief academic career in music composition, I mentioned that one of my favourite composers today was Hans Zimmer and nearly got laughed out of class (and yes, I’m still a bit bitter). Intellectually, I know that Hans Zimmer can be considered derivative, that his scores are not the most innovative on a technical level. But you can’t listen to “Chevaliers de Sangreal” from The Da Vinci Code and tell me it doesn’t make you feel something. Last I checked, Hans Zimmer is one of the most popular film score composers working today with many major accomplishments under his belt; it seems a bit backwards to me for a bunch of relative unknowns in a Vancouver classroom to mock someone for enjoying his popular music.  

(Did I mention I’m still a bit bitter? Never bring up John Cage around me, I have some opinions.)

My point is, if you really want to put your finger on the pulse of what people are doing, thinking, and feeling—not a select group of people with strong opinions about their favourite Russian formalist film from 1928—you have to be willing to give popular culture and new media some credit. I had a blast writing this week’s feature on memes, and I honestly could have made it far longer than it already is if I had the time and the space. There are few, if any, cultural phenomena and art movements that are unworthy of critical examination.

You don’t have to like memes, but they’re part of our culture right now—just like Transformers, and just like Hans Zimmer. It’s what the kids are into. We might as well take a look at what it’s all about. Who knows? You might just learn something.


Until next issue,


Bex Peterson