This study examined what ideas about Canadian national identities came to mind after international post-secondary students had watched selected episodes of two Canadian television comedies (sitcoms). Corner gas and Small mosque on the prairie (LMP). In the study, I conceptualized the sitcoms as a place of “public education” (Giroux, 2000) – education and learning that takes place outside the formal school setting. In this essay, I review some relevant literature from which I draw the theoretical perspectives and concepts to conceptualize my study. Then I move on to talk about the popular sitcom LMP as a piece of semi-counter-hegemonial cultural texts. In the Results and Discussion area, I present and analyze the research data that came from the discussions with my research participants after viewing them LMP. Finally, I close this paper by repeating the main points of my analysis and discussing the implications for the field of adult education and learning.
Draw from literature: concepts and theoretical perspective
Watching television programs is a practice of “cultural consumption” (Storey, 1996; Meyer, 2008). Cultural consumption refers to the reception or examination of cultural texts that are presented to the public through mass media. Cultural consumption is not just a process of buying or using cultural texts, but implies that the audience derives its own meaning from these texts (Meyer, 2008). Furthermore, these notions of cultural consumption imply that the audience – or “cultural consumers” (Hall, 1997; Kellner, 2015; Meyer, 2008) – always actively interprets, internalizes and uses the cultural texts in their own way. The culture consumers can accept, question, question or reject ideas from the texts. They can act on the ideas that they accept in their daily life. You can try to get more knowledge about the ideas you are asking. They can take action to express their own opinions that have been suppressed. Conscious or not, cultural consumers learn from their cultural consumption practices (Guy, 2007; Jubas, 2015; Taber, 2015; Tisdell, Stuckey & Thompson, 2007; Wright, 2007; Wright & Sandlin, 2009).
Some scholars have examined the educational impact of cultural consumption, particularly in relation to how cultural texts can both maintain and resist hegemonic assumptions (Armstrong, 2000; Jubas, 2015; Wright, 2007). They focused more on the resistance in the cultural texts and the potential they have for critical learning. I follow these scholars and use two main theoretical concepts to analyze them LMP and his potential for critical learning in this work. The first is Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) concept of “hegemony”. Hegemony refers to a process by which values and actions are viewed as common sense by the majority of people, while in reality common sense is constructed and passed down by the powerful elite class to protect their own status quo and interests ( Brookfield, 1998). Usually, the effectiveness of hegemony is not realized through direct forces, but often through persuasion in their daily activities (Brookfield, 2005).
The second concept I use to analyze my research data is Paulo Freire’s (1974) “critical awareness”, also referred to in his book as critical transitive awareness or critical awareness Critical Awareness Education. Freire defined critical consciousness with a detailed list of characteristics (cf. Freire, 1974, p. 15). A principle of critical awareness is that people can reflect on their common social context and positions and recognize the ability of all to act (Freire, 1974). Developing critical awareness requires dialogue with others and the world (Freire, 1974). Dialogue with the world means that people can actively reflect on the social, cultural, political and economic contexts in which they live. I argue that critical awareness of minorities, who are often marginalized in a society, is particularly important. This is because a critical awareness leads them to think deeply about their social positions and to recognize the hegemonic power that suppresses their ability to act. According to this, minorities tend to be more actively involved in society and the hegemonic social structures (e.g. sexism, racism) are more easily modified.
Six research participants took part in this small qualitative case study, three female and three male. They were Chinese international students studying at the University of Regina, SK. They have all completed secondary education in China and have come to Canada for post-secondary education or study. They were non-Muslims and had almost no direct contact with Muslims in real life. Based on the format often used in cultural studies (Pickering, 2008), I invited the participants to one or two episodes of LMP together and then arranged a focus group with them. A number of design questions for the focus group were prepared in advance. The focus group was recorded with audio. Since the participants in the focus group spoke Mandarin, I transcribed the recording verbatim into Chinese before translating it into English. As the lead researcher on this study, I had many educational and life experiences that I believed were similar to those of my participants. The participants and I share an identity of young international students coming to Canada from China. To a certain extent, this helps me understand their stories and opinions easily. However, I was careful not to assume we were sharing the same ideas and asked follow-up questions to help participants fully understand their views.
LMP: a semi-anti-hegemonic cultural text
Zarqa Nawaz, a Muslim writer, journalism, and filmmaker who grew up in Toronto LMP. The sitcom presented the everyday life of a Muslim community in the fictional prairie town of Mercy, SK. It was produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and broadcast from 2007 to 2012. LMP was extremely popular nationally and internationally (mainly in Europe and North America) and won many television awards (Bredin, Henderson & Matheson, 2012).
