Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Media Studies- Mickey Mouse?

“So you’re doing Media Studies A level? That's a Mickey Mouse subject, isn’t it? Waste of time, unless you just want to doss about for two years. Universities don’t accept it anyway- well the good ones don’t. And no employer will ever look at you with an A level in that- even if you do get an A*! (which of course everyone gets anyway). No mate you should have done a proper subject- you’ve made a big mistake there. Didn’t you see the graffiti in the toilets just above the bog roll? There’s an arrow pointing to it and it says ‘Media Studies A level certificates, please take one!’ Hahaha!”

You may not have experienced quite all of the above, but having spoken with lots of media students over the years, I know that many have to put up with at least some of it- from their mates who aren’t doing Media, sometimes from family who wanted them to ‘stick to traditional subjects’, from teachers of other subjects who would rather they had opted for their course and perhaps most frequently from the media.

When I was at university studying film (Warwick 1979-82 if you’re interested!) I remember the same things being said. ‘Mickey Mouse degree’ was a common phrase and though I didn’t see the toilet roll joke about my course, I did see it  made about Sociology.  I suspect similar jokes have been made about most subjects when they started out; the trouble is that people are still saying those things about Media Studies as if it is a new subject- but it really isn’t. There have been qualifications in the subject since the 1970s, and both GCSE the A level itself started more than a quarter of a century ago. There are people in their forties who got A level Media Studies when they were at school and college, and just to reassure you, they are not all down and outs whose lives were ruined by their decision to take the course. In fact, if you add up all the people who have passed the A level since it started, you’ll find there are over 400,000 of them around- enough to fill Wembley more than four times over, or the equivalent of more than two complete Glastonbury crowds. If you add all those who have taken GCSE, vocational courses and degrees in the subject, the figure probably tops one million.

But despite this, people still routinely dismiss Media Studies as a subject and make all kinds of negative claims about it. From politicians, newspaper columnists and skeptical relatives to your Science-studying mates in the common room, I’m willing to bet they all have one thing in common: they have no idea what it actually involves. Some of their assumptions are undoubtedly based on the material under study- if it is popular, it must be easy. The assumption that English Literature is ‘hard’ sometimes seems to come from the idea that you have to read long books; whereas  Media Studies is 'soft' because it apparently just involves sitting round watching TV all day. Of course, it’s not as simple as this. Just because something is familiar does not mean it is easy to analyse, as you will quickly find on your course. 

The presence of coursework is another area which people often take to be synonymous with a course being ‘soft’; exams, the argument goes, are much harder than coursework. Hmmm, well you try making a film, even a two minute one, learning how to use the camera properly and how to use an edit program, organizing things as a team, keeping records of everything you do in researching and planning, making sure that what you have produced actually makes sense to an audience, not just to you, and then reflecting on the whole process and I think you’ll see that can actually be a lot harder than remembering the stuff for a one-off exam which you will probably then forget straight away afterwards.

Over the years, I’ve largely given up trying to respond to people who mock Media Studies. If that’s what they think, there’s not much that's going to persuade them. There are plenty of people who are receptive to the idea that it’s an important subject, at least as valid as any other, and frankly I’d rather concentrate on talking to them. Last year, I was asked to explain Media Studies to the boss of Warner Brothers UK and when I showed him what students actually do, he was most impressed.

In recent months, in my capacity as Chair of the Media Education Association, I’ve been involved in a campaign to convince the Department for Education and Ofqual to keep Media and Film Studies A levels, which were both under some threat of extinction, despite the large numbers of students taking them (28,000 combined completed the A levels this summer). To help this campaign, we asked schools and colleges to give us stories about what their ex-students had gone on to do, to feature on our website. We have had so many that we can keep featuring them for the rest of the year. As well as lots of stories of former students who have gone on to different jobs in the media, we have had many from people who just said that the course developed skills which have been useful to them in other occupations- such as the forensic scientist who said that it was the close analytical work in media that got him interested in forensics! Teamwork, speaking in public, skills with technology, organizational skills, research and working to deadlines were all cited by people who responded as skills they developed on their media course which they would not have been able to develop in other courses.

Here's a few of their stories: 

So next time you get the ‘mickey mouse’ speech from someone, just smile and let them be ignorant if that’s what they prefer! Oh and just to let you know,  your course won’t be a doss, employment rates amongst media graduates are higher than for almost any other subject, universities do accept Media Studies for entry to their courses (just depends on what subject you want to do and where) and the proportion of A* in Media is the lowest of any subject (1.5%) so if you get one that is really quite something!

Oh and here are two guys who did Media Studies A level and haven’t done too badly from it......

Tom Green (Director, Misfits and the upcoming Monsters 2- Dark Continent)

Noel Clarke (Writer, Kidulthood and Writer-Director, Adulthood + Actor)


  1. I'll be using that closing factoid in an upcoming Open Evening - cheers!

  2. Hi Pete - I was hoping to come and see you at the BFI for the inset day on Music videos as this is the first time I will be teaching it to my A LEvel group - unfortunately the date is really late and I am hoping to have filmed and edited the tasks by then. Are you likely to do another course earlier in the year, if not at the BFI then elsewhere?

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