Muslims, like other minority groups, often receive news media coverage only when they are associated with political or social issues (Avraham & First, 2010). Most Muslim characters are portrayed as backward-looking and in a negative light in Western films, TV shows, comics, and other popular culture texts, which is an ongoing and long-term problem (Arjana, 2017; Hamdon, 2018). In contrast, LMP represented a group of positive and progressive Muslims; although a very conservative Muslim character, Baber, was also portrayed. LMP also explicitly presented xenophobic topics. So I agree with Cañas (2013) and think that LMP opposes orientalist, hegemonic discourses and depictions of Muslims in Western cultural texts.
On the other hand, LMP still leaving out some complex and essential issues of Islam, which leads me to define this sitcom as semi-counter-hegemonic resistance. For example, she was particularly silent on the question that different branches of Islam have different teachings that have the potential to spark disputes or even wars (Cañas, 2013). The research participants also discussed and criticized this phenomenon LMP as a medium for the propaganda of a specific cultural-political agenda, such as multiculturalism (Liang, 2019). In Cañas (2013) words: LMP legitimized the hegemonic power, since it overemphasized “the forging of national unity” (p. 130). Lee (1991) pointed out a similar situation when analyzing the sitcom Roseanne. As Lee discussed while Roseanne Openly problematized some social and family relationships, it still had many contradictions that maintained some hegemonic social relationships that were about to be questioned.
The hegemonic aspects of LMP, Roseanne, or other sitcoms refer to the inherent nature of sitcoms, which makes it impossible to be very counter-hegemonial. According to a conflict resolution model, sitcoms end happily. Sitcoms always represent certain social problems that have been properly solved, or at least could be solved, and these approaches to solving social problems often contain hegemonic assumptions that are viewed as general and positive (Kellner, 2015). It is therefore important for educators to recognize the learning potential of cultural texts and to critically question which hegemonic assumptions they convey to the students.
Findings and discussion
In this section, I will introduce the ethnic and religious representations that participants will experience in relation to LMP and the mass media, and share as you watch LMP encourages participants to reflect on their own social roles. I will discuss my research results from the point of view of reflection as well LMP as an educational medium that can serve to awaken a critical awareness of the participants. A small portion of the research data I present here has been examined in another article (Liang, 2019). I analyze this data specifically from the perspective of critical consciousness development, a perspective that was not taken in the previous work.
Critical awareness of understanding marginalized “others”
This is what my research shows LMP, which openly exposes Islamophobia, awakens the critical awareness of consumers to reflect the public image of Muslims in everyday life according to their own observations. Participants Kang, Hong, and Zhou made the following comments. Kang said, “People often denigrate Muslims. That is, as long as there are any problems, such as terrorist attacks or relevant negative social problems, people always relate those problems to Muslims and think that the attackers are Muslims. “Hong explained,” There is widespread misunderstanding or even xenophobia towards Muslims who live in North America. ”Zhou confessed,“ Many of us have prejudice against Muslims, ”then related a conversation she had with her family to highlight the public bias and fear against Muslims.
However, some results indicate that critical awareness should be developed and more dialogue is needed in order for participants to reconsider their own assumptions, especially the hidden prejudices they have. In the focus group when Bai first voiced her opinion that LMP somehow embellished Islam and Muslims, no other participant openly disagreed. They discussed how LMP has not shown the complex, diverse divisions of Islam and the conflicts between these various branches. The opinion that LMP embellished Islam and Muslims, but also results from the monolithic and stereotypical ideas of the participants of Muslims. For example, a Lebanese-Canadian Muslim, Yasir, was portrayed on the show as being very respectful of his wife and daughter, of which Zhou said, “To see how he talked to his wife and daughter, it’s hard to tell whether this is a male-controlled family, whether it is a patriarchal family or not … I can’t find any masculine traits that we normally think Muslim men should have. ”Realizing it or not, Zhou was still believe that Islamic families should be patriarchal and Muslim men should rule their families.
Critical awareness of thinking about how hegemony works in media
In the focus group, the participants discussed how hegemony works in the media. For example, Zhou asked the focus group a question: If a person has not come into contact with a Muslim, where does that person’s prejudice against Islam and its followers come from? Faced with this question, participants criticized the role of the mass media in disseminating stereotypical opinions about Muslims. You have made the following comments:
Kang: I think most of the prejudice comes from the media.
Zhou: Yeah, I think so. The power of the media is enormous. It gives a strong sense of fear to a person who has not met Muslims in real life.
Bai: Yeah. We cannot deny that the Chinese media often barbaricizes Muslims.
Participants also discussed a satirical scenario on the show in which a journalist had many hegemonic assumptions when asking questions of a new imam. in the LMPthe journalist asked Iman questions like: “Who are you? Do you deny that you are a terrorist? ”In relation to this scenario, most of the participants thought that the journalist had stereotypes about the Imam. They went beyond the sitcom and voiced their criticism of journalists in real life. They also talked about their doubts about the news media, such as whether there is authentic news in real life, as all news media and journalists have their own points of view. All in all, these results suggest that observing and discussing LMP activates the critical awareness of the participants to think about how the media and journalists serve to (re) produce hegemonic values. The results also show that LMP leads participants to rethink how to understand the authenticity of messages in their daily lives.
Critical awareness to (re) rethink one’s own social imagination
A scenario in LMP prompted participants to rethink their social imaginations and social roles as Chinese living in a Canadian society. On the sitcom, Sarah Hamoudi, a secretary to the mayor’s (named Ann Popowicz), was disappointed when she learned that her business trip to China had been canceled. Then Popowicz comforted Sarah and said, “I’ll bring you a real Chinese handbag. An imitation of a Louis Vuitton bag. ”Faced with this scenario, Bai expressed her disaffected mood:“ This unkindness towards China makes me unhappy. ”In contrast, Kang saw it as normal in the context of a sitcom and argued,“ I think sometimes it is it doesn’t need us [pause]how should you say to be so sensitive … this is a sitcom. ”It is not surprising that the participants have different feelings when viewing this scene. The interesting thing is that the participants began to discuss how another Chinese audience might see and react to negative portrayals of China and the Chinese people in the mass media. They all agreed that many Chinese viewers feel uncomfortable with these negative portrayals but choose to remain silent.
In addition, the participants talked not only about the silence of the Chinese audience in relation to negative media presentations, but also about the silence of the Chinese people in daily life. They tried to analyze why many Chinese are silent:
Zhou: We just keep silent and immerse ourselves in the work.
Jiang: Like a pushover.
Zhou: We’re the type of people who think about our own behavior a lot. For example, when our life isn’t good enough, we think we should work harder. There is no excuse. Working harder is the only thing we should be doing.
Bai: The education we receive also prevents us from claiming our rights. It’s so sad.
Zhou: Fatima said, “Maybe we’re causing too much trouble. Do we have to cause so much trouble because of my knee? ”Then Rayyan replied,“ It’s not about your knee. If you want to change the world, you have to make noise. ”In view of this, I think the Chinese will have a very different idea. We could say, “Is it too selfish to do this? Do we just have to hire a lifeguard to meet my personal needs? ”Eventually we will be silent and adapt to this situation.
Jiang: Or rarely does a person stand up and claim our rights, but very few people will echo.
The conversations presented above involve a different scene LMP. Rayyan, a young Muslim doctor, put her patient Fatima on a swimming routine to help her injured knee; However, they were disappointed and gave up their swimming plan when they discovered that there was only one male lifeguard in the public swimming pool. As a result, Rayyan worked hard to collect public signatures to ask the mayor to hire a lifeguard. By introducing themselves to Chinese people and including them in this story, Zhou assessed their attitudes and reactions to the recruitment of a new lifeguard to describe how and why Chinese people often remain silent. At Zhou’s discussion, other participants nodded their heads or expressed their approval in a low voice that can be seen in the focus group’s audio recording.
Regardless of where their assumptions came from, which might come from their experiences or first-hand representations, participants found reluctance to be a characteristic of the Chinese. In this study, LMP raised the participants’ critical awareness and made them rethink silence and why people have this quality. They also thought about how the Chinese silence prevents them from exercising their rights and enforcing their agency.
The results of this qualitative study show that LMP can serve as a text to promote dialogue between culture consumers and the world. LMP helps to awaken the critical awareness of culture consumers to reflect on the public image of Muslims that they learn from their everyday lives. To discuss LMP with other people makes the culture consumers think about how hegemony works in the media in order to create and spread hegemonic assumptions about Islam and Muslims. Additionally, LMP leads a group of minorities to reflect thoughtfully on their own social ideas and social roles. In short, is not only LMP even a semi-anti-hegemonic cultural text, but also the discussion of this sitcom serves to sharpen the critical awareness of consumers.
There is no question that my research results do justice to the argument that the media have the power to question cultural consumers’ assumptions about structural power relations through informal learning. This argument has been mentioned in research on the educational role of cultural consumption (see Armstrong, 2000; Guy, 2007; Jubas, 2015; Tisdell, Stuckey & Thompson, 2007; Wright, 2007). Nonetheless, my research also suggests the importance of integrating cultural texts into classrooms or other organized adult learning environments (Lee, 1991; Jubas, 2015; Taber, Woloshyn & Lane, 2017; Tisdell, 2008). With intervening questions from educators and other learners, culture consumers tend to develop a critical awareness and question the implicit, hegemonic prejudices that exist deep in their subconscious. It is important to recognize and combat these prejudices as they directly affect consumer attitudes and behaviors. Since culture consumers also bring different perspectives when interpreting the texts, it is helpful for culture consumers to hold discussions with educators and other learners in order to gain a comprehensive perception of the subtext of cultural texts.
It is important to note that Canada has a large number of overseas adult learners; However, this study only focused on a group of international Chinese students. Further studies could be done to include adults representing different nationalities, ages, genders, etc. An examination of topics such as ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and class could provide a broader and deeper understanding of how popular Canadian culture affects different adult students.
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